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Stefan Troebst

23 August: The Genesis of a Euroatlantic Day of Remembrance

15 August 2018
  • Holocaust
  • academic
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • 23 August
  • totalitarianism
  • totalitarian regimes
  • Nazism
  • communism

23 August, the day in 1939 when Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi- Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, gained international recognition in the 1980s. First, in North America, political émigrés from the Soviet Bloc staged public ‘Black Ribbon Day’ ceremonies; this was followed by demonstrations in the Baltic republics of the USSR, culminating in the ‘Baltic Chain’ from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius in 1989. After the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union in 2004, deputies from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and other new member countries in the European Parliament identified 23 August as the lowest common denominator of the enlarged EU’s politics of history. In a discussion process lasting from 2009 to 2011, the Parliament, the Commission and finally the Council of the EU defined 23 August as a ‘Europewide Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Totalitarian Regimes’.


The Battle for Authority of Interpretation

The year 2009 was truly one of multiple European anniversaries: 20 years after the ‘peaceful revolution’ of 1989, 60 years since the foundation of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (and also the establishment of the GDR) in 1949, 70 years since the beginning of the Second World War on 1 September 1939, 90 years since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, 200 years since the foundation of the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Imperial Federation, and 220 years since the French Revolution of 1789, to name only the most important. Amid this spree of jubilees, the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939 did not have a particularly prominent place in the majority of Europe’s national remembrance cultures, the obvious exceptions being those of the directly affected national societies of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Moldova, as well as Finland (and thus, indirectly, Sweden as well). Alongside the looming shadow of the epochal year 1989, it was above all the dominance of the cultural memory of 1 September 1939 – the day of the German invasion of Poland – that eclipsed 23 August. Klaus Zernack has therefore recently classified 1 September 1939 as a day that is ‘today [viewed] worldwide as a date of remembrance for world peace’: 1

In the European perspective there is no need (…) for long discussion as to whether 1 September 1939 – and what followed it for the next six years and after, as the consequences of the Cold War shaped almost the whole century – is an intricate site of memory of a globally comprehended horror story. In the world’s memory of history, however, 1 September 1939 represents the date with the strongest symbolism for the 20th century. In many countries in the world it has been elevated to a day of remembrance to commemorate world peace. Without doubt this is therefore a lieu de mémoire of global significance. 2

The fact that the Polish state ceremony at Westerplatte in Gdańsk on 1 September 2009 attracted worldwide media attention – with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the most prominent guests of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk – makes this statement just as striking as that of the classification of Jan Rydel, Zernack’s Polish colleague, of 1 September as ‘from the Polish point of view the deepest watershed of the 20th century’.3 In other words, as opposed to 1 September, 23 August is of secondary importance, and this in Poland itself, whereas from the ‘Western European’ perspective it is seen as a primarily, albeit not exclusively (Central and) Eastern European matter. 4 Even in Germany, the former treaty partner, amid the circus of the 20th anniversary of the ‘Peaceful Revolution’, the 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, together with the Secret Protocol on the amicable division of Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, was greeted in interested circles with so little media interest that a group of political figures, historians, and intellectuals dealing in history and memory felt compelled to publish an appeal titled ‘Celebrating the year 1989 also means remembering 1939’, and to describe this explicitly as a ‘Declaration to mark the 70th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact on 23 August 2009’. 5 While this appeal was received with great public interest in Poland, 6 in Germany, to a large degree, it typically enough went unnoticed.

The national publics of the wider Europe were similarly unresponsive to the struggle for authority over the interpretation of the historical-political narrative that was sparked by the European approach to remembering the legacy of Nazism and Stalinism, the focus of which was the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact as the culmination of both forms of totalitarianism. The actors in this struggle were on the one side political figures dealing in issues of history and memory from Central and Eastern Europe, who found considerable support in Northern Europe and other parts of the continent, and on the other side officials exercising authority over the politics of history of the Russian Federation, such as the president, head of government, ministers, secret service, Duma, parties, the Church, armed forces, media, NGOs and historians. 7 This struggle was fought out in the arenas of the Parliamentary Assemblies of the European Council and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – two pan-European institutions of which the Russian Federation was (and still) is a member. On top of this were quite a few bilateral Russian-foreign forums and bodies, such as those with Poland and Germany. However, Moscow had no leverage over the European Union and its Parliament, whose members were able to bring their issues related to the politics of history energetically to the table after their accession in 2004. Accordingly, several years of initiatives culminated in the form of a suggestion to proclaim 23 August the ‘European day of remembrance of the victims of Stalinism and Nazism’, which between 2009 and 2011 the EU transformed into a request to the 27 member states to declare 23 August a Europe-wide day of remembrance ‘of the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes’. 8 This inflicted a defeat on Moscow at the end of a heavily symbolic defensive battle over history and memory, which at the same time explains the revision of the state history policy of the Russian Federation in the form of an opening outwards and inwards in 2009. Whilst at the beginning of the year a clear hardening was visible, this gave way in the summer and autumn to a pronounced liberalisation with elements of self-criticism – a change of course that continued in 2010 and into 2011. 9

The initiative of the proclamation of 23 August as a day of remembrance for the victims of the two totalitarian dictatorships of 20th-century Europe, both shaped by state terror and mass murder, using the heavily symbolic name ‘Black Ribbon Day’, came from political emigrants in North America who had come from the Baltic States and other Central and Eastern European countries. At the same time as the beginning of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR, on 23 August 1986, the first demonstrations took place in the Canadian capital Ottawa and several large cities in the USA as well as London, Stockholm, and Perth in Australia. Just one year later, in 1987, dissident groups in the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Soviet republics dared to hold their first public commemoration services, despite the continuing extremely repressive conditions, in which hundreds and even thousands of people participated. And in 1989, on the 50th anniversary of the Pact, over a million Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Russian-speakers sympathetic to the cause formed a 600-kilometre-long human chain – the ‘Baltic Way’ or ‘Baltic Chain’, from Tallinn, via Riga, to Vilnius. Since then, the commemorations of 23 August in the late Soviet era, and the memory of the extremely dangerous conditions under which they were held, have become a pan-Baltic lieu de mémoire.10

The break-up of the Soviet Union, together with the re-establishment of the statehood of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the end of Soviet hegemony over East-Central and South-Eastern Europe, led to numerous states in the region (including the new Russian Federation) being admitted into the Council of Europe, the oldest pan-European institution, founded in 1949. Accordingly, this Strasbourg-based international organisation developed into a forum for initiatives that dealt with the politics of the history of the legacy of the communist dictatorships. This particularly applied to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and its various committees, which sat a number of times a year, their members being drawn from the national parliaments of the member states. By 1996, with Russia and Croatia having recently joined, all the states of East-Central Europe and almost all the successor states of the USSR had become members of the Council; it was in this year that the Parliamentary Assembly first took up the subject of what was to be designated as the ‘legacy of the former communist totalitarian regime’. The applicable ‘Resolution 1096 (1996) on measures to dismantle the heritage of former communist totalitarian systems’ tabled by Central and Eastern European members therefore aimed at decentralisation, demilitarisation, privatisation and de-bureaucratisation as well as transitional justice and the opening of the secret police archives in the course of the transformation process, and only on the margins at ‘a transformation of mentalities (a transformation of hearts and minds)’. 11

Because of its nature, being oriented towards the present and future rather than ‘historical’, the resolution met little resistance from the newly present Russian deputies, particularly as a motion tabled in 1995 by Central and Eastern European, Italian and British deputies on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had not been considered by the Parliamentary Assembly. This had addressed ‘a common approach of solidarity in rejecting the two totalitarian systems which gravely undermined the Europe of this century, namely Nazism and Bolshevism, and of condemnation of their complicity which is tragically embodied in the so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, signed on 23 August 1939.’ 12


The European Parliament as a Major Player in the Politics of History

The accession of eight Central and Eastern European states to the European Union on 1 May 2004 – Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia – now made it possible for these countries to bring their national historical narratives to the forum of the European Parliament. First, however, the parliamentarians of the ‘old’ EU, the ‘EU-15’, laid down a marker for the politics of history. On 27 January 2005, in a programme document titled ‘The Holocaust, antisemitism and racism. European Parliament resolution on remembrance of the Holocaust, anti-semitism and racism’, following the Stockholm Declaration of the International Holocaust Forum of 2000, they proclaimed 27 January – the Day of the Liberation of the Extermination Camp Auschwitz- Birkenau by the Red Army – ‘European Holocaust Memorial Day’ across the whole of the EU. 13 This was a response from the European Parliament to the introduction in 1996 of the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of National Socialism on 27 January in Germany and in 2001 of Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, thus contributing to the proclamation of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (International Holocaust Remembrance Day) by the United Nations General Assembly on 1 November 2005. 14

An opportunity for the Central and Eastern European MEPs came a few weeks later in a parliamentary debate on ‘The future of Europe 60 years after the Second World War’. The diverging meanings of the history of violence in the 20th century that dominated in ‘old (Western) Europe’ and ‘New (Central and Eastern) Europe’ now clashed abruptly. In his opening statement, the Council President, the Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker, attempted to maintain the balance so as to stress, on the one hand, the contribution of the ‘soldiers of the Red Army’:

What losses! What an excessive number of interrupted life stories amongst the Russians, who contributed 27 million lives to the liberation of Europe! No one needs to harbour a great love – although I do – for the profound and eternal Russian State to acknowledge the fact that Russia deserves well of Europe. 15

On the other hand, he addressed the different nature of the historical experience of Central and Eastern Europe:

The restored freedom at the start of May 1945, however, was not enjoyed in equal measure throughout Europe. Comfortably installed in our old democracies, we were able to live in freedom in Western Europe after the Second World War, and in a state of restored freedom whose price we well know. Those who lived in Central and Eastern Europe, however, did not experience the same level of freedom that we have experienced for 50 years. They were subjected to the law of someone else. The Baltic States, whose arrival into Europe I should like to welcome and to whom I should like to point out how proud we are to have them amongst us, were forcibly integrated into a group that was not their own. They were subjected not to the pax libertatis, but to the pax sovietika that was not their own. Those people and nations that underwent one misfortune after another suffered more than any other European. The other countries of Central and Eastern Europe did not experience that extraordinary capacity for selfdetermination that we were able to experience in our part of Europe. They were not liberated. They had to evolve under the regime of principle imposed on them. 16

In the subsequent debate, described by the conservative Polish member Wojciech Roszkowski as ‘perhaps the most important debate on European identity that has been held for years’, the French communist Francis Wurtz spoke vehemently against ‘excusing the Nazi atrocities by pointing the finger at Stalinist crimes’, since ‘Nazism was neither a dictatorship nor a tyranny like any other, but rather the complete break with society as a whole’.

The Hungarian Fidesz member József Szájer countered: ‘The one who frees the innocent captive from one prison and locks him up in another, is a prison guard, not a liberator’. Practically all the MEPs from Central and Eastern Europe emphasised that focusing on 8 May 1945, regardless of what happened on 23 August 1939 was incomprehensible. Roszkowski argued explicitly against the memory politics of Russia at the time, with its relativisation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the crimes of Stalin himself. 17 The ‘European Parliament resolution on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945’ adopted on 12 May 2005 accordingly invoked the need for ‘remembering that for some nations the end of the Second World War meant renewed tyranny inflicted by the Stalinist Soviet Union’. 18

The previous day, Russian president Putin had taken the opportunity to once again underline the official position of his country in a press conference, calling the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact ‘a personal matter between Stalin and Hitler’, not of the ‘Soviet people’. On the one hand he described the content of the pact as ‘legally weak’, yet on the other he termed the territorial changes that resulted from it a mere ‘return of the regions’ that had fallen to Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. With reference to the condemnation of the Pact along with the Secret Protocol by the Second Congress of People’s Deputies of the disintegrating USSR on 24 December 1989, he expressed his annoyance, adding:

What else is wanted then? Are we supposed to condemn it again every year? We consider this subject closed and will not come back to it. We’ve expressed our position on it once, and that’s enough. 19

Russian statements such as this deepened the trench in the politics of history which was dividing the now considerably expanded European Parliament. No small number of Central and East European MEPs saw many of their colleagues from Western Europe as naïve victims of (post-) Soviet propaganda, whereas some West European leftists viewed certain Central and Eastern European right-wingers as notorious Russian haters, even anti- Semites. This became tellingly clear in a plenary debate on 4 July 2006, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of General Francisco Franco’s 1936 coup in Spain, during which the right-wing nationalist Polish MEP Maciej Marian Giertych described the Caudillo as the saviour of Central and Western Europe from the ‘communist plague’:

The presence of figures such as Franco […] in European politics ensured that Europe maintained its traditional values. We lack such statesmen today. It is with some regret that we observe today the phenomenon of historical revisionism, which portrays all that is traditional and Catholic in an unfavourable light and everything that is secular and socialist in a favourable light. Let us remember that Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy also had socialist and atheist roots. 20

It was no coincidence that it was a German MEP who hit out vociferously at his Polish colleague: ‘what we have just heard is the spirit of Mr Franco. It was a fascist speech and it has no place in the European Parliament.’ 21

The European Parliament exhibited a broad spectrum of opinions at the time, and its majority followed a balanced line towards the Soviet participation in the history of Europe after 1945. In contrast, in 2006 the members of the Council of Europe continued their course, set ten years earlier, to ‘overcome the legacy of the communist totalitarian regime’. After discussing a report produced by Göran Lindblad, the Swedish member of the Council of Europe Political Affairs Committee, which was unmistakably inspired by the ‘Black Book of Communism’ published in 1997 and prepared by a French-Polish-Czech group of authors, 22 they passed ‘Resolution 1481 (2006) – Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’. This stated that:

2. The totalitarian communist regimes which ruled in central and eastern Europe in the last century, and which are still in power in several countries in the world, have been, without exception, characterised by massive violations of human rights. The violations have differed depending on the culture, country and the historical period and have included individual and collective assassinations and executions, death in concentration camps, starvation, deportations, torture, slave labour and other forms of mass physical terror, persecution on ethnic or religious grounds, violation of freedom of conscience, thought and expression, of freedom of the press, and also lack of political pluralism.
3. The crimes were justified in the name of the class struggle theory and the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat. The interpretation of both principles legitimised the ‘elimination’ of people who were considered harmful to the construction of a new society and, as such, enemies of the totalitarian communist regimes. A vast number of victims in every country concerned were its own nationals. It was the case particularly of the peoples of the former USSR who by far outnumbered other peoples in terms of the number of victims. (…)
7. The Assembly is convinced that the awareness of history is one of the preconditions for avoiding similar crimes in the future. Furthermore, moral assessment and condemnation of crimes committed play an important role in the education of young generations. The clear position of the international community on the past may be a reference for their future actions. (…)
10. The debates and condemnations which have taken place so far at national level in some Council of Europe member states cannot give dispensation to the international community from taking a clear position on the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes. It has a moral obligation to do so without any further delay.
11. The Council of Europe is well placed for such a debate at international level. All former European communist countries, with the exception of Belarus, are now members, and the protection of human rights and the rule of law are basic values for which it stands.
12. Therefore, the Assembly strongly condemns the massive human rights violations committed by the totalitarian communist regimes and expresses sympathy, understanding and recognition to the victims of these crimes.
13. Furthermore, it calls on all communist or post-communist parties in its member states which have not yet done so to reassess the history of communism and their own past, clearly distance themselves from the crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes and condemn them without any ambiguity.
14. The Assembly believes that this clear position of the international community will pave the way to further reconciliation. Furthermore, it will hopefully encourage historians throughout the world to continue their research aimed at the determination and objective verification of what took place. 23

It is notable that this declaration was passed by an assembly that included members of the communist parties of France, the Russian Federation, Greece and other states, as well as numerous representatives of post-communist parties from Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and elsewhere, without such highly ideologised debates as occurred in the European Parliament the previous year.

The further the jubilee year of 2009 cast its shadow, the more intensive the pan-European actors’ activities in the field of the politics of history became, with those from Central and Eastern Europe again being the driving force. 24 It was thus that, on 3 June 2008, the participants in a conference organised by the government of the Czech Republic, including Václav Havel, Vytautas Landsbergis, Joachim Gauck, the aforementioned Göran Lindblad, and other mostly Czech politicians and intellectuals, passed the ‘Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism’, which stated:

1. reaching an all-European understanding that both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes each to be judged by their own terrible merits to be destructive in their policies of systematically applying extreme forms of terror, suppressing all civic and human liberties, starting aggressive wars and, as an inseparable part of their ideologies, exterminating and deporting whole nations and groups of population; and that as such they should be considered to be the main disasters, which blighted the 20th century,
2. recognition that many crimes committed in the name of Communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity serving as a warning for future generations, in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal,
3. formulation of a common approach regarding crimes of totalitarian regimes, inter alia Communist regimes, and raising a Europe-wide awareness of the Communist crimes in order to clearly define a common attitude towards the crimes of the Communist regimes, (…)
7. recognition of Communism as an integral and horrific part of Europe’s common history, (…)
9. establishment of 23 August, the day of signing of the Hitler- Stalin Pact, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as a day of remembrance of the victims of both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, in the same way Europe remembers the victims of the Holocaust on January 27 (…)
15. establishment of an Institute of European Memory and Conscience which would be both - A) a European research institute for totalitarianism studies, developing scientific and educational projects and providing support to networking of national research institutes specialising in the subject of totalitarian experience, B) and a pan-European museum/memorial of victims of all totalitarian regimes, with an aim to memorialise victims of these regimes and raise awareness of the crimes committed by them (…).25

The message that the day of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact should be made an international ‘anti-totalitarian’ day of remembrance was thus sent to Brussels. Katrin Hammerstein and Birgit Hofmann rightly argued in 2009 that ‘The demand “Never again Auschwitz” seems on the European level to be being replaced by the formula “Never again totalitarianism”.’ 26 The symbolic value of 23 August moved in this way over a 20-year-long process into the consciousness of the European public sphere; this was finally reflected in the ‘Declaration of the European Parliament on the Proclamation of 23 August as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism’ – and the ‘Central and East European’ rule of three ‘Nazism = Stalinism = Totalitarianism’ had now become an (EU-) European one:

The European Parliament, (…)
– having regard to Resolution 1481 (2006) of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on the need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes, (…)
A. whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939 between the Soviet Union and Germany divided Europe into two spheres of interest by means of secret additional protocols,
B. whereas the mass deportations, murders and enslavements committed in the context of the acts of aggression by Stalinism and Nazism fall into the category of war crimes and crimes against humanity, (…)
D. whereas the influence and significance of the Soviet order and occupation on and for citizens of the post-Communist States are little known in Europe, (…)
1. Proposes that 23 August be proclaimed European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, and at the same time rooting democracy more firmly and reinforcing peace and stability in our continent;
2. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the parliaments of the Member States. 27

It is difficult to say whether in doing this the MEPs simply overlooked the fact that on the list of international days of remembrance 23 August had already been ‘taken’ by UNESCO in 1998, which declared it the ‘International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition’ with reference to a slave uprising in Santo Domingo in 1791, 28 or whether this coincidence was consciously taken into account. In any case, duplications of days of remembrance by different international organisations are nothing unusual.

One month later the European Parliament took a further step in terms of the politics of memory which was unusual in involving, in contrast to the 2006 debate on the Franco dictatorship, not a member country of the EU, but a non-member state, namely Ukraine. The ‘European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933)’ served primarily to support the reforms of the Ukrainian president and ‘hero’ of the ‘Orange’ democracy movement, Viktor Yushchenko, yet on the other hand showed an approach that was construed as hostile in Russia, for it stated that ‘the Holodomor famine of 1932-1933, which caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians, was cynically and cruelly planned by Stalin’s regime in order to force through the Soviet Union’s policy of collectivisation of agriculture against the will of the rural population in Ukraine’, and called on ‘the countries which emerged following the break-up of the Soviet Union to open up their archives on the Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932-1933 to comprehensive scrutiny so that all the causes and consequences can be revealed and fully investigated’. 29 Even if the Holodomor was not, in accordance with the terminology prescribed by the Ukrainian president, described as genocide (henotsyd), but ‘only’ as ‘an appalling crime against the Ukrainian people, and against humanity’, the declaration was interpreted by authorities in the field of the politics of history in Moscow as a challenge and ‘interference’ in post-Soviet ‘domestic affairs’.30 A further reason for the increased attention devoted by the EU with regard to coming to terms with the past à la russe alongside the developments in Ukraine was the Russian-Estonian conflict, which was triggered by the powerful protest that Moscow issued in response to the moving of a Soviet war memorial in 2007 in Tallinn, the capital of the EU member state Estonia.31 The way in which Russia tried to force its small neighbour to conform to its own memory narrative not only led to surprise and criticism within EU circles, but also provoked infuriation towards the attitude of Estonia and its kowtowing to Moscow.

