Explore our collection of articles! The compilation has been created for all those wishing to learn more about the complex issues underpinning 20th-century European history and memory. It consists of both academic and popular pieces, all written and/or edited by experts in their field. The articles cover a wide range of topics, from historical summaries and social history to contemporary commemoration practices.

Wojciech Materski

The Katyn Massacre

03 April 2020
  • Katyn
  • zbrodnia katyńska
  • katyn massacre

On the seventeenth day of the Polish-German war in September 1939, as Poland was mounting stiff resistance against the invading German troops, it was attacked from the rear by the Red Army. This was a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on 23 August 1939 under which the Republic of Poland was to be partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets captured a large number of Polish prisoners of war (POWs), estimated at 240,000, including some 10,000 officers.(1) They were put at the disposal of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, in flagrant violation of the laws and customs of armed conflicts whereby the lives and health of enemy combatants were the sole responsibility of the government and military command of the state that held them captive.

The situation presented the Soviets with an enormous organisational problem of what to do with such a mass of people in the absence of the most rudimentary conditions to house them (lodging, food). It was decided that some of the prisoners – mainly privates from the seized eastern Polish provinces referred to by the Soviet authorities as Western Belarus and Western Ukraine – would be released, 25,000 of their number being kept as forced labour. Over 42,000 privates from the areas that had not been annexed by the USSR were handed over to the Germans. As regards officers, policemen and some civilians, they were isolated in three special NKVD camps in Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk. Of the three, the Ostashkov camp, where policemen were sent, was the biggest, numbering about 6,000 prisoners. Around 4,500 prisoners were held in Kozelsk and some 4,000 in Starobelsk.(2)

Conditions in the camps where rough. Prisoners were housed in extremely crowded rooms most of which were utterly unfit to be inhabited. Food was in drastically short supply and healthcare usually provided by fellow inmates who were doctors. Soldiers and policemen interned in September had to weather the harsh winter of 1939/1940 in their summer uniforms. POWs were put under constant surveillance, interrogated about their ‘hostile activities against the working classes in Poland of the masters’ and subjected to intensive ideological indoctrination in a primitive communist fashion. These efforts yielded very poor results as we can learn from internal NKVD reports.

The fate of the thousands of Polish POWs as well as those Polish citizens – some of whom were also military men – imprisoned in ‘Western Belarus’ and ‘Western Ukraine’ was debated during high-level meetings in Moscow. At the request of Beria, on 5 March 1940, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), the highest decision-making body in the Soviet party-state, agreed to murder ‘14,700 people held captive in prisoner-of-war camps: former Polish officers, civil servants, landowners, policemen, intelligence agents, gendarmes, settlers and prison guards’ and ‘11,000 people held in prisons in the western provinces of Ukraine and Belarus: members of various counter-revolutionary organisations, former landowners, factory owners, former Polish officers, civil servants and fugitives.’(3) The 11,000 prisoners mentioned in Beria’s request and then later in the decision taken by the Political Bureau turned out to be overestimated. Eventually, the Katyn Massacre, which involved several locations beside the Katyn Forest, probably claimed the lives of 21,857 people, including 7,305 prison inmates. The genocidal decree of the Political Bureau followed the logic of other mass crimes perpetrated by the communist system, such as the ‘Polish operation’ of the NKVD in 1937-1938 when at least 110,000 Polish Soviet citizens were murdered.(4)

A special body of the NKVD – the Special Council (Osoboje Sowieszczanije) – was set up to manage the organisation of the genocide and ensure that, in spite of its enormous scale, it remained hidden from the public both home and abroad. Groups of henchmen, who were professional executioners, were recruited to murder captive soldiers and prisoners in facilities that belonged to the Regional Branches of the NKVD and other places prepared for that purpose.

The Special Council divided soldiers and prisoners into batches of about 100 people, drawing up what is known in historiography as ‘death lists’. It was on the basis of those lists that camp commanders would hand over a batch of POWs to NKVD Convoy Troops to be transported to internal prisons of designated Regional Branches of the NKVD accompanied by an order for the prison commanders to murder all the people on the list. As Russia has not yet released all supporting documents, we may only surmise that a similar procedure was followed in the case of prison inmates whose death transports were part of the same schedule as those of POWs.

POWs from Starobelsk were murdered in the Regional Branch of the NKVD in Kharkov and buried in mass graves in the ‘park zone’ outside the city. Those from Ostashkov were murdered in Kalinin (previously, and today, known as Tver) and buried in nearby Mednoye. POWs from Kozelsk were murdered over death pits in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk.

So far, it has not been possible to establish the location of the murder and burial sites of over 7,300 prisoners. Those from the still missing Belarusian list most probably lie buried in Kurapaty near Minsk whilst those from the already declassified Ukrainian list are buried in different locations of which we only know Bykivnia near Kiev (currently a district of the city).

The murder was kept secret until the spring of 1943. On 13 April, Radio Berlin broadcast a message announcing the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk with the bodies of murdered Polish officers. Moscow immediately accused Germany of the crime.

Soviet efforts to blame the Katyn Massacre on the Germans were scuppered during the Nuremberg Trials. Nonetheless, what is known as ‘Katyn denial’ persisted for dozens of years to come and any attempts to challenge it were met with knee-jerk diplomatic protests from the USSR. Such was the case with the report drafted by the US Congress Select Committee chaired by Senator Ray Madden, official publications devoted to the subject or the first monuments commemorating the victims.

In Poland, even though the communist government spread lies about the perpetration of the crime for decades, the truth about the massacre was common knowledge among members of the general public. This was evident during the first wave of Solidarity protests when the topic came to the fore in the form of openly organised lectures and artistic events, samizdat publications, many small objects commemorating the massacre (e.g. badges, key fobs, pins), clandestine postage stamps or the Katyn Cross at the Powązki Military Cemetery. Despite the limited scope of samizdat publishing, the theme of the Katyn Massacre entered Polish culture, becoming a source of inspiration for writers and poets (e.g. Zbigniew Herbert, Włodzimierz Odojewski).

The introduction of martial law did little to stop popular calls to disclose the true nature of the Katyn Massacre. The government of the Polish People’s Republic was finally forced to bow to the pressure and initiate a dialogue with the Soviets about the ‘blank spots’ in this history of the two countries. However, it was only in the late 1980s, when perestroika and glastnost were launched, that the string of Katyn lies could be broken at long last. The final step was taken in April 1990 as the Soviets officially acknowledged that the crime of genocide against Polish POWs and prison inmates was perpetrated by the NKVD in the spring of 1940.(5)

Even though the responsibility for the Katyn Massacre was officially admitted, the fact has been virtually absent first in the Soviet and then Russian memory politics. The reason is that it does not fit in the myth of the great victory in the Second World War and the self-sacrificing struggle to save the world from fascism – just like Hitler and Stalin’s collusion in 1939, mass deportations, the enslavement of the Baltic states or the huge scale of marauding in the Red Army in 1944–1945. The tendency is well-illustrated by a judgement of Russia’s Supreme Military Prosecution Office declaring the Katyn Massacre a common crime falling under the statute of limitations.

In other countries, however, knowledge about Katyn is more or less common, in large measure thanks to the declassification of documents kept in British and American archives, but above all the widely distributed film Katyn by Andrzej Wajda and the growing number of monuments commemorating the victims of the genocide.

1. S. Ciesielski, W. Materski, A. Paczkowski, Represje sowieckie wobec Polaków i obywateli polskich, Warsaw 2002, p. 7.

2.For information about the life in the camps and their criminal liquidation supported by extensive documents, see Katyń. Dokumenty zbrodni, Vol. 1: Jeńcy nie wypowiedzianej wojny, Warsaw 1995; Vol. 2: Zagłada, Warsaw 1998.

3.Katyń. Dokumenty zbrodni, Vol. 1, doc. 217, p. 476.

4. For extensive information about the topic, see: T. Sommer, Operacja antypolska NKWD. Geneza i przebieg ludobójstwa popełnionego na Polakach w Związku Sowieckim, Warsaw 2014.

5. Katyń. Dokumenty zbrodni, Vol. 4: Echa Katynia, Warsaw 2006, doc. 123, p. 506.

Maria Josepa Cusidó

Spanish controversies related to memory

29 January 2020
  • democracy
  • Spain
  • La Transición

“Good morning democracy”– read the headlines of Spanish newspapers on 7 December 1978[1], as the country ratified a democratic constitution in a referendum the day before, after 40 years of dictatorial rule. Three weeks later, King Juan Carlos I approved the document, making Spain a constitutional monarchy. This marked the culmination of La Transición, the Spanish transition to democracy. But while the changes of the legislative framework might have been concluded, the process of coming to terms with the country’s turbulent past continues up to this day.

La Transición started with the death of the dictator Francisco Franco on 20 November 1975 and the accession of King Juan Carlos I – the grandson of Spain’s most recent monarch – who was designated by Franco as his official successor. The king supported a peaceful transition to democracy within the legal framework of Francoism. All the following political reforms were managed from the inside, by the King as well as other politicians such as Adolfo Suárez González, a former Francoist minister and later the leader of the Union of the Democratic Centre party (Unión de Centro Democrático – UCD) who served as a prime minister first appointed by the monarch and then elected in the general elections.

The political reforms did not abolish the Francoist regime with a break and completely new beginning, but rather gradually transformed relevant institutions and legislations to achieve a democratic system. The changes included introduction of universal suffrage and a two chamber parliamentary system, legalization of political parties and trade unions, as well as the repeal of the Francoist Public Order Court, which used to deal with political crimes.

La Transición was a complex process that was constantly threatened by extremism of the far-right, the far-left and the Nationalist groups. A total of 591 people were killed as a result of political violence between 1975 and 1983[2]. Another proof of how tense the political situation was is the failed military coup of 23 February 1981, when the inauguration of a newly elected government was interrupted and the deputies were held captive for 18 hours.

Taking these circumstances into account, La Transición is rightly portrayed as an extraordinary achievement by the Spanish society. However, one aspect of the democratization process remains a contentious matter – the so-called Pact of Forgetting (Pacto del olvido), an agreement of the Spanish parties from across the political spectrum to avoid dealing with any settlement for past wrongs of the Francoism era. Hence, the Amnesty Law which was promulgated by the Spanish Parliament in 1977. The legislation guaranteed freedom to political prisoners and allowed Spaniards on exile to return to the country, but at the same time assured impunity for those who committed crimes during the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship[3].

The law is still in force and has been used several times to evade investigations or attempts to prosecute those who violated human rights before 1975[4]. Although it has been harshly criticized not only by many Spanish civic and remembrance organizations, but also by the United Nations[5] and Amnesty International[6], either its repeal or any amendments have always been blocked by the extensive majority of the Spanish Parliament[7].

In order to give an alternative to this “forced forgetting”, the Historical Memory Program was passed by the Spanish Parliament under the government of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español – PSOE) in 2007. The legislation was supposed to provide, among others, recognition of the victims of violence on both sides; condemnation of the dictatorship; prohibition of political events at the Valley of the Fallen (El Valle de los caídos – mausoleum where Franco used to be buried); removal of the Francoist symbols from the public sphere; state support in tracing, identification and exhumation of the victims of the repression; improvement of economic compensation and pensions for the victims of the Civil War and Franco regime, as well as grants aimed at the recovery of collective memory and moral recognition of the victims[8].

One of the main goals of the program was to support the exhumation of at least 114 000 victims buried in approx. 2000 Spanish mass graves[9]. However, the budget for the implementation of the legislation was reduced to the point of its suppression under the government of the conservative Popular Party (Partido Popular – PP) in 2013[10]. This constrained the exhumation works to the ones carried out by civil organisations such as the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica – ARMH).

Year 2019, however, did witness what may become a turning point in Spanish historical politics. Nearly four and a half decades after Franco was laid to rest in a monumental mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen, his body was exhumed and moved to a family cemetery. This came after a heated public debate and months of appeals and legal proceedings, following the decision to rebury the dictator’s remains which was passed by the Parliament in September 2018[11].

The Valley of the Fallen, located about 60km from Madrid, consists of a group of different buildings such as an abbey, a choir school, a hostelry and the cemetery, all of which were built during the dictatorship in order to honour “the Fallen” – the Nationalists who “fell for God and for Spain” (one of the most popular mottos during Francoism). However, after the site had been built it turned out that the families of most Nationalists did not want to have the bodies of their relatives moved there. Relatively few agreed. Instead, to fill the mausoleum up, remains of Republicans were unearthed from mass graves and reburied without their relatives’ knowledge nor consent. This means that for 44 years, Franco lied next to those killed on his order or under his rule. To make matters even more controversial, there is still no information in situ neither about the Civil War nor the dictatorship. Thus, the site can still be interpreted as a place that commemorates and honours the Franco regime – as was its intended purpose – instead of being presented as a multifaceted memory site.

For a long time, reflective remembrance in Spain to some politicians and parts of the society constituted a “nonsense”, as one should not “open wounds from the past”[12]. But 40 years after the La Transición, with a mature democracy in place, the Spanish society seems to start to rethink the choices that have been taken when it comes to memory and reconciliation.

Author: Maria Josepa Cusidó



[1] BBC home: 1978: Spain set to vote for democracy. URL:news.bbc.com

[2] Torrús, Alejandro: La Transición, un cuento de hadas con 591 muertos. Público, 2013. URL:publico.es

[3] RTVE /EFE: La Ley de Amnistía cumple 40 años sin acallar a quienes piden que se derogue o modifique. Radio televisión Española/ Agencia EFE, 2017. URL:rtve.es

[4] Público: La Fiscalía pide suspender las declaraciones de los 19 franquistas apelando otra vez a la ley de Amnistía. Público, 2016.

[5] Reuters: U.N. tells Spain to revoke Franco-era amnesty law. Reuters Agency, 2013. URL: reuters.com

[6] Amnistía International: Ley de Amnistía 1977: Una excusa que dura 40 años, 2017. URL: es.amnesty.org

[7] La Vanguardia/ Europa Press: PP, PSOE y Cs rechazan reformar la ley de Amnistía y dicen que su cambio no serviría para juzgar a franquistas. La Vanguardia/ Europa Press Agency, 2018. URL: lavanguardia.com

[8] Spanish Government Official Site: Memoria histórica. URL: memoriahistorica.gob.es

[9] Spanish Government Official Site: Mapa de fosas. URL:memoriahistorica.gob.es

[10] Baquero, Juan Miguel: Rajoy repite con la Memoria Histórica: cero euros y olvido a las víctimas del franquismo. Eldiario.es, 2018. URL:eldiario.es

[11] Taladrid, Stephania: Franco’s body is exhumed, as Spain struggles to confront the past. Newyorker.com, 2019. URL: newyorker.com

[12] El País/ Agencias: Rajoy: "Abrir heridas del pasado no conduce a nada". El País/ Agencias, 2008. ULR: elpais.com

Jan Rydel

The Causes and Circumstances of the Outbreak of the Second World War

07 January 2020
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • Stalin
  • Second World War
  • Hitler
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
  • Soviet Union

The order set by the Treaty of Versailles that shaped interwar Europe and sanctioned the appearance of myriad independent states in East-Central Europe had a number of weaknesses, the key one being the absence of two large continental powers Germany and Russia while it was being decided. As regards the former, the public in the countries of the Entente affected by population losses and destruction as well as exhausted by a war of several years was so much reluctant towards Germany that it was plain impossible to treat it as a partner during the Paris peace conference. At the time of the event, Russia was experiencing a hard-thought civil war between Bolsheviks and representatives of the ancien regime, whose resolution was nowhere to be seen, and as a result – despite attempts at mediation – it proved futile to determine which party to the conflict should represent the country. Given the terms of peace dictated to Germany and isolation to surround victorious Soviet Russia, both powers rejected the Versailles system and sought its revision. That general attitude brought them closer and in 1922 they concluded an accord in Rapallo that formed the basis for their friendly political relations, intensive economic and military cooperation in the area of technology and the arms industry, as well as training.

In 1925, Germany signed treaties in Locarno with France, Belgium, Great Britain and Italy that guaranteed its western border as laid down in the Treaty of Versailles. However, it refused to sign a similar treaty with Poland and Czechoslovakia, which caused much concern in those countries, both because of the unambiguous though indirect threat issued by Germany and the stance taken by France, which by accepting that and not some other arrangement put into question its own loyalty towards Poland and Czechoslovakia. After Locarno, thanks to support of France and Great Britain, Germany joined the League of Nations and even received the status of a permanent member of its Council, the equivalent of today’s UN Security Council. That meant that Germany’s isolation was over and the country had become a member of the international community in its own right. Symbolic of those changes was the Nobel Peace Prize received by the German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann. As the new German policy caused concern in Moscow as regards future cooperation, the partnership between Germany and the Soviet Union was reinforced by a friendship accord concluded in Berlin in 1926 and extended in 1931.

At the turn of the 1920s and the 1930s, the Soviet Union took steps in order to ensure the country’s full participation in international relations and was an active and constructive participant in negotiations on the international Kellog-Briand Pact assuming renunciation of war as a tool of international policy (Treaty for Renunciation of War). Before that pact entered into force in February 1929, the ‘Litvinov Protocol’ was signed in Moscow where the USSR and its western neighbours, including Poland, decided that the provisions of the Kellog-Briand Pact would come into force even before its formal ratification. The Protocol paved the way towards intensification of Polish-Soviet relations, which resulted in the signing of a non-aggression pact between Poland and the USSR on 25 July 1932. It was a highly precise document which foresaw that the parties to it were also to treat as aggression: any act of violence that affects the integrity and inviolability of the territory or political independence of the other Contracting Party, even if such actions are not accompanied by a declaration of war and its all possible manifestations.

At the time of the Polish-Soviet rapprochement, Europe was experiencing growing tensions related to the successes of Adolf Hitler’s party heading for power in the German Reich. It was particularly strong in Polish-German relations, which is why Polish diplomats discreetly probed the French ally on several occasions, trying to establish how strong France’s response would be in the case of an armed conflict with Germany. The last such probe took place after Germany’s leaving the League of Nations on 14 October 1933. As all the attempts rendered negative results, the value of the alliance with France seen from the Polish perspective was significantly reduced. In the circumstances, the Polish envoy in Berlin Józef Lipski asked Adolf Hitler whether Germany took into consideration compensating Poland for its decreased sense of security as the former had left the League of Nations. That opened the way for the signing, on 26 January 1933 after intensive and secret negotiations, of a Declaration between Poland and Germany on non-application of violence. The European public was much surprised by the document since the Polish-German antagonism was considered insurmountable. Consequently, it was suspected that apart from the publicly known text of the declaration some secret convent was made under which Poland was joining the German side, which was not true, and – what is more – the declaration did contain a statement that its signing did not have any impact whatsoever on the legality of previous treaties and commitments made by the parties to it. To appease the Soviets, who also had concerns as to the true meaning of the Polish-German declaration, Poland concluded an agreement with them already in 1934 concerning the extension of the non-aggression pact until as late as 1945.

At that time, Polish politicians became convinced that the alliance with France – given its passive and submissive stance – might not continue to be the only pillar of the Polish security policy. Also, Poland had never harboured any illusions as to the ability of the League of Nations to ensure peace in Europe. Similarly sceptical was Poland’s attitude to the French-promoted attempts to set up a collective security system in East-Central Europe with an instrumental participation of the USSR, their obvious and direct result being ceding hegemony in this part of the continent to the Soviets. For that reason Marshal Józef Piłsudski, Poland’s de facto political leader, championed the notion that Warsaw needed to keep an even distance between Berlin and Moscow, as exemplified by somewhat symmetrical agreements concluded in 1932 and 1934, respectively. Soon to pass away, Piłsudski was at the same time issuing the warning that such a balance around Poland would not last for more than four years.

Thanks to the signing of the declaration, the relations between Poland and Germany improved very soon. Germany ended a customs war with Poland dating back to the time of the Weimar Republic and both sides adopted a milder attitude as regards their respective national minorities as well as softened virulent press propaganda. Some contacts were also established in the field of culture and high-level visits became relatively frequent. The initiative concerning closer ties came mostly from Germany, hoping to win Poland as an ally against the USSR. Yet it was a wrong calculation. Germany did not recognise the border with Poland, which for the latter was a sine qua non condition for any possible further rapprochement. No open or secret Polish-German political or military alliance took place. Poland – despite incentives – did not join the Anti-Comintern Pact, a loose grouping of countries allied with the Third Reich. Poland did not plan making any territorial gains in cooperation with Germany. The circle of Piłsudski’s supporters in power in Poland (known as the Sanation) did not support national socialism, and there were hardly any supporters of that movement among members of the opposition. Last but not least, there were also no cooperation between Poland and Germany as regards discrimination of Jews.

At first, the course of events in Europe confirmed that Piłsudski’s predictions were correct. In March 1935, Germany announced that it would not respect the arms restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. That step did not meet with any de facto response from France while Great Britain concluded a naval pact with Germany that sanctioned a considerable extension of the German navy. A year later, on 7 March 1936, German troops entered the Rhineland in a blatant violation of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno. In the circumstances, Poland ensured France yet again of its readiness to meet its obligations stemming from their alliance in case of a conflict with Germany. However, neither France nor any of western countries, or the League of Nations, did anything more than issue purely verbal protests. Still, after long negotiations, on 6 September 1936 France granted Poland a large loan for modernisation of its armed forces, a proof that, although weakened, the Polish-French Alliance continued to be in force.

In May 1935, France and the USSR as well as Czechoslovakia and the USSR entered into bilateral agreements on mutual assistance in case of a German invasion. The Soviet-Czechoslovak accord was to become operational only under the condition that France offer military support to Czechoslovakia first (casus foederis). Looking good on paper, the agreements in question were de facto dead politically, inter alia because no serious attempt was made to agree with Poland how the Soviet Union sharing no border with Germany or Czechoslovakia was supposed to render military assistance to its new partners.

Poland’s political standing began to change radically when in 1938 Germany triggered the implementation of its expansive agenda and annexed Austria (12–13 March 1938), took control of Klaipeda at the expense of Lithuania (23 March 1938) and, in particular, partitioned Czechoslovakia. During a conference in Munich (29–30 September 1938), Czechoslovakia, although the most loyal ally of France, was pressed by its allies and agreed to cede to Germany a vast borderland known as the Sudetenland important in economic and strategic terms. Although no party to the conflict or participant of the Munich conference, Poland nevertheless forced crisis-ridden Czechoslovakia to cede Zaolzie (lands beyond the Olza River) to it. The contentious area populated mostly by Poles had been stealthily attacked and seized by Czechoslovak troops in 1920 when the Bolshevik army was poised for attack near Warsaw. Even if the taking control of Zaolzie by Polish troops on 2 October 1938 was much justified and the entire operation did not result from any arrangements with Germany, the impression it made in Europe was that Poland collaborated with Hitler.

On 24 October 1938, the Polish envoy in Berlin Józef Lipski received a list of demands from the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop intended as the basis for a new general arrangement of mutual relations between both countries. The German demands included the incorporation of the Free City of Gdańsk to the German Reich, the construction of an extraterritorial motorway and a railway link between East Prussia and the rest of the Reich, Poland’s joining the Anti-Comintern Pact as well as permanent political consultations between Poland and Germany. The objective behind the demands, extraordinarily moderate according to the Germans, was to force Poland to decide whether it supported Germany or not. Polish diplomats were greatly surprised by the German demands. For its part, Germany was astonished by Poland’s veiled and then unambiguous refusal to accept them as its conclusion was that such a step would turn the country into a German fiefdom while the Polish Government treated Poland’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as inalienable. When interned in Romania in 1940, the Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck did not mince words about the consequences of Poland’s hypothetical agreement: We would have conquered Russia together with Germany and then we would have been grazing cows for Hitler in the Ural.1 The resolution of that stage of the Polish-German dispute came as a result of the German seizure of territorially reduced Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, with the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia established in Czechia and Slovakia becoming an independent state ‘under the care of the German Reich’. That move meant a violation of the relatively fresh Munich agreement as well as a crude exposure of the British and French appeasement policy, which both powers could not stomach any more. Responding, Great Britain decided to give Poland assurances on 31 March 1939, the basis for the British-Polish alliance. Conditioning its own policy towards Germany on Great Britain at that time, France also renewed its alliance with Poland. In response, on 28 April Adolf Hitler renounced the non-aggression pact with Poland as well as the naval accord with Great Britain. On 5 May 1939, Józef Beck delivered his great speech at the Sejm rejecting the German demands. It was clear that Poland and Germany were on a collision course now.

