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Past in the present: mnemonic battles over the ethnic history of Poland

Joanna Jasiewicz
Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals – IBEI
Joanna Jasiewicz
Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals – IBEI
Open Panel

Abstract

With the ban of censorship in Poland in 1989, the possibilities to freely discuss issues that were once swept under the carpet by the communist governments have greatly expanded. The new elites’ acceptance of ethnic diversity has made room for the debate on at times controversial topics concerning Poland’s ethnic relations. This article is a case study of mnemonic conflicts between ethnic groups in Poland and the Polish majority over the interpretation of events that have created sharp divisions between both groups since the early 1990s. Using the claims-analysis method, I examine the discursive strategies employed by actors in the ethnic relations field and in this way explore the nuances of national and ethnic collective memories. One could expect that in a country whose almost entire Jewish population has been killed in the Second World War, Ukrainian and Lemko minorities forcefully resettled and large numbers of Germans expelled, talking about the ethnic relations in the past would be particularly controversial. However, the analysis of claims shows that about 30 per cent of claims advanced by ethnic minority members within the 1992 – 2006 period touch upon the past. Ethnic leaders struggle for a reinterpretation of history and for redressing past wrongs. This article, by examining discursive battles over how past ethnic conflicts should be remembered and interpreted, allows to shed light on the ways in which history and national and ethnic identities are socially “imagined” and negotiated in the Polish public debates.