The two decisions of the European Parliament of September and October 2008 on 23 August and the Holodomor, together with the other characteristic responses to the Holocaust, the end of the war in 1945 and the Franco dictatorship quoted above, and, moreover, the one made in 2009 to the Serb massacre of 8000 Bosnian Muslims on 11 July 1995 in Srebrenica,32 formed part of an ambitious plan by MEPs, which can be described as a ‘to-do list’ for the ‘EU-standard’ of dealing with dictatorial pasts. Within the parliament, the body responsible for coordinating these issues, there has since May 2010 been an all-party informal group of 35 MEPs chaired by the suitably distinguished former Latvian foreign minister and EU commissioner Sandra Kalniete. The group has given itself the task of promoting the ‘reconciliation of European histories’ (in the plural), and in its ranks include (or have included) such competent and respected members as the Dutch historian of Eastern Europe Bastiaan Belder (who died in 2011), the Hungarian expert on minority rights Kinga Gál, and the German former president of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering. 33 At the same time, the Parliament is clearly showing through its actions that it feels responsible for the whole political field of coming to terms with the past in Europe – and this is not only confined to EU member states, but also to states such as the specifically named Russian Federation – and that it is determined to create the appropriate instruments and to prompt the EU Commission to make the necessary tools available. The proclamation of 23 August as the ‘Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality’ is therefore accorded a prominent role. This extremely substantial list of tasks was made public in the extensive ‘European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism’:

The European Parliament, (…)
– having regard to Resolution 1481 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of 25 January 2006 on the need for international condemnation of the crimes of totalitarian Communist regimes,
– having regard to its declaration of 23 September 2008 on the proclamation of 23 August as European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism,
– having regard to its many previous resolutions on democracy and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, including that of 12 May 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945, that of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, and that of 15 January 2009 on Srebrenica,
– having regard to the Truth and Justice Commissions established in various parts of the world, which have helped those who have lived under numerous former authoritarian and totalitarian regimes to overcome their differences and achieve reconciliation,
– having regard to the statements made by its President and the political groups on 4 July 2006, 70 years after General Franco’s coup d’état in Spain, (…)
A. whereas historians agree that fully objective interpretations of historical facts are not possible and objective historical narratives do not exist; whereas, nevertheless, professional historians use scientific tools to study the past, and try to be as impartial as possible,
B. whereas no political body or political party has a monopoly on interpreting history, and such bodies and parties cannot claim to be objective,
C. whereas official political interpretations of historical facts should not be imposed by means of majority decisions of parliaments; whereas a parliament cannot legislate on the past, (…)
E. whereas misinterpretations of history can fuel exclusivist policies and thereby incite hatred and racism,
F. whereas the memories of Europe’s tragic past must be kept alive in order to honour the victims, condemn the perpetrators and lay the foundations for reconciliation based on truth and remembrance,
G. whereas millions of victims were deported, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes during the 20th century in Europe; whereas the uniqueness of the Holocaust must nevertheless be acknowledged,
H. whereas the dominant historical experience of Western Europe was Nazism, and whereas Central and Eastern European countries have experienced both Communism and Nazism; whereas understanding has to be promoted in relation to the double legacy of dictatorship borne by these countries,
I. whereas from the outset European integration has been a response to the suffering inflicted by two world wars and the Nazi tyranny that led to the Holocaust and to the expansion of totalitarian and undemocratic Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as a way of overcoming deep divisions and hostility in Europe through cooperation and integration and of ending war and securing democracy in Europe,
J. whereas the process of European integration has been successful and has now led to a European Union that encompasses the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which lived under Communist regimes from the end of World War II until the early 1990s, and whereas the earlier accessions of Greece, Spain and Portugal, which suffered under longlasting fascist regimes, helped secure democracy in the south of Europe,
K. whereas Europe will not be united unless it is able to form a common view of its history, recognises Nazism, Stalinism and fascist and Communist regimes as a common legacy and brings about an honest and thorough debate on their crimes in the past century,
L. whereas in 2009 a reunited Europe will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which should provide both an opportunity to enhance awareness of the past and recognise the role of democratic citizens’ initiatives, and an incentive to strengthen feelings of togetherness and cohesion,
M. whereas it is also important to remember those who actively opposed totalitarian rule and who should take their place in the consciousness of Europeans as the heroes of the totalitarian age because of their dedication, faithfulness to ideals, honour and courage,
N. whereas from the perspective of the victims it is immaterial which regime deprived them of their liberty or tortured or murdered them for whatever reason,

1. Expresses respect for all victims of totalitarian and undemocratic regimes in Europe and pays tribute to those who fought against tyranny and oppression;
2. Renews its commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Europe founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights;
3. Underlines the importance of keeping the memories of the past alive, because there can be no reconciliation without truth and remembrance; reconfirms its united stand against all totalitarian rule from whatever ideological background;
4. Recalls that the most recent crimes against humanity and acts of genocide in Europe were still taking place in July 1995 and that constant vigilance is needed to fight undemocratic, xenophobic, authoritarian and totalitarian ideas and tendencies;
5. Underlines that, in order to strengthen European awareness of crimes committed by totalitarian and undemocratic regimes, documentation of, and accounts testifying to, Europe’s troubled past must be supported, as there can be no reconciliation without remembrance;
6. Regrets that, 20 years after the collapse of the Communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe, access to documents that are of personal relevance or needed for scientific research is still unduly restricted in some Member States; calls for a genuine effort in all Member States towards opening up archives, including those of the former internal security services, secret police and intelligence agencies, although steps must be taken to ensure that this process is not abused for political purposes;
7. Condemns strongly and unequivocally all crimes against humanity and the massive human rights violations committed by all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes; extends to the victims of these crimes and their family members its sympathy, understanding and recognition of their suffering;
8. Declares that European integration as a model of peace and reconciliation represents a free choice by the peoples of Europe to commit to a shared future, and that the European Union has a particular responsibility to promote and safeguard democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, both inside and outside the European Union;
9. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to make further efforts to strengthen the teaching of European history and to underline the historic achievement of European integration and the stark contrast between the tragic past and the peaceful and democratic social order in today’s European Union;
10. Believes that appropriate preservation of historical memory, a comprehensive reassessment of European history and Europe-wide recognition of all historical aspects of modern Europe will strengthen European integration;
11. Calls in this connection on the Council and the Commission to support and defend the activities of non-governmental organisations, such as Memorial in the Russian Federation, that are actively engaged in researching and collecting documents related to the crimes committed during the Stalinist period;
12. Reiterates its consistent support for strengthened international justice;
13. Calls for the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience to provide support for networking and cooperation among national research institutes specialising in the subject of totalitarian history, and for the creation of a pan-European documentation centre/memorial for the victims of all totalitarian regimes;
14. Calls for a strengthening of the existing relevant financial instruments with a view to providing support for professional historical research on the issues outlined above;
15. Calls for the proclamation of 23 August as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality;
16. Is convinced that the ultimate goal of disclosure and assessment of the crimes committed by the Communist totalitarian regimes is reconciliation, which can be achieved by admitting responsibility, asking for forgiveness and fostering moral renewal;
17. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the parliaments of the Member States, the governments and parliaments of the candidate countries, the governments and parliaments of the countries associated with the European Union, and the governments and parliaments of the Members of the Council of Europe.34

With this resolution, whose numerous demands were, as will be shown, generally accepted in 2010 by the Commission and in 2011 by the Council of the EU, the European Union proclaimed itself the central authority for the politics of history with pan-European responsibility and competence, thus de facto withdrawing another policy area from the Council of Europe - which had in any case been fading since 2004 in terms of competences, and in the politics of history had frequently been thwarted by Russia and Turkey. This became possible first because of the greater legitimacy, better infrastructure and incomparably greater financial resources of Brussels, and second as a result of the fact that the Central and Eastern European initiatives regarding the politics of history within the EU framework did not meet the resistance of Russia.

The ‘anti-totalitarian’ resolution of April 2009 did, however, meet with vehement ‘Western’ resistance, with the argument being that the raising of 23 August to the status of an EU day of remembrance unacceptably devalued the significance of the 27 January memorial. In this view, the parallel remembrance of the victims of both forms of totalitarianism represented a qualification of the Holocaust as an unprecedented breach of civilisation through a certain de-contextualisation. Yehuda Bauer, one of the initiators of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, founded in 1998, stated in direct reference to the resolution:

The two regimes were both totalitarian, and yet quite different. The greater threat to all of humanity was Nazi Germany, and it was the Soviet Army that liberated Eastern Europe, was the central force that defeated Nazi Germany, and thus saved Europe and the world from the Nazi nightmare. In fact, unintentionally, the Soviets saved the Baltic nations, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Czechs, and others, from an intended extension of Nazi genocide to these nationalities. This was not intended to lead to total physical annihilation, as with the Jews, but to a disappearance of these groups ‘as such’. The EU statement, implying a straightforward parallel between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, therefore presents an a-historic and distorted picture. (…) World War II was started by Nazi Germany, not the Soviet Union, and the responsibility of the 35 million dead in Europe, 29 million of them non-Jews, is that of Nazi Germany, not Stalin. To commemorate victims equally is a distortion. (…) One certainly should remember the victims of the Soviet regime, and there is every justification for designating special memorials and events to do so. But to put the two regimes on the same level and commemorating the different crimes on the same occasion is totally unacceptable.35

The Austrian historian Heidemarie Uhl, according to whom the remembrance day of 23 August represented an ‘antithesis’ to 27 January, as it was connected to it by an image of history ‘that denies the recognition of the Holocaust as the central point of reference of a European historical consciousness’, added a further argument to Bauer’s criticism:

In the European memory of the Holocaust remembrance of the victims is connected with the question of the involvement of one’s own society in the Nazi atrocities, and memory is understood as the duty to fight against racism, anti-Semitism, the discrimination of minorities based on ethnic, religious, sexual categories. In the remembrance culture of the post- 1989 societies one’s ‘own people’ is seen as an innocent victim of the cruel suppression from outside, [and] the involvement of [one’s] own society in the communist system of rule can in this way be externalised. What can be observed in the post-communist countries is in a certain sense a déjà vu of the stories of victims as we know them from the European postwar myths and the conquering of which is the precondition for the new European memory culture. Making the model of the post-war myths the basis of a pan-European remembrance day rather achieves the opposite: the rifts between the Western European and the post-communist memory culture are likely to deepen.36

Meanwhile, the leader of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation, Günter Morsch, lamented – with pro-Russian and anti-Polish undertones – the fact that ‘the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is misused as a fight over the interpretation of the politics of memory’:

If it was really just about including the victims of communism in the memory, the date of the October Revolution in 1917 could have been chosen. Yet the emphasis on the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact devalues 1 September, that is the actual beginning of the Second World War, and qualifies 27 January as a day of remembrance for all Nazi victims. One gets the impression that the war and genocide are the result of a conflict in which the totalitarian states on the one side were confronted with the democratic states on the other. Nothing could be less true. The Nazi decision to invade Poland was certain from 1933, whereas until the Munich Agreement of 1938 the Soviets were in serious negotiations with the Western powers and Poland. Poland too was an authoritarian state which until the beginning of 1939 fostered friendly relations with the ‘Third Reich’ and in November 1938 had a military part to play in the division of the democratic Czechoslovakia. The attempt to create a culture of anti-totalitarian remembrance therefore accepts an alarming decontextualisation and homogenisation, the consequences of which are immeasurable. Anybody wishing to learn from history for the future development of a common European future must not pay this price.37

However, these misgivings do not provoke much of a response from many people in European politics. Moscow greeted the resolution of the European Parliament not with open criticism, but with sublimated annoyance that the EU, acting as the ‘conscience of Europe’, wanted to ‘support and defend’ a Russian NGO like MEMORIAL – from whom? – was interpreted by the so-called Russian ‘power vertical’ as just as much of a provocation as the demand, which had been raised again, for 23 August to be treated as a Europe-wide ‘anti-totalitarian’ remembrance day. Yet from Moscow’s point of view it was even worse when the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE – of which the Russian Federation is a founding member, as well as being, in its own perception, one of the heavyweights in this international organisation ranging ‘from Vancouver to Vladivostok’ – declared itself in favour of 23 August as a European day of remembrance as well as a parallel condemnation of Nazism and Stalinism at its session in late June/early July 2009 in Vilnius. Its ‘Resolution on Europe – divided and reunified’, tabled by Slovenia and Lithuania, it stated:

3. Noting that in the twentieth century European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, Nazi and Stalinist, which brought about genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity, […]
10. Recalling the initiative of the European Parliament to proclaim 23 August, when the Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact was signed 70 years ago, as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly:
11. Reconfirms its united stand against all totalitarian rule from whatever ideological background; (…)
13. Urges the participating States:
a. to continue research into and raise public awareness of the totalitarian legacy;
b. to develop and improve educational tools, programmes and activities, most notably for younger generations, on totalitarian history, human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, pluralism, democracy and tolerance;
c. to promote and support activities of NGOs which are engaged in areas of research and raising public awareness about crimes committed by totalitarian regimes; (…)
16. Reiterates its call upon all participating States to open their historical and political archives;
17. Expresses deep concern at the glorification of the totalitarian regimes, including the holding of public demonstrations glorifying the Nazi or Stalinist past (…).38

The resolution was passed with 213 votes in favour to eight against, with four abstentions. However, 93 members, probably including all the Russians, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kyrgyz and most of the Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians, did not take part in the vote. The protests from Moscow appeared particularly weak as they came only from the Duma. The reason for this was the dramatic changes that were taking place in the domestic and external politics of history of the Russian Federation in the summer of 2009.

Since the declaration of the European Parliament regarding 23 August made on 23 September 2008, a whole series of bodies dealing with the politics of history in Russia had realised that the transatlantic anti-Hitler coalition, which apart from a few cracks and breaches was still visible on 9 May 2005 at the ceremony in Red Square to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, was now crumbling. While in Moscow in 2005 only the Latvian president, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, had demanded an apology from Russia for the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact (as well as for the renewed annexation, camouflaged as ‘liberation’, of the Baltic States by the USSR in 1944),39 the parliament of a European conglomerate of states numbering 27 members as well, indirectly, as the parliamentary pillars of the OSCE, were now proclaiming 23 August as a pan-European day of remembrance. And this was done with some success, as the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 2009 was celebrated publicly not only by the countries that were in Russian eyes the ‘usual suspects’ – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Georgia – but moreover by Sweden, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and even Bulgaria as well.

Jerzy Buzek, the liberal Polish European Parliament president who had emerged from the Solidarity movement, crowned the ‘anti-totalitarian’ memory politics of Central and Eastern Europeans in October 2009 by making the Brussels parliament building available as a venue for an international conference organised by the three Baltic States with the title ‘Europe 70 years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’. In his opening address Buzek recalled the historical occurrence, according to the Central and Eastern European interpretation, in distinct words:

In August 1939 when the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed to the great shock of the world’s democracies, Time Magazine called it the ‘Communazi Pact’, perhaps a better name for a deal between two totalitarian regimes who proceeded to divide Central and Eastern Europe between themselves. Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Finland lost 10% of its territory and 12% of its population, Eastern and Northern Romania, as well as the three Baltic States were directly annexed by the Soviet Union. Up to 700,000 Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians were deported, from a population of six million. In Poland, some 1.5 million people were deported, of these 760,000 died, many of them children. When we are looking at these figures, we can imagine the scale of the whole tragic story. One in ten adult males was arrested; many were executed in a policy of decapitating the local elites. In April, the European Parliament adopted its resolution on ‘European Conscience and Totalitarianism’, which called for the proclamation of August 23rd as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, and called on the European public to commemorate these victims with dignity and impartiality. We can never forget those victims, for they are a reminder of where we come from, and show us how much we have achieved.40

And to the ‘Dear Friends’ gathered in the European Parliament building, he described an arc from 1939 via 2004 to 2009:

When the new member states joined five years ago, we brought with us our own history and our own stories; one of those tragic stories was the ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’. (…) Today we are a reunited and integrated continent because we have learnt the lessons of the Second World War, and the pact that allowed it to happen.41

The remembrance day then acquired a transatlantic dimension a few weeks later through the unanimously passed resolution of the Canadian lower chamber of 30 November 2009, which declared that they were cognisant of the ‘infamous pact between the Nazi and Soviet Communist regimes’, and that 23 August would be the ‘Canadian Day of remembrance of the victims of the Nazi and Soviet atrocities’, designated as ‘Black Ribbon Day’.



1) WHEREAS the Government of Canada has actively advocated for and continues to support the principals enshrined by The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260 (III) A of 9 December 1948;
2) WHEREAS the extreme forms of totalitarian rule practised by the Nazi and Communist dictatorships led to premeditated and vast crimes committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights on a scale unseen before in history;
3) WHEREAS hundreds of thousands of human beings, fleeing the Nazi and Soviet Communist crimes, sought and found refuge in Canada;
4) WHEREAS the millions of Canadians of Eastern and Central European descent whose families have been directly affected by Nazi and/or Communist crimes have made unique and significant, cultural, economic, social and other contributions to help build the Canada we know today;
5) WHEREAS 20 years after the fall of the totalitarian Communist regimes in Europe, knowledge among Canadians about the totalitarian regimes which terrorised their fellow citizens in Central and Eastern Europe for more than 40 years in the form of systematic and ruthless military, economic and political repression of the people by means of arbitrary executions, mass arrests, deportations, the suppression of free expression, private property and civil society and the destruction of cultural and moral identity and which deprived the vast majority of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe of their basic human rights and dignity, separating them from the democratic world by means of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, is still alarmingly superficial and inadequate;
6) WHEREAS Canadians were instrumental during the 1980s in raising global awareness of crimes committed by European totalitarian Nazi and Communist regimes by founding an annual ‘Black Ribbon Day’ on 23 August , to commemorate the legal partnership of these two regimes through the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT every victim of any totalitarian regime has the same human dignity and deserves justice, remembrance and recognition by the Parliament and the government of Canada, in efforts to ensure that such crimes and events are never again repeated;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Parliament and the Government of Canada unequivocally condemn the crimes against humanity committed by totalitarian Nazi and Communist regimes and offer the victims of these crimes and their family members sympathy, understanding and recognition for their suffering;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Government of Canada establish an annual Canadian Day of Remembrance for the victims of Nazi and Soviet Communist crimes on 23 August, called ‘Black Ribbon Day,’ to coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the infamous pact between the Nazi and Soviet Communist regimes.42

The anchoring that has now occurred of 23 August as an ‘anti-totalitarian’ international day of remembrance, which Russian diplomacy was unable to prevent, has had two entirely different, indeed opposite effects: firstly, Russia reacted by isolating itself and displaying aggressive outward signals, and secondly came a reinterpretation of the country’s own imperial and national history based on a new orientation of the politics of history that were accompanied with clear signs of a readiness to make outward concessions.43 The latter tendency was carried forward by an internal Russian debate, also culminating in 2009, on the topic of ‘victory without Stalin?’ Was Stalin the ‘architect of the victory’ of 9 May 1945, or did the Russian ‘people’ – or to use the earlier term ‘the peoples of the Soviet Union’, or as it is now called, the ‘Russian nation’44 – achieve this victory ‘in spite of Stalin’? This question was accorded a double significance when ‘the victory’ in the ‘Great Patriotic War 1941-1945’ was also ascribed the function of a foundation myth of the Russian Federation – once the use of the Soviet founding myth of the ‘Great Socialist October Revolution’ was discontinued for reasons of ideology. In other words: in the Russian discourse on the Soviet-German pact whose name there is known in the order ‘Ribbentrop-Molotov’, together with the Secret Protocol, the question was and remains not only the role to be ascribed to Stalin in the official national memory of the war, but much more the raison d’être of this, the largest product of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the cement of an identity bound by memory that is intended to hold together the particularly disparate federation of Russians and numerous non-Russians.