The events in Europe were closely followed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet diplomats. They were aware of their comfortable position as they could choose which side of the escalating conflict to support and which one would assure them more benefits. Since April, talks had been going on in Moscow with representatives of Great Britain and France yet no progress was being made as both countries treated them mainly as a kind of demonstration targeting Germany. In actual fact, Stalin had already decided to change the paradigm of the Soviet foreign policy, i.e. initiate cooperation with Hitler. The obstacle was the Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov, a son and brother of rabbis from Białystok born as Meir Wallach, distinguishing himself as a staunch enemy of Nazism and a passionate champion of bringing the USSR closer to western democracies. Already on 15 April 1939 during a sitting of the Politburo of the Bolshevik Party, Stalin rejected Litvinov arguments for an alliance with Great Britain and France. On 3 May 1939, Litvinov was formally dismissed and a purge took place among Soviet diplomats of Jewish origin. Litvinov was now replaced by Stalin’s blind follower, the cynical chair of the Council of People’s Commissars (equivalent of a Prime Minister) Vyacheslav Molotov. Talks went full steam ahead in the last days of July 1939. First, an extensive economic agreement was negotiated, providing for, inter alia, large supplies of Soviet raw materials to Germany. Following that success, the parties agreed to enter into political talks. Joachim von Ribbentrop flew to Moscow, and in the night from 23 to 24 August he negotiated a non-aggression pact with the Soviet partners. A more important and sensational part of the agreement was laid down in a secret protocol. It provided for a division of East-Central Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union, the sphere of influence of the latter including Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia in Romania. As regards Poland, the Soviet Union additionally committed to invade it and occupy its eastern part up to the line marked by the rivers Narew, Vistula and San.

Thanks to the conscious action of an opposition-minded diplomat from the German embassy in Moscow, the content of the secret protocol was transmitted without delay to US, Italian and French diplomats. The British also had incomplete knowledge about it and it was they that passed on a veiled warning to the Polish ambassador Edward Raczyński who sent it to Warsaw. Unfortunately, Polish authorities at that time had an entirely false image of the Soviets and their politics. Polish intelligence in the USSR ‘got blind’ as a result of the ‘great purges’ of 1937–1938, and minister Beck was most probably surrounded by Soviet agents of influence. As a result, he was not aware of the Kremlin’s changed course towards Germany and he also thought that after Stalin’s great purges the Soviet Union and the Red Army were seriously weakened and de facto unable to launch any large-scale operations. Consequently, he failed to grasp how precarious Poland’s position had become. His optimism was reinforced by the signing of a military alliance with Great Britain on 25 August 1939.

Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. On 3 September, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, which meant that one objective of the Polish foreign policy had been reached, that of not reducing the Polish-German war to a local conflict. Now, in compliance with the military agreements in force, the fighting Poles expected the allies to launch full-scale military operations within 15–16 days. Unfortunately, the allied commands concluded already on 4 September that they would not be able to effectively help Poland and that they would limit themselves to military demonstrations against Germany, focusing on preparations for future military action. That decision was finally confirmed by a conference of French and British Prime Ministers accompanied by highest-ranking commanders taking place in Abbeville on 12 September 1939. Those arrangements were not transmitted to Poland as that could have broken its spirit of resistance. It is known now, however, that the arrangements made in Abbeville were known to Soviet intelligence in no time at all. In that way, the Soviets were assured that the campaign mounted by Poland was doomed and they could safely hit the country from the east. In the morning of 17 September 1939, the Polish ambassador in Moscow Wacław Grzybowski was summoned to appear at the Foreign Affairs Commissariat where a note was read out to him saying that as the Polish state had ceased to exist, the non-aggression pact was not valid anymore and the Soviet army was entering Polish territory in order to protect the population of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus. The Soviet note was based on a blatant lie as at the time of the Soviet invasion still around a half of Poland’s territory, including important administrative centres, was not occupied by the Germans and the Polish Government and chief command were present in Poland preparing the defence of the south-eastern part of the country (known as the Romanian Bridgehead). Despite Soviet assurances that the USSR was not involved in a war with Poland, bloody fights were taking place along the entire border, in some locations lasting until the first days of October 1939. The ‘Polesie’ Operational Group led by Gen. Franciszek Kleeberg fighting with Germans and Soviets capitulated on 6 October 1939. The German-Soviet brotherhood in arms was symbolically sealed by a joint victory parade in Brest-Litovsk received by Generals Heinz Guderian and Semyon Krivoshein. It took place as early as 22 September 1939.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Stalin-Hitler Pact, paved the way for the latter’s attack on Poland, as it gave him certainty that no real help from the outside would reach Polish territory in the decisive weeks of the campaign. Further, the pact guaranteed Hitler that, not threatened from the east, he would be able to de facto conquer or control the entire continental Europe, install his occupation regimes throughout it and execute the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’. Managed from Moscow, the Comintern ordered communist parties across the world to stop anti-fascist propaganda and change entirely the course towards Germany, now together with the Soviet Union making a ‘camp of global peace’. The Polish state authorities – both when still in the country and later when in accordance with the Polish constitution they began to operate in exile, still enjoying full international recognition – on numerous occasions confirmed a state of war with the Soviet Union. However, they did not make a formal proclamation of a state of war with that state as its allies France and Great Britain remained neutral towards the USSR. Finland’s case was different as on 30 November 1939 it – a part of the Soviet sphere of influence specified in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – was attacked by the USSR and duly protested at the League of Nations, which after considering the complaint on 14 December 1939 stripped the USSR of its membership as an aggressor and called on its member states to aid Finland. In summary, it can be concluded that despite preliminary losses and obstacles, Germany and the Soviet Union in the interwar period became respected members of the international community in their own right yet as totalitarian regimes they betrayed that status by unleashing the most dreadful of wars inflicted on the human race to date.

JAN RYDEL is a historian and his research areas are Central and Eastern Europe and Polish-German relations in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the author of ‘Politics of History in Federal Republic of Germany. Legacy – Ideas – Practice’ (2011) and ‘Polish Occupation of North Western Germany. 1945–1948. An Unknown Chapter in Polish- German Relations’ (2000, German edition 2003). Until 2010 he was a researcher and a professor at Jagiellonian University and is currently a professor at the Pedagogical University of Cracow.


1. Cited after Marek Kornat, ‘Idee i podstawy polityki zagranicznej II Rzeczypospolitej’, in: Marek Kornat, Wojciech Materski, Między pokojem a wojną. Szkice o dyplomacji polskiej, Warsaw 2015, p. 30

Petra Chovancová

History of Constructing Local Identity: the Case of Skalica (Slovak Town)

03 January 2020
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Czechoslovak Republic
  • Identities
  • oral history
  • borderland
  • history from below
  • Skalica


The paper is a contribution on cultural identity, particularly in terms of local and border identity. The author presents and describes the Slovak town of Skalica situated in West Slovakia close to the Czech border. The text is based on oral history interviews with four citizens of Skalica, conducted in the context of the European Network and Remembrance’s project In Between? in July 2019. The author is interested in the ‘history from below’ capturing local and border identity among Skalica’s inhabitants. The text explores some features of the process of constructing the identity connected to a specific place.


In this paper, I am concerned with cultural identity, and more specifically local identity in a small Slovak town named Skalica.

The notion of local history and its connection with constructing local identity is part of contemporary academic discussions as well as public discourse. I would like to present the history of a small Slovak town Skalica and its cultural identity through its strong local identity formed by its vicinity to the Czech border. Introducing the history of this town from two aspects of history research (history from below and history recorded in official documents) could describe unique features of this border area. The ’history from below‘ section was completed by conducting oral history research in the summer of 2018 as part of the In between? project of the ENRS. Oral history is a suitable method for mapping people’s local identities in different geographical, social and political settings.

’History from below‘ recorded with Skalica inhabitants and compared with official documents, historical sources and other texts would provide the basis of the prospect to see how local identity was shaped by history, myths and self-image of inhabitants of Skalica. Watching that town over history makes us see it in the context of a borderland. The border has been always present during its existence; sometimes a real political frontier between two states or kingdoms, and sometimes just as an imaginary line between two nations. It is precisely this change from an imaginary to real political border that is present in the short-time collective memory of the people of Skalica. The town played a key role during the establishment of the so-called first Czechoslovakia in 1918. Several significant individuals had links with this town, for example Dr Pavol Blaho who was representing the idea of Czechoslovakia as well as the architect Dušan S. Jurkovič who designed several buildings in Skalica. And it was also the town where the first Slovak government settled for two weeks in 1918.

These crucial political changes of the early 20th century turned out to be very important for the local identity of the inhabitants of Skalica, especially in the context of later political changes at the end of the 20th century when the Czechoslovak Republic split into two separate states. In my paper, I would like to further analyse how this direction of the historical process has generated and influenced local identity. Building on this direction of analysis, I would like to add some observations on how local identity is presented in everyday life of the people of Skalica.

1. Skalica (Slovak town)

In this chapter, I am going to introduce Skalica, a town in West Slovakia close to the Czech border.

From the geographical point of view, Skalica is located in West Slovakia. On the western side of the town flows the River Moravia, which is part of the border with the Czech Republic (the region of Moravia). In the area of Skalica, the lowland of Záhorie unites the foothills of the Small Carpathians.

According to the last update of the statistical data on the website of Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, Skalica has 15,485 inhabitants in 2019. (egov.skalica.sk, 2019)

1.1 Short history of Skalica (a small Slovak town)

Speaking of identity inevitably links the direction of thinking to history, history of a country, history of a region. In the context of links with territory, some historians, anthropologists, ethnologists or other experts in the humanities believe that it is not national identity that we mainly care about. More important seems the identity related to one’s region, town or village where individuals live and feel connected. How do we feel about the closest area which shapes our relationship with different spheres of our life? One of the important aspects is the history of one’s region, town or village.

In this chapter, I would like to briefly introduce some key points in the history of Skalica.

According to archaeological discoveries Skalica, as part of the region Záhorie, was populated 3,500 years ago. The area’s development was conditioned by the flow of the River Moravia. The territory on the left bank of the river became known as the Amber Road. The Amber Road was an ancient route used for transferring amber from the costs of the North and Baltic Seas. This could be seen as a sign of importance of this area since prehistoric times. As regards its Slavic population, it presumably settled in this territory between the sixth and eighth century.

In the history of each town or village, of great importance is the date of the first written source concerning the settlement. The first reliable written reference to Skalica dates back to 1217. The source was a document signed by the Hungarian King Andrew II.

Moving on in the history of the area brings us to the importance of the fact that Skalica become a free royal town. The founding documents of the privileges are from 1372 and were signed in the town of Trnava. Throughout the centuries, the town of Skalica got different privileges such as the right to hold a market twice a week, the right to exercise judicial authority and the exemption for the inhabitants of Skalica from paying toll for goods throughout the kingdom. The inhabitants of Skalica were always proud and protective regarding their town privileges. They were prepared to protect their rights from being taken by squires, royal offices or the archbishop.

Skalica had also its important times during the nineteenth and then the early twentieth century. The years 1848 and 1849 are well known for the revolutionary developments in several nations of the Habsburg monarchy. One of the nations concerned were the Slovaks. The majority of Skalica inhabitants had Slovak nationality yet until 1848 they spoke mostly Hungarian. The Hungarian government discouraged people to use the Slovak language directly – with several statutory regulations – or indirectly by different bans; for example, it was difficult to publish Slovak newspapers or books. For the inhabitants of Skalica it was important to get the opportunity to speak publicly and officially in the Slovak language and this became reality in 1848 and 1849.

Coming closer to its contemporary history, Skalica lived through maybe the most important times ever. In the late 19th century and the early 20th century Skalica became known thanks to a number of its outstanding citizens. In this context, one can mention Dr Pavol Blaho and Dr Ľudovít Okánik. Both of them improved the cultural and social life of Slovaks living in Skalica. With the help of other active intellectuals from Skalica and the region Záhorie, a Catholic association called Catholic Circle (Katolícky kruh) was established. It organised amateur theatre performances and lectures as well as participated in founding other practice-oriented associations such as a food association or a credit union. Dr Blaho was also active in politics and he was elected an MP to the Hungarian Parliament in 1905.

The most important part of the history comes in 1918, again linked to Dr.Pavol Blaho and Dr Ľudovít Okánik. Both of them jointly with the town of Skalica played a crucial role in establishing the new Czechoslovak Republic1. It was declared on 28 October 1918. The so-called Temporary Government representing Slovakia2 came to Skalica on 6 November 1918. The head of the Government was Vavro Šrobár, a close friend of Pavol Blaho. They used to know each other since the time of national activism in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.3 The Temporary Government had its seat in the flat of Pavol Blaho for ten days after which the Government resigned. During those days Pavol Blaho was Minister of the Interior.

In the context of the historical, local and border identity, it is important to mention the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. After the political change in 19894, Czechoslovakia became a democratic republic of two nations of the Czechs and the Slovaks. In 1990 and 1992, Slovak nationalism was an increasing problem used by the leading politicians on both sides. Politicians on both sides were unable to find a mutually acceptable agreement of the coexistence of the Czech and the Slovaks in a common state. Two of them, Prime Minister Václav Klaus (on the Czech side) and PM Vladimír Mečiar (on the Slovak side) prepared, after a short period of negotiations, the separation of these two nations as individual states.

1.2 Skalica nowadays

The last year of 2018 was very important not only for Slovakia and the Czech Republic but for Skalica as well. For the town of Skalica, it was the year of remembering and celebrating the short period of Skalica as Slovakia’s capital when the First Czechoslovak Republic was being established in November 1918. Several celebrations took place on a local stage. There was also a plan for a special event, a summit of the Slovak and the Czech governments.

One important aspect of everyday life is the unique dialect of the people of Skalica. The name of the dialect is ’Skalica town language‘ and the people born and living in Skalica use it regularly. Even the local newspaper invites contributors who can write articles in this dialect.5

2. Identity: local and border identity

The way we perceive ourselves, identity can only be understood in relation to culture, the culture in which we were born, or in which we live our lives. Identity is one of the key notions to which not only social researchers refer but which is also discussed on social media and in everyday life from different points of view.

Definitions of the notion of identity vary from the perspectives of researchers and thinkers. One of the perspectives of describing identity in the social context is to cover it by the key notion of cultural identity. “One thing that inter/cultural communication scholars do agree on is that the term cultural identity has been employed as an umbrella construct to encompass, or subsume, related group identities such as nationality, race, ethnicity, age, sex and gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, regional identity, ethnolinguistic identity, political affiliation, and (dis)ability. Also, cultural identities are inherently relational, and shape and are shaped by communication choices, behaviours, and negotiations, particularly within intercultural interactions.” (Chen, Yea-Wen, Lin, Hengjun 2016)

In this paper, I am particularly interested in local and borderland identity which in this case (the town of Skalica) are intertwined.

“One way in which identity is connected to a particular place is by a feeling that you belong to that place. It´s a place in which you feel comfortable or at home, because part of how you define yourself is symbolized by certain qualities of that place. The geographer Relph, for example, has even gone so far as to claim that ʻto be human is to live in a world that is filled with significant places: to be human is to have to know your place ʼ.” (Identity: Gender, Race, Etnicity and Sexuality 2015, 127)6

Different places are not neutral for people, especially for local people or people who are not strangers in different areas. It could be seen in different stages form international to local.7 Places could be and often are filled with some content and significance (for certain people). A place, a landscape, a territory is not neutral, there are often some symbols, monuments and memorials connected to the memory of the people, the memory of the place, and we can call them ’places of memory ‘8. A connection between identity and places could be seen as also including border issues. “(…) ʻborder phenomenonʼ is significant not only in the context of state borders but also in the case of many socially and culturally meaningful spaces, from the human body to local and regional administrative units, from the turfs of gangs to no-go areas and red-line zones.” (Paasi 2016, 483) The concepts of borders and topics of border studies present different attitudes. In the context of my paper, it is also useful to mention relational thinking and the cultural border.

The subject of border or boundaries is a key concept of different social disciplines. “It has been associated with research on cognition, social and collective identity, commensuration, census categories, cultural capital, cultural membership, racial and ethnic group positioning, hegemonic masculinity, professional jurisdictions, scientific controversies, group rights, immigration, and contentious politics, to mention only some of the most visible examples.” (Lamont, Michele, Molnár, Virág 2002, 167) As mentioned in the Willey Blackwell Companion to Cultural Geography, borderland studies (established and enhanced in the 1990s and the early 21st century) are recently linked to identity. (Paasi 2016, 483)

Relational thinking accentuates the situation in which a border is established. This way of interpretation works with boundaries as a social construct where ’all borderings of space are based on human choice and motivations and, thus, emphasise power relations.’ (Paasi 2016, 482)9

In the research part, I present parts of interviews where we can see the way some of Skalica’s inhabitants construct their identity intertwined with the place where they live.

3. Research: The ENRS’s In Between? project

During the summer of 2018, the In Between?10 project was delivered in the town of Skalica. The initiative is one of the projects carried out by the European Network and Remembrance (ENRS)11. For one week (13 July until 19 July 2019), six students and three project coordinators conducted interviews with nine interviewees. Seven of the research participants were born or live in the town of Skalica. The intention was that the interviews be conducted by the students and the topics of the interviews focused mostly on the life and contemporary history of Skalica, the region linked to the history of the Slovak/Czechoslovak Republic.

The interviews were based on the oral history method, which provided a suitable background for obtaining life stories and ‘history from below‘ information and views. A single interview was conducted with each person from the selected group. The age of the interviewees varied, there were individuals of the working age, some were retired. As regards gender, three of them were women, the others (6) men.12

3.1 Topic of interviews

The project In Between? is mostly about people who live on any kind of border. The meaning and reality could range from political and historical frontiers through regional, to borders between administrative units.

The interviews and the list of the questions were prepared by a group of cooperating students. As a preparatory part of the project, all of them heard a lecture about Czechoslovak (Czech and Slovak) history. The questions asked were rooted in Czech and Slovak history, especially the key affairs of the last hundred years, i.e. the establishing of the common republic, the coup d‘état of 1948, the Prague spring’ (1967-1968), the period of ’Normalisation’ in the 1970s and the 1980s, followed by the fall of socialism in 1989 and finally the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. All respondents were asked about these historic events/breakthroughs in Slovak history and all of them answered these questions. All the interviews were held in a friendly atmosphere13 and the average duration of each interview was about 40-50 minutes. The dynamics of the interviews varied.

3.1.1 Chosen interviewees

For closer analysis of local identity related to Skalica, I have chosen the following narrators:
• J.H. 70 years old, female
• A.D. 78 years old, male
• M.S. 77 years old, male
• P.M. 54 years old, male

I have decided to work with these four interviews because of some common characteristics. Among them, three belonged to the same generation. They were born during or after the Second World War. As the interviews were structured along the linear flow of important historical moments of Czecho/Slovakia, and they lived through most of them, I was interested if their view of life would be similar. The last interviewee is approximately one generation younger than the others. It was interesting to see his experiences and point of view.14

In this paper, I concentrate on two topics revealed in the interviews and related to the main topic – identity. There are two sub-chapters. The first one refers to the affiliation of the narrators to their hometown, the other one is about the reflection on living on the border and a connection with the Czech nation.

3.2 Identity of the inhabitants of Skalica in the interviews

During the interviews and afterwards when analysing what had been said, I took note of a single main topic mentioned by all the participants. It was a strong affiliation with the hometown (Skalica). All the interviewees mentioned or spoke about patriotism, feelings for the place they were born, in different ways but always positive.

The narrator J.H. (70 years old): “I have been living in Skalica since I was born. My ancestors also used to live here. So, I feel being a local patriot.”15 Later, she continued: “very good. Skalica is the best place to live. That’s it.”16 It sounds quite opposite to the later description of the difficult life of her family ancestors who were affected by the change of the democratic system of post-war Czechoslovakia into an oppressive regime in socialist Czechoslovakia. This female narrator is interested in history. She explained to us the mentality of Skalica residents through a myth which is still popular among the people. The key point of this legend is often used to explain the uniqueness of Skalica inhabitants. To put it short: the town of Skalica used to have capital law which was used for executing the people of Skalica and its surroundings. Once a thief was brought there to be decapitated by the executioner of Skalica. But the mayor gave him some money and told him that he should go to be executed somewhere else. ’We have gallows just for us and our kids.’17 From this statement derives a shortened variation: ’For us and for our kids.’18 This slogan could be seen as an important building block for local identity.

Another narrator spoke about his feelings for Skalica in terms of never leaving this town, although he had several opportunities to do so. A.D. (78 years old). He was asked if he could imagine living somewhere else and his answer was: “I had several opportunities, but no way. And where? I told you I was born in Bratislava, but it’s my mum’s’ fault, not mine.”19 (said jokingly – P.Ch.) Later he spoke about his trip to Great Britain during communist rule in Czechoslovakia.20 He explains how he refused to stay abroad, not only because he had a three-year-old daughter but also because he could not imagine leaving his home forever. Later, he returned to the topic of Skalica as the best place for living for him. “Here in Skalica, I feel good. Sometimes it is worse and other times… but it depends on the fact how you arrange it. I would like to …. Moreover, I already have a cemetery plot.’21 Afterwards, he sums up: ’So I have my place (cemetery plot - added by P.Ch.). So, I have to die here.”22

The final narrator P.M. (54 years old) spoke about his family roots connected to Skalica and the region: “Yes, the parents of my mum and also my father’s parents came from Skalica. The ancestors on the mother’s side, when we did some genealogical research, they could be traced back to the 18th century. But on the father’s side we have the roots in South Moravia too.”23 This interviewee did not speak about his relationship to the town of Skalica but according to his narration about being interested in the roots of his family he seemed satisfied with his findings. As he continues talking about his childhood in Skalica, the description is very idealistic. P.M. (54 years old):

“So, I have beautiful (memories of childhood in Skalica – P.Ch.). That’s probably typical for each family. So, we had a big family. During summer holidays, we always met with our big family, with cousins, so we played theatre together, because we were from such a family interested in theatre and amateur theatre-playing. So, since childhood we had worked in the vineyard, Grandfather was a farmer. Basically, every day we had to hoe or collect fruits and so on. Afterwards we had fun, we played theatre for all the people in the street, for the whole district, the one in the town, a small town, …”24

For all the narrators Skalica is very important as a place where they were born and/or they have lived their lives. In all interviews, we can find a strong relationship with the town and also a sense of being proud to have his/her roots here in the town. In anthropology and other social sciences, one of the main features for constructing identity is the distinction between ’we and the others‘. Thus, we can see the process of building their self-integration at the level of local identity, which for them is based on the history and distinctiveness of their town. All of them knew the history of the town and were aware that Skalica had played important role in establishing the First Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. All of them mention their slogan ’Just for us and for our kids.’25 They all were proud of their unique dialect. Some of them even supposed that it is not that easy to become a member of the Skalica community.

