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Evoking Polish Memory

State, Self and the Communist Past in Transition


Anna Witeska-Mlynarczyk

The book offers an interdisciplinary but very grounded look at the question of memory politics in contemporary Poland. It describes the conflicting ways in which two groups of people – the former anti-communist activists and the former officers of the repressive regime – have actively engaged in representations and claims about the communist past in the contemporary reality of one Polish town. The material is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted during the years 2006-2008. The author focuses on the processes of reconstruction of memories and subjectivities taking place at the intersection of individuals, civic society, state bureaucracy and politics. The book focuses on the beliefs, hopes and fears of people who became the subjects of historical policy during their lifetimes.
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The place where memory and history meet is always imbued with ambiguity. Multiple understandings and images of the past co-exist and compete for space and legitimacy. Collectively, they generate images and accounts that are both layered and blurred. Sometimes, like two separate but contiguous registers which both account for and contest time past, memories and histories may be formed, reformed and transmitted from standpoints so different that it is hard to recognize in them the same reality, or the same epoch or even incident. Eastern Central Europe is a prime example of such a palimpsest of memory, where the traces are so entangled and so hazy that it is difficult to follow a single thread from beginning to end. And within Eastern Central Europe, Poland -positioned between the historical giants of Russia and Prussia/Germany - has one of the most tangled geo-political narratives.

The Germans ended their occupation of Poland in 1945, fleeing west as the Soviet army marched forward from the east. A kind of civil war, between the Polish Home Army (AK), the Red Army and various left and right wing groups of Polish and Ukrainian partisans, continued until 1947, when the Polish People’s Republic was established. But in some regions, including the place about which Anna Witeska-Młynarczyk is writing, the unofficial war carried on for several more years, and is still today etched deeply into local memory. These are contested memories, which divide families, friends and neighbours. During the communist years, many...

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