In his contribution to this volume, Wolfram von Scheliha traces how in 2009 President Dmitry A. Medvedev, with the acceptance of his predecessor Prime Minister Putin, despite considerable opposition, drafted and introduced a new approach to the politics of history, both domestically and for international use. Von Scheliha arrives at the surprising and at the same time convincing conclusion that the formation on 15 May 2009 of a ‘President of the Russian Federation’s Commission for the Struggle against Attempts at Falsification of History Damaging Russia’, which met with harsh criticism and great misgivings, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and Germany, was the result of liberal, even ‘pro-European’ forces in the Kremlin who were successfully keeping in check dogmatists nostalgic for Soviet times.45 Indeed, the president subsequently went out on a limb in terms of memory issues in a way that justifies this interpretation. ‘Simply put,’ said Medvedev in a newspaper interview the day before ‘Victory Day’ in 2010, ‘the regime that was established in the USSR can only be described as totalitarian.’ At the same time, he rejected the (post-) Soviet interpretation of 9 May, and thus indirectly also the Russian interpretation of the ‘Great Patriotic War 1941-1945’:

For quite some time the war was perceived exclusively as a Great Victory of the Soviet people and the Red Army. But the war also stands for an immense number of victims and for the colossal losses that the Soviet people suffered together with other European countries. (…) There are absolutely evident facts: the Great Patriotic War was won by our people, not Stalin and not even the military, with all the importance of what they achieved. (…) If we speak of the state evaluation of how Stalin is to be appraised through the leadership of the country in the last years, from the moment of the establishment of the new Russian state, this meaning is clear: Stalin committed an abundance of crimes towards his people. 46

In the same interview, however, Medvedev said that ‘those who place the role of the Red Army and those of the Fascist occupiers on one and the same level are committing a moral crime’, in conjunction with criticism of the Baltic states and praise for the reunified Germany.47

A minor sensation was caused by Medvedev’s decision to invite the chairman of MEMORIAL, Arseny Roginsky, to cooperate with the Presidential Council in working on the development of civil society and on human rights. At a session of this body on 1 February 2011 in Ekaterinburg, the two discussed a memorandum prepared by MEMORIAL, ‘The Immortalisation of the Remembrance of the Victims of the Totalitarian Regime and National Reconciliation’, which demanded financial support for surviving victims of gulags and their full legal rehabilitation, and likewise the establishment of monuments and memorials in visible locations in the public space, the creation of a database of victims, free access to the files of the NKVD secret police, and a ‘political-legal evaluation of the crimes of the communist regime’.48 Roginsky himself, however, was sceptical regarding the seriousness of Medvedev’s liberalisation in memory politics. According to him, the president and prime minister were now acting as ‘anti-Stalinists’ as well as proponents of an explicitly state-Russian, not ethnoculturally Russian national identity, because they feared an excessive strengthening of Stalinist and Russian nationalist forces in the country.49


The state of affairs in 2011

The aforesaid resolution of the European Parliament of 2 April 2009 on the ‘Conscience of Europe and on Totalitarianism’, along with the Council of the EU’s demand in November 2008 to assess the need for EU guidelines against the trivialisation of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, prompted the EU Commission to intensify its activities. Having already held a seminar in November 2007 on the question ‘How to deal with the totalitarian memory of Europe: Victims and reconciliation’, they commissioned in 2009 a comprehensive study ‘on how the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe is dealt with in the Member States’, which was submitted in early 2010. 50 Based partly on this, the EU Commission produced a report titled ‘The memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe’, which was presented to the Parliament and Council in December 2010. In this they were able to report that five member states – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Sweden – had transferred the remembrance day of 23 August stipulated by the European Parliament to their national legislatures and recommend that further member states ‘examine the possibility to adhere to this initiative in the light of their own history and specificities’. The Commission also listed those aid programmes whose money could be used for measures of this kind, including the ‘Active European Remembrance’ action of the Europe for Citizens programme, in the framework of which the Platform of European Memory and Conscience supported by the Parliament could also be financed.51 In June 2011, in connection with the aforementioned Commission report of 2010 and the Parliament resolution of 2009, the EU Council passed its ‘conclusions on the memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe’:

The Council of the European Union
Considering that many Member States have experienced a tragic past caused by totalitarian regimes, be it communist, national socialist or of any other nature, which have resulted in violations of fundamental rights and in the complete denial of human dignity; (…)
Noting, that totalitarian regimes in Europe, although different in their origins, political justification and expression, form part of Europe’s shared history; (…)
4. Highlights the Europe-wide Day of Remembrance of the victims of the totalitarian regimes (23 August) and invites Member States to consider how to commemorate it, in the light of their own history and specificities; (…)
7. Invites the Commission to pay attention to the questions of the participation of smaller organisations to EU financial programmes, including schools and higher education institutions, as well as to examine how to foster participation of the beneficiaries from the Eastern partnership countries and Russia in common initiatives and project financed by these programmes. (…)
9. Invites all interested parties to make full use of existing EU programmes to establish a Platform of European Memory and Conscience to provide support for current and future networking and cooperation among national research institutes specialising in the subject of totalitarian history.52

As a result, within three years the project of the proclamation of 23 August, a Europe-wide day of remembrance had successfully negotiated the path through the EU bodies – from the Parliament, via the Commission, to the Council. And so, together with the resolution of the Canadian parliament from 2009, the last stage of the rise of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a Euro-Atlantic lieu de mémoire, together with the remembrance day of 23 August, was complete. The first stage was the time of perestroika, leading to the negotiated transitions of 1989. The second, in the 1990s, was that of the European Council’s dealing with the legacy of the ‘ totalitarian communist regime’. The third began in 2004, with the accession of the Central and Eastern European states to the EU and the subsequent debates in the European Parliament. The fourth was the stage described above, lasting from 2008 to 2011.

All of this influenced the domestic as well as the external policy of the Russian Federation in an increasingly polarising sense: the European Parliament’s call to declare 23 August as a Europe-wide day of remembrance led in the build-up to the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in Russia to a battle for authority over interpretation between the nationalist idolisers of Stalin and the power pragmatists, who viewed themselves as liberals, in which President Medvedev, who to date has in the public space been numbered among the latter camp, was able to come out on top. While the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has by no means lost its quality as an expressly non-site of memory in the CIS (with the exception of Moldova), it is no longer a taboo subject in Russia’s external memory politics. The reasons for this include the debate raging internally in Russia since 2011 about what is now known as the de-Stalinisation (destalinizaciya) of the country; the palpable improvement in Russian-Polish relations since 2009 – strengthened since the Smolensk plane disaster of April 2010, and including the subject of Katyń, which is comparable in its shattering effect to the 1939 Pact; the German-Russian special relationship, recently described as a ‘modernisation partnership’; and finally the debates in the pan-European forums of the European Council and the OSCE – and especially the intensified activities of the European Union since 2004 in the field of the politics of history.

It is important to emphasise once again, however, that only in exceptional cases do the negotiations at the EU, OSCE and European Council level and their effects, in terms of the politics of history, have repercussions in the media, public sphere and politics (as well as in the academic study of memory). 53 The culture of remembrance in Europe as well as the rest of the world is first and foremost a national matter, which as a rule has few transnational common spaces. Like Europe Day on 9 May, or 27 January, 23 August as Black Ribbon Day or the European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Stalinist and Nazi Atrocities remains in the shadows of most national cultures of remembrance in the Northern Hemisphere. The fact that it has over the course of almost three decades even been anchored as such must, however, be assessed as a genuine success of pan-European /trans-Atlantic, and here primarily Central and Eastern European, politics of history and memory. The misgivings of intellectuals and academics, based on reasons pertaining to teaching about memory, on the perceived devaluation of 27 January, and even the implicit equation of the Holocaust on the one hand with the gulags, Holodomor and the Great Terror on the other, prove to be of little political importance given the broad transnational- parliamentary consensus of 23 August. Yet whether the new Euro- Atlantic day of remembrance will turn out to be of great significance in all or at least the majority of the cultures of memory of the national societies of Europe, Eurasia, and North America is a question to which the answer lies in the future.



Prof. Dr. Stefan Troebst, University of Leipzig. Born in 1955 in Heidelberg, 1974-1984 Studies in History, Slavic Studies, Balkanologie and Islamic Studies at the Free University Berlin and at the universities of Tübingen, Sofia (Bulgaria), Skopje (Yugoslavia, now Macedonia) and at Indiana University Bloomington, (USA) 1984; 1984-1992 Wiss. Staff and Assistant Professor of East European History at the Eastern European Institute at the Free University of Berlin, Since 1999, Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Leipzig, East Central Europe, also a senior fellow at Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas.




1 K. Zernack, ‘1. September 1939: als hochstes Stadium “Negativer Polenpolitik”’, in: E. Francois and U. Puschner (eds), Erinnerungstage. Wendepunkte der Geschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Munchen, 2010), pp. 305-318 and 437-440, here p. 317.

2 Ibid., p. 305.

3 J. Rydel, ‘Der 1. September als ein Fokus der Erinnerung’, in: S. Raabe and P. Womela (eds), Der Hitler-Stalin-Pakt und der Beginn des Zweiten Weltkrieges / Pakt Hitler- Stalin i wybuch II Wojny Światowej (Warszawa, 2009), pp. 7-12, here p. 12. The Warsaw historian Jerzy Kochanowski, however, has at the same time pointed out that the Polish lieu de mémoire ‘1 September 1939’ has in the meantime been given stiff competition by that of ‘17 September 1939’ – the day of the Red Army invasion of eastern Poland – ‘The ‘German’ part of the Polish history of World War II has been pushed to the side to such a degree that one might gain the impression that the war began not on 1 September 1939, but 17 days later.’ Cf. id., ‘Der Kriegsbeginn in der polnischen Erinnerung’, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 36-37 (2009), pp. 6-13, here p. 12.

4 S. Troebst, ‘Der 23. August 1939 – ein europaischer lieu de mémoire’, Osteuropa 59 (2009) 7-8, pp. 249-256, also www.eurozine.com, accessed: 30.06.2011.

5 ‘Das Jahr 1989 feiern, heist auch, sich an 1939 zu erinnern! Eine Erklarung zum 70. Jahrestag des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts’. Berlin, 23. August 2009, Die Zeit 35 (20.08.2009), pp. 22. See also www.23august1939.de, accessed 01.06.2011. You can also find versions in German, Russian, Polish, Czech and Hungarian here.

6 ‘Przepraszamy za 1939, dziękujemy za 1989. List niemieckich intelektualistow w 70. rocznicę II wojny światowej’, Gazeta Wyborcza, 21.08.2009, p. 1, wyborcza.pl, accessed 26. 06. 2011.

7 On this and other dividing lines in memory culture in Europe cf. C.S. Maier, ‘Heises und kaltes Gedachtnis. Zur politischen Halbwertzeit des faschistischen und kommunistischen Gedachtnisses’, in: Transit. Europäische Revue 22 (2001/2002), pp. 153-165; S. Troebst, ‘Holodomor oder Holocaust?’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 152 (04.07.2005), p. 8; id., ‘Jalta versus Stalingrad, GULag versus Holocaust. Konfligierende Erinnerungskulturen im groseren Europa’, Berliner Journal für Soziologie 15 (2005), pp. 381-400; U. Ackermann, ‘Das gespaltene Gedenken. Eine gesamteuropaische Erinnerungskultur ist noch nicht in Sicht’, Internationale Politik 61 (2006) 5, pp. 44- 48; H.-A. Winkler, ‘Erinnerungswelten im Widerstreit. Europas langer Weg zu einem gemeinsamen Bild von Jahrhundert der Extreme’, in: B. Kauffmann and B. Kerski (eds), Antisemitismus und Erinnerungskulturen im postkommunistischen Europa (Osnabruck, 2006), pp. 105-116.

8 For the context cf. K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische “Interventionen”: Resolutionen und Initiativen zum Umgang mit diktatorischer Vergangenheit’, in: K. Hammerstein et al. (eds), Aufarbeitung der Diktatur – Diktat der Aufarbeitung? Normierungsprozesse beim Umgang mit diktatorischer Vergangenheit (Gottingen, 2009), pp. 189-203; K. Hammerstein, ‘Europa und seine bedruckende Erbschaft. Europaische Perspektiven auf die Aufarbeitung von Diktaturen’, in: Werner Reimers Stiftung (ed.), Erinnerung und Gesellschaft. Formen der Aufarbeitung von Diktaturen, Berlin (forthcoming).

9 Cf. essentially W. von Scheliha, ‘Der Pakt und seine Falscher. Der geschichtspolitische Machtkampf in Russland zum 70. Jahrestag des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts’ (in this volume) and id., ‘Die List der geschichtspolitischen Vernunft. Der polnischrussische Geschichtsdiskurs in den Gedenkjahren 2009-2010’, in: E. Francois, R. Traba and S. Troebst (eds), Strategien der Geschichtspolitik in Europa seit 1989 – Deutschland, Frankreich und Polen im internationalen Vergleich, Gottingen (forthcoming). See also T. Timofeeva, ‘“Ob gut, ob schlecht, das ist Geschichte”. Russlands Umgang mit dem Hitler- Stalin-Pakt’, Osteuropa 59 (2009) 7-8, pp. 257-271, and Jutta Scherrer’s contribution to this volume.

10 On this cf. the contributions of A. Bubnys, K. Wezel and K. Bruggemann in this volume.

11 Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Resolution 1096 (1996) on measures to dismantle the heritage of former communist totalitarian regimes. Strasbourg, 27 June 1996, assembly.coe.int, accessed 01.06.2011.

12 Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Motion for a Resolution on the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, presented by Mr Paunescu, Romania, UEL, and others. Strasbourg, 12 July 1995 (Doc. 7358), assembly.coe.int, accessed 01.06.2011.

13 European Parliament resolution on remembrance of the Holocaust, antisemitism and racism. Brussels, 27 January 2005, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011. For the background cf. H. Schmid, ‘Europaisierung des Auschwitz- Gedenkens? Zum Aufstieg des 27. Januar 1945 als “Holocaustgedenktag” in Europa’, in: J. Eckel and C. Moisel (eds), Universalisierung des Holocaust? Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik in internationaler Perspektive (Gottingen, 2008), pp. 174-202; Jens Kroh, Transnationale Erinnerung. Der Holocaust im Fokus geschichtspolitischer Initiativen (Frankfurt a. M./ New York, 2008); D. Levy and N. Sznaider, Erinnerung im globalen Zeitalter: Der Holocaust (Frankfurt a. M., 2001), pp. 210-216.

14 Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on the Holocaust Remembrance (A/RES/60/7, 1 November 2005), www.un.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

15 European Parliament, plenary debates. Strasbourg European Parliament. Plenary debates. Strasbourg, 11 May 2005, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 European Parliament resolution on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945. Strasbourg, 12 May 2005, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

19 Putin o pakte Molotova-Ribbentropa: ‘Chorošo ėto bylo ili plocho – ėto istorija’, Regnum. Informacionnoe agentstvo (10.05.2005), http://www.regnum.ru/news/451397.html, accessed 29.06.2011. On this see also Jutta Scherrer’s contribution in this volume.

20 European Parliament. Plenary debates. Tuesday, 4 July 2006 – Strasbourg: 70 years after General Franco’s coup d’etat in Spain, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

21 Ibid. (Speech of the Social Democrat Martin Schulz.) The debate took place in the context of the ‘Recommendation 1736 (2006) Need for international condemnation of the Franco regime’, passed by the European Council on 17 March 2006. This had given Spain’s government detailed recommendations for dealing with the memory of the legacy of the Franco dictatorship of 1939 to 1975. Cf. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Recommendation 1736 (2006) Need for international condemnation of the Franco regime. Strasbourg, 17 March 2006, http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/adoptedtext/ta06/erec1736.htm accessed 01.06.2011; K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische ‘Interventionen’’, pp. 194-196. On the structural parallels of strategies for dealing with the past of the late and post-dictatorial periods between Southern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe see S. Troebst, Diktaturerinnerung und Geschichtskultur im östlichen und südlichen Europa. Ein Vergleich der Vergleiche (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitatsverlag, 2010), www.uni-leipzig.de/gesi/documents/working_papers/GESI_WP_3_Troebst.pdf, accessed 30.06.2011.

22 On this subject cf. B. Hofmann, ‘Europaisierung der Totalitarismustheorie? Geschichtspolitische Kontroversen um das ‘Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus’ und die Europaratsresolution zur ‘Verurteilung der Verbrechen totalitarer kommunistischer Regime’ in Deutschland und Frankreich’, in: id. et al. (eds), Diktaturüberwindung in Europa. Neue nationale und transnationale Perspektiven (Heidelberg, 2010), pp. 331-347; K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische “Interventionen”’, pp. 196-202.

23 Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Resolution 1481 (2006) Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes. Strasbourg, 25 January 2006, assembly.coe.int, accessed 01.06.2011.

24 The Slovenian EU Presidency of the EU Council thus held a hearing on 8 April 2008 in Brussels, primarily with the participation of experts from Central and Eastern Europe, on the crimes of the totalitarian regimes, with communist state crimes being of central concern. On this cf. the comprehensive report by von Peter Jambrek (ed.), Crimes Committed by Totalitarian Regimes. Ljubljana 2008, 316 pp. www.mp.gov.si, accessed 01.06.2011.

25 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism. Prague, 3 July 2008, www.praguedeclaration.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

26 K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische “Interventionen”’, p. 196. See also F. Wenninger and J. Pfeffer, ‘Total normal. Zur diskursiven Durchsetzung des Totalitarismus-Begriffs in Debatten des Europaischen Parlamentes’, Conference Papers, Momentum-Kongress 2010 (Hallstatt, 21.-24.10.2010) (forthcoming). However, even the influential Copenhagen document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe of 1990, passed at the climax of the euphoria over the collapse of communism in 1990, stated ‘The participating States clearly and unequivocally condemn totalitarianism’. Cf. Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (Copenhagen, 29 June 1990), Point 40, http://www.osce.org/odihr/19394, accessed 01.06.2011.

27 Declaration of the European Parliament on the proclamation of 23 August as European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. Brussels, 23 September 2008, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

28 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: 23 August: International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and of its Abolition, portal.unesco.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

29 European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933). Brussels, 23 October 2008, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011. On the historical background cf. G. Kasianov, ‘The Great Famine of 1932-1933 (Holodomor) and the Politics of History in Contemporary Ukraine’, in: S. Troebst (ed.), Postdiktatorische Geschichtskulturen im Süden und Osten Europas. Bestandsaufnahme und Forschungsperspektiven (Gottingen, 2010), pp. 619-641; and W. Jilge, ‘Geschichtspolitik in der Ukraine’, Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 8-9 (2007), pp. 24-30.

30 Cf. also the plenary debate on the motion for the resolution in the European Parliament on 22 October 2008, in which Helmuth Markov, the Brandenburg MEP from the party ‘The Left’, argued in favour of Russia: European Parliament. plenary debates. Strasbourg, 22 October 2008. 14. Commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933) (debate), www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=CRE&reference=20081022&secondRef=ITEM-014&language=EN&ring=P6-RC-2008-0571, accessed 01.06.2011.

31 M. Lehti, M. Jutila and M. Jokisipila, ‘Never-Ending Second World War: Public Performances of National Dignity and the Drama of the Bronze Soldier’, Journal of Baltic Studies 39 (2008), pp. 393-418; K. Bruggemann and A. Kasekamp, ‘The Politics of History and the War of Memories in Estonia’, Nationalities Papers 36 (2008), pp. 425-448; K. Bruggemann, ‘Denkmaler des Grolls. Estland und die Kriege des 20. Jahrhunderts’, Osteuropa 58 (2008) 6, pp. 129-146. On the comparable tensions between Russia on the one side and Latvia and Lithuania on the other cf. the contributions from K. Wezel, A. Nikžentaitis and C. Scheide in the same issue of Osteuropa as well as D. Bleiere, ‘Overcoming the Communist and Authoritarian Past in Latvia: History and Monuments in the Political Discourse’, in: S. Troebst (ed.), Postdiktatorische Geschichtskulturen, pp. 330- 404.

32 European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2009 on Srebrenica. Strasbourg, 15 January 2009, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011. On the mass execution in the UN protection zone, classified by international law as genocide, cf. Julija Bogoeva/ Caroline Fetscher, Srebrenica. Dokumente aus dem Verfahren gegen General Radislav Krstić vor dem Internationalen Strafgerichtshof für das ehemalige Jugoslawien in Den Haag, Frankfurt a. M. 2002.

33 On this see the website of the group: Reconciliation of European Histories. For a better understanding of Europe’s shared history, eureconciliation.wordpress.com, accessed 01.06.2011.

34 European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism. Brussels, 2 April 2009, www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2009-0213+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN, accessed 01.06.2011. The resolution was passed with 553 votes in favour, 44 against and 33 abstentions. A public hearing on the subject ‘European Conscience and Crimes of Totalitarian Communism: 20 Years After’ had taken place previously on 18 March 2009 in the European Parliament on the initiative of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council. The program of the hearing can be found on the website of the Hungarian Fidesz MEPs, http://fidesz-eu.hu/galeria/File/Invitation_18_March_2009.pdf, accessed 01.06.2011.

35 Y. Bauer, ‘On Comparisons between Nazi Germany and the Soviet regime’, undated, www.gedenkdienst.or.at, accessed 01.06.2011. On the state of historical knowledge on this issue cf. M. Geyer and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Beyond Totalitarianism. Stalinism and Nazism Compared (Cambridge, 2009); J. Baberowski and A. Doring-Manteuffel, Ordnung durch Terror. Gewaltexzesse und Vernichtung im nationalsozialistischen und im stalinistischen Imperium (Bonn, 2006); D. Diner, ‘Gedachtnis und Erkenntnis. Nationalsozialismus und Stalinismus im Vergleich’, Osteuropa 50 (2000), pp. 698-708; D. Beyrau, ‘Nationalsozialistisches Regime und Stalin-System. Ein riskanter Vergleich’, ibid., pp. 709-720; I. Kershaw and M. Lewin (eds), Stalinism and Nazism. Dictatorships in Comparison (Cambridge, 1997).

36 H. Uhl, ‘Neuer EU-Gedenktag: Verfalschung der Geschichte?’ On the website: science ORF.at’, 21 August 2009, sciencev1.orf.at, accessed 01.06.2011.

37 G. Morsch, ‘Schlachtfeld EU. Wie der Jahrestag des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts fur einen erinnerungspolitischen Deutungskampf missbraucht wird’, Jüdische Allgemeine (20.08.2009), www.juedische-allgemeine.de, accessed 01.06.2011.

38 Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, Resolution on Divided Europe Reunited: Promoting Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the OSCE Region in the 21st Century, in: Vilnius Declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Resolutions Adopted at the Eighteenth Annual Session, Vilnius, 29 June to 3 July 2009 (AS (09) D 1 G), pp. 48-49, www.oscepa.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

39 Cf. on the wording, Katja Wezel’s contribution to this volume, and on the background E.-C. Onken, ‘The Baltic States and Moscow’s May 9th Commemoration: Analysing Memory Politics in Europe’, Europe-Asia Studies 59 (2007), pp. 3-46. However, US President George Bush had declared, during a stopover on 7 May 2005 in the Latvian capital Riga on the way to Moscow: ‘For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. (...) The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.’ Cf. ‘President Discusses Freedom and Democracy in Latvia’. Riga, Latvia, 7 May 2005, www.whitehouse.gov.edgesuite.net/news/releases/2005/05/print/20050507-8.html, accessed 01.06.2011.