3.3 ’Border‘ and Czechoslovakian identity in the interviews

What makes Skalica people feel special is not only their sense of being something special from the historical point of view but also the vicinity of the border with the Czech Republic. The latter frames the memory about the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. All of the narrators were asked to reflect on the situation or their reaction when Czechoslovakia split in two. J.H. (70 years old) answers the question about the situation after the Czechoslovakia’s dissolution: “It was really harmful to us. Not just for my family, but here. Here in Skalica it was taken very hard. Here in Skalica, Mečiar26 was not really supported. …. You know Sudoměřice (a small village on the Czech side – P.Ch.) is three kilometres far away. We used to go for a trip there, to have lemonade, we would walk there and take a beer, we rode our bikes. …. And now you cross the border and the customs officer asks you ʻWhat are you carrying?ʼ So what I am carrying, nothing …..And what kind of people were there on the border, it was disgusting. They sent here such ʻGerman shepherdsʼ which had been on the western border before. There were such boys, not really clever. I don’t want to hurt them, they had their orders, but it was desperate, desperate. And I can tell you, I used to travel for shopping to Hodonín (a small town close to Czech side of the border – P.Ch.) every week. Since the Federative Republic dissolved I have never been there.…. You know, we felt at home in Czechoslovakia, so it was bad for us.”27

M.S. (77 years old) puts it very simply: ... “And the same as regards Czech or Czechoslovak relations. I feel proud that I can live on the border.”28

A.D., a 78 years-old narrator answers the question about the split: “I will tell you something. Someone who lives in Banská Bystrica (a town in Central Slovakia - P.Ch.) had a completely different experience than we have had. Because we had friends and girlfriends there. We went fishing there; we went there to take a bath. So, it was difficult for us, but we got used to it. And we have come back now.” (he means – back together because of both countries the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic are part of the European Union now. – P.Ch.)29

Just as the other narrators, M.S. (77-year-old) also speaks about living on the border close to the Czech Republic. He started:

“Oh, I have been thinking that you came exactly to ask this question, or for my collaboration. (The question was about the dissolution of Czechoslovakia -P.Ch.) I don’t know how it was 100 years ago but I can imagine that the life of ordinary people flows without the interest of what’s going on ʻup thereʼ (in the meaning – official politics – P.Ch.) And people help one another, they get to know one another and it was the same hundred or two hundred years ago. The River Moravia flows here, on one side Slovak people live, on the other side Moravians, what a big difference could there be? Not a big one. The people got to know one other, they got married. My brother’s wife was from the nearby village of Sudoměřice. There were lot of such mixed marriages.”30 The narrator finishes his reflection: “So with this (the contact between the two sides– P.Ch.) we took the dissolution very badly.”31

Then he continues seeing the problem in a broader perspective:

“I thought, if the state had fifteen million citizens, which means five million Slovaks and ten million Czechs; we would be stronger against Germany or Hungary. Even the state would be a more serious and powerful partner. And this hasn’t happened. But you know how it works in politics, it is all about fighting for power. I didn’t believe, I was an idealist, naive in the beginning (M.S. speaks about his carrier in local politics – P.Ch.). I thought that being fair is the right way, but in the politics it doesn’t work like this. For example, what happened in 1992 (the arrangement of the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Republic – P.Ch.), there was no referendum, without any serious decision our common Republic was divided in two. And we had a gathering on the square here in Skalica and I had no idea what I should tell the people. Slovaks were proud that we have our Slovak state but I had the feeling inside that everything could finish in a different way.”32

The narrator P.M. (54-year-old) had a similar reaction to the question about the Czechoslovakia’s dissolution in 1993. P.M.:

“I don’t know about the others, but we weren’t prepared. On the one hand, the border is about two kilometres away from Skalica and it was normal here that a wife was from the Moravian side or the opposite side of her husband (was from the Moravian side – P.Ch.) and they moved here to Skalica. Or citizens from Skalica moved to the Moravian side. So, we were affected by the change, it is natural this way. And it changed all of a sudden and without a referendum as we know it from history, but we were not happy about it. But I think we are not affected by the change, I mean that the relations are still alive. It is good that the border is not there, I mean that it’s not functioning any more. There used to be a custom service, but then life returned to normal. But we were not very happy about it; I suppose the vast majority of Skalica inhabitants.”33

We can see from the answers concerning the Czechoslovakian dissolution that it was neither expected nor welcome in Skalica. We can understand it in the context of common Czechoslovak history, which is appreciated and taken as part of important national and local history.


The subject of identity is a relevant and significant topic for different social sciences nowadays. Furthermore, the definition of this notion varies depending on the perspective taken. In this text, I have used local and border identity as integral parts of the umbrella notion of cultural identity.

I was trying to find some of the features which together build specific local and boundary identity in the location chosen. The place at which I took a closer look is the Slovak town of Skalica situated close to the Czech border. For analysis, I used oral history interviews conducted during the ENRS’s In Between? project. One of the aims of the project is acquainting young people, university students from different European countries, with a specific area in Europe, for which any kind of border is significant. The border in Skalica has always been there. The border was there in the Middle Ages (between the Czech and the Hungarian kingdoms, later between two parts of the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Monarchy). Lately, that border became very important during the establishment of Czechoslovakia and then later again at the time of its dissolution. While conducting interviews with inhabitants of Skalica, we found that the border was an important part of constructing the local identity of the chosen narrators. According to the interviewees, the boundary is an important part of history particularly contemporary. Being part of Czechoslovakia was important for the narrators. All of them felt disappointed by its dissolution.

All the narrators also mentioned how important being part of Skalica was for them. Skalica meant something special for them. Maybe to put it more precisely, they felt unique to be inhabitants of Skalica.

There are several directions in which further analysis could go. There are interesting questions about collective memory in constructing local identity in Skalica and also other topics not mentioned in this paper which are part of the Skalica identity in the interviews.

Being part of the In Between? project brought me an interesting opportunity to familiarise myself with the subject of local and border identity through the specific example of the town Skalica. Getting to know and analyse local and borderland identity could be helpful for understanding deeper geographical, social and cultural movements in different parts of the world. It could help discover different narratives about ’national‘ topics and see variability on personal, local, social and cultural levels.

PETRA CHOVANCOVÁ, PhD works as an assistant for education and research at the Department of Cultural Studies at the Faculty of Arts at Comenius University in Bratislava. She has completed her PhD programme at the Department of Cultural Theory at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. Her focus in the humanities and research field are oral history, social and cultural anthropology, history of the Slovak cultural identity, cultural geography and gender studies.



1. Czechoslovakia was one of the newly established states after the end of the Great War in 1918. It was one of the successors of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

2. The so-called temporary government in Skalica was a tool of the central government in Prague and completely subordinate to it. The jurisdiction was limited for the region of Záhorie.

3. They were editors and publishers of the magazine called Hlas (The Voice), which was a platform for the presentation of the Czechoslovak cultural and national connection.

4. The so-called Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution“of 1989 was a non-violent transition of power in the state.

5. The chapter about history of Skalica is based on two publications:
Bokesová, Buchta, Irša, Janšák, Kraskovská, Šátek, Pichlerová, Spiesz, Fundárek, Gajdoš, Jurkovič,Viestová, Fleišíková (1992) Skalica. Skalica: Mestský úrad Skalica, ISBN 80-900978-1-2.
Ján Buchta, Ján Sloboda, Zora Viestová (1968) Skalica, V minulosti a dnes. [Skalica in the past and present times]. Bratislava: Obzor, 1968. 65-069-68.

6. It is a quotation from Gillian Rose used in this book.

7. To understand it in specific contexts, it is useful to provide some examples. As an interesting and meaningful place in the international context, we could use the coast of Normandy, which could be linked to the fights during the Second World War.

8. Referring to the common notion of Lieux de Memoire popularised by the French historian Pierre Norra.

9. Based on: Wood, D.(1992) The Power of Maps. London: Routledge.

10. “In Between? is an educational project which began in April 2016. The participants are given an opportunity to conduct oral history research in European borderlands. Gaining theoretical knowledge and interdisciplinary and practical skills, they collect audio and video recordings of individual historical narrations and scans of private photographs in order to share them with museums and historical archives.” (https://www.enrs.eu/inbetween 2019)

11. “At the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, we foster dialogue on 20th-century European history. We do this by organising a wide range of projects, from exhibitions and publications to workshops, study visits and conferences. Our aim is, guided by the spirit of mutual trust, to support the development of a common European culture of remembrance.” (https://www.enrs.eu/en/about-us 2019)

12. The interviewees were recommended by local personalities and approved by the local coordinator. Rather than conduct representative research, the aim of the In Between? project is to teach the participants of the research project how to make oral history interviews and gain knowledge of the local history of the chosen borderland area. In the following editions of the project, it might be interesting to make interviews with more heterogenous group of Skalica inhabitants.

13. There was one exception. The interview went on in a good atmosphere, but the narrator refused to sign the consent of using the recording for further academic, archival and other purposes.

14. There are three/four other interviewees whom I am not analysing in this paper. They have specific features, different from those presented here. Two of them were not settled in Skalica, nor were they born there. One of the participants has moved to Skalica lately and it would be interesting to make a reflection of his viewpoint on the Skalica identity. The last interview participant stressed a minority topic, which is also an interesting aspect not mentioned in the other interviews.

15. J.H.: „Žijem v Skalici od narodenia. Aj moji predkovia tu žili. Takže sa cítim byť lokál patriotom.‘

16. J.H. „Veľmi dobre. Skalica je ideálne miesto pre život. To jako.“

17. ”My máme šibenicu enem pro nás a pro naše deti.“

18.”Enem pro nás a pro naše deti“.

19. A,D.:"Já jsme měl možnosti, ale né ani bohoví. Né a kde? Šak to. Já sice povídam, narodil jsem se v Bratislave, ale za to může mama, né já.“

20. It took place in 1966 according to his narrative and it was a visit of a folk ensemble, which he was part of.

21. A.D: Tady ve Skalici je mi dobře. Někedy horší, někedy ale, to jak si to člověk zarídí. A tu bych aj… Já už mám dokonca aj místo kúpené.“

22. A.D.: “No a takže už místo mám. Takže já už tady musím umřít.“

23. P.M.: “Áno, aj maminy rodičia, aj otcovi rodičia boli zo skalice a po matkinej strane je to hlboko do 18.storočia, čo sme si robili ge.. tieto no genealogické výskumy, ale po otcovej strane mám aj z Moravy z južnej také korene takže.“

24. P.M.: ”Tak ja mám nádherné (spomienky na detstvo v Skalici – P.Ch.). To asi má každý v akej rodine býval. Tak my, my sme mali veľkú rodinu. Vždy sme sa cez prázdniny schádzali s veľkou rodinou bratrancami, takže hrávali sme divadlá, keďže sme boli z takej, rodiny takej divadelníckej, ochotníckej. Takže od malička, buď sme pracovali vo vinohrade, lebo starý otec bol maloroľník. A vlastne každý deň tam bolo treba niečo buď zbierať alebo okopávať alebo podobne alebo potom sme sa bavili tak, že sme sa hrali divadlá pre celú ulicu, pre celý náš región ten v meste, v malom meste,...“

25. “Enem pro nás a pro naše deti.”

26. One of the politicians who prepared the dissolution of Czechoslovakia on the Slovak side.

27. J.H.: “Viete čo, to bolo veľmi bolestivé pre nás. Nemyslím, len moju rodinu, ale tuto. Skalica to prežívala veľmi, veľmi ťažko. V Skalici nemal Mečiar nejakú podporu. V Skalici... Viete, že Sudoměřice máte 3 kilometre. Tam sme chodili na malinovky, tam sme chodili, neviem na pivo, na bicykloch. A teraz pôjdete cez hranice a colník sa Vás pýta: „A čo veziete?“ No, čo veziem, nič neveziem. .... Aj čo tam nasadili na tie hranice vtedy, to bola taká, to bolo hnusné. Oni nasadili na tie hranice takých tých vlčiakov, čo boli na západnej hranici. Takých tých chlapcov, také vygumované mozgy. Nechcem im blížiť, alebo či to mali rozkázané, ale to bolo, to bolo žalostné, to bolo žalostné. A ja vám poviem, že jak som každý týždeň chodila do Hodonína, to je tu kúsok na nákup. Od rozdelenia federácie som tam nebola. ...Viete že proste, my sme sa cítili byť doma v tom Československu, to bolo, bolo to pre nás zle.“

28. M.S.: “A to isté aj tieto medzi české alebo československé vzťahy. Ja to považujem za česť, že môžem žiť na týchto hraniciach.“

29. A.D.: “Nó, já Vám neco povím, ten kdo žije v Banské Bystrici, to prežíval, úplne ináč ja my. Protože my sme tam měli kamarádov, frajírky. Chodili sme tam na ryby, chodili sme sa tam kúpať. Takže my sme to niesli dosť ťažko, ale zvykli sme si. A vrátili sme sa zpátky.“ (myslí tý, že oba štáty sú v súčasnosti v EÚ – P.Ch.)

30. M.S.: “No, pre túto otázku, ktorú ste povedali som vlastne čakal, že ste prišli, iba pre ňu alebo pre spoluprácu. No tým, že sme na hraniciach, tak já neviem, čo bolo pred 100 rokmi, ale viem si to domyslieť, že ten život obyčajných ľudí plynie bez toho, čo sa deje hore. A ľudia si navzájom pomáhajú, spoznávajú sa, to bolo iste aj pred tými stomi aj dvesto rokmi, keď tu tečie rieka Morava na jednom brehu žijú Slováci a na druhom Moraváci, jaký veľký rozdiel môže byť, nebol veľký. Ľudia sa navzájom spoznávali, vydávali, ženili. Môj brat mal manželku to sa z tej vedľajšej dediny Sudoměřice. Takých manželstiev zmiešaných bolo veľa.“

31. M.S.: “Tak potom sa Vám to rozdelenie nesie veľmi ťažko.“

32. M.S.:“A ja som si myslel, aj keby ten štát keby bol 15 miliónový, teda 5 Slovákov a 10 Čechov, by sme boli silnejší voči aj Nemecku aj Maďarsku aj taký ten serióznejší alebo silnejší partner a to sa nestalo. No ale viete jak to je v tej politike, vždy to je boj o moc. Ja som tomu neveril, ja som bol idealista zo začiatku a naivný, že s poctivosťou najďalej zájdeš a v politike to celkom neplatí a to sa udialo aj v tom 92, kde bez referenda, bez nejakého veľkého rozhodnutia alebo teda závažného rozhodnutia treba parlamentov sa rozdelila republika. No tak nás to bolelo a bolo stretnutie na námestí a verte mi, že nevedel som, že čo tým ľuďom mám ani povedať, že Slováci sme sa bili do pŕs, že my máme samostatný Slovenský štát a ja som vo vnútri cítil jak, že to mohlo byť aj inak“

33. P.M.: “No, neviem akože ostatní, ale my sme moc na to neboli dobre pripravení, lebo jednak tá hranica je odtiaľto dva kilometre tuším, zo Skalice a bolo tu bežné, že manželstvá boli z Moravy manželka alebo naopak manžel bol a prišli sem bývať alebo Skaličania išli bývať na Moravu a tak. Takže nás sa to trochu dotklo takže nie je to až také prirodzené. A prišlo k tomu vlastne dosť náhle a bez nejakého referenda, však to vieme z dejín a neboli sme tým nejak nadšení. Ale myslím, že nás to nejak až tak nepoznačilo, teda tie vzťahy furt tu držíme. Je dobre že teda, že tam nie je tá hranica ne..nefunguje. Chvíľu to bolo také, že tam boli colníci a kontrolovali a potom to sa to zmenilo k normálnemu životu. Ale neboli sme tým nejaký nadšený teda. As, asi väčšina Skaličanov.


Bokesová, Buchta, Irša, Janšák, Kraskovská, Šátek, Pichlerová, Spiesz, Fundárek, Gajdoš,Jurkovič,Viestová, Fleišíková (1992) Skalica. Skalica: Mestký úrad Skalica, ISBN 80-900978-1-2.

egov.skalica.sk (2019) https://egov.skalica.sk/Default.aspx?NavigationState=880:0:. [Online] 10. 10 2019. [Dátum: 10. 10 2019.]

www.enrs.eu/en/about-us (2019) https://www.enrs.eu/en/about-us. [Online] 20. January 2019. [Date: 19. January 2019.]

www.enrs.eu/inbetween (2019) https://www.enrs.eu/inbetween. [Online] 20. January 2019. [Date: 19. January 2019.]

Chen, Yea-Wen, Lin, Hengjun (2016) Cultural identities. Oxford Researcher Encyclopedia of Communication. [Online] 07 July 2016. [Cited: 18 January 2019.]

Identity: Gender, Race, Etnicity and Sexuality. [book auth.] Murphy, Alexander B., De Blij, H.J., Fouberg, Erin H. (2015) Human Geography. USA : John Wiley& Sons, Inc.

Buchta, Ján, Sloboda, Ján, Viestová, Zora (1968) Skalica. V minulosti a dnes. [Skalica. In the past and present times] Bratislava: Obzor, 1968. 65-069-68.

Paasi, Anssi (2016) Borders and Border-crossings. [book auth.] Schein, H. Richard, Winders, Jamie, Nuala C. Johnson (eds.) The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Cultural Geography. UK : John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Letz, Róbert, Vašš, Martin, Roguľová, Jaroslava, Podolec, Ondrej (2013) Slováci pri budovaní základov Československej republiky. Pramene k dejinám Slovenska a Slovákov XXII a. Bratislava : Literárne informačné centrum, 2013. ISBN 978-80-8119-072-8.

Taylor, Paul (1997) Ivestigating Culture and Identity. London : Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN 0-00-329091-3.

Lamont, Michele, Molnár, Virág (2002) The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciencies. 28, Annual Review of Sociology, s. 167-195.

www.skalica.sk (2018) File [Online] 1. 8. 2018.

Interviews with:
J.H. 70 years old, female, interview conducted on 14 July 2018, Skalica
A.D. 78 years old, male, interview conducted on 17 July 2018, Skalica
M.S. 77 years old, male, interview conducted on 18 July 2018, Skalica
P.M. 54 years old, male, interview conducted on 17 July 2018, Skalica

This article has been published as a part of the seventh edition of the Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the memory of borderlands.

>> Click here to see the R&S Studies site

Chloe Wells and Małgorzata Łukianow

Post-Memories of Cartographic Violence: the Cases of Karelia and Kresy

18 December 2019
  • Poland
  • borderland
  • Finland
  • Kresy
  • Karelia

I’ve spent my life travelling into my own body, into my own amputated limb. I’ve prepared the most accurate maps. I have dismantled the thing under investigation per the best methodology, breaking it down into prime factors. […] Today I can ask myself the question: What have I been looking for? - OLGA TOKARCZUK, FLIGHTS

This article examines how the remembrance of two ‘lost territories’ created by a post-war border change and forced resettlements, Kresy (a former Polish territory) and Karelia (a former Finnish territory), are framed within the contexts of nostalgia and banal nationalism, and based on post-memories. We examine the similarities between data from two countries and two separate research projects to show that certain nationalist narratives surrounding ‘lost’ or ‘amputated’ territories, which are considered unique to a given country, are in fact present in different parts of Europe.

Our aim is to push forward and expand understandings of history and memory in border areas by comparing two geographically separate ‘lost’ borderland territories, which nevertheless, as we argue, have striking similarities in the way they are remembered in the nation states which ceded them to the Soviet Union (USSR) after World War Two (WWII). Employing a comparative perspective offers valuable new insights into the transnational phenomenon of the lost and longed-for place and adds to understandings of national identity, territorial belonging, and how societies remember. We trace common perspectives and mechanisms of remembering territories which were annexed by the USSR after WWII, including the issues of forced border change and forced migrations and resettlements.

We examine, not all possible aspects of the broad notions of Karelia and Kresy, but strong points of comparison (of which we find many) between the two cases. They might serve as points of departure for further studies, combining the same or other cases. Our interview data were collected as part of two separate research projects, which utilised different methodologies. The data were compared for the purposes of this paper after data collection for our two PhD research projects had been completed. In both research projects we conducted interviews with young people, which were transcribed and qualitatively analysed using thematic content analysis (Finland) (see Braun and Clark 2006) and via a method inspired by the work of Welzer, Moller and Tschugnall (2002) (Poland). The data from Finland comprise 38 focus group interviews in eleven different cities across Finland, with a total of 325 upper secondary school students born between 1998-2001, some of whom had grandparents, great-grandparents, or other relatives who were resettled from Karelia. As around 10% of Finland’s wartime population was resettled, it is not unusual for someone to have a relative from ceded Karelia and to have a familial connection to the area. The data from Poland comprise 30 individual interviews with people born after 1989, who are part of a case study into family memory and either grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the resettled. Today, around 15% of Poles declare they have ancestors from Kresy (CBOS 2012).

The focus group interviews in Finland were conducted in 2017. During the interviews participants were asked the following questions: “What do you know about Karelia?”, “What comes to mind if you hear the word ’Karelia’?”, “Where is Karelia?”. Anonymous written summaries and feedback forms which participants wrote and completed at the end of their interviews were also included in the analysis. The interviews in Poland were conducted during fieldwork in 2018 and 2019. The most important questions put to the informants (although the interview had also a free form, similar to narrative interviews) concerned broadly understood ideas related to Kresy and what role it played in their family history. Is Kresy the mythical place that Grandma talked about? Or has the informant personally visited and experienced Kresy?

Though Karelia is a transnational region spanning the Finnish-Russian border, ‘Karelia’ in the context of this paper refers to the area which became part of the USSR, and is now part of Russia, due to the Finnish-Russia border being moved westwards after WWII (see Fig. 1). This is the usual Finnish understanding of the term ‘Karelia’ (Browning and Joenniemi 2014, 2). Post-WWII Karelia was on the Soviet side of the ‘Iron Curtain’ whilst Finland remained on the other side. Around 407,000 Finns (about 10% of the country’s wartime population) left ceded Karelia and resettled in Finland (Savolainen, 2017, 170). The area called Kresy (Borderlands) refers to a transnational territory that after WWII was divided into three countries: Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, each of them being a Soviet Republic within the USSR (see Fig.1). The name Kresy is derived from the territory’s peripheral location in relation to more central parts of Poland, especially when referring to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the post-1918 borders of the Second Polish Republic. After the post-WWII border shift, ‘Kresy’ refers specifically to the territory annexed by the USSR and left behind the Curzon line, which today demarcates the eastern border of Poland. Around two million people were resettled from Kresy to various regions of Poland in its post-war shape.

The loss of Karelia and Kresy caused ‘territorial phantom pains’, the nation-state equivalent to the pain caused by a lost limb (Billé 2014), and national trauma due to the fact that these both territories were conceptualised as central to national identity (for Karelia, see e.g. Laine and van der Velde 2017, especially 67; for Kresy, see Kolbuszewski 1995). The common understanding many pre-war Finns and Poles had of the ‘natural’ shape of their nation state included the territories of Karelia and Kresy and the idea that Karelia should ‘rightfully’ be part of Finland, and Kresy part of Poland has persisted in some circles and has been expressed in the media and other narratives despite the fact that these territories have now been severed from their respective national ‘bodies’ for more than 70 years (Laine and van der Velde 2017, especially 69-71; Paasi 2016, 25; Głowacka-Grajper 2015, 164-182; Traba 2009, 290). Though Karelia and Kresy are no longer part of the Finnish and Polish nation states, “on an emotional level, they remain ‘attached’ to the national body” (Billé 2016, 18). The ,territorial phantom pains, caused by these lost territories may prompt “nostalgic moods manifested in cultural life and sometimes poured into powerful social movements. These movements proclaim irredentist slogans – reunion with the state, whose part this territory was in the past, or a restoration of previous borders” (Kolosov 2015, 37).

The memory scholar Jeffrey Olick has recently written (2018, 207) about the problematic memory of state-led non-legitimate violence that “violated rules and norms, integrity bodily and moral” and, we might add, cartographic. The memory of the cartographic violence done to the national ‘bodies’ of Finland and Poland by the USSR via the re-drawing of borderlines and the ceding of territories is one which now lives on via post-memory. Post-memory describes the way those who did not actually experience an event can still ‘remember’ it via “imaginative investment, projection and creation” (Hirsch 2008, 107). Post-memories take the form of stories and images of past events which can approximate memory in their affective force, expressed by the generations who come after (ibid 106,109). Francesca Cappelletto writes (2003) that it is not necessary to witness an event to attach certain emotions to it. What links both witnesses and others – for example younger generations – to past events is a shared emotional meaningfulness. This article examines whether today’s young people in Finland and Poland, who are several familial generations removed from those who experienced the loss of Karelia and Kresy, still feel an attachment to their countries’ former territories.

Apart from post-memories, it is the feeling of nostalgia that enables us to better understand how the imaginaries of lost territories are processed and preserved within national frames. Nostalgia is a painful longing for home, a home that may no longer exist or perhaps never existed (Boym 2001, xiii). Nostalgia allows descendants of those who actually lived in Kresy and Karelia before the war to preserve a particular understanding of what those areas were. Both Kresy and Karelia are imagined within a nostalgic frame as places which were ‘natural’ and ’timeless’, which preserved the ‘old ways' and traditions: “the joyful Karelian culture (...) boasts a thousand years of history. Karelians have always lived on the frontier, and have managed to maintain a sound faith in life and strong bond with their culture that was born in the heart of age-old forests, hills and great waters” (Karjalan Liitto ry 2019). The myth of Kresy as ’sacred‘ had already developed in the 15th century (Beavois 1994, 94). The image of people from Kresy is comprised of people living the ‘natural way’, being direct and polite, cherishing the traditional values of patriotism (Saniewska-Mochowa and Zielińska 2007, 168-172). Popularised images of the main urban centres of Karelia and Kresy (Viipuri and Lwów) and of rural Karelian and Kresy landscapes added to this nostalgic construct before and especially after WWII (see Figs 2, 3, 4, and 5)

The framing of these areas as ‘eternal’ parts of the(ir) nation states is of interest as the ’bodies’ of Finland and Poland which included Karelia and Kresy were actually short-lived. The shape of the sovereign nation state that is memorialised and that still ‘hurts’ due to the territorial amputatation only existed between the First and Second World Wars. Poland regained its independence in 1918 after having being partitioned in the 18th century. Finland declared independence from the dying Russian Empire in December 1917 and its borders were ratified in 1920.

It is important to ask, why the notions of Kresy as inherently Polish and Karelia as inherently Finnish persist. The idea of preserving the Polishness of, and Polish rule over, Kresy, appears to have been transmitted across many generations, until the present time. And perhaps in this case Polishness does not always mean material development but cultural dominance. This discourse claims that as the dominant cultural trait of Kresy ’Polishness’ , has to be preserved, cherished and given deserved attention. There are institutions, such as the Polish National Heritage Institute whose aim is to preserve the Polish heritage of Kresy, such as its buildings and cemeteries, and also to preserve and publicise the personal memories resettled Poles have of the area (Bernat 2016). In Finland, the Finnish Karelian League aims at preserving Finnish Karelian culture (Karjalan Liitto ry 2019). There are also organisations and individuals who campaign for Karelia to be returned to Finland. For such campaigners “Karelia belongs to Finland”; they are “utopian idealists, who deliberately use the past to further their political objectives” (Fingerroos 2012, 501).

When comparing the post-memories of Karelia and Kresy, we seek to avoid methodological nationalism, where social science imaginaries are territorialised and limited to the boundaries of a nation state (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002, 308). Transborder and transnational phenomena are thus obscured or invisible because the narrative is confined within state borders (ibid). This appears to be precisely the case in common narratives of post-WWII migrations and border shifts. Whilst these are sometimes analysed from the perspectives of neighbouring nations (see e.g. Halicka and Mykietów 2011), studies encompassing wider perspectives are still scarce. This paper adopts this wider perspective by comparing two geographically separate cases, which are, however, often framed in the same way as unique, national traumas for the nation states involved.

The similarities between the Finnish and Polish cases appear most visible when comparing empirical data collected independently in two different research projects. We understand Karelia and Kresy as (phantom) territories key to national territorial understandings in Finland and Poland which were ‘severed’ from their respective national ‘bodies’ by post-WWII borderlines. We want to know how young people in Finland and Poland today feel about these ‘lost limb’ territories. Here, we link our theoretical framework with our results from focus group interviews with young people in Finland who discussed Karelia and interviews with young people in Poland about Kresy.

In Finland, it was found that memories of Karelia have been transmitted down the generations via both narratives within Karelian evacuee families and via national media narratives. For some participants Karelia had personal significance and they appreciated discussing it in the focus group: ”the Karelia area is [...] a strong part of my identity and it was nice to hear more about it and that it also interested others [in the group] so much.” When discussing Karelia, the participants often responded from within a Finnish national framework: “[Karelia] was a big part of Finland and it was lost in the war and during the war many people came from there, here to Finland.” They also showed an awareness of Karelia’s historical importance for the Finnish nation: “Karelia had been, like, a really important area for Finland for the whole of Finnish and Swedish history and there’s a lot of our, like, ancient history there.” They understood Karelia as a territory which “has been for quite a long time this, like a debated area on the border of Finland and the Soviet Union slash Russia.”

What becomes important for young people in Poland, who at some point in their lives learn about their Kresy ancestry, is the sense of belonging and sharing a common past. This creates a common memory regime for a wider group. Family storytelling, with the use of the internet and other media, is supplemented with other content, enriching the knowledge people have already received at home about the past and modifying the narrative:

For me, Kresy is this most beautiful part of Poland [our emphasis]. For me, for my ancestors. There, it was necessary to testify each day that you belonged to some national group, that there were some common values, that we wanted to live in our own country, because if our country, our army was missing, we were slaves at best, and most often victims of genocide.

The importance of family storytelling for people expatriated from Kresy began after WWII when the memory of the resettlement was suppressed and the only way to preserve the family history was through personal memories. The role of witnesses is particularly important in the process of developing the narrative about Kresy (Jakimowicz 2014) and also when depicting the opposition of the Polish people and Others (Wylegała 2015, 3-4). For example, one of the most interesting cases of storytelling about Kresy is a situation where a family member supplemented their professional knowledge of history with that of a witness:

It began with how my mother taught history at a secondary school and gave private lessons. And whole classes came to our home, talking above all with Grandma. And Grandma went to this large room, she had a chair, and they talked about the war, about Kresy and Siberia.

However, taking on this emotional attitude has several more reasons than just direct memory transmission. Kresy is sometimes referred to as part of Poland, with Polishness as its dominant cultural trait and what is important when analysing post-memories of Kresy is what is defined as ’ours’: our cities, our past, our lands, our people. Although Eastern Borderlands comprised vast lands from the Baltic Sea to Galicia, the area that is most often referred to is the city of Lviv (Lwów in Polish). Additionally, Lviv is also the place that is most often pointed out as lost and being inherently Polish even though Poles accounted for about 65% of all its inhabitants.

In Finland, participants often used the national ‘we’ of Finland to describe the loss of Karelia; they include themselves in the group who suffered the loss, despite being born generations later. A clue is given as to why: one participant said she heard the slogan ‘Return Karelia’ from her father, which is being handed down and so might further a sense of continued Finnish ‘ownership’ of Karelia. Though interviewees repeated the slogan ‘Return Karelia’, often as an immediate response to being asked what the word ‘Karelia’ made them think of, they generally did not express a strong desire to actually ‘return’ to the ceded territory, or to have it ‘returned’ to Finland. The majority of the young people who participated in the focus groups, seem not to have inherited a strong personal sense of loss or grief over Karelia: this indicates a ‘faulty’ or incomplete transmission of the memory of Karelia across generational borders.

Both in the case of Poland and Finland, participants expressed the notion that people did not talk about Kresy and Karelia. Some participants in Finland felt that more acknowledgement of Karelia’s significance was needed, as expressed by the idea that it is “talked about too little” or the opinion that “It was interesting to hear about Karelia because it’s rare to meet people who talk about it.” Among the Polish interviewees, Kresy seems both close and distant. It is distant in terms of geography but also close because it forms the backbone of family histories. What is important when looking at personal memories is that the issue of Kresy was neither a subject of the pre-1989 Polish historical policy (because of the above-mentioned political reasons) nor after 1989. Because of this, even after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the persistent idea of a ‘treasure chest of memories’ has remained. This is the most important aspect of both memories and post-memories of Kresy – the sense of oppression, the need to pass on the story and the feeling of underappreciation. Many think that not enough is written and spoken about Kresy and in one of the interviews, a man, aged 26, who is deeply involved in events commemorating the fate of people resettled from former Polish Eastern Borderlands, points out: “If this truth [about post-war resettlements] was present in public life, then perhaps we would not have been needed in this area. But it still does not exist and if it was not put into prison in the 1990s, it does not mean that the truth in public life was already present.”

Participants in Finland associated ‘Karelia’ with certain foods, which they regularly come across in daily life: “When I hear [the word] ’Karelia’, I think of all Karelian food [...] Like Karelian pies, we have them at school today actually,... and stews”, beer and pop songs. Such seemingly banal references made by participants to Karelia as a presence in their everyday lives should not be rejected or ignored because these can be one of the main ways the participants come across the idea of ‘Karelia’ and start to understand its significance (or not) for them and for the wider culture in which they grow up. (see Wells 2016 for more on Karelian food and banal nationalism).

The need to reveal the truth, to bring it to light, is omnipresent in the interviews with young people from Poland, who are aware of their family history. However, it would be an oversimplification to say that all families whose ancestors came from Kresy are well aware of their family history. Very often during joint family interviews, many cases were mentioned for the first time and it is important to explain why. The memory of a traumatic event, perhaps to the disappointment of a scholar working on family memory, is not easily passed on as more often than not it means re-enacting difficult aspects from the past. This leads in many ways to a transmission that is distorted: its simplified, violent elements are erased and the general image of the past comprises harmonious multiculturalism, ‘good old days‘ and happy times. Perhaps therefore the stories that the older generations told the interviewees are consciously perceived as nostalgic and sentimental: “These years of youth were very important to them and they were idealised. Presented sensationally. There was an anger that they had to be here [in the place they were resettled to], not there, so I heard it many times. Kresy, this may make me curious too, and I would definitely like to go there.”

Karelia did not seem to have significance for the participants in Finland as a ‘paradise lost’. The participants did not idealise pre-war Karelia and one even criticised such narratives commenting that in stories he had heard about Karelia, “it’s always like it’s much better than Finland and greener and more beautiful.” The participants did however talk about-present day Karelia in a rather negative way, which is the other side of the coin of the idealised pre-war image: “Nowadays it’s quite a poor area” , “It’s dead like Siberia”, “Karelia hasn’t kept developing. If it were part of Finland, well then it certainly would have developed”, “it got into a bad condition because it wasn’t part of Finland anymore.” For these participants, Karelia is an area with negative associations, sometimes linked to the fact it is no longer part of Finland.

Participants in Finland sometimes expressed nationalist ideas repeating the slogan ‘Return Karelia’. When asked where he had heard the slogan, one participant responded “Well it’s a kind of a nationalist thing, it belongs to the Finns’ culture.” Another participant then added “Isn’t [‘Return Karelia'] in some kind of song?...‘Won Karelia Back’ or something like that”, showing how encounters with this nationalist, revanchist slogan can come via banal forms, such as Finnish pop songs (the song is by JVG feat. Freeman, 2012). Banal associations could become more serious during focus group discussions. For example, one participant began by linking ‘Karjala’ brand beer to the idea of returning Karelia by saying “Return Karelia one bottle at a time.” She said she had heard the slogan from her father. The same participant later commented more seriously that “Karelia was Finnish areas, but then we lost it” [our emphasis]. The word ‘Karelia’ refers to and prompts some deeper associations and reactions linked to the lost territory.

For those Polish participants who refer to the lost Atlantis of pre-war Lviv, it is obvious that this place ‘should belong to Poland’, however in many cases this is couched in words that indicate that it is not proper to formulate such claims. Despite the fact that it is an event from the past that brings regrets and bitterness for the loss, as much as the outlived past can be emotional, there is no way to return. Still, ‘Lviv is ours’ in terms of how the respondents describe their images and perception of what the city looks like (only very few of them have been there). The fact that after 1945 the city belonged first to the Soviet Union and now is part of Ukraine is not able to erase the deep roots of Polish culture. And the loss still resonates: expressing the loss is another factor creating a common space and a common memory regime for generations.

A sense of having suffered a loss by ceding Karelia also seems to still resonate over 70 years later: asked to write down the most important things their group had talked about at the end of the session one participant wrote “the loss of Karelia, which is still a bitter issue for Finns” and another “It was important to note that Vyborg and Karelia are still connected with a lot of memories and also longing.” Participants are aware that these feelings exist with relation to ‘lost Karelia’. Linking the loss of Karelia to a specific concept of national identity one participant wrote “It’s part of Finnishness to yearn to get back those areas lost in the war.” One participant explained to me, an outsider foreign researcher, that “many Finns think [Karelia] should belong to Finland [...] we would like to have it back but we probably never will.” Speaking on behalf of an imagined national ’we’, this participant expresses the idea that Karelia ‘should be’ part of Finland, but that its ‘return’ is not a realistic hope.

In Finland, the nostalgic longing present in evacuees’ narratives seems not to have been passed on to the third generation via post-memory. Today’s young people in Finland do, however, express post-memories of Karelia via imagining themselves as part of the ‘we’ who experienced the loss of Karelia: “we lost it”, “we had to give it away to the Russians.” The narrative about Karelia circulating in Finnish discourses of a ‘paradise lost’ can prompt certain emotions such as loss, and nationalist fervour but it is not a given that individuals or groups will have a specific emotional response to Karelia’s loss, as this research work with young people in Finland demonstrates. The respondents did associate ‘Karelia’ with the slogan ‘Return Karelia’ but that slogan they associated with beer and pop songs rather than with emotions of grief, or pain. Previous research has concluded that, overall, in Finnish media discourses, “the rough edges of the Karelian scar are slowly healing and fading in people’s memory” (Laine and van der Velde, 2017) and this is backed by the finding that participants did not usually perceive Karelia as an area or idea which prompted ‘territorial phantom pains’ for them.

An important question to ask using our both data sets is when, and how, does a painful family memory become a memory of cartographic violence done to a nation, a nationally felt ‘territorial phantom pain’? There are two key elements here: the institutionalisation of memories of Kresy and Karelia and the sentimentalisation of these memories, which enlarges the role of the respective Finnish and Polish national cultures appearing both in family narratives and public discourses. Another important finding was that the memories of lost territories were ‘preserved in amber’. Often the image of both Karelia and Kresy is related to old, traditional ways and nature, which remains untouched by humans (usually of a different nationality). This leads us back to the idea of inherent Polishness and Finnishness, rooted deeply in the imaginaries of the past.

As we might expect, much as the notion of tradition remains within society, money follows. Today in Poland, we can also see certain deeply processed post-memories exploited commercially. For example, many products are branded kresowy (an adjective that comes from the word Kresy). One can find many properties, restaurants and guest houses which have kresowy in their name, as well as meat products, sweets, music festivals and contests (Ministerstwo Rolnictwa i Rozwoju Wsi 2018). Though traditions are preserved via an official governmental list of traditional foods, the everyday implementation appears to be quite different. In commercial use, kresowy products are quite often not traditional in terms of their recipes but only in terms of their branding. An excellent example of such is kresowy jaffa cakes (see Fig. 6).

The concept of ‘banal nationalism’, the way nationalism is routinely ‘flagged and present within nation states on a daily basis (Billig 1995) is useful when looking at meanings ascribed to both Karelia and Kresy. Aside from being imagined as Finland’s lost territory, ‘Karelia’ is also associated with certain traditional foods in Finland, such as the Karelian pie (see Wells 2016); there is a beer brand named ‘Karjala’ (Karelia) (see Fig. 7) as well as Finnish pop songs about ‘getting Karelia back’. (JVG feat. Freeman 2012; Portion Boys 2017). These seemingly ‘banal’ associations mean that ‘Karelia’ is constantly present in Finland’s everyday life and may prompt deeper nationalist responses by being reminders of Karelia the ‘lost territory’. ‘Karelia’ is a case where there may be (potentially) ‘hot’ nationalism mixed with ’banal’. In Poland, many products are branded kresowy because of associations between ‘Kresy’ and ideas of ‘natural’ products and traditional ways of life. Banal nationalism becomes particularly visible here when kresowy becomes a consumer choice (see Fig. 6).

Post-memories of both Kresy and Karelia are present amongst the young people we interviewed. It was found during the research work with young people in Finland that they expressed a range of meanings associated with Karelia, from banal and everyday, showing ‘Karelia’ is present in their lives, to more explicitly nationalist ideas such as repeating the slogan ‘Return Karelia’. Post-1989 generations in Poland imagine a Kresy of sentimentalised landscapes and the idea of an Arcadia disrupted by war, and sometimes express, in relation to Kresy, deep patriotism deriving from a perceived need to protect Polish statehood. The uncontested ‘Polishness’ of the area results in the presence of a nationalist dimension to nostalgic longing for Kresy.

Our findings show that both Karelia and Kresy are framed from national perspectives: Karelia is framed by young people from the Finnish perspective; the area as it is now is judged against an idealised version of ‘how it was’ when it was part of Finland. Some authors working on the memory of Kresy claim that attitudes expressed concerning Polish cultural dominance over the area have a post-colonial edge. This (post) colonialist way of thinking about Kresy is mostly visible in claims for the supremacy of Polish culture over others and diminishing or ignoring the role of other nationalities and minorities in the development of the area.

With both Kresy and Karelia, what is felt to have been lost is not only the territory itself, understood in quantitative terms, but also cultural heritage and meaningful places such as homes and communities. The loss of the latter makes it harder to overcome the loss of the former, and hence both Kresy and Karelia are often still referred to as if they continued to be part of Poland and Finland, respectively – if not territorially, then culturally or spiritually. In the post-Soviet era public calls for a revision of borders and return of the territories of Kresy and Karelia are no longer such a risk.

It is perhaps not surprising that memories of territorial losses are usually preserved within a national context. Shared memories become cornerstones for identification with a shared past and contribute to the commitment towards a shared future. Memories of a shared past can form the foundations for ‘grand solidarities’ and ethnic nationalism. When a memory of territorial loss is framed within a national context, however, this obscures the wider perspective of post-war resettlements. In both cases, we noted tendencies to depict and memorialise a territorial loss as unique for the nation involved, as being a singular phenomenon.

By comparing two different data sets, we have showed that the framing of post-memories of lost territories is, in fact, more universal and that it is possible to conceptualise the process further. We have found that, even though post-memories of their lost territories formed in two societies developing in very different geopolitical contexts on either side of the Iron Curtain, the sense of longing and belonging is the same. This might be a point of departure for further comparative studies focused on the post-war period.

CHLOE WELLS is a grant funded doctoral researcher in the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies at the University of Eastern Finland. Her PhD research combines concepts from Human Geography, Border Studies and Memory Studies to examine the transgenerational transmission of the memory of a borderland city. Her research focuses on what meanings and memories young people in Finland attach to Vyborg, Russia which before the Second World War was Viipuri, Finland.

MAŁGORZATA ŁUKIANOW is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Her research interests include the memory of the post-WWII period, Polish-German and Polish-Ukrainian relations and historical policy. Her PhD research comprises generational transmission of memory, field theory and the relations between personal and public memory narratives.


Bernat, Anne (2016) MKiDN: Lwów - jednym z najważniejszych skupisk zabytków, które trzeba ratować [Ministry of Culture and National Heritage: Lviv - one of the most important concentrations of monuments that need to be saved,], Ochrona Dziedzictwa Kultury Polskiej Za Granicą, 12th Sepember 2016, available at: https://dzieje.pl/ochrona-zabytkow/mkidn-lwow-jednym-z-najwazniejszych-skupisk-zabytkow-ktore-trzeba-ratowac (Accessed: 28.1.2019).

Billé, Franck (2014) Territorial Phantom Pains (and Other Cartographic Anxieties), Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(1), 163–178.

Billé, Franck (2016) Introduction to ‘Cartographic Anxieties.’ Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 21, 1–18.

Billig, Michael (1995) Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.

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Fingerroos, Outi (2012) ‘Karelia Issue’: The Politics and Memory of Karelia, in Finland in World War II: History, Memory, Interpretation eds. T. Kinnunen and V. Kivimäki, Leiden: Brill, 483-518.

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Other media:
JVG feat. Freeman (2012) Karjala takaisin. Monsp Records Oy.
Portion Boys (2017) Karjala takas. Saumaa Records.
Unpublished, in the authors’ possession:
Focus group session transcripts
Interview transcripts

This article has been published as a part of the seventh edition of the Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the memory of borderlands.

>> Click here to see the R&S Studies site

Ewelina Szpak

17 November. From anti-Nazi protests to International Students' Day

15 November 2019
  • world war ii
  • Second World War
  • Velvet Revolution
  • International Students' Day

On 17 November 1939, the Germans targeted Czech students in response to anti-Nazi demonstrations which were held in Prague. The turbulent events not only inspired the creation of International Students’ Day, but are also inextricably linked to the beginning of the Velvet Revolution 50 years later.


The German occupation of Czechoslovakia started even before the beginning of the Second World War. As a result of the Munich Agreement – a failed attempt by Great Britain, France and Italy at appeasing expansionist intentions of Adolf Hitler and Nazi authorities – the northern, southern, and western parts of the country, known as Sudetenland, were ceased to Third Reich in autumn 1938. Few months later, on 15 March 1939 Hitler’s army invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia which, while nominally autonomous, was under Third Reich’s control1. The move followed the creation of the First Slovak Republic, a client state of Nazi Germany, founded one day before in the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia.

During the first months of the Protectorate, the Czech public turned to passive resistance. Small acts expressing discontent over the loss of independence were observed. Many chose cultural venues to express their patriotic feelings. Performances of national compositions such as Bedřich Smetana’s “Má vlast” (in English: My fatherland)2 inspired spontaneous singing of the national anthem3. The increasing displays of national sentiments eventually drew the ire of Nazi officials who soon prohibited singing patriotic songs in public space.

Regardless of official bans new acts of resistance occurred. One of them took place at the first anniversary of the Munich Agreement on 30 September 1939 when boycott of all public transportation in Prague was organized. Everyone except the uninformed Germans went on foot for the entire day4. According to historian Mary Heimann, this grass-root social initiative was accompanied by flurry of leaflets and handbills suggesting more ways to protest peacefully against the German rule. Some flyers also encouraged to take part in a mass demonstration in Wenceslas Square that was to be held on the most emotive date in the political calendar, Czechoslovak Independence Day on 28 October5.

The evening before the demonstration the most popular sites of significance to the Czechoslovak history such as graves and monuments were decorated with flowers. Despite diplomat Jan Masaryk's6 pleas in BBC radio broadcast to "the nation" that no risks shall be taken, hundreds of Prague citizens turned out in the Square for peaceful protest. As demonstration was growing in size, protesters became bolder and started to express their patriotic feelings openly, singing the national anthem – in both Czech and Slovak – shouting anti-German slogans and demanding the return of the free Republic. Some groups of students vandalized German storefronts. The Nazis responded violently. German civilian police started to fire to the crowds at random. In result, 15 people were wounded and Václav Sedláček, 22-year old worker was killed. Second victim of the brutal repressions was Jan Opletal, popular medical student who died of injuries few days later.

Opetal’s funeral on November 15 gathered around 3,000 students. At the beginning, the procession, closely monitored by the security police, was peaceful. The situation grew tense as some smaller groups of students started to sing the hymn and patriotic songs and chant provocative slogans. The driver of the car of the Secretary of State Karl Herman Frank was beaten up. The incident maddened Frank who - as some historians suggest - insisted on treating Czechs with firmer hand.

In response to the events, on the night of 16 November 1939 Gestapo raided student dormitories in Prague and Brno arresting hundreds of students and taking many others from their homes. It is estimated that over 1,200 students were deported to Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp7. At dawn the next day, German shot nine alleged ringleaders of the demonstrations. Among them were eight students: Jaroslav Klíma, Jan Weinert, Josef Adamec, Jan Černý, Marek Frauwirth, Bedřich Koula, Václav Šafránek, František Skorkovský, as well as Professor Josef Matoušek. All Czech universities and institutes were closed; initially for three years, eventually till the end of the war – a move affecting nearly 20,000 students and university teachers. On 18 November, the Protectorate president Emil Hácha appealed not to engage in “senseless” and irresponsible resistance to the occupying German powers anymore, “lest Czechoslovakia face the same destruction as Poland”8.

November student protests were to be the last major Czech demonstration against the Protectorate government, but their victims and the determination in resistance against the Nazis were not to be forgotten. Two years later members of the Czechoslovak Army troops residing in England, including some of the former Prague students who managed to flee from the Protectorate, convinced student organizations of fourteen nations (including Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Greece and Poland) to honour Prague students and commemorate the tragic events by establishing 17 November the annual International Students’ Day. Many universities in Britain even interrupted their classes that year to read the proclamation and therefore to pay homage to the executed Czech students.

After the war, 17 November became a national holiday in Czechoslovakia. During the Cold War, the communist regime used the International Students’ Day for its own propaganda purposes but since the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, the commemorations of 17 November were only formulaic. Yet, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Nazi atrocities in 1989 turned out to be exceptional. On 17 November, a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a 15,000-strong student crowd assembled at the Albertov Campus of Charles University in Prague, expressing their criticism and discontent towards the hated regime, demanding democratization and reforms. Josef Šárka, a participant of the Jan Opletal’s funeral fifty years earlier, expressed his support by addressing the crowds at the university campus: “I am glad you are fighting for the same thing as we fought for back then.”9 The students continued their demonstration, marching towards Wenceslas Square while singing the national anthem. They were then ambushed and beaten up by riot police. The police action triggered few days of protests that turned out to be the spark which ignited the Velvet Revolution, leading to the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Nowadays, 17 November is still a state holiday in Czechia and Slovakia although it is officially known and celebrated as the Day of Struggle for Freedom and Democracy. It commemorates both the anti-Nazi protests and the 1989 events.

The International Students’ Day is still observed on 17 November.



1. Mary Heimann, Czechoslovakia. The state that failed, Yale University Press 2009, p. 169.

2. “Má vlast” (My fatherland in Czech) is a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879 by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. Each piece refers to Bohemian heritage, landscape, history or legends.

3. William Mahoney, The history of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Greenwood 2011, p. 173.

4. Peter Demetz, „Prague in Danger: The Years of German Occupation, 1939-45: Memories and History, Terror and Resistance, Theater and Jazz, Film and Poetry, Politics and War, New York 2008, p. 89.

5. Mary Heimann, Czechoslovakia. The state that.., p. 250.

6. Jan Masaryk was a prominent Czechoslovak diplomat and politician; son of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia. Since 1925 he had been an ambassador to UK, but resigned in protest against the occupation of Sudetenland. When a Czechoslovak government-in-exile was formed in Britain in 1940, he became the Foreign Minister. He remained in his post after the end of the war – even after the Czech coup of February 1948 in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia. Soon after the coup, on 10 March 1948, he was found dead, probably murdered on behest of the communist authorities.