40 The President of the European Parliament, 70th anniversary of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact. Brussels, 14 October 2009, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

41 Ibid.

42 House of Commons, Resolution to Establish an Annual Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Europe’s Totalitarian Regimes. Ottawa, 30 November 2009, www.blackribbonday.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

43 On the memory politics of the Russian Federation since 2008/09 cf., alongside the cited analyses of Wolfram von Scheliha and the contribution of Jutta Scherrer in this volume, see especially C. Kuhr-Korolev, ‘Erinnerungspolitik in Russland. Die vaterlandische Geschichte und der Kampf um historisches Hoheitsgebiet’, Neue politische Literatur 54 (2009), pp. 369-383 and J. Morre, ‘Die Erinnerung an den Zweiten Weltkrieg im heutigen Russland’, Jahrbuch für historische Kommunismusforschung (2011), pp. 253- 256; B. Dubin, ‘Soziologische Perspektiven auf das ‘kollektive Gedachtnis’ des heutigen Russland, in: S. Troebst and J. Wolf (eds), Erinnern an den Zweiten Weltkrieg. Mahnmale und Museen in Mittel- und Osteuropa (Leipzig, 2011), pp. 113-119; I. Scherbakowa, Zerrissene Erinnerung. Der Umgang mit Stalinismus und Zweitem Weltkrieg im heutigen Russland, (Gottingen, 2010); A. Vatlin, ‘Die unvollendete Vergangenheit: Uber den Umgang mit der kommunistischen Geschichte im heutigen Russland’, Jahrbuch für historische Kommunismusforschung (2010), pp. 279-293; Themenausgabe „Geschichtspolitik und Geschichtsbild”, Russland-Analysen Nr. 196 (12.02.2010), www.laender-analysen.de/ russland/pdf/Russlandanalysen196.pdf, access 29.06.2011; E. Zubkova, ‘The Filippov Syndrome’, Kritika 10 (2009), pp. 861-868; A. Roginski, ‘Fragmentierte Erinnerung. Stalin und der Stalinismus im heutigen Rusland’, Eurozine (02.03.2009), www.eurozine.com/articles/2009-03-02-roginski-de.html, accessed 29.06.2011. On the traditional lines of memory politics which shaped the memory of Stalinism and the World War from Leonid Brezhnev via Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin, see B. Dubin, ‘Erinnern als staatliche Veranstaltung. Geschichte und Herrschaft in Russland’, Osteuropa 58 (2008) 6, pp. 57-65; Lev Gudkov, ‘Die Fesseln des Sieges. Russlands Identitat aus der Erinnerung an den Krieg’, Osteuropa 55 (2005) 4-6, pp. 56-73; B. Dubin, ‘Goldene Zeiten des Krieges. Erinnerung als Sehnsucht nach der Brežnev-Ara’, ibid., pp. 219-233.

44 A typical example of the concept of a ‘Russian nation’ (rossijskaja nacija) or the ‘multinational people of the Russian Federation’ (mnogonacional’nyj narod Rossijskoj Federacii), as it was termed in the constitution of 1993, can be found in the leading article of one of Medvedev’s advisers in the New Year’s edition of the Kremlin-backed newspaper Izvestija: V. Nikonov, ‘Ideja našej nacii’, Izvestija (30.12.2010-10.01.2011) 246/247 (28261), p. 7, www.izvestia.ru/comment/article3150213/, accessed 01.06.2011.

45 On this cf. ‘Russland kampft. Gesetz und Kommission gegen Geschichtsfalscher’, Osteuropa 59 (2009) 7-8, pp. 273-275; MEMORIAL, ‘Zur neuen Kommission beim Prasidenten der Russlandischen Foderation. Erklarung der Gesellschaft MEMORIAL. Moscow, 22 May 2009, ibid., pp. 277-278; and Wolfram von Scheliha, ‘Funf Jahre Haft fur Kritik an Stalin. Die russische Staatsmacht kampft um die Deutungshoheit uber die Geschichte’, in: Hoch und Guck (03/2009) 65, pp. 68-70.

46 Interv’ju Dmitrija Medvedeva gazete Izvestija. Gorki, 7 May 2010, www.kremlin.ru, accessed 01.06.2011.

47 Ibid.

48 Stenografičeskij otčet o zasedanii Soveta po razvitiju graždanskogo obščestva i pravam čeloveka. Ekaterinburg, 1 February 2011, www.kremlin.ru/transcripts/10194, accessed 01.06.2011.

49 A. Roginskij, ‘Erinnerung und Freiheit. Die Stalinismus-Diskussion in der UdSSR und Russland’, Osteuropa 61 (2011) 4, pp. 55-69, here pp. 66-69.

50 Study on how the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe is dealt with in the Member States. Submitted by Prof. Dr. Carlos Closa Montero, Institute for Public Goods and Policy, Centre of Human and Social Sciences, CSCIC, Madrid, Spain (Contract No JLS/2007/C4/006). Madrid, January 2010, 480 pp. ec.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

51 European Commission: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council: The memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe (COM(2010) 783 final). Brussels, 22. 12. 2010, ec.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

52 Council of the European Union, Council conclusions on the memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe. 3096th JUSTICE and HOME AFFAIRS Council meeting. Luxembourg, 9 and 10 June 2011, www.webcitation.org/5zO7mIFTb, accessed 01.06.2011.

53 The most recent and relevantly titled publications contain no reference to the establishment of 23 August as a European day of remembrance. Cf. pars pro toto C. Joerges, M. Mahlmann and U.K. Preus (eds), ‘Schmerzliche Erfahrungen der Vergangenheit’ und der Prozess der Konstituierung Europas (Wiesbaden, 2008); B. Strath and M. Pakier (eds), A European Memory? Contested Histories and Politics of Remembrance, (London, New York, 2010), M. Blaive, C. Gerbel and T. Lindenberger (eds), Clashes in European Memory: The Case of Communist Repression and the Holocaust (Innsbruck, Wien, Bozen, 2010). The same is true of the chapters on Europe in A. Assman, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik (Munchen, 2006). An exception that stands out is C. Leggewie and A. Lang, Der Kampf um die europäische Erinnerung. Ein Schlachtfeld wird Besichtigt (Munchen, 2011), which states that ‘the memory of 23 August 1939, when the pact was concluded between Hitler and Stalin’ belongs ‘no longer just to the margins’, but to ‘a truly Europeanised politics of memory’ and ‘a pan-European history narrative’ (p. 11), and where the content and results of the resolution of the European Parliament of 2 April 2009 are described (p. 192). Cf. also ibid., pp. 58, 65, 68 and 77-78, and id.: ‘Schlachtfeld Europa. Transnationale Erinnerung und europaische Identitat’, in: C. Bieber, B. Drechsel and A.-K. Lang (eds), Kultur im Konflikt. Claus Leggewie revisited, Bielefeld 2010, pp. 29- 44, with commentaries from W. Schmale, S. Troebst, H. Uhl und S. Kattago, in: ibid., pp. 45-64. It was no coincidence that Leggewie participated as an expert in the ‘Study on how the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe is dealt with in the Member States’ of 2010 commissioned by the EU Commission and cited above.



This article has been published in the first issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies.




Antoni Dudek

1989 – A kommunizmus vége Lengyelországban

15 August 2018
  • academic
  • 1989
  • kommunizmus bukása
  • Lengyelország
  • Gorbacsov
  • lengyelek
  • Szolidaritás
  • KGST
  • Jaruzelski
  • privatizáció
  • LEMP
  • Lengyel Hadsereg
  • katolikus egyház
  • politikai ellenzék

Az 1980 nyarán bekövetkezett sztrájkhullám, majd később annak következményeként az NSZZ „Szolidaritás” (Független Önkormányzó Szakszervezet - NSZZ) - megszületése indították el a kommunista állam válságának új, legmélyebb szakaszát Lengyelországban. Az 1976 óta elmélyülő gazdasági válság 1980-ban a LEMP (Lengyel Egyesült Munkáspárt – a PZPR) hegemón pozícióján alapuló politikai rendszer stabilitásának megrendüléséhez vezetett. Az NSZZ „Szolidaritás” létrejötte és több mint egy éve tartó legális működése alapvető változásokat idéztek elő a társadalmi tudatban, amelyet már nem volt képes megváltoztatni az ún. normalizálási politika, amit a rendkívüli állapot bevezetése, 1981 decembere után kezdeményeztek.

Sem a „Szolidaritás” szétverése, sem az 1982. augusztus 31-én (amikor 66 városban került sor a szakszervezetet támogatók demonstrációjára) csúcspontját elérő társadalmi tiltakozások elfojtása nem tartotta vissza azokat a gazdasági, társadalmi és politikai folyamatokat, amelyek a Lengyel Népköztársaság államrendjének krónikus válságállapotba kerüléséhez, majd – a nemzetközi helyzet változása után – annak bukásához vezettek. Az alábbiakban megkísérlem felsorolni a legfontosabb tényezőket, amelyek véleményem szerint a válság elmélyülését okozták, majd ennek következtében 1989-ben a rendszer bukásához vezettek.


1. Változások a Szovjetunióban. Ez a tényező jelent meg legkésőbb az összes közül, csupán azután, hogy 1986-ban Mihail Gorbacsov proklamálta a peresztrojka politikáját, de az első helyen kell ezt megemlíteni, mert döntő szerepet játszott a lengyel kormányt irányító Wojciech Jaruzelski tábornok meggyőzésében a rendszer átalakítására vonatkozó reformok beindítására, amelyek végeredményben a rendszer teljes összeomlásához vezettek. 1986 júliusában Gorbacsov, az SzKP KB Politikai Bizottságának ülésén Közép-Európa államairól mondott beszéde során megállapította, hogy tovább „nem lehet őket a vállunkra venni. A fő ok a gazdaság”. Ez azt jelentette, hogy a Kremlben előtérbe kerül az a meggyőződés, hogy a Kölcsönös Gazdasági Segítség Tanácsán belüli gazdasági együttműködés modellje, amelynek alapját a transzferábilis rubel képezte, módosítást igényel. Nem voltak kedvezőek a szovjet gazdaság számára a kőolaj és a földgáz – a Szovjetunió legfőbb exportcikkei – állandó árakon történő szállításai a KGST országokba. Az sem a véletlen műve volt, hogy a varsói hatalmi szervekkel szemben, már Tadeusz Mazowiecki kormányának létrejötte után, Moszkva egyik legfontosabb posztulátumává a kölcsönös kereskedelmi árucsere USA dollárban történő mielőbbi elszámolására való áttérés vált.

Annak ellenére, hogy továbbra is korlátozott volt a szovjet vezetés terveire vonatkozó ismeretanyag a 80-as évek második felében, találónak tekinthetjük Andrzej Paczkowski értékelését, miszerint “Gorbacsov végrehajtott egyféle részleges amputációt a >Brezsnyev doktrínán, amely elvesztette ideológiai értelmét, egyre nagyobb mértékben geopolitikai jellegű alapelvvé válván. Legkésőbb 1987-1988 között megszűnt Moszkva korábbi nyomása Varsóra, felváltotta azt az intenciók és a tevékenységek messzemenő azonossága”. Wojciech Jaruzelski tábornoknak és embereinek így meg volt kötve a keze a rendszer reformja terén, ami azért nem zavarta abban, hogy kormányzásának majdnem egész ideje alatt felhasználja a szovjet “fenyegető rémet” a Nyugattal, az ellenzékkel és az egyházzal való kapcsolattartásban. Jacques Levesque, francia kutató, egyenesen úgy értékeli, hogy Jaruzelski hosszú ideig nem érvényesítette a Gorbacsovtól kapott tevékenységi szabadságot.


2. A gazdaság állapota. Habár 1983-ban öt év óta először jegyezték fel Lengyelországban a GDP növekedését, de ez nem a gazdasági rendszerben történt valós változások, egyedül a gazdaság régi kerékvágásba való visszatérésének eredménye volt, ahonnan először a Gierek kormányának hibái miatt siklott ki, majd az 1980-81 évek sztrájkjai, végül pedig a gyártóüzemek nagy részének militarizálása és a nyugati országoknak a Lengyel Népköztársasággal szemben alkalmazott gazdasági szankciói miatt. Már 1985-ben lecsökkent a gazdasági növekedés, ugyanis – ahogy az egyik párttanulmányban írták – „különös erővel jelentkeztek a nyersanyag korlátok (...) amelyek a hazai erőforrások elégtelen voltából és az alacsony importlehetőségekből fakadtak”.

A Jaruzelski csapata által ismételgetett deklaráció a gazdasági reformok folytatásának feltétlen szükségességéről, amelyek kezdetét 1981-ben hirdették meg, a rendkívüli állapot bevezetése után gyorsan propagandista fikciónak bizonyult. Ahogy azt találóan megjegyezte Jaruzelski tábornok 1982 februárjában: “Paradox jelenség társul a reformokhoz: egyrészt a gazdaság irányítási elveinek liberalizációja, másrészt a rendkívüli állapotból fakadó megkötések”. Azonban nem a rendkívüli állapot megkötései képezték a fő okát annak, hogy nem sikerült valódi reformokat bevezetni a Lengyel Népköztársaság rossz hatásfokkal működő gazdaságában. Az ok az volt, hogy a rendszer volt ténylegesen megreformálhatatlan, ami a gazdaságot irányító vezetők megtörhetetlen ellenállásában nyilvánult meg. Ezt jól illusztrálja a reformok keretében megszüntetett 106 állami vállalatcsoport felszámolása 1982-ben, amelyek helyén létrejött 103 tröszt , amelyek elődeiktől főként nevükben különböztek. “Valójában nincs semmilyen intézményesített erő, amely komplexen foglalkozna a reform gazdasági gyakorlatba történő bevezetésével, hiányzik a reformhoz, mint politikai-gazdasági komplexumhoz való hozzáállás” – állapították meg a Belügyminisztériumban a társadalmi-politikai helyzetről Czesław Kiszczak tábornok utasítására készített kiterjedt elemzésben 1984 májusában.

A kormány reformügyi megbízottjának funkcióját betöltő Władysław Baka szerint a Minisztertanács ülésein 1983 júliusában és 1984 júniusában nyíltan a “reformok megfojtására” irányuló tervezeteket forszíroztak. Ezek szószólóinak egyike volt állítólag Zbigniew Messner miniszterelnök-helyettes, aki azzal érvelt, hogy “a végsőkig elvezetett társadalmi-gazdasági reform modell, amelyet Władysław Baka miniszter úr leírt, lényegében a társadalmi-politikai rendszer megváltoztatását jelenti”, azaz a szocializmus elbukását. A reform folytatására vonatkozó elképzeléseket Baka szerint Jaruzelski védte volna, de egy évvel később - a Poznanban lefolytatott Országos Gazdasági Párttanácskozás során – megváltoztatta véleményét és támogatását fejezte ki a Messner által hirdetett, visszatartó tervezetek irányában. Néhány hónap után - 1985 novemberében – ez utóbbi foglalta el a miniszterelnöki széket, a kormány reformügyi megbízottjának hivatalát pedig megszüntették. A tényleges reformok megvalósítását csupán Mieczysław Rakowski kabinetje kezdte meg 1988 és 1989 fordulóján, bevezetve többek között a gazdasági tevékenység szabadságát garantáló jogszabályokat és liberalizálva a külkereskedelmi forgalom alapelveit. Ha rövidesen nem került volna sor a politikai rendszer bukására, Rakowski reformja elvezethetett volna az ún. kínai transzformációs modellhez, azaz a piaci gazdálkodás bevezetésére az autoritatív politikai rendszer megőrzése mellett.


3. Az állam privatizációjának jelensége. A 80-as évek általános gazdasági leépülése ellenére jellemző jelenség volt a magánszféra szektorának növekedése a gazdaságon belül. Az 1981-1985 közötti években termelését közel 14 százalékkal növelte, miközben az állami szektor termelése ugyanebben az időszakban 0,2 százalékkal csökkent. A magánvállalkozásokat továbbra is számos korlátozás sújtotta, de a LEMP vezetőségének sok tagja így is kritikusan tekintett a “meghatározott körök indokolatlan meggazdagodásának” jelenségére. Fokozatosan mégis, különösen a hatalom középső szintjein, egyre erősebb volt a meggyőződés, hogy a privát szektor kiépítése nélkül nem lehet a fogyasztási cikkek piacán jelentkező deficitet kielégíteni.

A magánszektor keretein belül különös helyzetet foglalt el néhány száz ún. polonikus társaság, amelyeket lengyel származású külföldi személyek részvételével alapítottak az 1982. júliusi törvény alapján. “A polonikus cégek elszipolyozzák az állami szektorból a jól képzett kádereket. A dolgozók egy része a külkereskedelmi vállalatoktól megy át, akik szolgálati és állami szintű titkok birtokában vannak. (...) Nem ritkák a polonikus cégek feletti felügyeletet gyakorló tárcák dolgozóival kialakított nem-formális kapcsolatok esetei sem” – riasztott a Belügyminisztérium 1984 májusában.

A polonikus cégek a hatóságok, különösen a speciális szolgálatok funkcionáriusai számára (úgy a belbiztonsági, mint a katonai), egyfajta kísérleti gyakorlótér szerepét töltötték be. Rajtuk tesztelték le a piaci mechanizmusok között működő alanyok viselkedését és felhasználták őket az operatív tevékenységek során. Ennek nyomán a hatalmi elit egy része fokozatosan hozzászokott a 40-es években kialakított, az állami tulajdonra felépített gazdasági rendszertől való radikális elszakadás szükségességének gondolatához. Ily módon megfelelő klíma alakult ki a Rakowski kormány már említett reformjaihoz, amelynek hozadéka volt az ún. nomenklatúra kisajátítási folyamata.


4. A politikai rendszer leépülése Fő tünete a LEMP pozíciójának meggyengülése volt, amely ez idáig hegemonikus szerepet játszott a Lengyel Népköztársaság politikai rendszerében. Az 1980-1981 közötti évek válsága, majd ezt követően a rendkívüli állapot megfosztotta a LEMP-et kb. egymillió tagjától. Csupán az évtized közepén maradt abba a párt zsugorodása, amelynek mérete a 2,1 milliós taglétszámi szinten stabilizálódott. Nem sikerült azonban megállítani a párt öregedési folyamatát, amelyben a 29 év alattiak százalékos aránya az 1981. évi 15%-ról 1986-ra mindössze 6,9%-ra olvadt, a párttagok átlagéletkora pedig 1986-ban 46 évre növekedett. Hasonló folyamat kezdte fenyegetni a több mint 12 ezer tagot számláló pártapparátus sorait is. A LEMP KB funkcionáriusainak 1984 végén végzett káderszemléje kimutatta, hogy az 1985-1986 évekre dolgozóinak 23%-a eléri a nyugdíjkorhatárt. Ugyanebben az időszakban a Központi Bizottság több mint 600 dolgozójának alig 6 százaléka volt 35 évesnél fiatalabb.

A kommunista párt öregedett és egyúttal folyamatosan vesztett befolyásából, egyre kevésbé maradt a politikai élet alanya, hanem eszközzé vált a hatalom apparátusán belül működő, különböző nyomást gyakorló csoportok kezében. Ezek közül a legfontosabb a Lengyel Hadsereg tisztikarának egy része volt. A rendkívüli állapot első évében a pártapparátus vezető posztjaira a hadsereg 32 tisztjét delegálták, az államigazgatásba pedig további 88-at. Volt a soraikban többek között 11 miniszter és miniszterhelyettes, 13 vajdasági vezető és helyettes, valamint a LEMP Vajdasági Bizottságainak 9 titkára. Az ügyészségen és a polgári igazságszolgáltatásban végzendő munkára további 108 “egyenruhás jogászt” delegáltak.

A katonatiszteken kívül jelentősen megnőtt a 80-as években a Biztonsági Szolgálat felsőbb szintű funkcionáriusainak és a gazdasági apparátusban dolgozó emberek szerepe. Természetesen mindegyikük a LEMP tagja volt, de nagyon gyakran valójában ellenzékben voltak a LEMP apparátusának funkcionáriusai által forszírozott bizonyos döntésekkel és megoldásokkal szemben. A kommunista párthoz tartozott a Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetségének (OPZZ) vezetősége is, amely a hatalom szándékai szerint a társadalmi tudatban a „Szolidaritás” helyét volt hivatva elfoglalni. Ahhoz azonban, hogy ez megtörténjen, a LEMP vezetősége elismerte, hogy az OPZZ sokkal nagyobb autonómiát kell kapjon, mint amekkorával eddig az összes társadalmi-politikai szervezetek rendelkezett, beleértve a koalíciós ZSL (Egyesült Néppárt) és SD (Demokrata Szövetség) pártokat is. „Nekünk magunknak kell beépítenünk különféle ellenzéki elemeket magába a pártba (…) amelyek ellenőriznek minket a mi rendszerbeli működési pozíciónkból, folyamatosan tűket szurkálva az alsó felünkbe” – mondta az OPZZ témájában 1986 decemberében Jaruzelski tábornok. Azonban – a közel hétmillió tagot összefogó – OPZZ idővel olyan erővé vált, amely különösen a 80-as évek végén jelentősen hozzájárult a LEMP pártapparátus feletti ellenőrzési szintjének korlátozásához, különösen, ami a gazdaság irányításával foglalkozó részt illette.