7. Peter Demetz,. „Prague in Danger: The Years of German Occupation, 1939-45…., p. 136.

8. Brian Kennedy, The 17th of November: Remembering Jan Opletal, Martyr of an occupied nation, Radio Prague International Broadcast [Archive 17-11-2005].

9. Derek Sayer, Prague at the End of History, „New Perspectives” Vol. 27, No. 2/2019, p. 150.



Mary Heimann, Czechoslovakia. The state that failed, Yale University Press 2009

Jerzy Tomaszewski, Czechy i Słowacja, Warsaw 2006

Brian Kennedy, The 17th of November: Remembering Jan Opletal, Martyr of an occupied nation, Radio Prague International Broadcast [Archive 17-11-2005] link https://www.radio.cz/en/section/panorama/the-17th-of-november-remembering-jan-opletal-martyr-of-an-occupied-nation [retrieved 10.11.2019]

William M. Mahoney, The history of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Greenwood 2011

Derek Sayer, Prague at the End of History, „New Perspectives” Vol. 27, No. 2/2019, pp. 149-160

Peter Demetz, „Prague in Danger: The Years of German Occupation, 1939-45: Memories and History, Terror and Resistance, Theater and Jazz, Film and Poetry, Politics and War, New York 2008

Stefanie Knossalla

What happened to the Berlin Wall?

07 November 2019
  • 1989
  • fall of communism
  • Berlin Wall
  • Berlin

As historical remains, the approx. 3,60m high and 2,6-tons heavy elements of the Berlin Wall are exceptionally linked to the city of Berlin. However, only a few hundred metres out of the 160 kilometre-long barrier still can be found in the German capital. Its longest coherent and preserved section counts as little as 212m. Thus, a question stands: what happened to the rest of the Wall?

It was in the middle of the night of 13 August, 1961 when the lights went out at the Brandenburg Gate in East Berlin. Under the cover of darkness, construction works began on what eventually become a system of walls, fences, barbed wire, guard towers, unused land – a complex which was later to be known as the Berlin Wall or simply ‘The Wall’, as Germans referred to it. The impenetrable barrier divided the city into two parts, becoming a visible sign of the rising tensions between the Western and Eastern Blocs. During the 28 years of its existence, the wall between East and West Berlin cost the lives of at least 136 people who died during their attempts to escape from GDR.

Everything changed in the second half of 1989. The pro-democratic developments in other countries of the former Eastern Bloc such as the Round Table Talks and the following first semi-free elections in Poland, as well as the increasing stream of refugees leaving East Germany via the now opened Hungarian-Austrian border, put the German socialist government under immense pressure. A way to defuse the growing social unrest had to be found. On 9 November 1989, Günter Schabowski, a member of the Socialist Unity Party acting as its unofficial spokesman, announced the new loosened travel regulations during an evening press conference. The event was live broadcasted on radio and TV.

As a result, thousands and thousands of East Germans streamed to the border crossings, pressuring the border troops to immediately implement new directives. The border guards at Bornholmer Straße were first to succumb. The rest, as they say, is history. Pictures and videos of the fall of the Berlin Wall spread around the world: East and West Berliners celebrating on top of the Wall, helping each other reach the other side of the former impervious border, sharing and swinging hammers and chisels to destroy the substance that has separated them beforehand.

Berlin Wall: should it stay or should it go?

At first, tearing down the ‘Wall of Shame’ was considered an act of liberation from the monumental symbol of oppression and the painful segregation imposed by the communist government. The proactive demolition of the Wall by the population and its following official removal organised by the state were based on the consensus that the detested concrete structure in the middle of Berlin needs to be gone as quickly as possible.

Simultaneously, Berliners and visitors to the newly reunited city started to rather vigorously hack out chunks of the Wall in order to acquire a piece of “historical testimony”1. These so-called ‘wall-peckers’ came for diverse reasons. Among them were people hunting for souvenirs, professional merchants who started to sell little bits of the structure within hours after the opening of the border, and those who personally experienced its fall. By taking a piece of the Wall, they obtained a tangible, materialised memory of the revolution that just took place.

However, as the Berlin Wall was vanishing before everyone’s eyes, the Berlin State Office responsible for its dismantling realised the need for preserving at least some of its parts as the city’s heritage. The strategic decision to put some segments of the barrier under protection was announced on 2 October 1990, exactly one day before German reunification. The resolution was met with criticism: the predominant mood among the public opinion of the time was to get rid of the remnants of divided Germany entirely, once and for all. Only over a decade later, in 2006, the city senate decided to pass a “master plan to preserve the memory of the Berlin Wall”, which led to the opening of the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre at the Bernauer Straße three years later. The site, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Berlin Wall, is now the only place where one can see the sequence of the fortifications preserved in their original state.

Interestingly, letting some remnants of the former border stay did not cause as much controversy – as long as their appearance, and thus: meaning, was first completely changed. The East Side Gallery – a 1,3km long rear wall complex facing former East Berlin converted into an open-air showcase of over 100 artworks – was first opened on 28 September 1990. Having secured an official commission from the GDR Council of Ministers, 118 artists from 21 different countries created murals on the Wall’s still standing segments in which they interpreted its fall2. Their paintings reflected on the oppressiveness of GDR as well as other authoritarian and totalitarian countries around the world, while praising the ideals of democracy and liberty. Applying colourful pieces of art where it used to be prohibited constituted in itself the best proof of the regained freedom. The grey solemn border wall was re-appropriated and its meaning transformed and domesticated, so as to suit the surrounding urban fabric – similarly to what used to be done to the Western side of the Wall, which before 1989 was often covered in colourful graffiti, tags and political slogans, standing in stark contrast to its Eastern solemn counterpart.

A piece of the Berlin Wall to go, please

Meanwhile, throughout the 1990s and up to this day international institutions have been acquiring their own components of the Wall in order to exhibit them as symbols of either the Cold War or its end in 1989 – or both. From Russia to Hawaii, from the Sanctuary of Fátima in Portugal to the Peace Park of Uijeongbu 30km south of the North- and South Korean border, to Hungary, Romania and Stocznia Gdańska in Poland, countless of the historical slabs are traceable worldwide. Although there is no exact registry available of where to find the original segments of the Berlin Wall, it is obvious that the monument has been detached from its historical environment and thus re-contextualized as a portable relic.

Nowadays, it is surprisingly easy to get your very own piece of the Berlin Wall. On numerous online websites, at stalls near historical sites, even in official souvenir shops across the city, people can buy (allegedly) original fragments of the wall that separated Berlin into two parts. Whereas there is a range of sizes and prices – some companies even sell entire slabs of the Wall for a four-digit fee – each piece goes with a certificate confirming its authenticity. However, no institution has the authority to issue such documents. As most of the officially demolished segments of the Wall were afterwards shredded and used for road construction, it is safe to assume that a considerable amount of these souvenirs is fake.

Berlin Wall: global lieu de mémoire

30 years after its fall, the meanings given to the Berlin Wall seem to be full of contradictions. On one hand, its tearing down has gotten equated with the peaceful revolution in Germany – or even the whole former Eastern Bloc. Its significance often gets universalized to such an extent that it begins to overshadow other equally important political transformations of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe and sometimes is even treated as a symbol of freedom and liberation in general. On the other, the Berlin Wall continues to stand for oppression and illiberal living conditions in GDR, as well as other authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

As cultural studies scholar Frederick Baker argues, the Wall has been changed into “a ‘collective symbol’, an easily identifiable, emotionally charged, physical embodiment of the political system which made it – both symbol of tyranny and symbol of liberation from tyranny.”3 This significant double meaning, acting here as two sides of the same coin, is often being conveyed onto remaining pieces of the Wall – be it real or fake ones. Hence their captivating symbolic strength and popularity, which allowed them not only to become renowned Berlin memorial sites, but also to be distributed beyond regional borders as private souvenirs or historical artefacts, being put on display across the world.

Written by Stefanie Knossalla; edited by Jagna Jaworowska

1. The phrase used by art and architecture historian Axel Klausmeier (Klausmeier 2009: 97).
2. Six years ago, investors of luxury apartments started to remove segments of the East Side Gallery in order to have enough space for a construction site. This triggered international protests carried out under the slogan: “Rescue the National Monument East Side Gallery! No luxury housing on the former ‘death strip’.” Although demonstrators managed to temporarily stop the investors’ plan, parts of the gallery had been already gone. As the attack on the murals seemed to repeat in the beginning of 2018, powerful demonstrations finally led to an agreement: the property around the Wall’s section in question has been handed over to the Berlin Wall Foundation. The NGO is responsible for the further preservation of the historical site.
3. Baker 1993: 725


Baker, Frederick. ‘The Berlin Wall: production and preservation and consumption of a 20th century monument’. Antiquity Publications 67, 1993. 709-733

Huet, Donatien. Interaktive Karte – Wohin ist die Berliner Mauer verschwunden? 29. Oktober 2014. Accessed on 20.09.2019: https://info.arte.tv/de/interaktive-karte-wohin-ist-die-berliner-mauer-verschwunden

Klausmeier, Axel. ‘Interpretation as a means of preservation policy or: Whose heritage is the Berlin Wall?’ In: Forbes, Neil; Page, Robin; Pérez, Guillermo (eds.): Europe’s Deadly Century Perspectives on 20th century conflict heritage, Swindon, 2009. 97-105

Klinge, Sebastian. 1989 und wir: Geschichtspolitik und Erinnerungskultur nach dem Mauerfall. Bielefeld, 2015

Nooke, Maria. ‘Vom Mauerbau zum Mauerfall – Kurze Geschichte der Teilung‘. In: Kaminsky, Anna (ed.): Die Berliner Mauer in der Welt, Berlin, 2009. 8-23

Schmidt, Leo. ‘Symbol und Denkmal. Die Karriere der Berliner Mauer nach ihrem Fall‘. Tagungsbeitrag: Der Mauerbau 1961. Kalter Krieg, Deutsche Teilung, Berlin. 16-18. Juni 2011

BERLIN WALL FOUNDATION 2019. East Side Gallery. Accessed on 25.09.2019: https://www.eastsidegalleryberlin.de/en/

BERLIN WALL MEMORIAL. Accessed on 25.09.2019: https://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/

Antoni Zakrzewski

Bombing of Wieluń. Polish Guernica

30 August 2019
  • Poland
  • world war ii
  • Second World War

In the early hours of Friday morning, 1 September 1939, the German battleship Schleswig – Holstein fired first bullets at the Polish garrison located at the Westerplatte peninsula. The attack and the following Polish fierce resistance constituted what is now considered to be the first battle of the Second World War. But other acts of war unrolled almost simultaneously also in other parts of Poland – including the “Polish Guernica” or the air raid on Wieluń, the first attack of the Second World War involving civilian casualties.

In the interwar period, the Polish town of Wieluń lied about 20 km from the border with the Third Reich and was inhabited by around 16 000 people, including a sizable Jewish minority. With its brewery, two mills, bakery, power plant, brickyard, sawmills and sugar factory at the outskirts of the city, Wieluń had neither industrial nor strategically relevant investments. It resembled many other Polish rural municipalities relying on agriculture, craft and trade.

The peaceful existence of the town was brutally interrupted during the early hours of 1 September 1939. “I was woken up by the roar of sirens and the roar of planes. I didn't know what it was. I sat on the bed and asked my mother what is [going on]. My mother said: You know, baby, it's probably a test, but you better dress up1 – recalls Zofia Burchacińska who in 1939 was 11 years old and remains one of the last living eyewitnesses of the bombing. Her account can be seen in the documentary Wieluń. 13 cegieł [Wieluń. 13 bricks], along with that of Eugeniusz Kołodziejczyk, 12 years old at the time, who remembers calling: Dad, Dad! I can see the planes! Dad, Dad, bombs are falling while drawing lines on the sky. “[That’s when] the roar started. Hell had begun”2.

One of the first bombs was dropped on the hospital visibly marked with a Red Cross sign. The raid lasted from the early morning until 2 pm. During that time 70% of the city was destroyed, including the synagogue, church and innumerable residential buildings. Between 700 to 2000 civilians were killed – the first civilian casualties of the Second World War (the exact number is unknown due to difficulties with identification).

The precise time of the bombing remains a topic of discussion. According to the accounts of the town’s inhabitants and of the Polish border guards, the first bombs fell at 4:40 am – five minutes before the first shots on Westerplatte. This would make the attack on Wieluń the beginning of the Second World War. The Luftwaffe documents and several other testimonies, however, indicate 5:40 am as the time when the air raid started. Some historians attribute this discrepancy to a summer time-difference between Poland and Germany (whose occurrence in itself is also being debated); others point to possible mistakes in witness accounts.

The rationale for choosing Wieluń for the attack is also an assumption for speculation. Since almost no strategically important sites were located within the town, some researches claim that the air ride was supposed to constitute a safe “real life test” for the Luftwaffe new dive bombers. Others note that the German army might have wanted to destroy the town’s train station and the nearby railroad tracks situated relatively close to the German-Polish border. Nevertheless, due to the sheer magnitude of the attack, many suspect that the main goal of the bombing might have been psychological – to create chaos and panic among the civilians and to diminish morale within the Polish Army.

Despite the aforementioned debates, Wieluń remains the first assault involving civilian casualties of the Second World War, and many see it as a symbol of Polish suffering during the war. As such, it is being compared to Guernica – a town destroyed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, no less but by the same Luftwaffe forces under the command of the field marshal Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen.


1. Polish original: Rano obudził mnie ryk syren i ryk samolotów. Nie wiedziałam co to jest. Usiadłam na łóżku i spytałam mama co to. Mama powiedziała wiesz dziecko to chyba próby alarm ale lepiej się ubierz; at 10 min 50 sec: Wieluń. 13 cegieł, dir. Sławomir Górski, 2009

2. Polish original: Tata Tata, widzę samoloty, Tata tata bomby lecą. Zrobił się huk, zrobiło się piekło; at 14 min 58 sec: Wieluń. 13 cegieł, dir. Sławomir Górski, 2009



Tadeusz Olejnik, Wieluń. Dzieje miasta 1793-1945, part II, Łódź-Wieluń, 2008

Tadeusz Olejnik, Wieluńska hekatomba. Początek wojny totalnej, Wieluń 2014

Wieluń był pierwszy. Bombardowania lotnicze miast regionu łódzkiego we wrześniu 1939 r., ed. Janusz Wróbel, Łódź 2009

Wieluń. 13 cegieł, dir. Sławomir Górski, 2009

Zuzanna Dobrzańska

„Destroyed by politics.” Story of a man, of love and dignity

10 July 2019
  • communism
  • In Between?
  • Albania

So I have been destroyed by politics… By nothing else, just the politics that was so bad that we needed to pay for it. […] We had been living so well. And after ’65, everything changed. All the mistakes of our government, it was us who had to pay for them, because they framed us as agents and spies and the reason they had failed to prosper1- recalls Vasilaq Orgocka, now a 86-years old Albanian gentleman who spent 19 years in communist prison simply for having a foreign wife.

But let’s start from the beginning. I met Vasilaq in Shkodra, during a study visit carried out as a part of the “In Between?” project. As one of my colleagues had already known him, I was familiar with some parts of his story even before we had the opportunity to talk and so was anxious to learn more. At first glance, Vasilaq might resemble any other Albanian senior citizen: grey hair, matching elegant suit and a wooden cane on which he relied for support. But there is one thing which distinguishes him from his other peers: to my an my colleague’s surprise, Vasilaq spoke fluent Polish – a language rather uncommon if not exotic in Albania, especially for somebody with no Polish roots.

Asked how he learned the language, he recalled how he studied geology at the Warsaw University of Technology in the early 1950s. At that time, a fellowship in Poland – one of Albania’s communist allies – constituted a reward for the most talented students. But his stay in Warsaw was not all study nor fun and games. Poland’s capital was among the cities which had been most ruined by the Second World War. “It was horrific after the war; whole Warsaw was destroyed. On Saturdays and Sundays, we walked around the buildings, working, rebuilding and being paid for that. But so much was destroyed! […] For instance, I worked on and cleaned up all of these leftovers from reconstructing the area where [shopping center] Smyk is located nowadays. I was not the only one, though. Everybody worked.”2 Later, when I had a chance to research the topic further, I would learn that it was actually mainly thanks to Albanian newcomers that the percentage of foreign students almost doubled in Poland in 1952 and that the Warsaw technical colleges were the most popular target Polish universities among the Albanian freshmen.3 But in that moment, I was just amazed that I had crossed half the continent to meet this gracious elderly gentleman who, so it happened, contributed to rebuilding Warsaw, my hometown.

And this was just the beginning of the many unexpected twists and turns in his life. In 1955, Vasilaq met his future wife, a Polish girl named Barbara, at one of the dance parties. She used to work at a laboratory in Southern Poland, but when Vasilaq returned to Albania in 1956, she decided to follow him, even though he had not asked her to do that. They got married and had two children together. He worked at a local mine, while she was employed at the beer factory nearby. Everything seemed to be going well.

But their life took a completely different turn after Enver Hoxha, the Albanian authoritarian head of state, decided to break ties with the Soviet Union in 1961. Suddenly, every foreign connection an Albanian citizen might have had become suspicious. Family and professional relations came under scrutiny; almost everything could serve as a pretext for prosecution – including having a foreign spouse. Many non-Albanian wives were put under surveillance. In best case scenario, they were allowed to get a divorce and forced to come back to their home country. If they were not so lucky or lacked influential friends who could protect them, they were interned or sentenced to prison4. The same applied to their husbands. In Vasilaq’s and Barbara’s case, Sigurimi officers (officers of the Albanian State Security) came to search their home and found a couple of golden coins hidden away as a precaution against difficult times. They used it as a pretence to accuse the wife of being a spy and dub Vasilaq the enemy’s aide and a traitor of his own country.

As a result, the couple got separated and imprisoned in different locations; their teenage children were entrusted to the care of the grandparents. Barbara was sentenced to 25 years in prison. After over three years of incarceration and torture, she was hospitalized and sent back to Poland, where she continued to suffer from physical and mental illnesses. She never fully recovered. Vasilaq first received the death penalty, which afterwards got commuted to imprisonment. He was hold in Spaç Prison, one of the most brutal political prisons of the Hoxha regime, for 17 years. He was beaten and tortured on a regular basis. When I asked him how he managed to maintain his Polish language skills even in such dire circumstances, he looked at me calmly and replied as if it was something to be expected: Every single day out there, I thought only in Polish.5

After being set free, what Vasilaq wanted most was to reunite with Barbara as soon as possible. He arranged a visit to Poland, only to discover that his wife barely recognized him anymore due to her mental illness. Sometimes she knew who he was, at other times she would accuse him of plotting against her government. She was too afraid to come back to Albania, and Vasilaq eventually decided against relocating to Poland. They lived separately till the end of her life. Their children moved to Warsaw to take care of their mother and eventually decided to settle down there. Vasilaq continues to regularly visit Poland to see his grandchildren, who, as he says, are already Polish. Barbara died in 2014.

For me personally, the interview with Vasilaq turned out to be an unexpected lesson of kindness, mercy and – maybe most importantly – strength. During our whole talk, whatever the topic at hand may be, Vasilaq managed to sustain a surprisingly pleasant or even lighthearted atmosphere, while never falling into banality or cliché. There was a feeling of sublime reverie, which remained in stark contrast with the actual facts being discussed. Asked whether he blamed anyone for the persecution, Vasilaq placidly replied he did not. He seemed to have reconciled himself to the past. Only temporary pauses and moments of silence in his monologue suggest this was not an easy thing for him to achieve.


The article has been created as an outcome of the In Between? study visit to the Prespa Lakes border region in 2017. To learn more about the project, visit its site:

>> More about the In Between? project


List of References

1 Vasilaq Orgocka interview, Szkoder (Albania), source: interview 23.09.2017

2 Vasilaq Orgocka interview, Szkoder (Albania), source: interview 23.09.2017

3 „Dzieje Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego po 1945 roku.”, Monumenta Universitatis Varsoviensis, 1816-2016, e-Monumenta_WUW 2016., source: www.wuw.pl/data/include/cms/monumenta-ebook/pdf/Dzieje-Uniwersytetu-Warszawskiego-po-1945.pdf access:19.01.2019

4 Interview with Małgorzata Rejmer, the author of book: “Mud sweeter than honey”, source: www.dwutygodnik.com/artykul/8038-pytalam-o-najprostsze-rzeczy.html access: 19.01.2019

5 Vasilaq Orgocka interview, Szkoder (Albania), source: interview 23.09.2017

Bartosz Dziewanowski-Stefańczyk

Centenary of the Versailles Peace Treaty

25 June 2019
  • First World War
  • treaty of versailles

On 28 June 1919, a German delegation entered the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to sign what was to be known as the Versailles Treaty – the peace agreement ending the state of war between defeated Germany and the victorious Allied Powers. However, before they could enter the room, the German representatives had to pass a group of five French veterans with drastically disfigured faces seen as living proof of German guilt. The scene perfectly epitomised the common sentiments underlying the shape of the Versailles Treaty, a peace agreement to a large extent forgotten, even though its outcome affects Europe to this day and remains highly controversial.

The Versailles Treaty setting the conditions of Germany’s defeat was the first of several peace agreements signed as a result of the Paris Peace Conference, which took place from 18 January 1919 to 21 January 1920. The aim of proceedings was to officially end the First World War and create a new order in Europe. It was to prevent any future armed conflicts, draw new borders and settle reparations at the expense of the defeated Central Powers. The talks were led by the Council of Four (briefly preceded by the Council of Ten), which included US President Woodrow Wilson, French Prime Minister George Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, representatives of the most prominent countries among the victorious Allied Powers. The Council was also supported by 52 expert commissions. Those who lost, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire, were not invited to the table and were expected to simply comply with the given conditions first formally articulated in the Versailles Treaty.

One of the most difficult issues influencing the Paris Peace Conference was, paradoxically, not how to reach a compromise between victors and losers, but among the victors themselves. The French, who had their north-eastern territories ravaged by war and lost one quarter of men age 18-27, set out to punish Germany. The British, on the other hand, feared French domination and were in favour of maintaining a balance of power on the continent, also due to economic reasons. Meanwhile, President Wilson sought to establish the upcoming European order on self-determination of nations and sought to ensure the new world order by creating an inter-governmental organisation known as the League of Nations.

For long, the German delegation was not aware of the issues discussed and conclusions reached, thus the final harsh shape of the treaty took it by surprise. Among its many points, the Versailles Treaty assigned full responsibility for the First World War (so-called war guilt) to Germany and its allies. The German army was restricted to 100,000 men and no air force, tanks, armoured cars or submarines were allowed. War reparations were to be fixed later. The sums varied over time. In 1921, liability was finally set at 132 billion gold marks (approx. 470.61 billion current US dollars). Most of the navy and the bulk of merchant shipping was to be delivered to Great Britain. Territorial changes, including, but not limited to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to France, province of Posen/Poznań and a large part of West Prussia to Poland, Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium, signified a loss of roughly 13% of Germany’s territory before 1914. Germany also lost all its colonies.

In Germany, the Versailles Treaty was perceived as a humiliation. German Prime Minister Philipp Scheidemann resigned and parliament managed to approve the treaty only 80 minutes before the deadline after which the start of a new war was to be expected. Even after being accepted by the government, the peace conditions were constantly challenged by various revisionist movements. This was in spite of other defeated countries incurring even worse peace terms. In order to understand the mood within German society, we must remember that Matthias Erzberger, the politician earlier who signed the armistice on 11 November 1918 on behalf of Germany, was murdered for this act by right-wing soldiers. The subsequent success of Adolf Hitler was also to a large extent founded on criticism of the peace treaty. Contradicting the “diktat” of Versailles remained a key provision of German foreign policy in the interwar period. Only the Second World War managed to erase the Versailles Treaty from the German collective memory, but not before the victorious Third Reich made the conquered French army sign the armistice of 1940 in the same train carriage, in which the German delegation had to sign the armistice in 1918. Poland, which benefited from the treaty, rather emphasised its own achievements in regaining its independence. In particular, it was forced to sign the Minority Peace Treaty, a part of the Versailles Treaty, that secured minority rights. In Hungary, on the other hand, the Paris Peace Conference, particularly the Trianon Peace Treaty, are still recalled as a traumatic experience.

Harsh conditions imposed on the losing side in a short-sighted manner were only one of the issues relating to the Versailles Treaty and other peace agreements signed as a result of the Paris Conference that continued to raise controversy. Another was the rule of self-determination that mainly served the victors, while leaving other groups excluded. It is often said that it was precisely due to this dissatisfaction that the Paris Conference did not achieve its aim of preventing future armed conflicts. Nevertheless, it should not be overlooked that the post-war order was also weakened by hyperinflation and the economic crisis of 1929-1935, as well as the American withdrawal from supporting the League of Nations. These were only some of the problems that arose when all the delegates left Paris.

Another popular view about the Paris Conference and its treaties is that they created nation states, as many Central and Eastern European nations were able to (re)establish their own countries following the break-up of the four pre-war grand empires. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the states that emerged, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia, were in fact multinational in character, a matter that is often forgotten. Moreover, although one cannot underestimate the importance of the decisions made in Paris, the new order was to a large extent shaped simultaneously by the respective Central and Eastern European nations through the active use of political and military means. Thus, some of the agreements drafted in the French capital only confirmed already initiated changes, while in other instances the Paris decisions failed to ever be executed. Nevertheless, the victorious nations of East-Central Europe, by sending their envoys, could for the first time in their history, at least to some extent, speak for themselves.

Even with all controversies and collective memories filled with contradictions and omissions, one thing remains certain. The Versailles Treaty and the remainder of the Paris agreements created a new order whose remnants and consequences still shape the Europe of today.


W. Borodziej, ’Wersal, Jałta i Poczdam. Jak problem polsko-niemiecki zmienił historię powszechną’, in: ‘Paralele’, in: Polsko-niemieckie miejsca pamięci, v. 3, H. H. Hahn, R. Traba, cooperation: M. Górny, K. Kończal, Warszawa 2012

R. Gerwarth, The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923, New York 2016

H. Konrad, ‘Drafting the Peace’, in: ‘The State’, in: The Cambridge History of the First World War, ed. J. Winter, Cambridge 2014

J. Leonhard, Die Büchse der Pandora. Geschichte des Ersten Weltkriegs, München 2014

A. Sharp, The Versailles Settlement. Peacemaking in Paris, 1919, London 1994

Jolinke Golbach


13 November 2018
  • Jews
  • interwar
  • Kristallnacht
  • 9 November
  • 1938
  • Antisemitism

On the night of 9 November 1938 violence against the Jewish population erupted in many cities throughout the Third Reich.

Businesses and houses were demolished, synagogues were put on fire and Jews were harassed, arrested and physically abused. This night became known as the Kristallnacht – or in English the Night of Broken Glass – after the glass splinters of the numerous broken windows.

The direct inducement for the Kristallnacht was the shooting and following death of Ernst vom Rath, the third secretary of the German Embassy in Paris. The perpetrator was Herschel Grynszpan, a seventeen year old Polish Jew who grew up in Germany and studied in Paris. His family was expelled from Germany to Poland in October 1938, together with about fourteen thousand others. The Polish authorities refused to let the Jews enter, which led to thousands of people getting stuck by the border in bare conditions for weeks. As a protest to the way his family was treated, Grynszpan went to the German embassy on 7 November 1938 where he shot vom Rath.

The expulsion of the Polish Jews was not the first anti-Jewish policy of the Nazis. Several laws aimed at the exclusion of Jews from the German social, cultural and economic life had been introduced since the Nazi's seizure of power in 1933. One of the most outstanding policies was the implementation of the Nuremberg laws of 1935, including the Reich Citizenship Law that determined who was a Jew. As a result, those identified as Jews lost their German citizen's rights. The policies were intended to force Jews to flee the country, yet they also laid the foundations for the anti-Semitic acts of violence which had been occurring in these years in the Third Reich.

The Nazi leadership, however, still sought an opportunity to culminate the aggression and the attack on vom Rath provided them with the necessary pretext for which they had been waiting. The German media, instructed by the Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, reported massively on the attack, calling for revenge. In reaction, several riots occurred in the following days. Vom Rath eventually died on 9 November, the same day as the commemoration of the Beer Hall Putsch1 was taking place. Hitler and Goebbels received the news of his death in the midst of the celebrations. Hitler left the festivities without giving his annual address. Instead, Goebbels delivered a speech in which he strongly condemned the 'Jewish' attack and used the opportunity to encourage people to take revenge. He informed the gathered crowd that the Nazi party would not organise any official demonstrations, but assured that if the German people wished to take action, they would not be interrupted by the police.

This 'permission' from Goebbels ignited a pogrom against Jews throughout the Third Reich. The outbreak of violence was portrayed as spontaneous, yet it mostly occurred under the leadership of the Sturmabteilung (SA) which was acting on instructions from the government. On the night of 9 November and during the following day, 267 synagogues were put on fire and Torah scrolls and other ritual objects were destroyed. Jewish houses and over 7.000 businesses were ransacked and demolished, while the Jewish people had to endure harassment, rape and beatings. Approximately 100 Jews died as a result of the attacks. The police and fire departments were instructed to not interfere unless German property or foreign people were endangered. Furthermore, the orders demanded the arrest of 30.000 healthy Jewish men, who would be send to concentration camps. In many places the violence continued until the night of 10 November and in some cases even endured for several days.

During the events, a significant minority did actively participate in the acts of violence, but the greatest part of German society remained bystanders and afterwards condemned the actions of the Kristallnacht. The disapproval, however, often did not come from empathy for the Jewish compatriots, but from the distaste for chaos caused by the pogrom. The German government responded by collectively fining the Jewish population. An amount of one billion Marks had to be paid for reparations of the destructions, while all the insurance money of the Jewish people was confiscated by the state.

The events of the Kristallnacht made it abundantly clear that it was not safe for Jews to stay in Germany, and thus led to an increase in Jewish emigration – something the German government did not object. As a result, some countries decided to heighten their immigrant quotas. The British government, for example, formalized the Kindertransport: Jewish children and teenagers from the Third Reich were given the opportunity to migrate to the United Kingdom. Yet while the international community condemned the Kristallnacht, no real diplomatic repercussions were undertaken.

The events of 1938 constituted the first open pogrom against Jews in the Third Reich – and the last, due to the citizens' disapproval of the public chaos. The Kristallnacht demonstrated, however, that the German society was not opposing extreme measures against Jews per se, which encouraged the Nazi officials to take their policies even further, just in a more discreet manner. The pogrom is therefore generally regarded by scholars as a prelude to the Holocaust.

by Jolinke Golbach

1 Hitler's coup attempt on 8-9 November 1923 is called the Beer Hall Putsch after the starting point in the Bürgerbräu Keller in Munich. The coup failed, but was celebrated in Nazi history.

Bard, Mitchell G., 48 Hours of Kristallnacht. Night of Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust: An Oral History,The Lyons Press, Guilford, 2008.
Benz, Wolfgang, A Concise History of the Third Reich, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006.
Bergen, Doris L., War and Genocide. A Concise History of the Holocaust, Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Plymouth, 2009.
Roseman, Mark, "The Holocaust in European History" in Doumanis, Nicholas (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of European History, 1914-1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016.
Steinweis, Alan E., Kristallnacht 1938, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2009.

Monika Stafa

Salvation of Jews in Albania in according the official sources

10 September 2018
  • Holocaust
  • Shoah
  • Jews


The subject of the salvation of Jews in Albania remained almost undiscovered until lately because of the political stance of Tirana against Israel as “an ally of the Atlantic Superpower”, although in a paradoxal way, the gorvernment of Enver Hoxha was one of the first to formally recognise the new state of Israel in the actual territories, since 1948. this theme was reservedly introduced only in the beginning of the ’80-s, mainly as an evocation of the Albanian tradition of hospitality and the salvation foreigners in times of danger. It was generally treated after the political changes, at the end of the 1980s.

The anti-israelite policy of the Albanian state wasn’t the only barrier to obscure this issue. Albanian sources were completely untapped considering how closed the Albanian society was. The severely firm stance of the former Albanian state against israel’s policies forbade Albanian scholars to study the issue. There is neither any evidence that foreign scholars were interested in exploring Albanian sources about the fate of Jews in Albania during wwii. There is an exception in the case of dr. Straitberg. In 1968, he wrote a letter to former dictator Enver hoxha, asking for permission to use the archives. As may be understood, he took a negative answer. 


The salvation of Jews in Albania first became an object of study by Anglo-American scholars, such as Bernd Fischer and Noel Malcolm, then by Italian scholar Michele Sarfatti, and the Memorial Museum of the Holocaust of Yad Vashem. Albania’s participation in the founding meeting of the International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm 2000), the declaration of the “day of Remembrance” (2004), the U.S. Congress Approval of the “resolution of Honor” dedicated to Albania’s role in the salvation of Jews (2005), and recently the organisation of the exhibition “besa – a honour code of Albanians” in Tel Aviv (november 2007); promoted a new cycle of researches and studies. One of them is the initiative of Mrs. Claire Lavoine and her collaborators in Albania , for the completion of a dossier with sources and evidence that are indisputable according to some historians. An international conference dedicated to the “albania phenomenon” as na European premodel of protection of human rights is being prepared with a lot of passion and dedication by col. Etienne Bommier and his group of work, with the goodwill of many institutions and French personalities (such as the senator Bernard Fournier, head of the group of the friends of Albania at the French Parliament). In 27 January 2008, at Washington a conference with this subject is preparing under the care of some senators, friends of Albania.


To date, the only sources used are those taken from American and British archives, some Italian sources and a few german ones, the memo-artistic literature of Jews that survived the Holocaust by staying in albania and the Balkans. Albanian sources are published, some scholars have managed to publish their studies inside and outside the country, but there are no foreign scholars who have studied these sources. Furthermore, sources found in Kosovo’s archives, where half of the Jews’ drama was played, are not touched at all. There are a few sources, contradictory ones, about the role of the so-called SS “Skanderbeg” division and its participation at the so-called persecution of Jews in Kosovo, exept for the memoires of the ex-legate of Reich in beograd Neubaher. We may say that part of the studies for this argument are still based on the “pre-data”.


It may be said that archival sources are or are becoming part of scientific circulation. Nevertheless, no study has been conducted on how the Albanian press dealt with the asylum of Jews in Albania during the royalty period and after wwii.

The bibliography of studies about this issue mentions only one article of the Jewish Mandil, published in the “Bashkimi” newspaper, in 1945. the article shows the gratitude for the support of the Albanian people. Some other articles of the same period, at least 3, that were published in the “Bashkimi” newspaper (1945-1946) are not mentioned at all.

The National Library in Tirana possesses no thematic bibliography on the salvation of Jews during the war because of the anti-Semitic policy of the Albanian communist state until 1990. such bibliography does not exist, but that is not due to political or ideological restraints.

In this sense, during the preparation of such a commentary, creating a mini-bibliography became a necessity.


It is a norm that scientific studies first use public sources. In the case of Albania and Albanians’ role in the salvation of Jews, research began the other way round: first the archives and then the press. It may be said that during my researches, it became a duty to fulfil this first contribution to publicize how the press of that time addressed the issue. In this case, the first concern of the scholar is: does the public stance, in a period where demagogy dominated, match the official stance as written in the newspapers, a stance that had reasons to be occult.

Research brought me to the conclusion that the asylum of jews was treated without contradictions, as the sources indicate. They were protected secretly and openly as well. The public and the official stance match perfectly.

This is so real that the protagonists of Albanian collaborationist cabinets, ministers, writers known as pro-fascist and others who were neutral publicly defended the Jewish personalities of Albania. Writer Ernest Koliqi, also a former minister in the pro-fascist government wrote and published articles in defense of Norbert Jokl, a well known Albanologist who lived in Vienna and was physically threatened after the declaration of the Austrian – German “Anschluss;”. Father gjergj Fishta, a writer who welcomed the arrival of the fascist army to Albania wrote a public letter about Jokl to the vicegerent of the fascist king in Tirana F. jacomoni; Lasgush Poradeci, a poet who followed the trails of Baudelaire and was indifferent toward the war wrote a letter to the king Zog, about Jokl. This letter was written in the form of an article, but the censorship didn’t allow its edition, because it considered the book of Fuhrer “Mein Kampf” as a source of evil.

It should be mentioned that some Albanian collaborationists, such as the former King A. Zog, Musa Juka, Mustafa Merlika and others had personal relations with Jews, sometimes through marriage.


Some articles of a cognitive character about the problems of the Jewish community in Albania were published during the royal period. There are some articles about demands of Jews in Durres who wanted Sabbath to be a day of rest, the Jews of Vlora asking for support for the restoration of a synagogue damaged by bombings, and to have the right of circumcision. There is no indication of any anti - semitic danger in the press of that period, although the doctrine of the “final solution” was declared in 1932. the articles of that time say that in Albania there is a Jewish community of no more than 200 persons. This community aimed to have its own representatives in the government. This is the case of the jew Matathia (Matthia, fr. Matheu). He was elected a member of the Vlorë Municipal Council.

The independent press, although critical toward the kingdom, emphasizes with kindness that former King Zog and Queen Geraldine had jewish courtiers, such as dr. Weitzman (official photographer) and dr. Ourinovskij (family doctor).

The independent press published some warning articles about the coming war, the racial character of this war, the general danger of the jews and the duty of honor of the Albanian people and government to save the Jews. The article says that the Jews turned their eyes to Albania, that this country is becoming a “second Palestine”, that the international press speaks about the Albanian “Palestinisation” etc. of great importance are those articles, not few in number, that were refused by the magazines and newspapers of that time because of criticism towards the hitlerian doctrine. They prove that there have been many initiatives to invite the public to contribute to this problem.

During the royal period, the problem of the accommodation of the Jews in Albania was an international one, that’s why the foreign press took an active part in treating this issue and Albanian thinkers expressed most of their ideas before the international opinion. In 10 July 1935, the daily “Moment”, a tribune of the Jewish community of Poland issued the article: “The Jews are invited to be settled to Albania. The article say that the Albanian government has made this decision at a special meeting and it appeals to the Jews of Czech and Germany to see this country as their salvation. The newspaper cites the decision of the council of ministers, according to which, “the government of the Albanian monarchy is ready to accept the accommodation of Jews in this country and to offer them possible living conditions. The Albanian consul in London gave such news to the international press. In his comments for the “Jewish Telegraphic Agency” dhe and the “Jewish Cronicle”, he is presented with the attribute of the “government spokesman”. The public declarations of the Albanian consul that were issued even in other tribunes of the jewish community reassure that Albania is an authoritative country that offers success even for the Jews wealth. The London newspapaer “Jewish Daily Post” of 14 July 1935 announces that the diplomatic service of Albania “since one month has announced the decision of Tirana to accommodate the Jewsh in the country”. One of the journalists of that daily newspaper, as written at the press of that time undertook the mediation of the albanian ambassador with the representatives of the jewish international organisations. In that time, the chief of the commissariat for the refugees at the Nations League, James MacDonald interviewed by the american press, was doubtful whether Albania was interested in the Jews or in their capital. He also queries the possibilites of their salvation in the little space of the little balkan monarchy. Tirana didn’t stay neutral in this issue. The Albanian minister of economy replied to the commisat James MacDonald: “to clear some views that are suggested by your interview and to reassure that i am ready to give you all the necessary information”. The albanian consul to Vienna had an intense diplomatic and public communication in the press about the stance of Albanian government (november 1935 and on). It seems that after all, London has been the chief town where the albanian stances were published. In the “Jewish Daily Post” newspaper (july 1935) is published an article of an Albanian minister, where it is precised once more that “the jews could enter Albania to invest their capitals in industry and agriculture” and that “the government wold offer them facilities and would not let them come, earn money and go”. The same newspaper wrote about the way the accommodation of the Jews in Albania was treated by the bulgarian press (1935). In the soviet newspaper “Pravda” in 1935 is announced that the will of the Albanian government to accept the Jews is refused by Italy, which sent her minister of economy and asked to Tirana: 1)To give to Italy the farming land of Myzeqe by concession for 20 years (this region was proposed by the former American ambassador to Tirana, Hermann Bernstein. 2) to give to italy by concession 3 other farming regions that should be populated by italian farmers for 90 years”. A Bulgarian newspaper writes that “the italian mediation is blowing the tentatives of the albanian monarchy for the accommodation of the Jews.

It should be mentioned that, at the time, the editor of british daily “Times” and some journalists of the “Jews Chronicle” visited Albania . The echo of their articles was presented with willingness even by Tirana’s press.

During the royal period, some research studies by Jews who used to work and live in Albania were published. These include Professor Stanislav Zuper, founder of Albanian geology who discovered the Baku oil pond. He was one of the former advisor of Lenin during the first years after the revolution, together with J. Keynes. These studies highlight the geological natural sources of Albania from oil to water, from energy resources to rare minerals.


About 10 articles, except short ones of an informing character were published. It should be mentioned that most of the articles were published in the “Fletorja Zyrtare” (Official Gazette), that was the publication for documents coming from state institutions: the parliament, state council and the prime minister. This has an explanation. During the royal period, Tirana was continuously under the pressure of fascist Rome to approve anti-Semitic acts. This issue was discussed even in the National assembly. The discussions are published in the “Fletorja Zyrtare” together with the final acts. However, Tirana never approved anti-Semitic laws, decrees, rules or acts of a racial character. As may be seen in the articles mentioned above, Albanian authorities reached the climax of accordance with fascist Rome with a directive sent to the council offices. Based on this directive, these offices should allow “Hebrew tourists” to enter Albania with a visa after they had satisfied some conditions such as the declaration of 50 then 100, 250 and then 500 francs, as an available account and the return to the original country. The press says that some Jews who asked for political or professional asylum in Albania gained Albanian citizenship. The newspaper informs also about the liberal politics that the Albanian state should adopt in relation to this. The acts and discussions published in this newspaper, in the worst occasion, inform us about some pressure to slow down and control the fleeing of Jews to Albania , but even in this case to please the “great ally”.


During the war, Albania had a pro-fascist press and an anti-fascist one. It is important that the anti-fascist press had no programmed article about the stance toward Jews, referring to the press in the terminological sense. This issue is mentioned in leaflets, especially those of the local communists’ leaflets. A leaflet of the regional committee of Berat, a city that sheltered about 600 Jews from Kosovo, appealed to people to hide and protect them and the Jews to unite with the anti-fascist movement as the only solution for their salvation. There is no evidence about the public stance, not even in leaflets, by the nationalist organizations such as Balli Kombetar (National Front) or Legaliteti (Legality Movement). It is significant to note that the former exiled king Zog, who was temporarily staying in Britain , pledged during an interview to London Radio to shelter about 25,000 Jewish families to Albania. This declaration was an encouragement even for his relatives and supporters who were organized in the country to act properly.

The official press, especially during the Nazi period, was silent about this subject although time after time it warned that Nazi ideology treated Bolsheviks, Jews, bandits, communists and political opponents as enemies. In fact, this warning should should be seen in the positive sense. It warned Jews to find a secure place to hide, because authorities, as stated in the negotiations Ribentrop – Muller, in October 1943, did not accept to deliver the Jews lists, but they could do nothing to hide them without the help of the people. And that is what happened.

Part of this issue is even the space that the good treatment of the Jews occupied in the foreign press during the royal period and the antifascist war in Albania. The interest of the great and little european and balkan newspapers arose after the declaration of the hitlerian doctrine for the final extinction. In the national archives there is a french article and a letter of the Jew Nathan J. Allalouf, who was a reporter for the foreign press in Thessaloniki. He wrote a letter to the press directorate in Tirana, to demand the opening of the Albanian consulate in Tel Aviv (pg 152; year 1934, D 895, fl.7-8). The same directorate, that was headed by the writer Mihal Sherko, gave (agrement) with no difficulty to Adolf Karcel, a jewish-polish journalist, who visited Albania (but the article in the press of that time is not preserved together with his correspondence. (pg 379; year. 1935; D. 74; fl 1-2). The same authority gave the jewish-german Wilhelm Weitzmann the permission to reside in Albania. He came as a reporter and then became a photographer of the court (F. 380; V. 1939; D. 45; fl. 15-16). There are a series of sources that can be labelled as press rather than as archives, they are official printings, supplements of the “Official Gazette”, that contain official acts used in wide range, such as circulars, manuals, the normative acts of the official attitude towards the Jews etc. in such a form it is preserved the circular with data about the white russian Matrasov, that informs about the situation of the Jews in Albania (pg. 163; year. 1938; D. 158; fl. 1); the circular of the Ministry of domestic affairs for not giving permanent residence to the foreign Jews that had come to Albania (pg. 152; year 1938; D. 1013; fl. 1); the circular of the Ministry of domestic affairs (printing) sent to the prefectures for the application of the laws of the government that the jews should possess 500 Francs, (pg. 177; year 1939; D. 772; fl. 1-2); the circular of the government for the consular rules about giving the Jews the permission to come in Albania (printing) (F. 223/1; V. 1939; D. 49; fl. 1-2) and other similar acts.

Peter Jašek

Candle Manifestation of 1988

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • 20th century history
  • End of Communism
  • Velvet Revolution
  • 1988
  • Candle Manifestation
  • Soviet Union

The day communism began to fall in Slovakia.

The anniversary of the 25 March 1988 Candle Manifestation is an annual event that resonates deeply with Slovak society as a symbol of Slovak resistance to the communist regime. Its ethos of non-violent protest could be also seen as an important one for the neighbouring countries, especially those behind the Iron Curtain.


It began in exile

A less-known fact is that the idea of organising a manifestation in defence of religious freedoms and human rights arose in the Slovak political exile, precisely within the Slovak World Congress (SWC). This was actually a rather logical consequence of the long-term activities of the Congress, which since its inception in 1970 had not only brought together most of the exiled Slovaks but under the leadership of the chairman Štefan Roman also made considerable efforts to fight the communist regime and Slovaks' right to self-determination.

At the SWC General Assembly in July 1987 in Toronto, Marián Šťastný, a famous ice hockey player, was elected the Congress's vice-chairman. Influenced by reports from Slovakia, especially those concerning the murder of priest Štefan Polák in October 1987, he devised a response that would resonate with the world's public and also constitute an act of defiance against violation of religious freedoms and human rights in Slovakia. The protest was to take the form of manifestations in front of the Czechoslovakian embassies in democratic countries. He selected 25 March as the scheduled event date - it may be a coincidence that this date was also his name day. He also resolved to reach out to people in Slovakia.

Today it is difficult to believe that news of the prepared demonstration in Slovakia had to be smuggled to leading Slovak dissident Ján Čarnogurský by Šťastný's mother-in-law sewn into the lining of her hat and written on chocolate paper.


Preparations for the demo

The normalisation leadership in Czechoslovakia in the second half of the 1980s was no longer the same regime that sent hundreds to the gallows, further thousands down uranium mines, or which conducted the thorough screening and marginalisation of tens of thousands who didn't believe the August 1968 occupation was really an international aid. Gorbachev's perestroika from 1985 not only changed relations between the superpowers, but also the attitude towards satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Brezhnev's 1968 imposed doctrine of international obligation 'to protect the achievements of socialism' was replaced by Gorbachev with Sinatra's My Way, as the eastern bloc began to crumble.

Although scarcely perceptible from the outside, the Czechoslovakian regime - which had lost foreign support - was shaken internally too: from the end of the 1960s, the aged government leadership slowly and without fanfare faded from the scene. The emerging generation may also had been pushing for Gorbachev's inspirational reconstruction, but they lacked the scope and possibly also abilities. Although they introduced partial reforms which liberalised the regime, they couldn't change its nature. That's why the authorities were still in the position to persecute actual as well as supposed opponents; shots were fired on the border with the West, State Security forces continued to bully and intimidate the opposition, anti-Church atheistic propaganda did not lose momentum, political trials were conducted, and oppression did not weaken.

All this went hand-in-hand with increased dissident activity. With Gorbachev's ascent, Dubček was emboldened, dissidents from the Hungarian minority became more prominent encouraged by the impression of a relaxed situation in Hungary, and previously forbidden names reappeared in artistic circles. Increasing numbers of people - who had previously remained only passive observers - stood up to oppose the regime. The October 1987 edition of the Bratislava/nahlas publication openly criticised living conditions in Bratislava, which indicated that normalisation's 'time without history' was coming to a dramatic end.

Other key signs of gradual change came from religious believers. Crowds numbering tens of thousands packed one Slovak pilgrimage site after another, the number of religious samizdat publications grew, and when at the beginning of 1988 a petition was launched for genuine religious freedom, tens of thousands people signed in their own names.