5. A társadalmi hangulat evolúciója. A rendkívüli állapot bevezetése után a társadalom hangulata viszonylagos stabilizáción ment keresztül. 1983-ban a vizsgált személyek közel 40%-a hitte, hogy a gazdasági helyzet megjavul, 8% ellenkező véleményen volt, ugyanakkor a többiek – vagyis több mint a fele – úgy vélték, hogy az nem fog változni vagy nem volt véleményük. Ez a sajátos kivárásos állapot az évtized közepén kezdett változni, a hatalom számára kifejezetten kedvezőtlen irányba. Míg 1985 decemberében a gazdaság helyzetét a vizsgált személyek 46 %-a ítélte rossznak, úgy a következő hónapokban ez az arány meglehetős rendszerességgel nőtt: áprilisban 55 %, 1986 decemberében 58,5 % és 1987 áprilisában már 69,1 %. A következő hónapokban egyre rosszabb lett, ami lényeges módon hatott a hatalom elitjének tudatállapotára. Jaruzelski tábornok tanácsadó triója, amit a LEMP KB titkára, Stanisław Ciosek, a belügyminiszter-helyettes Władysław Pożoga és a kormány sajtószóvivője, Jerzy Urban alkotott, 1988 januári emlékeztetőjében ezt írta erről a témáról: “A hangulat a piros vonal alá esett, azaz átlépte (...) a robbanásveszély kritikus pontját. Ez nem következik be, mert a robbanási feszültségeket letompítják a társadalomban különféle stabilizátorok (a történelmi tapasztalatok, ezen belül főleg 1981. december 13-a, az egyház szerepe, az ellenzék befolyásának csökkenése, apátia)”. Értékelésük szerint, ez az állapot negatívan hat a hatalom apparátusára, amelynek egy része „mint mindig a lefelé lejtő időszakban, beindítja a vezetés megkérdőjelezését, intrikálást, az eljövendő perszonális konfigurációk tervezését. Idővel aztán elkezdi az összeesküvést.”. A javaslat ezzel összefüggésben: „drámai fordulat megvalósítása, amelyben kevés lenne a szó és sok a cselekedet”. Végül is ilyen fordulat, a kerek asztal formájában, bekövetkezett egy évvel később.

Mirosława Maroda szerint a hangulat romlásának oka „háromfajta legszélesebb hatókörű társadalmi tapasztalat” volt. Az első az erősödő infláció, ami leértékelte „az egyének és családjaik életművét”. Sorban a második az „aránytalanság érzete a megfelelő életszínvonal elérésére és megőrzésére fordított erőfeszítések és azok eredményei között”. Ennek legfőbb forrását a folyamatosan fennálló ellátási problémák képezték (különösen az iparcikkek terén), ami éles ellentétben állt nemcsak a nyugati országokban, de még a szovjet blokkon belüli, tömegesen látogatott országokban fennálló helyzettel is. Harmadik társadalmi frusztrációt generáló tapasztalat Maroda szerint „az a megszilárduló meggyőződés, hogy a rendszerben az egyének számára elérhető módszerek sehova sem vezetnek”. Ez különösen a fiatalokra vonatkozott és a szélesen értelmezett intelligencia rétegeire, akik a legfájdalmasabban érzékelték a nyolcvanas években egyre növekvő tehetetlenséget.


6. Az egyház és a politikai ellenzék tevékenysége. A 80-as években a katolikus egyház a Lengyel Népköztársaság vezetőinek szeme láttára átalakult a hatalom fő ellenségéből a társadalmi hangulatot stabilizáló tényezővé. Éppen ezért, nem mondva le végképp a papság elleni különböző kulisszák mögötti tevékenységek folytatásáról, aminek szimbólumává vált Jerzy Popiełuszko káplán elrablása és meggyilkolása a Belbiztonsági Szolgálat funkcionáriusai által, a LEMP vezetősége a gyakorlatban belenyugodott az egyház potenciáljának a 80-as évek végén bekövetkezett, példanélküli növekedésébe. Ez kifejeződött a káplánná avatások és a felépített templomok rekordmagasságot elért számaiban is (a kormány adatai szerint 1986-ban a felépített szakrális létesítmények száma meghaladta a háromezret), valamint a katolikus sajtó és kiadási tevékenység gyors fejlődésében. Az évtized közepén 89 katolikus folyóirat jelent meg, amelyek együttes egyszeri példányszáma másfél millió példányt tett ki. Liberalizálódott az államhatalmi szervek politikája az új egyházi intézmények engedélyezése vagy a Katolikus Intelligencia Klubjának létrehozása terén is. Az egyházi struktúrák döntő szerepet játszottak a Nyugatról érkező karitatív segélyek elosztásában is, és annak hatalmas méretei a hatalom nem szűnő nyugtalanságát váltották ki.

A hatalom arra számított, hogy a liberális irányzat fokozatosan a rendszer papság általi magasabb elfogadási szintjéhez vezet. Azonban az egyházi hierarchia kettős játéka, amelyet úgy számítottak ki, hogy a hatóságokkal folytatott dialóggal párhuzamosan diszkréten támogassák az ellenzék mérsékelt részét, dezorientálta Jaruzelski embereit. Tisztában voltak azzal, hogy az Egyház támogatására elengedhetetlenül szükség lesz a rendszer megreformálására az évtized közepétől megérőben lévő terveik megvalósításához, de nem tudták felmérni,, hogy a püspökök hajlandók lesznek–e nekik kezet nyújtani, sem azt, hogy milyen körben azonosulnak az ellenzék által megfogalmazott célokkal.

Ugyanakkor az ellenzék, az évtized közepén látható elgyengülés ellenére, a rendszerrel szembeni ellenállást generáló állandó tényezővé vált. 1985 végén a Belügyminisztérium becslése szerint Lengyelország területén létezik kb. 350 különféle ellenzéki struktúra, amelyek több mint a fele az akkor meglévő 49 vajdaságból mindössze 5 vajdaság: a varsói, a wroclawi, a gdanski, a krakkói és a lódz-i területén működött. A Belbiztonsági Szolgálat szerint ezek aktív létszáma 1,5 ezer ember volt, továbbá több mint 10 ezer dolgozott (lap)terjesztőként, összekötőként és nyomdászként. Az “aktív szimpatizánsok” számát további 22 ezer főre becsülték, aminek összességében ki kellett adnia “az illegális tevékenységbe, kisebb vagy nagyobb körben, közvetlenül bevont körülbelül 34 ezer személyt”. Ez az ellenzék egymás ellen kölcsönösen harcoló csoportosulásokra volt megosztva, de összességében két fő áramlatba voltak besorolhatók, amelyek a Lengyel Népköztársaság hatóságaihoz való viszonyukban különböztek. Miközben a radikális áramlat, amelyen belül a legnagyobb potenciállal az 1982-ben Kornel Morawiecki által létrehozott „Harcoló Szolidaritás” (Solidarność Walcząca) rendelkezett, az általános sztrájk megszervezésére és a rezsim forradalmi úton történő megdöntésére törekedett, a Lech Wałęsa körül tömörült mérsékelt áramlat és az 1986-ig a konspirációban működő NSZZ „Szolidaritás” Ideiglenes Koordinációs Bizottsága azt feltételezte, hogy a romló gazdasági helyzet és a Nyugat nyomása végül is rákényszeríti Jaruzelskiékat az ellenzékkel való tárgyalások megkezdésére. A hatalom szempontjából komoly jelentősége volt annak a ténynek, hogy az ellenzék mérsékelt áramlata erősebb volt a radikálisnál, és amikor 1988-ban a LEMP vezetősége végül a Wałęsával és az ő akkori munkatársaival való tárgyalás mellett döntött, az ellenzék radikálisai túl gyengék voltak, hogy megvalósítsák a kerek asztal melletti tárgyalások megbénítását, illetve ezt követően, 1989 júniusában bojkottálják a szerződéses parlamenti választásokat.



Antoni Dudek professzor (szül. 1966) – politológus, Lengyelország legújabb politikatörténelmével foglalkozik. Tagja a Nemzeti Emlékezet Intézet Tanácsának.


Cathérine Hug

1989 – 25 years later. Cathérine Hug interviews Robert Menasse

15 August 2018
  • academic
  • iron curtain
  • transformation
  • freedom express
  • Memory
  • European history

In 2009, an exhibition on the Iron Curtain was held at the Kunsthalle Wien, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall; 35 well-known artists from both East and West took part, including Chantal Akerman, Johan Grimonprez, Anna Jermolaewa, Marcel Odenbach, Ewa Partum and Neo Rauch. The exhibition, curated by Cathérine Hug and Gerald Matt, not only tried to depict an event through art, it also tried to detect pictorial worlds that could subconsciously and critically reflect and capture these intense, hopeful atmospheres.

It was a completely interdisciplinary exhibition, with a number of lectures and discussions taking place simultaneously, for example with the artists Erik Bulatov and Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, as well as Barbara Kruger, with the psychologist Hans-Joachim Maaz, the writer Bora Ćosić, the priest Helmut Schüller, the philosopher Boris Buden, the Slavist Svetlana Boym, the politicians Alexander van der Bellen and Ursula Pasterk, and the economist Rainer Münz, to name but a few. The following conversation with Robert Menasse in Vienna and Zurich at the end of March 2014 took place in this context and against the backdrop of the topicality of European issues. Menasse is a poet and novelist living in Vienna, whose work deals intensely and recurrently with European topics and their complex genealogy. He has been awarded the Heinrich Mann Award (Berlin 2013) and the Max Frisch Award (Zurich 2014) for his work.

Catherine Hug (CH): 25 years ago, on 27th July 1989, the former Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock, together with his Hungarian college Gyula Horn, cut a hole into the border fence between Austria and Hungary. How do you remember this?

Robert Menasse (RM): History was faked at the Austrian-Hungarian border on 27th July 1989; it was done for a good reason, namely the hope that this falsification would develop its own momentum and actually become steeped in history. The dismantling of the monitoring systems and borders had actually begun much earlier, at the end of February and the beginning of March, if I remember rightly, so almost three months earlier.

Obviously, this did not yet represent the true fall of the Iron Curtain, it was just a symbolical act by the Hungarian government, in accordance with Gorbachev’s policy of détente. The border systems were indeed reduced, but the borders were still guarded by soldiers. On 27th June, the image that turned this symbol into a historical fact was deliberately produced. This was a combination of Pop Art and political voodoo. The political stakeholders involved were aware that this had to be included in future history books and that it had to become history. They succeeded in this. It became an iconic photo in the history of 20th century press-photography. However, if you look at it carefully, you can see that it is a fake: the border systems no longer existed, so it was arranged to make it look real, but it looks more like a wire mesh fence on an allotment. And look here: Horn is cutting something that looks like a white ribbon. Well, the Iron Curtain was certainly not secured with white ribbons. A journalist later told me that the picture was taken many times and repeated until the counselors, press and politicians were satisfied with it, so it really was an artistic shot. In fact, it is surprising that they didn’t do it in a studio. I later processed this journalist’s stories in my book Schubumkehr (Reverse Thrust).

If I remember rightly, the immediate impact of the picture was not huge, either. As far as I know, it was not published on the front page of any newspaper, which it certainly would have been if what the picture meant to portray had been true. But the picture had a gradual effect, especially on the minds of the people of the GDR. And so the photo was subsequently overtaken by its message, firstly, on 19th August 1989, during the mass exodus of GDR citizens over the Austrian-Hungarian border near Sopron. That truly was a historic day! I have a much clearer memory of that. Nothing was staged or acted, the cameras were just pointing at what was happening and I was sitting in front of the TV, stunned, I was totally fascinated. In reality, the border had not been opened, it was only open symbolically. But hundreds of GDR citizens just crossed it, as if it had actually fallen. The officer on duty on the border that day, Arpad Bella, had received orders to open fire, however he gave orders not to shoot and to simply ignore the refugees. This soldier could have caused a bloodbath, in fact he had been required to do so! And he could later have used the excuse of “orders from above”. But he did not do it. He was a hero. But nobody could have known that at the time, nobody could have anticipated that, completely by chance, a hero of humanity was on duty that day. And here you see what an important role the human factor plays in this story! I later visited and interviewed Arpad Bella. He told me that he returned home late in the evening and his wife slapped him, screaming and crying. She had seen the scenes on TV and had heard that he was guilty of insubordination. She was beside herself with fear; afraid that he would go to jail and she would be left alone with the kids.

Anyhow, the hole in the fence really began to exist at that moment, the hole that Alois Mock and Gyula Horn had created for a photo. As I said, it was fascinating, it was touching, but… how can I describe it?

CH: But…?

RM: It might sound strange, but it was still unreal. In terms of the meaning that this event should have had, and indeed gained later. This was still not the fall of the Iron Curtain; even then, nobody could imagine that it would actually fall. There was a hole in the Iron Curtain, yes, but a hole can be fixed, and even if it was not closed, it was still unimaginable that the power and might of the Eastern Bloc could leak out of this little hole in the Hungarian border, the Berlin Wall could fall and the Soviet Union could collapse. The excitement, this unbelievably emotive feeling that I was witnessing a major event in world history, an epochal change, did not hit me until 9th November 1989, when the Berlin Wall opened. Then I consciously and comprehendingly experienced something that I had not expected to happen in my lifetime, as up to that moment, everything had seemed to be carved in stone for eternity; this was the great upheaval of history that turned everything upside-down.

CH: The shock waves even reached my school in Switzerland; on 10th November, our history teacher came into our class and gave us the day off, after announcing that it had been a historical night. The general euphoria was so great that during the 25th and 26th November 1989 referendum about the abolition of the army, 35.6% voted in favor. In the Canton of Jura, where I lived at that time, the initiative was actually accepted. This was interpreted as a clear sign that the policy of deterrence could no longer be effective and that it was gradually making way for other ideological viewpoints.

RM: Yes, gradually – but at the same time suddenly. At that time, everything happened simultaneously in slow-motion and ‘fast-motion’. It was no longer a process being steered pragmatically by the political elite; it was now a political meltdown, in which reality and possibility merged. There was no tracking of time, because a sense of time became a sense of history, and every second was equally historic. This has never really been looked back on and reappraised. Firstly, why did nobody see it coming, despite many indications and signals? On 8th November, anybody claiming that the Berlin Wall would fall, the Iron Curtain would disappear and the Soviet Union would implode would have been called a dreamer, a utopian or even a lunatic. Secondly, why did nobody back then even vaguely think it was possible to anticipate the impact that 9th November would have beyond the first moments, even though all of a sudden, everything seemed possible and all possibilities seemed to simultaneously become reality. The atmosphere suggested that this was the end of the era of crises and hostilities. Every citizen of the GDR, who suddenly could now go through the Brandenburg Gate, actually took these steps before the eyes of the global public, with the pathos of the astronaut Neil Armstrong, “…one giant leap for mankind!” But isn’t it strange that nobody anticipated where these steps would actually lead, i.e. to entirely new conflicts, world-policy crises and new wars with new stereotypical enemies and the dramatic growth of misery and poverty amongst the “winners”, i.e. Western societies? The prevailing sentiment was that everything would now be possible, but nobody really thought in terms of possibilities! And thirdly, why until today did nobody understand the most obvious, simplest and clearest message of this historical momentum?

CH: Which message do you mean?

RM: Let me take a trip down memory lane. I can remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday – that’s why it bewilders me so much -, that today there is a generation of grown-ups who were born after these events, and for whom the world has always been as it is today. However, I can remember sitting in front of the TV crying. I sobbed – out of affection, happiness and literally FELLOW feeling with this euphoria of liberation felt by all these people stumbling across the Berlin Wall, climbing over it, singing and dancing. Apart from the day my daughter was born, there is no day in my life I can remember that clearly. I instantly thought, this is the decisive, the defining experience of my lifetime, from today my life has a new system of bearings, from today everything will rearrange itself around this new point of reference and stand in relation to it. But today, we have to admit that this has not happened. Before November 1989, the political elites, the opinion leaders and the media had always been of the opinion that the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain were unalterable political realities, entities that could not be eliminated, one could only try to ease the situation and improve life for the people “over there”. From the Western point of view, the so-called arms race was merely a lever for easing the situation and, at the same time, a multi-billion dollar business. But nobody seriously believed that the Soviet Union would collapse. Maybe it had been said in political speeches, with that frivolous audacity that does not expect consequences, that the Berlin Wall had to fall. But from Monday to Friday, the division of the world was a self-evident and acknowledged precondition of all global political affairs, accepted as a political law of nature, one it was in no way possible to abolish. Just as we do business today with China, the Tiananmen Square murderers, while at home we gripe with rhetorical disgust about their human rights situation.

That’s a definition of political pragmatism: take the world the way it is, and call anyone who does not a dreamer! Then silence the dreamers by telling them that their dreams are lovely and we have the same dreams. But then make it plain that anyone who now believes they could make these dreams come true is a lunatic! That’s why everyone was so surprised; the pragmatists, because they had never believed that what they had sometimes claimed, for ideological reasons, would really happen; and the dreamers, too, because they had long ago stopped building their illusions on political pragmatists. This is a historical fact and it also explains the enormous emotional euphoria of that time. We could have drawn a permanent lesson from this! Namely, that what is understood and acknowledged as political pragmatism is petty-minded and blind and will someday be overrun by history. What then enthralled me so much was exactly that: I was experiencing the death of petty-minded, unimaginative pragmatism!

Now we can more boldly and freely ask how we want to organize our life politically and socially, how we can construct a humane and free world. But even though this was the end of the pragmatists, today they once again sit in control of the levers and switches, sweep through governments and institutions and produce a political zombie-world in which people become aggressive but have no perspective beyond what the weather forecast is. I cannot understand how people who experienced 1989 and created a situation in which the Iron Curtain could be torn down, now believe that it is pragmatically unthinkable to regulate the financial markets… For the generation which experienced 1989, the persistent lesson should be that history is feasible, more is possible than you think, so think more boldly from the beginning, don’t think anything is forever, tomorrow it could already be history, because everything that has a beginning in history also has to have an end! It is a strange punchline that after 1989, the ideology of the “end of history” became fashionable, with what however the exact opposite of the experience of 1989 was meant. The experience was, in fact, that everything has an end, even those things we once thought would last forever. However, out of this experience emerged the philosophical idea that now, nothing would come to an end.

CH: How do you understand that?

RM: I don’t know. Maybe because, in the final analysis, the experience of 1989 touches on a taboo; anyone who thinks this experience through to the end must, in the final analysis, be able to imagine that capitalism will also collapse, that the national democracies to which we are accustomed will reach their end, that the ideology of everlasting growth in a confined world will be buried in rubble, and so on. We cannot and must not think like this. The fall of the Iron Curtain was admittedly not foreseeable in this way, but it did not touch on a taboo. On the contrary, it confirmed an ideology. And ideologies are philosophically regarded, necessarily wrong awareness.

However, the consequences of that do indeed touch on a taboo. It is complicated. And at the same time it is ridiculous in the light of history; on the precondition that we consider ourselves to be thinking beings, pursue historical science, fetishize memories, raise monuments, celebrate historical anniversaries and so on, it is almost preposterously ridiculous. Isn’t it ridiculous to believe that from now on, only technologies and medicine will further develop, but not our political and social systems? Isn’t it ridiculous to believe, in all seriousness, that revolutions will only take place in the virtual world of informatics or genetic engineering, but not in political reality? And don’t the agitations of Taksim Square, the Tahrir or the Maidan prove that history is still moving forward, anything but turned to stone – even if the people who start the revolutions are still betrayed…

CH: What visible and sustainably positive consequences did the political turnaround of 1989 have on art production and especially on your work as a writer? Let’s take, for example, your novel Schubumkehr (1995): terms like drawing of a border, shifts of borders and dissolution of borders, of hope, of encounters with strangers as well as the fear of the strange play an important role. Do you see yourself more as a commentator or an analyst? Or is it also or primarily about other things?

RM: As a writer, I have, from the outset, aspired to reflect upon my contemporaneity. I was shaped by theories of art and literature, which understand art as a reflection of an era and literature as a story about how it is lived and thought, so that contemporaries can recognize themselves and those who come after us can understand us. My trilogy of novels, Die Trilogie der Entgeisterung, which I had conceptualized in the first half of the ‘80s, was meant to be a mirror on our times; it was an irrelevantly disgusting time, the so-called postmodern era. The notion of postmodern era basically means that enlightenment had come to an end, to be replaced by unelightenment. What was disgusting was that the end of enlightenment was celebrated, that creativity was achievable solely in some form of eclecticism and that the ideologists of unlightenment preposterously celebrated themselves as “critical philosophers”. At the same time, it was of course a happy time. There was no big crisis, no anxiety about the future, principally because there was no future, just as there was no history. History was a trunk from which you could take what you fancied. Superficially, this time was esthetically nicer than the ‘70s, that’s why this was basically a time of extraordinary good luck for some people, namely a sensation of weightless floating on a slightly rippling surface. There are, of course, many objections to this point of view, but that’s how I experienced this time. That was how it was and that was the material that I had to hand. That’s what I wanted to reflect like a mirror, inverted. And while writing, I have methodically and technically reverted to reflection theory. But 1989 happened before I had finished the trilogy. That’s why I abandoned this theory in the end and created the third volume completely afresh. I then gave it the title “Schubumkehr” (“Reverse Thrust”) instead of “Endzeit (“Eschaton”), and instead of a story about the trickling away of history, I wrote a text in which the narrator disappears. History is simply bigger than a single spokesman! But at that time, the novel was not yet really analytical, something that probably benefited the book in the end. But since then, literature has interested me in a completely different way, no longer as a mirror-image, or reflection of the static, the status quo, but rather as some kind of laboratory, where experiments are performed with the liquids of history and where the changes in the condition of aggregation can be described. 1989 completely changed me. But when I observe how politics are pursued today, and also how they are written about today, I lose it. On the other hand, the feeling of losing it is omnipresent lately, so maybe I’m just a little symptom in a specific way, at least not unworldly!