In was in this atmosphere that Šťastný's message about the prepared demonstrations found fertile ground within the secret church. And like the biblical seed, it yielded abundant crops The words of a leader of the Fatima Community, Rudolf Fibyh 'I have a candle as well as the will' became the catalyst for the secret church's involvement in upcoming events. Opposition activist František Mikloško shouldered the demanding task of convening the demonstration planned for Hviezdoslav Square in Bratislava.


Victory of Truth

From the very first moment that the demonstration was announced, it was clear that a fundamental encounter between citizens and the normalisation regime would take place. The announced programme envisioned a silent manifestation supporting the appointment of bishops for vacant dioceses in Slovakia, and the upholding of complete religious freedom and human rights in Czechoslovakia. Endorsement of these ideas was to be expressed by the lighting of candles. Information about the manifestation was largely circulated by foreign radio stations such as Vatican Radio, Radio Free Europe, and the Voice of America where Slovak journalist Anton Hlinka worked and promoted the event in the West. Equally important information channels were secret church structures, whose activists constituted a network throughout Slovakia.

On the other hand, the communist authorities - which viewed the manifestation as a political provocation - set out to prevent it from being held, or to minimise the number of protesters via various disruptive measures overseen by a specially convened commission. And sure enough, the regime utilised all the 'weapons' at its disposal: it mobilised party apparatus; propaganda machinery released news articles and television broadcasts to discredit the organisers and denounce the demonstration as 'an abuse of religious feelings' and an event organised by the West's 'bourgeois propaganda centres'; universities gave students holiday, forcing them to travel home from their accommodation, and threatened expulsions; several cultural diversion activities were organised, including an extraordinary television screening of the Western film Angélique.

Various security methods were used for the ruthless suppression of the demonstration: publicly - limiting transport and mobilising emergency units; by the state - summoning and detaining known secret church activists; and practically - with a series of preventive measures, threats and intimidation. Even the municipal authority services prepared street cleaning vehicles, using a pre-Easter deluge as a pretext.

The anticipated encounter landed a crushing victory for the demonstrators, and the regime suffered a moral debacle that profoundly shook its confidence in Slovakia and reputation abroad. Despite the security measures, thousands of people gathered. Their candles were not dimmed by the spring rain on the March evening, nor the incursions by the yellow-white police cars, street cleaning vehicles, or water cannons. The 30-minute manifestation in Bratislava - which the protesters attended despite the security forces' repressive measures - once again revealed the regime's true colours and its inability to solve accumulated social problems in any way other than through repression.


Precursor to the Velvet Revolution

Global public opinion strongly condemned the response of the Czechoslovakian authorities against the believers. From the Slovak perspective, it was very important that the manifestation showed virtually the whole world that there was active resistance against the communist regime in Slovakia - so that at least briefly, the future country became known to the world's people as a separate entity, not only part of Czechoslovakia. The European Parliament referred to the 'Slovak city of Bratislava' in its resolution condemning the attack on the protesters.

The manifestation also showed an effective way in which to fight the normalisation regime. It was the ethos of non-violent resistance, symbolised in this case by lighting candles, reciting Rosary prayers, and singing religious songs, which thanks to their transcendental nature and moral prevalence showed what had seemed impossible - to stand against armed forces of a seemingly omnipotent regime, and in a direct confrontation achieve a moral victory. This was what destroyed the communist authorities' illusion that it could intimidate and discourage people from their hope for a free life. With its non-violent resistance, this manifestation also heralded the 'gentle' nature of the fall of the communist regime and the transition to democracy in 1989. This 'Gandhi' form of protest with religious undertones can also be highlighted as Slovakia's special contribution to the fight against communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

In retrospect, it may seem equally important that the manifestation (similarly as previous petition campaigns) proved that in the environment of Catholic dissent - as the dominant component of anti-communist resistance in Slovakia (like the fertile ground of the exiled Slovaks) - there was resistance to the regime; and that such resistance was founded on democratic principles based on human and civil rights, as well as the fight for religious freedom.

Article by Peter Jašek

The original version of the text was first published at postoj.sk

Cătălina Vrabie

The Prague Spring

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • 1968
  • 20th century history
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Prague Spring
  • Eastern Bloc
  • Soviet Union

In early 1968, Czechoslovakia was witnessing a process of liberalisation under the leadership of Alexander Dubček. As the newly appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party, Dubček tried to establish 'socialism with a human face' by launching a series of far-reaching reforms. This brief period of time became known as the Prague Spring and it ended with the joint military invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and several other Warsaw Pact states.

The opportunity for crucial change in Czechoslovakia came on 5 January 1968, when Slovak Alexander Dubček replaced the hardline Czech communist Antonin Novotný as the First Secretary of the Communist Party. Dubček was aware of the growing popular discontent in the country and acknowledged the necessity for change, albeit with the Communist Party as the main driving force behind these changes. Following Dubček's appointment, demands for reforms increased. Several pressure groups emerged within the Czechoslovak society, encompassing a series of demands, such as the rehabilitation of the previous purge victims, the abolition of censorship, economic decentralisation and the exclusion of the Communist Party from other areas outside of politics.

The first few months under Dubček's leadership did indeed bring about notable changes. Reformers gradually replaced supporters of Novotný in the state apparatus and the leading bodies of the party. Censorship became more relaxed and the national press started to attack the previous government by publishing stories of corruption concerning Novotný and other officials who were close to him.

However, the major turning point came with the launch of the Action Programme in April 1968. This political scheme was underpinned with the Dubček's vision of 'socialism with a human face', a form of socialism through which the gap between the party and society would be narrowed.

Given that the most stringent need was that of an economic reform, the plan called for a minimum intervention of the state in economic affairs. The Soviet model of centrally planned economy proved to be highly damaging for Czechoslovakia, putting a strain on both local and national initiative. Under the new scheme, the role of the government was to be limited to general economic policy and long-term planning. Both industrial enterprises and agricultural cooperatives were provided with greater freedom in finding new markets. Furthermore, full equality in economic relations was to be instituted between Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R.

Another crucial aspect of the Action Programme was the granting of individual rights and liberties. Complete freedom of speech, debate, association, and travel were to be established for the citizens of Czechoslovakia. At the same time, following pressure from the former political prisoners who had been wrongfully prosecuted until 1968, arbitrary arrest was forbidden, and the courts were provided with a greater authority. The Action Programme also put into question the nature of the party's leading role in Czechoslovakia. Whereas the Communist Party was still holding the reins of power in the state, it was proclaimed that the Party should be more responsive to the feelings of the society as a whole. Therefore, according to the Programme, the Party was supposed to win over the population in a genuine way, by encouraging freedom of expression and assembly.
Last but not least, a Czecho-Slovak federation was proclaimed, following complaints voiced by Slovaks that the government was ruling asymmetrically, favouring Czechs. The legislative power in Slovakia was to be held by the Slovak national council and the Slovak council of ministers became the executive authority in Bratislava. Eventually, this came to be the only measure adopted during the Prague Spring that was kept after its suppression.

The changes in Czechoslovakia were anxiously observed by the Soviet Union, but also by the other states of the Eastern bloc. Dubček had repeatedly proclaimed the country's commitment to socialism and to the Warsaw Pact, and had even gone to Moscow immediately after his appointment. But the Soviet leaders were worried that the enthusiasm generated by the reforms would push Dubček in an even more liberal direction, thus endangering the stability of the satellite bloc.

Thus, the Prague Spring was forcefully put to an end on the night of 20/21 August 1968, with the invasion by the military forces of the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries, including the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. Almost all of the reforms that were established during Dubček's stay in power were eliminated, and Czechoslovakia entered a period of the so-called normalisation, which meant the return to the previous political model.

The Prague Spring is said to have inspired Mikhail Gorbachev with his reform policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. Today, together with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Solidarność movement in Poland in the 1980's, the Prague Spring is considered a key event in the history of the Eastern Bloc, which paved the way for the collapse of communist regimes in Europe.

by Cătălina Vrabie

Calvocoressi, Peter, World Politics since 1945, Pearson Longman, 2008
Crampton, R.J., Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century and After, Routledge, London and New York, 1997
Dowling, Maria, Czechoslovakia, Arnold, London, 2002

Fruzsina Czeglédi

Visegrad Cooperation

21 August 2018
  • Lech Wałęsa
  • 1991
  • Visegrád Group
  • end of the 20th century

The V4 countries, the Visegrad Group or Visegrad Four – these terms appear quite often when Central-European politics are discussed. But what is the story behind them?

The Visegrad Four, also known as the V4 group, consist of four Central European countries: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The name "Visegrad" comes from the middle ages and constitutes a reference to a cooperation between the Bohemian King John of Luxembourg, Casimir III of Poland, and the Hungarian King Charles I of Anjou. In 1335 the three monarchs met for a two-month congress in order to address common threats and issues being faced by the region at that time. The summit took place in Visegrad, the royal seat of Charles I of Hungary, located on a top of a hill (hence the name Visegrad – Slavic for "high castle"). The Congress of Visegrad is considered to be the starting point for the political and economic cooperation between the countries in the region. Its outcome comprised of various financial and trade agreements, peace treaties, and even a marriage contract between Bohemian and Polish dynasties, Luxembourgs and Piasts. The collaboration in the middle ages determined relations between the states until the end of the 14th century.

The idea of common regional goals resulting from a similar regional history proved to be even more durable, however, as it resurfaced again at the end of the 20th century. As the communist regimes collapsed, it was obvious that a new political and economic order was underway. But what role would the Central and East European countries play in the new Europe? To some politicians, similar heritages of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland predisposed them to partner up and to create a common, stronger standpoint from which the negotiations with other European countries could be carried out. As Vaclav Havel, the President of Czechoslovakia commented: "Can we agree that we do not wish to place obstacles in each other's way, or even envy each other, but on the contrary, that we want to assist each other?".

The official recommendation to renew the Visegrad cooperation was given by József Antall, the Hungarian Prime Minister, in Paris in 1990. The Visegrad Declaration was signed on 15 February 1991 by Vaclav Havel, József Antall, and Lech Wałęsa, the President of Poland. The agreement was built upon political guidelines such as: construction of democratic systems, elimination of totalitarian legal remnants, implementation of the rule of law, creation of liberal economies and fulfilling the requirements for joining the European Union.

After the initial emphasis on the political issues, the focus had then shifted more onto cultural and educational matters. The Bratislava-based International Visegrad Fund – so far the only institutionalized form of V4 cooperation – was created in 2000 for the purpose of supporting cultural, research and educational projects, as well as of intensifying contacts between Visegrad societies. The V4 countries organise as well several platforms where representatives of the member countries and also non-V4 participants can discuss issues ranging from history to information technologies or current political developments, such as Think Visegrad (V4 Think-Thank Platform), Think BDPST conference and numerous projects supported by IVF, including the 2017 editions of the In Between? project.

By Fruzsina Czeglédi

Andrzej Friszke

Die Solidarność-Bewegung – Freiheit für Europa

18 August 2018
  • 1956
  • 1989
  • Polen
  • Solidarność
  • 1968
  • 1980-1981
  • Európa
  • 13. Dezember
  • Johannes Paul II.

Die Entstehung der Solidarność war eine große Herausforderung für die europäische Nachkriegsordnung, wie sie auf der Konferenz von Jalta festgelegt worden war. In den Jahrzehnten nach dem Krieg wurde dieses politische Konstrukt seitens der Gesellschaften, die sich aus der Abhängigkeit von der UdSSR und damit von der kommunistischen Herrschaft befreien wollten, mehreren Bewährungsproben unterzogen.

a) 1956 offenbarte die Krise in Polen, aber besonders in Ungarn eine Fehlstelle in der Strategie der „Befreiung“. Die Freiheitsbestrebungen hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang beobachtete der Westen als passiver Zuschauer.

b) Die mit dem „Prager Frühling“ einhergehende Liberalisierung veranlasste den Westen nicht zu einer wirkungsvollen Unterstützung, ungekehrt führte die bewaffnete Intervention aber nicht dazu, den in Gang kommenden Entspannungsprozess abzubrechen.

c) Die Entspannungspolitik bedeutete, die bestehende Teilung Europas zu akzeptieren, vermochte aber zugleich, die Regime des sowjetischen Blocks in ihrer Handlungsfreiheit zu beschneiden.

d) Die mit der Entspannung einhergehende, aber besonders von US-Präsident Jimmy Carter und seinem Sicherheitsberater Zbigniew Brzeziński herausgestellte Menschenrechtspolitik stellte für den Ostblock eine weitere Beschränkung dar und hinderte ihn an einer offen zynischen Politik.

e) Das Pontifikat Johannes Pauls II. bedeutete einen besonderen Prestigegewinn für die Polen, aber auch für andere Nationen des östlichen Europa.

Die Haltung der Mächte zur polnischen Krise von 1980/81 muss erst noch erforscht werden, aber schon jetzt lässt sich sagen, dass weder Ost noch West auf die Revision des Status quo vorbereitet waren. Polen sollte weiterhin Bestandteil des Ostblocks bleiben, dessen Existenz von niemandem in Frage gestellt wurde. Und dennoch:

a) Die Westmächte betonten das Recht der Polen, ihre Angelegenheiten ohne Einmischung von außen, also ohne sowjetische Intervention zu regeln.

b) Der Schritt der Vereinigten Staaten, die UdSSR im Dezember 1980 vor einer Intervention in Polen zu warnen, ist in seiner Bedeutung kaum zu überschätzen.

c) Indem das Prinzip der Nichteinmischung in die inneren Angelegenheiten Polens herausgestellt wurde, erklärte man jedoch den innerpolnischen Dialog und die Anerkennung der Solidarność zum notwendigen und dauerhaften Bestandteil der polnischen Realität.

d) Zugleich fehlte dem Westen das Vorstellungsvermögen und der politischen Mut, um Polen in seiner gefährlichen Krisensituationen durch einen Wirtschaftshilfsplan zu unterstützen.

e) Soweit bekannt, führten die Signatarmächte von Jalta keinerlei Gespräche über Polen miteinander, was übrigens wegen der Haltung der UdSSR auch nicht möglich gewesen wäre.

Der stellvertretende Außenminister Józef Wiejacz fasste diese Punkte Anfang Dezember 1981 mit seiner Einschätzung der amerikanischen Politik wohl treffend zusammen: „Ein demokratisiertes und pluralistisches Polen, wenn auch ohne freies Spiel der Kräfte, das sozialistisch ist und Mitglied des Warschauer Vertrags, ist das Wunschziel der USA. Ein solches Polen würde auf andere sozialistische Länder einschließlich der UdSSR ausstrahlen. Seine Einwirkung wäre stärker, wenn sie durch eine Sanierung der Wirtschaft unterstützt würde.“ Wiejacz fügte hinzu, daß die begrenzte Wirtschaftshilfe für die Polnische Volksrepublik eine Folge der unsicheren politischen Weiterentwicklung innerhalb Polens sei, weshalb man nicht wissen könne, wen diese Hilfe schließlich erreiche. Anfang 1981 wurde die Bitte der polnischen Regierung abgelehnt, eine Finanzhilfe von drei Milliarden Dollar sowie weitere fünf Milliarden aus anderen westlichen Ländern zur Verfügung zu stellen. Andere westliche Länder zeigten wesentlich geringere Bereitschaft, sich zu engagieren, z.B. verhielt sich die Bundesregierung im Dezember 1980 zurückhaltend, und im Herbst 1981 informierte sie Warschau, dass die polnische Regierung nicht mit der Fortsetzung einer so unfassenden Finanzhilfe rechnen könne.

Die Führung und die Berater der Hauptströmung der Solidarność waren Realisten und schätzten zutreffend ein, dass die Änderungen am Status Polens nicht sehr weit reichen könnten. Sie entschieden sich für eine Politik der kleinen Schritte. Die Solidarność erklärte, die Teilung Europas zu respektieren, vermied es, sich zu Angelegenheiten anderer Staaten zu äußern, unterstrich ihren Willen, die polnische Gesellschaft in einem Staat politisch partizipieren zu lassen, der ansonsten auf den Feldern von Bündnis‑, Verteidigungs‑ und Außenpolitik unter kommunistischer Kontrolle verbleiben sollte. Von diesem Prinzip wich man nur ab, soweit es um den Kontakt mit den Führern der westlichen Welt ging, vor allem, aber nicht ausschließlich, mit den Gewerkschaften. Während eines Besuchs der Solidarność-Führung in Rom, in Paris und in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland im Herbst 1981 wurde mit dem Usus gebrochen, alle Treffen und öffentlichen Äußerungen zuvor mit den diplomatischen Stellen des eigenen Landes abzusprechen. Besonders weit ging im September 1981 der Solidarność-Kongress mit seiner „Botschaft an die arbeitenden Menschen Osteuropas“, die zwar nicht auf ein konkretes politisches Ziel hin kalkuliert war, aber längerfristig doch eine moralische Bedeutung hatte, indem sie den Aufbau guter Beziehungen der Polen zu ihren Nachbarn erleichterte.

Der Staatsstreich vom 13. Dezember 1981 war ein Versuch, zum Status quo ante zurückzukehren. Die moralischen Verpflichtungen der Westmächte aus der Zeit der Entspannungspolitik und der Solidarność gestatten jedoch nicht, einfach die vorherige zynische Politik wieder aufzunehmen. Die Zerschlagung der Solidarność war ein wichtiges und vielleicht notwendiges Erfahrungsmoment bei der Formulierung und Durchsetzung der Politik des US-Präsidenten Ronald Reagon gegenüber der UdSSR. Die Abkühlung der internationalen Beziehungen und die Verschärfung des Rüstungswettlaufs unter den Bedingungen der informationstechnischen Revolution waren Herausforderungen, denen die UdSSR nicht mehr standhalten konnte.

Die nach 1982 auf Dauer gestellte polnische Krise trug das Ihre zur Erosion der europäischen Nachkriegsordnung bei. Sie schwächte den sowjetischen Block auch deswegen, weil Polen durch andauerndem inneren Widerstand in Spannung gehalten wurde und eine organisierte Opposition bestand, die Kontakte mit westlichen Organisationen und sogar Regierungen unterhielt.

Die Presse hielt bei den Menschen im Westen die Solidarność im Bewußtsein, aber auch die außerordentliche humanitäre Hilfe, die mit besonderer Nachhaltigkeit von Deutschland geleistet wurde. Es will scheinen, dass diese Hilfsaktion dafür den Ausschlag gab, das Misstrauen zwischen Polen und Deutschen abzubauen, was ein Schlüssel zum Erfolg der Veränderungen von 1989 war.

Es erforderte jedoch viele konkrete und zeitweise sehr schwierige Anstrengungen, die in der Politik anscheinend natürlichen Gewohnheiten und Barrieren zu überwinden. Mitte 1985 schrieb Bronisław Geremek an den untergetauchten Zbigniew Bujak: „International hat sich die Meinung festgesetzt, es habe zum 13. Dezember kommen müssen und die Lage sei in Polen einfach zur osteuropäischen Normalität zurückgekehrt. Aber es ist der Zweck der Interviews, die ich gebe, mitzuteilen, dass es anders sein könnte, dass die S fortbesteht, das die S als politischer Partner bereitsteht, dass Polen sich jetzt und in Zukunft von den anderen unterscheidet.“

Eine solche Überzeugung durchzusetzen, ging auf viele Faktoren zurück, darunter die Einwirkung von Papst Johannes Paul II. Es scheint, dass der Durchbruch von 1986 auf seine Aktivitäten zurückzuführen war. Auch darauf, dass die USA die Aufhebung ihrer nach dem 13. Dezember 1981 verhängten Wirtschaftssanktionen von der Freilassung der politischen Gefangenen abhängig machten, darunter des Mitte 1986 verhafteten Bujak, ebenso wie der Papst die Gefangenenbefreiung zur Bedingung machte, um Jaruzelski im Vatikan zu empfangen. Die Amnestie vom September 1986 öffnete den Weg für eine öffentliche, wenn auch immer noch illegal tätige Opposition. Jaruzelski wurde im Januar 1987 im Vatikan empfangen, was die Blockade hochrangiger diplomatischer Kontakte Volkspolens aufhob und auch die Voraussetzung für die Aufhebung der Sanktionen schuf. Im Juni 1987 konnte Johannes Paul II. Polen seinen nächsten Besuch abstatten, der sehr wichtig war, um die Solidarność wiederzubeleben. Bei den im Jahr 1987 sehr zahlreichen Besuchen von Persönlichkeiten aus dem Westen wurden fortan auch Wałęsa und seine Berater berücksichtigt.

Der Ausweg aus der polnischen Krise auf dem Verhandlungs‑ und Kompromissweg entsprach den Vorstellungen und politischen Prioritäten der Westmächte, wie sie noch 1981 formuliert worden waren. Mindestens bis zum Herbst 1989 ging niemand vom Zusammenbruch des Ostblocks aus, sondern von seiner Pluralisierung und evolutionären Weiterentwicklung. Polen sollte den Weg sukzessiver und auf einen möglichst breiten Konsens gestützter demokratischer Reformen beschreiten. Der Westen war auch nicht darauf vorbereitet, die verschiedenartige, vor allem ökonomischen Probleme anzugehen, die aus einem schnellen Zerfall des Ostblocks entstehen würden.

Das bisher Gesagte führt zu dem Schluss, dass die Verhaltensweise der Solidarność-Führung 1989 rational war, gut mit den Vorstellungen und Erwartungen der westlichen Regierungen zusammenging und gleichzeitig diejenigen Kräfte nicht zum Gegenangriff provozierte, die bereit waren, das sowjetische Imperium zu verteidigen. Das polnische Transformationsmodell wurde zum Impuls für die Freiheitsbewegungen in der DDR und der ČSSR, auch wenn das heute nicht alle anerkennen wollen.

Dieses Beispiel der Rebellion und Selbstorganisation einer Gesellschaft in Konfrontation mit einem monolithischen Staat und dessen fortschreitende Erosion wurde in anderen Gesellschaften aufmerksam beobachtet. Schließlich wurden in der ganzen Welt tausende von Artikeln über die Solidarność gedruckt. Dadurch wurde die Methoden des friedlichen Protestes und Widerstands und der friedlichen, aber mit Entschlossenheit betriebenen Mobilisierung der Massen bekannt. Ähnliche Charakteristika der Selbstorganisation und des Protest zeigten Ende der achtziger Jahre z.B. die litauische Bewegung Sąjūdis und die demokratischen Bewegungen der DDR und der Tschechoslowakei. Ob sie von der Solidarność lernten oder auf eigene Erfahrungen zurückgriffen, können erst weitere Forschungen und Analysen beantworten.

Das Bürgerkomitee „Solidarność“ schrieb noch vor den Sejmwahlen vom Juni 1989 in einer Verlautbarung: „Wir erklären unsere Bereitschaft, mit allen Kräften zusammenzuarbeiten, die sich für den Pluralismus und die Demokratie in der Tschechoslowakei, Ungarn und der UdSSR einsetzen. Wir bekunden den um ihre Rechte kämpfenden Völkern der UdSSR unsere Sympathie, besonders den Weißrussen, Ukrainern und Litauern. [...] Zugleich erklären wir, dass wir all das unterstützen, was der Einheit Europas und der Verbreitung der europäischen Idee dient. Polen kann ohne Europa nicht existieren, aber ohne Polen gibt es auch kein friedliches Europa.“

Die Option, für die sich die Solidarność 1989 entschied, besonders während und nach der Bildung der Regierung Mazowiecki, war unzweideutig prowestlich, zielte auf die Herstellung gleichberechtigter Beziehungen mit der UdSSR und die Anbahnung der Integration nach Westeuropa. Die Politik der kleinen Schritte, welche die Vorgehensweise der Hauptströmung der Solidarność kennzeichnete, erwies sich als nicht nur für die Polen, sondern auch die benachbarten Nationen ungemein erfolgreicher Weg.

Aus dem Polnischen von Andreas R. Hofmann



Prof. Andrzej Friszke (geb. 1956) – Historiker, Vizevorsitzender des Institutsrates am Institut für Nationales Gedenken. Fachgebunden mit dem Institut für Politische Studien der Polnischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (PAN). Er war Redakteur in der Wochenzeitschrift „Tygodnik Solidarność”. Redaktionsmitglied bei „Więź”.



Stanisław Kulczycki

Die Große Hungersnot in der Ukraine 1932-1933

18 August 2018
  • 1932-1933
  • Kreml
  • Ukraine
  • Ukrainer
  • die Große Hungersnot
  • Verstaatlichung
  • Sowjetunion
  • Stalin

In der ersten Hälfte des Jahres 1933 wurde die Ukrainische Sowjetrepublik von einer großen Hungersnot heimgesucht. Diese war die Folge der Zwangskollektivierung der Landwirtschaft, die von der sowjetischen Staatsmacht auf Befehl Iosif Stalins durchgeführt wurde. Innerhalb eines Jahres starben Millionen von Menschen. Hunderte Dörfer und Tausende Bauernhöfe verschwanden von der Erdoberfläche. Die Verhungerten wurden zu Anfang auf den Friedhöfen beerdigt, später direkt an ihren Gehöften oder in Brunnen, die daraufhin zugeschüttet wurden. Die kommunistischen Behörden verboten, über die Hungersnot zu schreiben oder zu sprechen, sie verboten sogar, die Erinnerung an die Gräber der Hungertoten zu bewahren. Was also geschah in der Ukraine in den Jahren 1932‑1933? Wieso durfte bis zum Dezember 1987 nicht über diese Ereignisse gesprochen werden?


Die Kollektivierung wurde mit Hilfe von Massenterror eingeführt. Sie wurde auf der Grundlage mündlicher Anweisungen von der Ebene des Kremls bis hinunter zum einzelnen Dorf organisiert und erreichte ihren Höhepunkt im Januar 1933. Ihre wichtigste Methode war die Konfiszierung von Lebensmitteln auf den Bauernhöfen. Der Terror bestand darin, die Höfe unablässig zu durchsuchen, um verstecktes Getreide zu finden, wobei manchmal in Naturalien, Fleisch oder Kartoffeln zu zahlende Strafen auferlegt wurden (November – Dezember 1932); in der Beschlagnahme sämtlicher Lebensmittel bei Durchsuchungen einzelner Höfe (Januar 1933); in einer Propagandakampagne, die darauf abzielte, den Hass der hungernden Stadtbevölkerung gegen die so genannten „Kulaken und Saboteure“ zu entfachen, wie die Bauern genannt wurden; in der Blockade der Ukrainischen Sowjetrepublik und des Kuban-Bezirks der Nördlichen Kaukasusregion; schließlich im Verbot des Ausdrucks „Hungersnot“, der niemals in als „streng geheim“ gekennzeichneten Dokumenten verwendet werden durfte.

Der Terror mittels Hunger fand inmitten einer sozioökonomischen Krisensituation statt, die von der Wirtschaftspolitik der sowjetischen Staatsmacht verursacht worden war. Für seine Politik des Zeitraums vom November 1929 bis zum Januar 1933 fand Stalin persönlich einen vielsagenden Ausdruck – „Beschleunigung“. Diese fand auf dem Lande in der Beschlagnahmung der Ernten ihren Niederschlag. Bis Ende 1932 starben die Menschen in der Ukraine und anderen Regionen, weil man ihnen das Getreide fortnahm. Mit Beginn im November 1932 starben sie daran, dass man ihnen überhaupt alle Lebensmittel wegnahm.

Die Große Hungersnot war eine Folge der Politik der Kommunisten. In den ersten Jahren ihrer Herrschaft legten die Bolschewiki die Grundlagen ihrer Kommandowirtschaft, die nur vorübergehend von Lenins Einführung der sog. Neuen Ökonomischen Politik (NĖP) 1921 unterbrochen wurde. 1929 begann Stalin das umzusetzen, was Lenin nicht geglückt war, nämlich Millionen von Kleinproduzenten in Staatsbetriebe hineinzuzwingen. Wegen des Widerstands aus der Gesellschaft sah sich Stalin gezwungen, auf die Verstaatlichung zu verzichten und sich auf Genossenschaften zu beschränken, was bedeutete, den Bauern den Besitz eines kleinen Stück eigenen Landes zu gestatten. In der Meinung, daß die Kolchosniki ihren Eigenbedarf aus den eigenen Parzellen würden decken können, ließ Stalin den Dörfern praktisch ihre gesamte Getreideernte abnehmen. Den Bauern war nicht erlaubt, selbst Getreide zu erhalten, solange das Abgabesoll nicht erfüllt war, das praktisch keine rechtlich vorgegebene Obergrenze hatte. Getreide, das nach dem Aufkauf gefunden wurde, galt als der Revision entzogen oder gestohlen.

Die Bauern wollten nicht ohne Entlohnung auf den Kolchosen arbeiten, wofür sie der kommunistische Staat der Sabotage bezichtigte. Das reichte als Vorwand für Verfolgungsmaßnahmen. Die Krise der Kolchosen drohte, die gesamte Wirtschaft in den Abgrund zu reißen. Im Januar 1933 sah sich die Regierung gezwungen, von den unbegrenzten Pflichtabgaben zu einem staatlichen Getreideaufkauf gegen Pauschalpreise quasi als Steuerleistung überzugehen. Dies bedeutete, dass der Staat letztendlich das Besitzrecht der Kolchosen und ihrer Mitglieder auf ihre eigenen Ernteerträge anerkannte.

Diese Repressionen werden von den Gefahren erklärt, denen der Kreml sein Herrschaftsmonopol ausgesetzt sah. Bei den Sowjets, darunter natürlich auch den nationalen Sowjets, war die reale Exekutivgewalt konzentriert, die der Partei eine staatsgleiche Struktur verlieh. Solange diese Macht unter der unmittelbaren Kontrolle des Kremls stand, herrschte keine Gefahr, dass die Sowjetunion zerfiel. Aber falls sie auf die regionalen Parteistrukturen überging, nahm diese Gefahr in den Augen der kommunistischen Führer reale Formen an. Der Kreml sah die stärkste Bedrohung von der Ukraine ausgehen – der Sowjetrepublik mit einer überdauernden Tradition einer nationalen (nicht sowjetischen!) Staatlichkeit. Die Ukraine grenzte an andere europäische Staaten, und im Hinblick auf ihre ökonomischen Ressourcen und ihr Bevölkerungspotential rangierte sie gleichauf mit allen anderen nationalen Sowjetrepubliken zusammengenommen. Nach der Bildung der UdSSR begann der Kreml in den nationalen Republiken eine Kampagne zur „Einwurzelung“ der Sowjetmacht im nichtrussischen Umfeld. In der Ukraine verwandelte sich die Einwurzelungskampagne rasch aus einem bloß bürokratischen Unternehmen in ein Instrument der nationalen Entwurzelung.

In der zweiten Jahreshälfte 1932 trafen zwei verschiedene Krisen aufeinander und verstärkten sich wechselseitig – diejenige der sozioökonomischen und die der Nationalitätenpolitik des Kremls. Mehr als alles andere befürchtete Stalin eine gesellschaftliche Explosion in der hungernden Ukraine. Die kurz darauf begonnenen Repressionen waren zugleich gegen die ukrainischen Bauern gerichtet, gegen die ein durch die Getreiderequisitionen ausgelöster Hunger als Terrormethode zielte, wie die ukrainische Intelligenz, die von Massenverhaftungen und ‑hinrichtungen betroffen war, verbunden mit Säuberungen, die in den lokalen Zellen der kommunistischen Partei durchgeführt wurden.

Die Darstellung der Großen Hungersnot muss mit der Erinnung an das „Recht der fünf Ähren“ beginnen, das die kommunistische Staatsmacht einführte, um die „Verschwendung“ der Ernte zu bekämpfen. „In Erfüllung der Wünsche der Arbeiter und der Kolchosniki“, so ist in der Präambel zu lesen, verabschiedeten das Zentrale Exekutivkomitee und der Rat der Volkskommissare der UdSSR (Sovnarkom) am 7. August 1932 den Beschluss „Über den Schutz des Eigentums der Staatsunternehmen, der Kolchosen und Genossenschaften sowie die Stärkung des gesellschaftlichen (sozialistischen) Eigentums“. Für Diebstahl solchen Eigentums wurde Erschießen nahegelegt, „im Falle mildernder Umstände“ Freiheitsentzug von nicht weniger als zehn Jahren. Im November 1932 entsandte Stalin Sonderkommissionen für die Pflichtablieferung von Getreide; eine unter Leitung von Vjačeslav M. Molotov in die Ukrainische SSR, die andere unter Lazar M. Kaganovič in die Kubanregion. Im Dezember 1932 suchte man bei den Bauern ohne Unterlaß nach Getreide. Die Durchsuchungen wurden Durchsuchten wie Durchsuchenden zur Gewohnheit. Sie wurden unter der Aufsicht von GPU-Beamten von hungernden Angehörigen der Komitees Armer Bauern durchgeführt, die einen bestimmten Anteil von dem aufgespürten Getreide erhielten, und auch von aus den Städten abgeordneten Arbeitern. So wie im Vorjahr waren die Dörfer auch schon vor den Durchsuchungen aufgrund der Pflichtablieferungen fast um ihr gesamtes Getreide gebracht worden.

Am 1. Januar 1933 schickte Stalin ein Telegramm nach Char’kov/ Charkiv mit der Forderung nach Getreideabgaben; er schlug dem ZK der KPU (b) und dem Rat der Volkskommissare der USSR vor, „über die Dorfräte den Kolchosen, Kolchosniki und einzelnen Arbeitern eingehend mitzuteilen, dass: a) alle, die freiwillig das zuvor gestohlene und versteckte Getreide an den Staat abliefern, nicht repressiert werden; b) gegenüber Kolchosniki, Kolchosen und einzelnen Arbeitern, die hartnäckig das gestohlene und vor der Durchsuchung verborgene Getreide weiter verstecken, die härtesten Strafen angewandt werden, wie sie der Beschluss des Zentralen Exekutivkomitees und des Rats der Volkskomissare der UdSSR vom 7. August 1932 vorsieht.“

Die Überlebenden des Großen Hungers erzählen, dass die Sonderbrigaden der Kommunisten bei den Durchsuchungen in den Bauernwirtschaften nicht nur Kartoffeln, Fleisch und Speck wegnahmen, wie es der zitierte Beschluß der sowjetischen Staatsmacht vorsah, sondern überhaupt alle Lebensmittel. Dutzende, Hunderte, Tausende Zeugnisse aus verschiedenen Ortschaften liefern ein geschlossenes Bild. Stalin beließ es nicht bei der Beschlagnahme von Lebensmitteln. Am 22. Januar 1933 schrieb er eigenhändig (das Manuskript ist erhalten) eine Direktive des ZK der VKP (b) und des Rats der Volkskommissare der UdSSR, die mit den Worten beginnt: „Das ZK der VKP und den Sovnarkom haben Informationen erreicht, dass die Bauern vom Kuban und aus der Ukraine massenweise auf der Suche nach Verdienst in den Zentralen Schwarzerdebezirk, an die Wolga, in den Bezirk Moskau, in den Westlichen Bezirk und nach Weißrussland ausreisen.“ Der Kreml verlangte von den Leitungen der Nachbarregionen die Blockade der USSR und des Kuban.

Die Menschen sind nicht mehr am Leben, die für die schrecklichen Repressionen in der Ukraine verantwortlich waren. Auch den totalitären Staat gibt es nicht mehr, dessen Führung die Verantwortung für den Großen Hunger trug. Wir erwarten von der internationalen Gemeinschaft die Anerkennung dieses Verbrechens als Völkermord. Wir erwarten dies vor allem von der Russischen Föderation, deren Bevölkerung ebenfalls Verluste von vielen Millionen Menschen in der Zeit der Herrschaft Iosif Stalins und der kommunistischen Partei erlitt.

Aus dem Russischen von Andreas R. Hofmann



Prof. Stanisław Kulczycki (geb. 1937) – ukrainischer Historiker, Vizedirektor des Instituts für Ukrainische Geschichte an der Akademie der Wissenschaften.



Andrzej Friszke

A Szolidaritás mozgalma – Európa szabadsága

15 August 2018
  • academic
  • 1956
  • 1989
  • Lengyelország
  • lengyelek
  • Szolidaritás
  • 1968
  • 1980-1981
  • december 13
  • lengyel válság
  • II. János Pál pápa
  • Európa

A „Szolidaritás” létrejötte hatalmas kihívást jelentett Európa teljes Jalta utáni politikai rendjével szemben. Ezt a rendet a háborút követő évtizedekben néhányszor letesztelték a Szovjetuniótól való függőség és annak következménye, a kommunista rendszer alól felszabadulni igyekvő társadalmak.


1. 1956-ban a válság Lengyelországban, de különösen Magyarországon, leleplezte a „felszabadulási” stratégia ürességét; a Nyugat megőrizte közömbös viselkedését a „vasfüggöny” mögött megjelenő szabadság-törekvésekkel szemben.

2. 1968-ban a „Prágai Tavasz” liberalizációja nem váltotta ki a Nyugat jelentős támogatását, ugyanakkor a fegyveres beavatkozás nem rombolta le a rügyező „detente”, enyhülési folyamatot;

3. Az enyhülési politika (détente) egyrészt Európa létező felosztásának elfogadását jelentette, de más oldalról korlátozhatta a vasfüggöny felénk eső oldalán a rezsimek radikális tevékenységének szabadságát;

4. Az enyhülési politikával összefüggő, de Carter (Brzeziński) által előtérbe helyezett emberi jogvédelmi politika még további korlátozást és a nyílt cinizmussal szembeni elkötelezettséget jelentett;

5. II. János Pál pápa pontifikátuma kezdettől fogva megemelte a lengyelek, és egyben Kelet-Európa más népeinek értékelését is.

A nagyhatalmak hozzáállása a Lengyelországban 1980-81 között bekövetkezett válsághoz aprólékos kutatásokat igényel, de már most megállapítható, hogy sem Kelet, sem Nyugat nem volt felkészülve a fennálló status quo revíziójára. Lengyelországnak meg kellett volna maradnia a keleti blokk részeként, amelynek létezését senki nem kérdőjelezte meg. Ugyanakkor:

1. A nyugat nagyhatalmai hangsúlyozták a lengyelek jogát ahhoz, hogy ügyeiket külső beavatkozás, a gyakorlatban szovjet intervenció nélkül oldják meg;

2. Különösen értékelendő az Egyesült Államok kezdeményezése 1980 decemberében, amely Szovjetunió visszatartására irányult a Lengyelországgal szembeni intervenciótól.

3. Hangsúlyozva Lengyelország belső ügyeibe való be nem avatkozás alapelvét, egyben szükségesnek ítélték a lengyelek egymás közötti dialógusát és a „Szolidáritás” a lengyel valóság tartós elemeként való elismerését,

4. Ugyanakkor – a hatalmas gazdasági nehézségek ismeretében – a Nyugatnak sem víziója, sem politikai bátorsága nem volt, hogy tényleges gazdasági segítségnyújtási tervet dolgozzon ki.

5. Nem került sor – tudomásunk szerint – semmiféle tárgyalási kísérletre a jaltai szerződést aláíró felek között Lengyelország témájában, ami egyébként valószínűleg nem lett volna megvalósítható a Szovjetunió álláspontja miatt.

A fenti felsorolás összefoglalásául szolgálhat az amerikai politika valószínűleg találó értékelése, amelyet Józef Wiejacz, a Lengyel Népköztársaság miniszterhelyettese készített 1981 december elején: „A demokratizált Lengyelország, elismert politikai pluralizmussal (habár az erők szabad játéka nélkül), szocialista ország és a KGST tagországa lévén kívánatos cél az USA számára. Ilyen Lengyelország hatásával kisugározna a többi szocialista országra, nem kizárva a Szovjetuniót sem. A hatás erősebb lenne, ha a gazdaság szanálásával lenne alátámasztva.” Wiejacz hozzátette, hogy a gazdasági segítség korlátozása a Lengyel Népköztársaság részére a lengyelországi belső politikai helyzet további fejlődésének bizonytalanságából fakad (nem lehet tudni, végül is kihez kerülne ez a segítség). 1981 elején a Lengyel Népköztársaság kormányának 3 milliárd dollár pénzügyi segítségre vonatkozó kérése (a nyugati fővárosokból még további 5 milliárd) elutasításra került. A Nyugat más nagyhatalmainak részéről a kötelezettség-vállalási készség határozottan kisebb volt, pl. az NSZK kormánya megőrizte tartózkodását 1980 decemberében, 1981 őszén pedig tájékoztatta a varsói hatóságokat, hogy nem számíthatnak további ilyen messzemenő pénzügyi segítségre.

A „Szolidaritás” vezetői és tanácsadói a fő kérdésekben realisták voltak, helyesen mérték fel a Lengyelország státuszában lehetséges változások korlátozottságát. A „kis lépések” politikáját választották. A „Szolidaritás” nyilatkozatában önkorlátozás és Európa felosztásának elfogadása szerepelt, igyekezett elkerülni más államok kérdéséről való véleménynyilvánítást, hangsúlyozta törekvését a lengyel társadalom alanyiságának felépítésére a továbbra is kommunisták által ellenőrzött államon belül. Ezeknek a kijelentéseknek a taktikai volta mindenki számára nyilvánvaló volt. Ettől a sémától eltérést jelentett önálló utak keresése a nyugati világ vezetőivel való kapcsolatokban, főleg a szakszervezetekkel, de nem csak azokkal. A „Szolidaritás” vezetőinek Rómában, Párizsban és 1981 őszén az NSZK-ban tett látogatásai során nem tartották be a találkozóknak és nyilatkozatoknak a Lengyel Népköztársaság diplomáciai képviseleteivel való egyeztetésének szokását. Különösen messzemenő eltérés volt a „Szolidaritás” Kongresszusa által 1981 szeptemberében elfogadott „Kiáltvány Kelet-Európa dolgozóihoz”, amely annak ellenére, hogy nem politikai nyilatkozat volt, a későbbiekben példaértékűnek bizonyult, megkönnyítve a lengyelek és szomszédos nemzetek közötti kapcsolatépítést.

A december 13-i hatalomátvétel megszakította a „lengyel kísérletet”, és a status quo ante helyzethez való visszatérés próbáját jelentette. A nyugati nagyhatalmaknak az enyhülés és az „S” időszakában vállalt morális kötelezettségeik nem tették lehetővé a cinizmus politikájához való visszatérést. A „Szolidaritás” elleni fellépés döntő mértékben hozzájárult Reagan elnök Szovjetunióval szembeni politikájának meghatározásához és aktivizálódásához. A nemzetközi légkör megfagyása és a fegyverkezési verseny kiéleződése a technológiai forradalom feltételei között olyan kihívásokat jelentettek, amelyeknek a Szovjetunió már nem tudott megfelelni.

A lengyel válság, amely 1982 után is tartott, egyik lényeges eleme volt a Jalta utáni helyzet eróziójának. Hozzájárult a szovjet blokk gyengüléséhez is a Lengyelországban egész idő alatt tartó, a nyugati szervezetekkel, sőt a nyugati világ kormányaival kapcsolatban lévő ellenállás eredményeképpen.

A „Szolidaritás” jelen volt a nyugatiak tudatában, köszönhetően a sajtónak, és annak a hatalmas humanitárius akciónak, amit Németország szervezett különös intenzitással. Úgy tűnik, hogy ez az akció döntő mértékben járult hozzá a lengyelek és a németek közötti bizalmatlanság áttöréséhez, ami az 1989 évi átalakulásoknak kulcsfontosságú feltétele volt.

A politika világában természetes beidegződések és korlátok legyőzéséhez azonban igen sok konkrét és időnként nagyon nehéz erőfeszítésre volt szükség. 1985 közepén a rejtőzködő Zbigniew Bujakhoz írta levelében Bronisław Geremek: „A nemzetközi közvéleményben tartóssá válik az a meggyőződés, hogy úgy kellett történnie, ahogy az történt december 13-án, és hogy a helyzet Lengyelországban már visszatért a kelet-európai szabványokhoz. És az általam adott interjúk funkciója az, hogy: másképp is történhetett volna, hogy a „Szolidaritás” létezik, hogy a „Szolidaritás” lehet politikai partner, hogy Lengyelország más és más marad, mint a többiek.”

Ilyen meggyőződés felépítése számos tényező eredménye volt, része volt benne II. János Pál pápa hatásának is. Úgy tűnik, hogy az ő aktivitásának az 1986-os áttörésben volt szerepe, vagyis abban, hogy a december 13. után bevezetett gazdasági szankciók megszüntetését az USA kormánya a politikai foglyok (köztük az év közepén letartóztatott Bujak) szabadon bocsátásától tette függővé, és abban, hogy Jaruzelski Vatikánban való fogadásának szintén a politikai foglyok szabadon bocsátása volt a feltétele. Az 1986 szeptemberében bevezetett amnesztia megnyitotta a lehetőséget az ellenzék nyílt, habár továbbra is illegális tevékenysége felé. Jaruzelskit 1987 januárjában fogadták a Vatikánban, ami feloldotta a Lengyel Népköztársaság diplomáciai kapcsolatait magasabb szinten, de hozzájárult az említett szankciók megszüntetéséhez is. 1987 júniusában II. János Pál soron következő látogatást tehetett Lengyelországban, amelynek igen nagy jelentősége volt a „Szolidaritás” aktivitásának megélénkülésében. Nyugati személyiségek 1987-ben tett nagyszámú látogatása során ettől kezdve figyelembe vették Walesával és tanácsadóival való találkozást is.

A lengyel válságból tárgyalások és kompromisszum útján való kilábalás megfelelt a nyugati nagyhatalmak még 1981-ben kialakított elképzeléseinek és prioritásainak. Legalábbis 1989 őszéig nem feltételezték a keleti blokk szétesését, csupán annak pluralizálódását és evolúcióját. Lengyelországnak a fokozatos és a lehető legszélesebb konszenzusra támaszkodó demokratikus reformok útján kellett volna haladnia. A Nyugat nem volt felkészülve azoknak a különféle problémáknak, különösen a gazdaságiaknak az elviselésére sem, amelyeket a keleti blokk gyors szétesésének eredményeznie kellett. Ennek a folyamatnak időben elhúzódva kellett megvalósulnia.

Mindezek alapján levonhatjuk a következtetést, hogy a „Szolidaritás” vezetőinek magatartása 1989-ben a legnagyobb mértékben racionális volt, és egybeesett a Nyugat vezetőinek elképzeléseivel és elvárásaival, ugyanakkor nem késztette ellentámadásra a szovjet impériumot védeni is kész erőket. A lengyel átalakulás modellje impulzust jelentett a szabadságmozgalmak felébresztéséhez az NDK-ban és Csehszlovákiában, habár ma ezt nem mindenki kívánja elismerni.

A társadalom megmozdulása és önszerveződése a monolitikus állammal szemben, valamint ez utóbbi fokozatos eróziója példaértékű volt más államok számára. Az egész világon ezrével jelentek meg cikkek a „Szolidaritás” témájában, a posztulátumok korlátozottságáról és fokozatosságáról is. Ismert volt a tiltakozás és a nyomásgyakorlás békés módszere, aminek felépítésére a tömegek nyugodt, de determinált fellépésre történő mobilizálása útján került sor. Az önszerveződés és a tiltakozás hasonló jellemzőit fogadta el a 80-as évek végén pl. Sajudis, a demokratikus mozgalom az NDK-ban és Csehszlovákiában. Vajon ez a „Szolidaritás” tanítása volt, vagy saját tapasztalatok vezettek ide? – ez a kérdés további vizsgálatokat és elemzéseket kíván.

A „Szolidaritás” Állampolgári Bizottsága még a júniusi választások előtt elfogadta a nemzetközi kérdésekre vonatkozó nyilatkozatot, amelyben leírták: „Deklaráljuk együttműködési készségünket minden erővel, amely a pluralizmus és a demokrácia irányába hat Csehszlovákiában, Magyarországon, a Szovjetunióban. Szimpátiánkat fejezzük ki a Szovjetunió jogaikért harcoló népei, különösen a beloruszok, ukránok és litvánok irányában (...) Egyidejűleg kijelentjük, hogy támogatjuk mindazt, ami Európa egységének erősítését és az európai eszme általánossá tételét szolgálja. Lengyelország nem létezhet Európa nélkül, mint ahogy nincs békés Európa Lengyelország nélkül.”

A „Szolidaritás” által elfogadott opció 1989-ben, különösen a Mazowiecki kormány formálásának időszakában és annak megalakítása után, egyértelműen nyugatorientált volt, a Szovjetunióval való egyenlő jogú kapcsolatok meghatározására és a nyugat-európai integráció útjának megnyitására törekedett. A „kis lépések” politikája, amely a „Szolidaritás” vezetősége fő tevékenységi vonalának, alapvető irányzatának lényege volt, különösen eredményesnek bizonyult, nemcsak a lengyelek, hanem a szomszédos nemzetek számára is.



Andrzej Friszke professzor (szül. 1956) – történész, a Nemzeti Emlékezet Intézet Tanácsának elnökhelyettese. Együttműködik a PAN (Lengyel Tudományos Akadémia) Politikai Tanulmányok Intézetével. A „Tygodnik Solidarność” hetilap szerkesztője volt. A „Więź” szerkesztőségének tagja.