CH: Bold and very inspiring trains of thought; you are throwing new, rather self-critical light on my hitherto rather positive perception of eclecticism. Eclecticism is commonly perceived as a formula for success, at least in fine arts, architecture and design, as well as in philosophy, as you mentioned. If we think outside the box, we will come to the conclusion that not every cultural sphere deals with topics such as perceptions of history and crisis in the same way – a blessing of our kaleidoscopically multi-faceted world! 2014 also marks the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web, or the Internet, in short. Where do you see comparisons with 1989 and its consequences in this context? How did the WWW shape artistic practice?

RM: I don’t believe that 1989 and the WWW have a causal relationship beyond their random concurrency. In an emotional sense, the only thing which might be important for world history is the fact that even though the Internet emerged concurrently, it came too late for the GDR. If the possibilities arising from the Internet had existed sooner, if what the NSA is able to do today had been available to the Stasi, then the GDR might still exist. CH: Maybe yes, I completely agree! On the other hand, I also want to protect the achievements of the Internet. Positively seen, it is after all about the provision of more extensive information, where, for example, readers can follow this conversation in every corner of the world. Which brings me to my next question: what is the relationship between the free movement of people and homeland (Heimat: in German: region or place where you come from and where you feel at home and at ease, place where you belong)? The writer Max Frisch once pointed out the fact that there is no plural for the word homeland (Heimat), even though the definition of this notion is so heterogeneous. Artists embody a nomadic understanding of homeland (Heimat). They are unstoppable travelers within their trains of thought, but at the same time part of real life. What role does longing play in connection with that? Can it become a problem? Or is it first and foremost the instigator for finding a solution?

RM: That is an interesting question. It points to another, extremely dramatic symptom of the change of era following 1989, namely the fact that development since then, especially through the so-called Eastern enlargement of the EU, has extended the area described as homeland (Heimat) and at the same time given the notion of homeland (Heimat) a plural after all. Yes, homeland (Heimat) now has a plural, too! Due to the free movement of people, the freedom to travel and the freedom of establishment, the notion of homeland (Heimat) has radically changed, at least for us in Europe. It no longer refers to a nation, something that has always been fiction anyhow. I, as an Austrian, have for example never felt at home in Tyrol. What do I have in common with mountain-dwellers, just because they have the same passport? In Vienna, there are no mountains and therefore there is a completely different mentality! The Tyrolese can be nice and friendly, but people from Alentejo or the Peloponnese can also be nice and interesting… So why should I feel at home in Tyrol, just because it belongs to Austria? Homeland (Heimat) is therefore not a nation but, in a libertine and mobile Europe, increasingly a place to live, which I can, at least inside the Schengen-area, choose freely and without problems. Mobility, which has always been an aspiration, has nowadays become almost a compulsion. Many do not want to, but have to be mobile.

However, it still remains an opportunity, and this opportunity has increased, even though many still regard it as a threat to their homeland (Heimat). In 2012, there was a Eurobarometer survey about the concept of mobility, which showed that personal freedom of movement had the highest approval rates in Poland and the highest rejection rates in Austria. In Poland, mobility apparently means, “I can go somewhere else!”, whereas in Austria mobility means, “someone could come here”! That alone shows that there are at least two concepts of homeland (Heimat): the concept that my homeland is where I live and work, where I have dignity and a legal situation and the concept that this is all divisible, homeland (Heimat) is somewhere I can exclude everybody else from. One is an urban, enlightened concept, the other a village concept of homeland (Heimat), a concept of a narrow valley, of contractedness. What is interesting is the fact that conservative, narrow concepts of homeland (Heimat) are historically more recent. Visas, for example, were not introduced until 1914; before that, one could travel from Coimbra to Riga without a visa or passport and settle there.

Stefan Zweig wrote about this in 1914, “Nationalism has destroyed European culture!” It is insane that today there are once again so many people demanding the devastation and ruin caused by nationalism, literally as a human right, establishing these situations through referenda and celebrating this devastation of intelligence as democratic reason, just so they can defiantly feel better. I have always had the desire to live and work in different cities; I have spent the greater part of my adult life in the so-called outlands, in São Paulo, Lisbon, Berlin and Amsterdam. Nowadays, I live in Brussels part-time. Political borders are one thing, they can be abolished, as we have seen, however it is crucial to break open the narrow borders of mentalities. When we do, we will also feel better in our homes and only then will homeland (Heimat) be a part of the world and not a castle built to withstand the world.

CH: In the meantime, a whole post-1989 generation has grown up, a generation that knows about the time of the Cold War and a bipolar world-order only through stories. These narratives and depictions are generally ideologically biased. Nostalgia, frustration and fatalism, as well as hope, can be found in the implementation of new perspectives. Do you agree with me that young people today think more freely? And that they might have learnt to cope better with what is foreign to them? At the same time, I have the impression – but maybe I am wrong - that we, especially young people, are more apolitical. Where does this come from? However, I want to hold against this assertion the visionary power of initiatives such as the Occupy movement on Wall Street and the demonstrations on Taksim Square or, more recently, in Ukraine. As different as they might be, what is their common denominator, what do they reveal about our understanding of democracy?

RM: First of all, I have to clear up a misunderstanding that appears repeatedly. One can no longer split a society into generations with regard to social awareness, social discourse, way of thinking, political behavior, et cetera. If we take a transient picture of how a society works as a collective, what unites it and what kind of contradictions prevail within it, then at this moment, all living people are contemporaries, no matter how old the individual is. Contemporaneity establishes itself in living beings as a whole, and not in dates of birth. If I, as a sixty-year-old, encounter a thirty-year-old, he might belong to another generation, but basically we are both equally characterized by what is impressed upon us by contemporary conditions, much more than by the erstwhile experiences that I might have had due to my greater age and that the other person has not had. Expressed very primitively, I am influenced by the smartphone culture to the very same degree as someone who has never experienced telephone booths. This is also the reason why age no longer necessarily commands respect, as it did in the olden days, when age meant many years of experience with respect to problems which young people also faced, as nothing really changed except for the seasons, and even they don’t change, they just alternate. This means that when I meet a thirty year-old, I as an adult encounter an adult, and we could both be dead tomorrow, even him, though he would not have lived as long. We are both inherently the same: contemporaries. That’s also why we cannot say that young today think more freely, or that they are more apolitical, or whatever. There are older people thinking more freely, and older people who are completely apolitical; this does not even depend on class consciousness any more. There are younger people from privileged families who are solidary, and working-class children who know no solidarity when it comes to fighting for their workplace. There are all kinds of things, but if it can be integrated into a description of contemporary zeitgeist, it has to do with today and not with age. Admittedly, it is true that the Erasmus-generation has opportunities and experiences that the older generation could barely dream of, but that is unfortunately a minority, and no politicians who check their slogans via opinion-polls would let themselves be guided by that. So if we want to understand ourselves in our contemporaneity, then the question of why younger people today are in part apolitical and whether that has something to do with the fact that they did not experience ’89, is completely nonsensical. There are younger people who are not apolitical and there are older people who experienced ’89 who are apolitical.

The truth is that the applicable parameters have changed again since 1989, and these new parameters are the pegs between which everyone today, both young and old, has to move and find their bearings. Younger people did not experience ’89, well yes, but for older people, the experience of ’89 vanished just as quickly as the time when they did not yet have cellphones. My daughter, for example, speaks five languages and has studied and lived in three different European cities. That is representative of today’s possibilities, but definitely not of her generation. That’s what I mean. The question of what might be typical for a generation is relatively insignificant to me; I have the impression that what is typical for our contemporaneity is typical for all generations, roughly speaking. And, bearing in mind all individual exceptions, that is the backlash of renationalization, the curse of the lucky year of 1989.

CH: Okay, then please forgive me my slightly naïve interjection concerning the generation question. Anyhow, one also speaks of youth mania nowadays. In cultural production, for example, everything has an extremely short half-life – partly artificially created, but partly because it has not historically evolved. Careers are short, memories fade… That is, of course, not the fault of the producers per se, but of an overheated art market, so maybe something similar is happening on the book market. A friend of mine, who is an author, recently told me how frustrating it can be to spend two or more years writing a novel, which is quickly out of date, if significant commercial success does not follow or no acknowledging prices are recorded. Something comparative is happening in fine art: young artists today concentrate far more on being well placed in the art market early on; unfortunately this mainly happens at the expense of creative ideas, as they are too keen to satisfy the market. That’s why free art spaces are so important as a counterbalance! In my previous remark, I might have wanted to create an analogy between this cultural phenomenon and the superordinate society. Obviously, it is not that easy to do this.

RM: Yes, for a simple reason: the “youth mania” which exists today is without a doubt a societal phenomenon. It is not a generational phenomenon. Your examples show that young people today have no advantages, even though youth has become a fetish. This fetish is not recognition of the self-evident beauty and strength of youth, but a lever forcing older people to somehow stay young in order to function and be needed. The sweat in fitness centers and the blood on the operating tables of plastic surgeons are the sweat and blood of the war of markets. Turbo-capitalism demands the faster reproduction of the capital invested, the product has to be fresh, the profits easily disposable. Man himself enters the market as a product, the art market too… But I was originally driving at something else.

CH: Yes, you mentioned the curse of the lucky year of 1989. What do you mean by that?

RM: 1989 was not only the opening of the Berlin Wall. 1989 also represented the beginning of the developments which quickly led to German reunification. At that time, as I have already said, everything was possible; however, the fall of the Berlin Wall, as if on an inclined plain, led unstoppably and almost unopposed to reunification and the national rebirth of Germany, as if there were no alternative. National rebirth! And that took place in the midst of the post-national development of Europe via the EU and the internal market. The train of history had, after all, been driving in a completely different direction for four decades. Now, the redemption of German trauma could take place and the liberation of all the misfortunes and crimes connected with the history of the German nation-building process. All of a sudden, the German nation stood there great and proud. And this fact, that there had actually been a misunderstanding, became completely lost in the initial euphoria: the world was celebrating the liberation of the people; Germany, however, was celebrating the liberation of a nation. And today, Germany is what the EU was founded to oppose, namely a leading power in Europe. This is rooted deep in the heart of Europe, knowingly or unknowingly, but in any case as an enduring political rage. The Germans have demonstrated that re-nationalization is a concept which can lead to success. And even if Germany honestly and sensibly seeks European policy solutions in some key issues, the reactionary and national forces in Europe are becoming stronger, as is the impetus for German nationalism. CH: And in Hungary, of all countries, where 25 years ago there was significant hope for the future of Europe, the most reactionary forces in Europe are in power today! And recently in Switzerland, the question arose of whether the free movement of people should be regulated within nation states –contrary to all the fundamental principles of the EU and the law of nations; this was unfortunately (although admittedly narrowly) accepted by the people. As a citizen of that country, this is a decision I deeply regret. Although democracy in this specific case openly displays its shortfalls, what would be the alternative? How responsible are neighboring states and what measures and initiatives could particularly creative artists use to participate actively in the process of redefining democracy?

RM: Yes, those are the misunderstood consequences of 1989 and also the pragmatic preconditions we have to deal with today. What should be done now and what artists can do, are two different questions. Artists accompany the process, knowingly or unknowingly, no matter how history develops. But it obviously matters how history develops further. What is necessary now, in my opinion, in the light of recent experiences in Switzerland, Hungary, the Crimean, etc., is in fact a new definition of democracy, the liberation of the perception that democracy has to express and defend national sovereignty, and that personal happiness thus depends on national pride and the enforcement of national stubbornness.

The world long ago became a transnational entity, as nothing of any importance can still be regulated within or stopped at national borders. We have transnational economic processes and financial currents, markets, investments and repayments of profits, everything functions transnationally, there is no such thing as a national economy anymore, ecological problems don’t stop at borders, streams of information, including their downsides such as surveillance, cultural exchanges, everything is completely without boundaries; all this can be handled and configured for the purposes of public welfare only through the development of a transnational democracy. 1989 was, and remains, the year that stood for an epoch change. But 2014/15 will be an even more important date, as it will have to result in a decision. Do you know what is strange? Centuries take a further one and a half decades to really die. In 1814/15, the 18th century died with the Congress of Vienna. In 1914, the 19th century died.

And in 2014/15, the 20th century, the century shaped by the criminal energy of nationalism and its consequences, will have to die. And if it does not die now, it will be the fault of world-history.

CH: Thank you for this conversation, Robert Menasse!

Burkhard Olschowsky

1989 helye az európai emlékezetben

15 August 2018
  • academic
  • Kelet-Közép-Európa
  • emlékezetkultúra
  • szovjet befolyás
  • 1989
  • kommunizmus bukása
  • Lengyelország
  • NDK
  • Nyugat-Európa
  • Gorbacsov

Az 1989-es év őszének eseményei Kelet-Közép-Európában alapjaiban változtatták meg a kontinenst. Ez az időszak azonban mégis inkább egy korszak lezárásaként, semmint kezdeteként él a tudatunkban.

1989. július 6-án Mihail Gorbacsov a strasbourgi Európa Tanács előtt tartott beszédében közölte, hogy a Szovjetunió nem fog a reformok útjába állni Kelet-Európában. Így azután, mivel a birodalom központja nyilvánosan kijelentette, hogy a befolyása alatt álló terület peremvidékeit nem fogja, nem tudja tovább fennhatósága alatt tartani, amit világszerte ujjongva fogadtak, csak idő kérdése volt, mikor buknak meg a birodalom varsói, budapesti, kelet-berlini, prágai és bukaresti helytartói.

Nyitva maradt persze, miként és mekkorát bukik Jaruzelski, Honecker, Jakeš, Ceauşescu és Kádár, mint ahogy az is, hogy felhasználják-e – még kétségtelenül birtokukban lévő – hatalmi eszközeiket. Hogy milyen következményekkel járhat az erőszak alkalmazása, azt 1989. június 4-én Kelet-Közép-Európa népei is láthatták, amikor Kína kommunista vezetői békés tüntetők százait lövették le a Mennyei Béke terén – ugyanazon a napon, amelyen Lengyelországban megtartották az első félig szabad választásokat. A Mennyei Béke terén történtek elrettentő példája miatt is igyekezett a kelet-európai ellenzék 1989-ben tudatosan kerülni az erőszakot. Fennállásuk évtizedeiben a kommunista rendszerek az erőszakkal való fenyegetéssel és annak alkalmazásával játszották el a hitelüket, és ezzel – bármennyi fegyvert is birtokoltak – önkéntelenül is megtanították alattvalóikat arra, mennyire nem célravezető az erőszak alkalmazása.

A térség állampártjai 1989-ben rendelkeztek még ugyan a hatalom eszközeivel, de mindenütt hiányzott az erős vezetés. Csak egy olyan vezetés tudta volna e hatalmi eszközöket felhasználni, amely nem fél a vérontástól. A keleti blokk kommunista vezetői 1989-ben már nem voltak elég biztosak sem a pártjukban, sem az általuk képviselt ügyben, legkevésbé pedig saját magukban ahhoz, hogy tenni tudjanak valamit népeik forradalmi megmozdulásai ellen. 1989 forradalmárai szokatlanul vegyes csoportot alkottak: reformkommunistákból, szociáldemokratákból, liberális értelmiségiekből, nacionalistákból, a piacgazdálkodás híveiből, egyházi aktivistákból, szakszervezetisekből, pacifistákból, néhány hagyományhű trockistából és egyebekből tevődtek össze. Az erőszakellenesség volt az egyetlen, amely összekötötte őket. Ez a sokrétűség erejük része és egyben méreg volt az egypártrendszer számára.[1]

Az ideológia messzemenő hasonlósága a szovjet uralmi övezet országaiban azzal járt, hogy az egyik ország kommunista vezetésének fenyegetettsége vagy bukása elkerülhetetlenül gyengítette a többi legitimitását is. Alighanem a forradalmak egyik alapvető vonása, hogy az ilyen példák halmozódása felőrli a hatalom legitimitását. Ami ehhez képest 1989-ben új volt, az ennek a folyamatnak a sebessége. Az események felgyorsításában és nem visszafordíthatóságában a tömegmédiumok is szerepet játszottak. Különösen a magyaroknak és a cseheknek adatott meg a lehetőség, hogy saját forradalmukat az esti tévéhíradóban is nyomon kövessék, de a keletnémeteket sem a kivándorlás vágya ragadta már el, miközben a nyugati adókat nézték esténként, hanem az az érzés, hogy alakítói a történéseknek – gondoljunk csak a Nagy Imre újratemetéséről 1989. június 16-án, a lipcsei hétfői tüntetésekről 1989. október 9-én vagy a prágai diákok tüntetéséről 1989. november 17-én tudósító képekre.

A csehek, a szlovákok, a magyarok és sajátos módon a keletnémetek is megismerhették emberi méltóságuk visszaszerzésének fenséges érzését, amelyet a lengyelek már 1980-ban megéltek, és látványosan ünnepeltek. A kommunista rendszerek néhány nap leforgása alatt elvesztették, amire olyan kínosan, újra és újra ismétlődő korlátozásokkal annyira ügyeltek: információs monopóliumukat. Az egyedül maradástól való félelem, amely az ellenzékiséget különösen az NDK-ban és Csehszlovákiában bizonytalan és felőrlő vállalkozássá tette, végérvényesen megszűnt.

Lengyelországban azonban az 1989-es év változásai mégsem a mindent elsöprő örömmel és a meghatottsággal párosulnak az emlékezetben. A kerekasztal-tárgyalások során az ellenzék nagy része és a hatalmon lévő elit között nem arról folytak a megbeszélések, hogy az utóbbi átadja- vagy megosztja-e a hatalmát, hanem, hogy ez milyen módon történjék meg a vészes gazdasági helyzet árnyékában. A tárgyilagosság és a tárgyalási készség sokkal fontosabb volt, mint a forradalmi hevület.

Az NDK ellenzéki csoportjai érdeklődéssel figyeltek fel az eredetileg lengyel találmányra, a kerekasztalra, amelyet követendő példának tartottak, és alkalmaztak is. Ezt Lengyelországban, ahol a kerekasztalról mindig is viták folytak, általában figyelmen kívül hagyják. Az egykori radikális ellenzék kritikája, miszerint a kerekasztal-tárgyalások során megengedhetetlen megegyezés született az ellenséggel, újra és újra jelentkezik, az utóbbi években ráadásul egyre hevesebben.

Az 1989-es év eseményeit nem lehet helytállóan leírni a német újraegyesítés, valamint az elterjedt nemzetközi beidegződések és szokások említése nélkül, amelyeket – néhány nyugat-európai kormánynak nem éppen az örömére – a forradalom éve erőteljesen megkérdőjelezett. Mert mi is történt? Az 1989-ig Nyugat-Európában általánosan elfogadott nézet szerint a német kérdés csak akkor vetődik fel, ha annak politikai előfeltétele, vagyis egy európai békerend, létrejön. A helyzet azonban teljesen másként alakult.

Franciaországot és Nagy-Britanniát nyugtalanította egy vélhetően ellenőrizhetetlen 80 milliós nagyhatalom gondolata. Mazowiecki újonnan megválasztott kormánya számára ugyanakkor a német újraegyesítés lehetőséget adott arra, hogy a varsói egyezmény régi kötelezettségeit óvatosan önálló kapcsolatokra és új együttműködésekre cserélje fel a nyugattal. Az új lengyel kormánynak a demokratikus Németország iránti rokonszenvét azonban komolyan próbára tette Helmut Kohl tízpontos terve a két német állam egyesítésére, mivel az nem említette az Odera-Neisse-határt. Az erre vonatkozó 1970-es szerződés csak a régi NSZK-ra volt érvényes, az egyesített Németországra nem.

Gorbacsov hozzájárulása az egyesített Németországhoz és a NATO-ba történő felvételéhez abból a megfontolásból származott, hogy fel kell adni az NDK-t és Közép-Európát ahhoz, hogy a Szovjetunió rendbetételére összpontosítsanak, megnyerve hozzá a nyugat támogatását is. Ha ebből nem is lett semmi, Gorbacsov bátorsága és nagyszabású stratégiai elképzelése emlékezetes marad.

1989 őszének korszakos változásai mind a mai napig nem váltak teremtésmítosszá – sem az újraegyesített Németországban, sem a harmadik Lengyel Köztársaságban, sem pedig a kibővített Európában. Jürgen Habermas egy helyütt „felzárkózó forradalomnak” nevezte 1989 eseményeit, olyan kísérletnek, amellyel a szóbanforgó országok csatlakozhattak ahhoz a civilizációs és alkotmányjogi fejlődéshez, amely Nyugaton már régen lezárult. Ez az intézményes szemlélet tévesen ítéli meg Kelet- és Nyugat-Európa gyakran eltérő emlékezetét, tapasztalatait és szocializációját, az 1953. június 17-ei felkelés egyenlősítő törekvéseitől egészen az 1980/81-es Solidarność-ig csakúgy, mint a kisebb csoportok és az egyes emberek számtalan példáját az önállóságra, a kiküzdött lelkiismereti szabadságra, a kiharcolt emberi és polgári jogokra, valamint a társadalmi önszerveződésre a pártállami hatalmi struktúrán kívül.

Bár Európa politikailag már kiheverte a jaltai egyezményből fakadó, diktatórikus keleti és a demokratikus nyugati részre való megosztottságát, Kelet- és Nyugat-Európa emlékezetkultúrái továbbra is egymás mellett, nem ritkán egymással szemben léteznek. Mintha a vasfüggöny mögötti élet méltatlanságai sokkal mélyebben beleivódtak volna a kelet-közép-európaiak emlékezetébe, mint ahogy azt nyugaton lehetségesnek tartották. Ralf Dahrendorf szerint a német értelmiségi tudatban 1989 nem jelent sem mély választóvonalat, mint Európa többi részén, sem pedig pillanatnyi fellélegzést a nyitott társadalom diadalának láttán. E felfogástól elhatárolódva Dahrendorf nemcsak globális választóvonalnak tartja 1989-et, de azt is vallja, hogy 1989 az új Európa teremtésmítosza lehet[2].

Mint a visszatekintés mutatja, Kelet-Közép-Európa polgárainak 1989-es tettei különösen alkalmasak arra, hogy példamutatóként kerüljenek be az európai szabadság, a civil társadalom megvalósulásának történetébe. Más események mellett 1989-nek is szilárd helyként kellene rögzülnie az európai emlékezetkultúrában. 1989 a demokratikus alkotmánnyal rendelkező államért folytatott forradalmi népmozgalmat jelöli. Határok eltörlését tűzte ki célul, és bizonyította, hogy mindig és mindenhol érdemes követelni és megvédeni az egyén méltóságát és szabadságát. 1989-nek azért van helye az európai emlékezetben, mert Európa nem jöhetett volna létre nélküle a mai formájában.



Dr. Burkhard Olschowsky (szül. 1969, Berlin) történelmet és kelet-európai történelmet hallgatott Gettingben, Varsóban és Berlinben. 2002-ben megvédte doktori értekezését a Humboldt Egyetemen, Berlinben. 2003-2005 között szerződéses előadóként dolgozott a Humbolt Egyetemen, a kortárs történelem és politika terén. 2004-2005 között a Szövetségi Közlekedési, Építészeti és Lakásépítési Minisztériumban dolgozott. 2005 májusától tudományos munkatárs a Közép- és Kelet-európai Német Kulturális és Történeti Szövetségi Intézetben. 2010 óta tudományos munkatárs az Európai Emlékezet és Szolidaritás Hálózatában.



[1] vö. Peter Bender: Deutschlands Wiederkehr. Eine ungeteilte Nachkriegsgeschichte 1945-1990. Stuttgart 2007, 229.

[2] Ralf Dahrendorf: Der Wiederbeginn der Geschichte. Vom Fall der Mauer zum Krieg im Irak. Reden und Aufsätze. München 2004, 213.


Attila Pók

1956, mint a kelet-közép-európai történelem választóvonala

01 August 2018
  • Kelet-Közép-Európa
  • emlékezet
  • Magyarország
  • magyarok
  • 1956
  • kommunizmus
  • szovjet befolyás
  • kultúra

Az európai és az általános történelem sorsdöntő évei, fordulatai nemcsak a történészek számára nagyon érdekesek, hanem a politikusok, pedagógusok és a nehezen megragadható, de mindenütt jelenlevő emlékezési kultúra számára is. 1956 minden kétséget kizáróan ilyen év, amelyet az alábbiakban tézisszerűen mutatunk be.


1.Egyenes út 1956-tól 1991-ig?

Az 1956-tal kapcsolatos kollektív emlékezet egyik alapproblémája abból a körülményből fakad, hogy a politikai átalakulás éveiben, 1989 és 1991 között, ez az évszám a szovjetellenes, antikommunista ellenállás szimbóluma volt. Az 1956-os magyar és lengyel, az 1968-as csehszlovák, és az 1980-81-es lengyel eseményeket, valamint az NDK-ban, a Szovjetunió balti államaiban, Csehszlovákiában, Bulgáriában, Romániában, Magyarországon és Jugoszláviában történteket 1989-ben egy teleológiai folyamat részeiként, valamint a Szovjetunió összeomlásának előszeleként értelmezték. Az elkerülhetetlen átalakulás gondolata (diktatúrából demokráciába, egypártrendszerből többpártrendszerbe, központosított tervgazdálkodásból liberális piacgazdálkodásba) kétségkívül mindenkire inspiráló hatással volt. A rövid ideig tartó eufória után azonban a fenti államok átalakulását illetően megmutatkoztak azok az alapvető különbségek is, amelyek csökkentik a határokon átívelő közös tapasztalatokat, és megnehezítik bizonyos események megértését.

1956 interpretációival kapcsolatosan elsősorban a Magyarország és Lengyelország közötti különbségek bírnak jelentőséggel. Hruscsov a Szovjet Kommunista Párt XX. kongresszusán elmondott, a sztálinizmus leleplezésében kiemelkedő szerepet játszott „titkos beszédét” Lengyelországban hivatalosan terjesztették. Az 1954-ben, hároméves fogság után szabadon engedett reformkommunista, Władysław Gomułka népszerűsége 1956 őszén mindennél nagyobb méreteket öltött. Annak ellenére, hogy a lengyel társadalom nem sokkal később kiábrándult belőle, 1956-57 idején, a szovjet bevonulás küszöbén, Gomułka a nemzeti érdekek megmentőjeként léphetett fel. Nagy Imre magyar miniszterelnök ezzel szemben nem tudta hosszú távon befolyásolni az események menetét. A hős róla élő képe elsősorban nem 1956-os tetteiből, hanem inkább mártírhalálából ered. Ha őt és társait nem végezték volna ki, soha nem váltak volna egy szovjet befolyás alá tartozó, kis közép-európai nemzet szabadságvágyának szimbólumává.


2. Patriotizmus és kommunizmus

A következő alapvető probléma a patriotizmus és a kommunizmus viszonyában keresendő. Viselkedhet-e egy kommunista patriótaként? Vagy egy patrióta meghatározásánál fogva nem lehet kommunista? Litván György az 1956 –os magyar forradalom politikai irányzazait elemezve két baloldali (reformszocialista és nemzeti demokrata) és két jobboldali érzelmű tábor (nemzeti konzervatív és radikális jobboldali) között tesz különbséget, amelyek egyike sem bízott a Szovjetunióban és a szovjet csapatok mielőbbi kivonulását követelte. A magyar történelem e rövid, de fényes pillanatában a kommunisták és az antikommunisták – összes belső vitájuk ellenére – osztoztak a szovjet imperializmuson gyakorolt kritikájukban. Az 1956 emlékezete körüli csatározásokban számos antikommunista a szovjet érdekek kiszolgálójának nevez minden kommunistát. Lengyel és magyar kommunisták egy csoportja 1956-ot ugyanakkor olyan nemzeti indíttatású, reformkommunista kísérletnek tekinti, amely a szocialista értékek megőrzésére irányult a sztálini önkény nélkül. Megint más magyar kommunisták ugyanezen csatározásokban 1956-ot ellenforradalomnak tartják, amelynek célja az 1919-1944 közötti konzervatív rendszer restaurálása volt. A hivatalos magyar megnyilvánulások viszont 1989-ig az ellenforradalmi minősítés mellett a szovjet hadsereg segítségével megakadályozott polgárháborúról szóltak.

Kádár János 1972 után ugyan kísérletet tett arra, hogy az „ellenforradalom” fogalmát a „nemzeti tragédia” összetétellel helyettesítse, mégis az előbbi maradt meg a párt hivatalos nyelvhasználatában egészen 1989. január 28-ig, amikor is a politikai vezetés előtt Pozsgay Imre először beszélt 1956-ról mint jogos népfelkelésről. E megnyilatkozás annál is inkább fontos volt, mert 1956-nak a pozitív magyar hagyomány vonalába történő beillesztése egy „ellenemlékezés”, és ezáltal a Kádár-korszak történeti jogfosztásának a magjává vált. 1956 gyökeres átértékelése egyúttal az ellenzéki csoportok és a hatalmon lévők közti tárgyalások emlékezéspolitikai előfeltételét is megteremtette. Szimbolikus események sora következhetett ezután: az 1958. június 16-án kivégzett Nagy Imrét társaival együtt 1989. június 16-án ünnepélyesen újratemették, majd 1989. október 23-án, a forradalom kitörésének 33. évfordulóján, a Magyar Népköztársaságot köztársasággá nyilvánították, beillesztve ezzel Magyarország demokratikus hagyományába. Amikor évekkel később Mécs Imrét, a fenti tárgyalások egyik ellenzéki résztvevőjét megkérdezték, ki tette lehetővé ezeket a tárgyalásokat, és ki választotta ki résztvevőit, válasza rövid és egyértelmű volt: az 1989. június 16-án a Hősök terén tartózkodó tömeg.


3. 1956 és a Szovjetunió tekintélye

A harmadik probléma 1956-nak a Szovjetunió világpolitikai tekintélyére gyakorolt hatásában mutatkozik meg. 1989 perspektívájából tekintve 1956-ot gyakran a Szovjetunió széthullásának kezdeteként értelmezik, amelyet követően az 1968-as csehszlovákiai és az 1980-as lengyelországi események sora vezetett el 1991. december 25-éig, a Szovjetunió felbomlásáig. 1956 történeti jelentősége azonban a harmadik világot is érinti. A nagyhatalmak, vagyis Nagy-Britannia, Franciaország, a Szovjetunió és az Egyesült Államok, az 1956-os év válságai (Lengyelország, Magyarország, Szuez) során tett lépései döntő jelentőségűek voltak gyarmatbirodalmi, illetve globális pozíciójukat tekintve. Egyiptom támogatása a brit és francia imperializmussal szemben nem csak a harmadik világ államaiban növelte a Szovjetunió hitelét.

Az Egyesült Államok ugyanakkor nem sokat tett az ún. „captive nations” felszabadítása érdekében, csupán a kommunista terjeszkedés feltartóztatását (containment) vette komolyan. A Szovjetunió ezalatt sikeresnek mutatkozott a gyarmatellenes, főként afrikai országok barátjának szerepében. A hatvanas évek végéig Afrikában 31 állam nyerte el függetlenségét. E folyamat során a Szovjetunió olyan tekintélyre tett szert világszerte, amely mellett elhomályosult a magyar szabadságharc elnyomójának képe. A gyarmati függetlenségi folyamatok a hidegháború olyan csatamezején játszódtak, ahol lehetségesek voltak a változások. A szovjet befolyás alatt álló kelet-közép-európai államokban azonban ebben az időben erről szó sem lehetett.


4. 1956 mint kulturális választóvonal

Az 1956-os év kulturális értelemben is választóvonalat jelentett. Az enyhülés idején, ellentétben a politikával, a kultúra minden területén csökkent a szovjet ellenőrzés. A magyar forradalom erőszakos leverése sokat ártott a nyugat-európai kommunista és szociáldemokrata pártoknak. Kevésbé ismert tény az a csalódás, amelyet Amerika a „rabságban tartott nemzetek” lehetséges megmentőjeként okozott, és amely az ún. ’68-as generáció számára a „Nyugat” fogalmának egy sokkal inkább kulturális tartalommal bíró újraértékeléséhez vezetett. 1956 tapasztalatai megmutatták, hogy egy politikailag kettéosztott világban, alapvető politikai változások lehetősége híján, a szigorúan őrzött határok ellenére a kultúra képes hidat verni a két pólus között. Az 1956 után felnőtt kelet-közép-európai generációk számára a Nyugatot nem az IBM, De Gaulle vagy Kennedy jelentette, hanem sokkal inkább Hemingway, Sartre, Pasolini, Brigitte Bardot vagy Salinger Zabhegyezője. Sosztakovics, Wajda, Gombrovicz, Örkény, Heym vagy Kundera – csak néhányan azok közül, akik a Kelet és a Nyugat közötti kulturális hidakat biztosították. Az enyhülés után már nem lehetett újra bezárkózni, és a „szocialista-realista” mintákhoz visszatérni.


5. Összegzés

1956 a szovjet blokk minden államában választóvonal volt. A magyar és lengyel események Kelet-Közép-Európa országaira is hatást gyakoroltak, és ellenállásra ösztönöztek. Az emlékezés 1956-ra azt tudatosította, hogy a szovjet rendszer átalakulása és módosítása a hatalmi centrumban ugyanúgy lehetséges, mint a függő államokban, viszont a szovjet hegemóniától való megszabadulás kísérlete elkerülhetetlenül erőszakot von maga után, továbbá, hogy a világ kettéosztottsága a két nagyhatalom és holdudvarai között politikailag, de nem a kultúra területén szilárdult meg. 1956 emléke nem hatott közvetlenül, meghatározóan a prágai tavasz vagy a Solidarność reform- és tiltakozó mozgalmaira, viszont figyelmeztető jelként szolgált a moszkvai vezetés és helytartói átfogó uralmi igényei számára. 1956 kaétségkívül választóvonalat jelentett, amely bár Kelet-Közép-Európán túlmutatott, de egy kollektív európai emlékezet megteremtésére csak korlátozottan volt alkalmas. Túl sokszínűek voltak ehhez az események és túl eltérőek a tapasztalatok Keleten és Nyugaton.


Christoph Mick

Lemberg – Die multiethnische Stadt

01 August 2018
  • Polen
  • Lemberg
  • Galizien
  • Habsburgermonarchie
  • Ukraine
  • Ukrainer
  • Juden
  • Pogrom
  • Friedhof

Multiethnisches Lemberg?

Seit seiner Gründung leben in Lemberg Angehörige verschiedener Ethnien und Religionen zusammen. Friedliche Koexistenz und gegenseitige kulturelle Bereicherung sowie scharfe, phasenweise gewaltsam ausgetragene Konflikte sind zwei Seiten seiner Geschichte.

Es war über Jahrhunderte hinweg schwer genug, die Interessengegensätze in der Stadt auszutarieren. Doch Lemberg hatte ein weiteres Problem, das im 19. und in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts friedliche Konfliktlösungen erschwerte.

Die Stadt lag im Schnittpunkt  imperialer und nationaler Bestrebungen. Weder Polen noch Westukrainer konnten sich ihren Nationalstaat ohne Lemberg vorstellen, Österreich-Ungarn wollte die Hauptstadt seines Kronlandes nicht aufgeben, der russische Zar sah in diesem Ausläufer der Rus sein Patrimonium, während des Zweiten Weltkriegs wollte Nazi-Deutschland Lemberg zu einem germanischen Bollwerk im slawischen Osten ausbauen, und Stalin reklamierte Stadt und Region für die Sowjetukraine.

Im 20. Jahrhundert kontrollierten alle Prätendenten die Stadt wenigstens einmal. Und wer immer die Macht hatte, begann den öffentlichen Raum mit eigenen Symbolen auszustatten. Straßen erhielten neue Namen, Denkmäler wurden gestürzt und errichtet, Friedhöfe angelegt und zerstört. Lemberg wurde imperial oder national umdekoriert und neu lackiert. Der Stadt wurde auch eine neue Geschichte gegeben, die den eigenen Anspruch legitimierte, das Leben anderer Gruppen und deren Anteil an Kultur und Geschichte der Stadt aber marginalisierte.

Lemberg als Erinnerungsort der „guten“ Habsburgermonarchie

Der Kampf um Denkmäler und um Straßennamen begann lange vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg. Die polnischen Eliten nutzten nach 1867 ihren Spielraum, um ihre Dominanz auszubauen. Die Universität wurde polonisiert, polnische Schulen wurden eingerichtet, Banken und Genossenschaften gegründet, Denkmäler polnischer Dichter, Politiker, Könige und Helden eingeweiht und den Straßen polnische Namen gegeben. Jüdisches Selbstbewusstsein drückte sich im Bau eindrucksvoller Synagogen aus, die später fast alle von den Nazis zerstört wurden. Heute erinnern nur noch Plaketten an die Bedeutung der jüdischen Gemeinde. Alles Ukrainische wurde – mit Ausnahme der griechisch-katholischen Kirchen und der Gebäude ukrainischer Organisationen –, so gut es ging, aus dem öffentlichen Raum verdrängt.

Die heutige Habsburg-Nostalgie ist zum Teil berechtigt. Bei aller „galizischen Armut“ waren die letzten Jahrzehnte vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg unvergleichlich besser als alles, was später kam. Während auf dem Land – besonders bei Wahlkämpfen und Agrarstreiks – Blut fließen konnte, war in Lemberg eine friedliche Austragung der Konflikte die Regel. Nicht vergessen werden dürfen aber auch die dunklen Seiten der österreichischen Herrschaft im Ersten Weltkrieg. Die österreichischen Behörden richteten Tausende Ukrainer als vermeintliche russische Spione hin und sperrten Zehntausende in Internierungslager.

Dies hat aber der Habsburg-Renaissance bislang nicht geschadet. Das österreichische Erbe ist auch touristisch verwertbar. Restaurants haben sich kaiserlich und königlich dekoriert, Portraits Franz Josephs hängen an den Wänden, und allenthalben versuchen Kaffeehäuser an österreichische Traditionen anzuknüpfen.

Die Verteidigung Lembergs – „Novembertat“ – Pogrom

In der populären polnischen Vorstellung von Lemberg als Antemurale Christianitatis, als Bollwerk Polens und der Christenheit, wurde Europa nicht nur gegen Mongolen, Türken und Tataren, sondern auch gegen Kosaken, später gegen Russen und gegen die Bolschewiken verteidigt. Im polnisch-ukrainischen Krieg um Ostgalizien 1918/19 wurde dieses Muster auch auf die ukrainischen Truppen angewandt. Westukrainische Politiker sahen sich allerdings auf der falschen Seite der Mauer platziert und interpretierten den Untergang der Rus im Mongolensturm und das Zerbrechen ukrainischer Staatlichkeit unter den Schlägen der Roten Armee als tragisches Opfer, das die ukrainische Nation für die Rettung Europas erbracht hatte. Zwar könnten diese Antemurale-Vorstellungen als gemeinsamer polnisch-ukrainischer Erinnerungsort dienen, doch ist dies wegen der antirussischen und kulturkämpferischen Konnotation nicht unbedingt wünschenswert.

Der November 1918 ist der Schlüssel zum Verständnis der Konflikte in Lemberg und Ostgalizien in der Zwischenkriegszeit. Für die Juden war der November untrennbar mit der Erinnerung an den Pogrom verbunden, der sich positiver Sinngebung versperrte. Die Lemberger Juden waren dadurch in einem zentralen Punkt – der Verteidigung Lembergs – aus der polnischen Erinnerungsgemeinschaft ausgeschlossen. Dagegen bildeten die Ukrainer bewusst ihre eigene Erinnerungsgemeinschaft und schufen sich unter ungünstigen Rahmenbedingungen Erinnerungsorte, die den ukrainischen Patriotismus beflügeln sollten. Die Versuche gemäßigter Politiker auf beiden Seiten, selbst im November 1918 noch eine friedliche Lösung zu finden, wurden im aufgeheizten Klima der Zwischenkriegszeit fast als Vaterlandsverrat angesehen. Könnte eine nähere Beschäftigung mit diesen Ausgleichsbemühungen nicht vorhandene zivile Alternativen aufzeigen, die später von der martialischen Helden- und Opfermetaphorik überdeckt wurden?

Die polnisch-ukrainische Deutungskonkurrenz wirkt bis heute nach, während die jüdische Erinnerung an den Pogrom vom 22. bis 24. November 1918 vollständig von der Ermordung der Lemberger Juden im Zweiten Weltkrieg überlagert wurde. Der 80. Jahrestag der so genannten „Novembertat“ (Lystopadovyj čyn) – der Machtübernahme in Ostgalizien und der Gründung der Westukrainischen Volksrepublik – wurde in Lemberg aufwändig begangen.

Zweiter Weltkrieg

Wenn heute die interethnischen Beziehungen in Lemberg während des Zweiten Weltkriegs zum Thema gemacht werden, klaffen die Interpretationen ebenso weit auseinander wie in der Zwischenkriegszeit die Deutung des November 1918: Von einem übernationalen Erinnerungsort ist keine Spur. Ukrainische Autoren weichen der Frage nach der Beteiligung von Ukrainern an Pogromen und der Rolle der Ukrainischen Hilfspolizei gerne aus oder verweisen auf die angebliche Kollaboration der Juden mit der Sowjetmacht. Jüdische Memoirenschreiber machen dagegen Polen und Ukrainern heftige Vorwürfe und klagen sie an, nicht geholfen oder sich sogar am Völkermord beteiligt zu haben. Diese unterschiedlichen Erfahrungen hatten auch Konsequenzen für die Erinnerungen. Bezogen auf den Zweiten Weltkrieg gibt es deshalb nicht nur eine doppelte Erinnerung, sondern eine dreifache Erinnerung an den Krieg.

Nach der Unabhängigkeit 1991 bemühten sich die Westukrainer, wenigstens die auffälligsten Symbole der Zugehörigkeit zur Sowjetunion loszuwerden. Das Lenin-Denkmal verschwand sofort, und auch andere Symbole sowjetischer Herrschaft wurden schnell abgebaut. Unversehrt blieben die Monumente, die an den Sieg der Roten Armee erinnern und das Gräberfeld der Roten Armee. Gleichzeitig ließen es sich die Stadtbehörden nicht nehmen, den großen Nachbarn ein wenig zu ärgern und benannten eine Straße im Stadtzentrum nach Dschochar Dudaev, der die Loslösung Tschetscheniens von der Russischen Föderation betrieben hatte.


Lemberg soll von einem Konfliktfeld der polnisch-ukrainischen Beziehungen zum Ort polnisch-ukrainischer Aussöhnung und Kooperation gemacht werden. Sinnbildlich hierfür steht der polnische Soldatenfriedhof des polnisch-ukrainischen Krieges 1918/19. Der Wiederaufbau war von den Präsidenten Polens und der Ukraine über die Köpfe der Lemberger Behörden und Bevölkerung hinweg vereinbart worden. Ein originalgetreuer Wiederaufbau scheiterte am lokalen Widerstand, und einige Nachbesserungen waren nötig, um das Projekt für die Lemberger Ukrainer erträglich zu machen. Als Kontrapunkt wurde vor dem polnischen Soldatenfriedhof ein ukrainisches Ehrenmal gesetzt und ein Gedenkkomplex aufgebaut, der einige problematische Elemente nationaler Opfermythologie enthält.

Die Rekonstruktion des polnischen Soldatenfriedhofs ist einerseits ein hoffnungsvolles Zeichen, andererseits zeigt der Streit um seine Gestaltung, wie schwierig es ist, Lemberg zu einem übernationalen Erinnerungsort zu machen. Zu wichtig ist die Stadt für das nationale Selbstverständnis der Westukrainer und ihre Positionierung im ukrainischen Nationalstaat.

Die Chance wäre da, Lemberg zu einem Ort der Versöhnung zu machen. Dafür aber ist es notwendig, die vergangenen Konflikte in und um die Stadt, den Holocaust und das gegenseitige Morden von Polen und Ukrainern im Zweiten Weltkrieg nicht unter den Tisch  zu kehren.

Heute stellen Russen die größte nationale Minderheit. Wie schon früher zwischen Polen und Ukrainern sind auch die Grenzen zwischen Russen und Ukrainern fließend. Mischehen sind häufig, für welche Kultur sich die Kinder entscheiden, ist jeweils ungewiss. Es wäre jedoch blauäugig, das vorhandene Konfliktpotential zu leugnen.

In Lemberg koexistieren, konkurrieren und überlagern sich Spuren und Symbole der verschiedenen Herrschaften sowie der ethnischen und religiösen Gruppen. Über allem liegt ein ukrainischer Mantel, durch den das andere jedoch durchschimmert, ja heute auch bewusst freigelegt wird. Es begann mit der Habsburgwelle, nun kann eine Renaissance der jüdischen und der polnischen Vergangenheit Lembergs beobachtet werden. Verdeckte hebräische und polnische Inschriften werden freigelegt, wenigstens ein Restaurant hat seine Räume mit polnischen Exponaten dekoriert, und die Synagoge der Goldenen Rose soll wieder aufgebaut werden. Zeichen einer neuen Gemeinsamkeit?

Dr. habil. Christoph Mick – britischer Historiker, 2005-2010 ausserordentlicher Professor an der Universität in Warwick. Spezialisiert sich in der neusten Geschichte Russlands und Osteuropas – insbesondere Polens und der Ukraine. Seine wissenschaftlichen Interessen umfassen auch Untersuchungen auf dem Gebiet der Geschichte der Wissenschaft und Technik.


Andrzej Chwalba

Was the War Inevitable?

01 August 2018
  • Treaty of Vienna
  • Great War
  • First World War
  • World War I


The question as to whether war was inevitable is tantamount to asking what must have happened for the order established by the Treaty of Vienna to finally collapse in 1914. An extensive search through libraries and archives has allowed us to venture a response to this question. As it turns out, the treaty protecting Europe from war was either a spent force or was being consumed by the virus of national chauvinism to such an extent that it was unable to play its role any longer. As it happened, Europeans were longing for war, the politicians and the military yearned for it, and this war-mongering mood was growing in intensity. The artistic avant-garde did their best to meet this demand in society, providing an ideal reflection of the atmosphere of the time.

During the war and following its conclusion, it was often heard that: “things could have worked out very differently,” or “war was entirely avoidable.” It has been said that we must not be drawn into taking a deterministic view of history, claiming that if war broke out, it must have been necessary. Was peace therefore truly within our grasp, and could the war have been avoided? It soon turned out that the hope of salvaging peace was based on a few fallacious premises. The first of these was the conviction that monarchs were bound by a sense of solidarity and were therefore reluctant to go to war. Indeed, the monarchs had close blood-ties and considered themselves a single family. Emperor Wilhelm II and the Tsarina were maternal cousins, as were Nicholas and Britain’s George V, who looked like mirror images of each other. Edward VII was the uncle of the Kaiser of the Reich and the Tsarina, while Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, the cousin and sister-in-law of the Kaiser, was her sister. Almost all the monarchs ruling in both the larger and smaller countries of Europe were either distantly related to the Sachsen- Coburg-Gotha Dynasty, or sprung from it directly. Bismarck disdainfully called them the “fertile studs of Europe.” In the letters they exchanged, they called each other beloved and dear brothers, cousins, and friends. One sign of the solidarity of these “cousins,” these emperors, kings, and princes, was their joint decision to attend the funeral of Victoria, the British Queen, in 1901; for some she was an aunt, for others a grandmother. In 1914 seven of her descendants sat on European thrones. In 1910, during the funeral ceremonies for King Edward VII, the “uncle of kings,” there was a parade of monarchs, an unparalleled demonstration of royal solidarity. Ties between monarchs were based not only on family bonds, but also on shared traditions, similar values, and court etiquette. Nonetheless, quarrels, discord, and wars can even occur within a family, which is why, time and again, tension emerged in the royal family, in spite of its veneer of fraternity. As such, there was no guarantee that a Europe of related monarchs was immune to a great war. But even if the monarchs had made a joint stand against war, there still would have been no certainty that it would not have broken out, as none of the reigning European monarchs enjoyed absolute power or were able to impose their will. They were all compelled to hear out their advisers, ministers, generals, and, in this era of European constitutions, the voices of the people or the nation as well, however much the monarchs were the symbols of the state, the image of sovereign statehood, and however much their portraits adorned public spaces. Meanwhile, even if they had cared to, they would not have been able to halt the impending armed conflict. But did they want to? To this question it is difficult to find a definitive answer.

When the war had already broken out, the monarchs were forced to make a dramatic choice between the solidarity of the royal families and solidarity with their own nations. This choice was in fact made for them, as they could not oppose their subjects. This is why King George V – under pressure from his British subjects – changed his German name to the British Windsor, which British monarchs still use to this day. He deprived the Emperor of the Reich of his honorary command of the British army, and struck German and Austro-Hungarian names from the registry listing members of the officer corps. Knights of the Garter who belonged to enemy camps were also stripped of this honor. The other monarchs representing the warring parties behaved in like fashion.

Another source of faith that war could be avoided was the trust placed in diplomats who, even when the pressure had reached its boiling point, found ways to resolve disagreements without resorting to war. The diplomats traditionally sought paths to reconciliation between the restless sides, ever pursuing the difficult art of striking a compromise. Most often they merely called a conference of the states which formed the “concert of powers,” and this sufficed. “In the impending war, which shall be spurred on for no compelling reason, what is at stake is not only the Hohenzollern Crown, but the very future of Germany [...] the provocation of war is not merely foolhardy, it is downright reprehensible,” warned the German Chancellor in 1913. It turned out in 1914, however, that neither the solidarity of the monarchs, nor that of the diplomats would suffice.

The third source of optimism that war was impossible was the stance adopted by the socialist parties with delegates at the Second International. They expressed the conviction that armed conflict was advantageous for international capital, imperialist states, and nationalist governments, but not for the proletariat. This is why the socialist-led proletariat had to struggle for peace. The socialists threatened to organize a general strike if war were to be declared. They believed that this threat would stop the war-mongers in their tracks. This hope for peace also proved illusory, and the anti-war demonstrations organized on the eve of the conflict were unable to prevent the war. Anti-war sentiment was particularly strong in Great Britain. The prospect of dying for – as the British press worded it – “the stinking Serbs” and the “drunken Russians” was less than alluring. When the war did break out, however, the pacifist socialists, including the British, vanished from sight, declaring solidarity with their own nations. The idea of national solidarity triumphed over the idea of class solidarity, which for many came as a considerable surprise.

Fourthly, military alliances – in particular, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente – were meant to safeguard against war, serving as insurance policies of sorts. These too failed, however. Nor were the political and economic ties between the states in the antagonistic blocs of any aid. These ties, sometimes bolstered by political treaties, could have raised hope for salvaging a state of peace. Nonetheless, the desire for war turned out to be stronger than the desire for peace.

Fifthly: Pacifists gave people hope for peace. Their writing had its readership, whose numbers were not negligible. Norman Angell’s treatise entitled The Great Illusion was a publishing success; its argument was that the European integration process was already so far advanced that a war that ruptured these ties would be a disaster for one and all. No less a publishing success was a multi-volume work by one of the world’s best-known authors, Jan Bloch, a Pole of Jewish extraction, and one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the Kingdom of Poland. His work, published in 1898 and entitled Przyszła wojna pod względem technicznym, ekonomicznym i politycznym [The Future of War from a Technical, Economic, and Political Perspective] was translated into many of the world’s languages. In Austria and Germany it was Karl Kraus who was most frequently read. Nevertheless, neither he nor Angell, nor any of the other pacifists, were able to create mechanisms protecting against war or pacifist movements. On the whole, they were isolated and politically insignificant. The German Emperor, for example, nursed deep contempt for the pacifists, whom he called eunuchs. At any rate, it soon turned out that pacifists could most easily laud peace in times of peace.

Sixthly, a chance to salvage peace was seen in the pressure being exerted by international concerns. Indeed, they were afraid of war, as it threatened to rupture all their economic and financial ties. They preferred to negotiate for their share of the markets – such as the businessmen from Britain and Germany who, two weeks before Sarajevo, negotiated a deal to build a railway from Baghdad to Basra. Two Englishmen were due to sit on the board of the German-controlled Baghdad Railway Association. Earlier, in mid-February 1914, entrepreneurs from France and the Reich signed a similar contract. Yet the influence of big business circles interested in a peaceful resolution to the conflicts was ultimately too weak to prevent war. The arms industry, on the other hand, generally declared itself in favor of the war.

The political tension between the states and, in particular, the powerhouses, was growing from one year to the next; the issues of dominance in Europe, the recovery of lost lands or the acquisition of new ones, influence in the Balkans or the Middle East, a new division of colonies, and rule over the seas and oceans led to rearmament on an unprecedented scale, and to an arms race. Did this rearmament inevitably bring war to Europe? It might have, though it is difficult to definitively declare that it led to the war. Such opinions do abound, however. The scale of the rearmament was unprecedented. All of Europe’s large and small states, including Montenegro, increased their military budgets, which went to prove the popularity of the idea of war in parliaments, and was, at the same time, a way of making people accustomed to the real prospect of war. The inflated war budgets testified to the fact that most parliamentarians accepted the governments’ proposal to fuel the fire. In the years 1909–1914 alone the European states’ expenditure for arms rose, on average, by about 50%. In 1909 it was 3.5% of the GDP, while in 1913 it rose to 5%. Rearmament caused a serious fiscal burden for society. For the Reich the burden was so severe that several warned that the state could go bankrupt. The only chance of avoiding this glum prospect was “pressing forward,” i.e. declaring war, during which time the state could suspend the debts it had incurred from its own citizens. Budgets assigned for naval weaponry rose particularly swiftly. The construction of warships was supported by dozens, and later hundreds of associations and organizations, which created effective pressure groups.

The new carving up of the world and the colonial lands was of most interest to Germany, while the Austro-Hungarian Empire was comparatively indifferent. The Germans believed that they had received less of the colonial pie than they deserved. True, they possessed around three million square meters of colonies spread over two continents, inhabited by thirteen million people, officially known as “protected territories,” but these were not generating enough profit or prestige. In his 1900 work entitled The Great Powers, Max Letz said that a war to divvy the ailing British Empire was inevitable, and in its place would come a German Empire. He argued that, in accordance with social Darwinism, the colonies should trade owners. The weak, such as the French, the Portuguese, and the British, would withdraw, while the stronger ones – the Germans – would step in. “Our future will be ensured when we conquer not only all of Europe, but also wherever we can across the ocean. Expanding our possessions is, after all, the basis of our nation,” said Heinrich Class, head of the Pan-German League, in 1913. The idea of war can certainly be traced to this mode of thinking, but thought alone was not enough to actually set it off.

Nor were the Germans satisfied with their place in Europe. Located in the center of Europe, they were constantly obsessed with the idea of being encircled by France and Russia, caught between the proverbial firing lines. In fact, these countries did not pose much of a threat, at least for the time being. This was more of an artificially generated psychosis than a real threat, but it did reinforce the pro-war mood.

The armament policy was fueled by the imperialist propaganda and pro-war rhetoric. Nationalism, which was growing into a national chauvinism, held pride of place in the nations’ preparations for the looming struggle. Apart from love of one’s country and nation and a national pride, it was composed of contempt and hostility for other nations and a national pride that sanctioned rule over others. The nationalists claimed that the path to achieving a high level of national solidarity and unity led through war. War, they argued further, cleanses a nation of its weaknesses and shortcomings, and would work like a salubrious catharsis. The Italian nationalists stressed that war was the swiftest and most heroic means of attaining willpower and wealth. “To the nationalist circles war seems akin to salvation, a hope for change,” concluded Viktor Adler, a leader of the anti-war social democrats on 29 July 1914. Nationalism did not dominate the general mindset, and the nationalist parties did not dominate the political stage. The power remained, on the one hand, with the liberal and conservative parties, and on the other, with the socialist ones, though both the former and the latter did show evidence of being influenced by nationalist ideas and ways of thinking. In particular, the liberal parties succumbed to the pressure of nationalism. The nationalists’ advantage and strength was in the comparatively few in number, yet outspoken, punitive, hierarchically structured, and well-financed organizations and associations, such as the German Eastern Marches Society, the German Army League, the Navy League, the Pan-German League, and the Pan-German Union in Germany; England’s Imperial Naval League and the National Service League; France’s Patriotic League and Action française; Russia’s Black Hundreds; and the Nationalist Association of Italy. These organizations were capable of mobilizing public opinion around their aims, for rearmament and war preparations. They influenced governments, parliaments, and rulers.

Nationalism was nourished by a confused social Darwinism, which urged the need for a decisive armed confrontation in the name of national values and glory. Social Darwinism was popularized in England by Benjamin Kidd, author of Social Evolution, which was first published in 1893. Another Briton who made his name in Europe writing on the subject was Harold Watt, a founder of the Imperial Naval League; he claimed that “war is God’s test for the soul of a nation,” and that in history “the higher and more noble nations have triumphed in war, routing the lower races.”

The cultural climate also favored the war. In the late 1890s Positivism and Scientism were on the decline and Neo-Romanticism was on the rise. In the early twentieth century millions of people had already been convinced by artists and intellectuals that they were leading a bland, prosaic life, a life of consumer boredom, bereft of greatness, sublimity, and spirituality. They claimed that such a bourgeois existence was senseless. Thomas Mann wrote that “war should be a cleansing, a liberation, and a vast hope,” a manifestation of the “fitness of the nation.” War, it was said, ennobled people, and taught the virtues of discipline and obedience. The hopeless life of the wage earner could only be changed by something sublime and revivifying – and this “something” was war. Wartime accomplishments and the life of the hero were important. Neo-Romantics and avant-gardists saw war as a manifestation of the strength of the spirit, as a sign of vitality and creativity. “War is a life-giving principle,” “it is an expression of the highest culture,” Friedrich von Bernhardt wrote in 1911 in a work which went through six editions in Germany in the space of two years. “When a man throws himself into the whirlwind of war it is not instincts, but virtues he rediscovers... In war everything is renewed,” stressed French painter Pierre Bonnard in 1912. In 1891 the French writer Emil Zola pointed out that “only fighting nations develop: a nation immediately perishes when it disarms. War is a school of discipline, devotion, and courage.” The Italian Futurists, headed by Filippo Marinetti, were enthusiastic about war, joyfully exclaiming that “war is the only hygiene of the world.” Generally speaking, the rebellious people of the avant-garde who roused others to rebel against the old world in order to build a new, better, and more noble one in its place, and who called for liberation from the suffocating girdle of custom, could, to a considerable degree, feel that they shared responsibility for the war.

Historian D. S. Landes has pointed out that many a war was believed to be a sort of spring break; he wrote that the tragedy of war lay “in the gullible vanity of people who thought war was a party – a kaleidoscope of handsome uniforms, masculine courage, feminine admiration, dress parades, and the lightheartedness of immortal youth. The war broke out for a lack of imagination.”1 US President Theodore Roosevelt saw the eventuality of the outbreak of war in only a slightly different light: “Europe has not fought for a very long time, and has decided to rouse in itself the spirit of action. War broke out when Europeans had subconsciously grown tired of peace. Then war became acceptable, even desirable.”

Fashionable philosophers and historiosophers added more arguments in favor of the war: “The propriety of war is simply based on the consciousness of its moral necessity. Because [...] history must be in a state of eternal movement, war is waged; it must be regarded as an order established by God,” wrote Heinrich von Treitschke in 1887. People chose to heed his words, but also those of Joseph Maistre, an early-nineteenth-century conservative thinker who maintained that “war is the normal state of the human species.” Henri Bergson’s perception of thought also aided intellectual preparation for the war, stating that Europe urgently needed a spiritual rebirth through a powerful clash of elements. Friedrich Nietzsche, who was popular in Europe, also contributed here. Nietzsche’s call to action and violence, to do battle with idleness, bourgeois narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy, spoke to many, and his statements were printed on leaflets for soldiers; his idea that “war and courage have done more good than love for those dear to you” was found in the rucksacks of soldiers from various armies. Nietzsche called on people to take risks in life and promoted the value of a revolt against liberalism, tradition, and the status quo. Ideas directly or indirectly glorifying war were distributed to millions, and to young people in particular – and it was they, after all, who had to march off to battle.

The literature of the time made a clear contribution to psychologically and emotionally preparing people for war; it often portrayed armed conflict as a joyful and fascinating adventure. Spy novels and tales of the future enjoyed popularity. Novels published in installments that depicted Germans landing on British shores or Britons organizing landing operations on the German coast also proved exciting. Boys’ adventure literature and new weeklies for young people prepared readers to slay their enemies, filled as they were with resourceful and courageous warriors ready to die for their homeland.

State history policies also contributed to preparing people for war, mainly through schools. School curriculae reminded pupils that there was nothing more valuable than a nation’s victories on the battlefield, but also reminded them of the defeats, to inspire an urge for revenge. Anniversaries of wars that were important to the nation were celebrated, along with the deaths or births of heroes who had fought for the national cause. The French commemorated the victories of Napoleon, and the Germans the Battle of the Nations, which ended in Napoleon’s defeat. In 1913, at the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, the authorities organized a great fete – a holiday of national unity – under the pretext of ringing in twenty-five years of Emperor Wilhelm II’s rule. The Russians commemorated Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, and the French the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bouvines (June 1914).

Solemn celebrations and shows of patriotism were organized in schools, and negative images of enemies were widely promoted. Hate propaganda was spread by newspaper and school bulletins. Army camps were organized for children and young people, there was drill practice during physical education classes, and military preparation courses were run. All this had a major impact on mental preparation for the conflict. School textbooks taught “good patriotism,” indicating the significance of sacrifice, if the motherland should so desire it. “War is not likely, but it is possible. That is why France remains armed and always ready to defend herself. In defending France we defend the land in which we were born, the most beautiful and abundant land in the world,” we read in a French schoolbook of 1912. One way of mobilizing and educating school-age pupils was mass events, such as the Navy Days in Great Britain, or the German youth festivals.

The priming of nations for war was also crucially affected by a series of crises, beginning with the one caused by the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was followed shortly afterward by the Moroccan Crisis in 1911 (the “Panthersprung” in Agadir). When this concluded, anti-French and pro-war hysteria erupted in Germany. The mob called for the Emperor to abdicate, calling him a coward, and demanded that the Chancellor resign from his position. Tensions were further stoked by Belgrade’s “Pig War” with Vienna, Italy’s war with Turkey over Libya in the years 1911–1912, and finally the Balkan War, which infringed upon the existing power structures. The fact that every war brought a new crisis meant that the atmosphere grew increasingly electric and ways of thinking feverish. Biases and mutual grudges intensified, along with mistrust and nationalist phobias. The constant tension was akin to a tightrope walk over an abyss. Each new crisis overlapped with the one before, building the tension until it all reached a climax. At any moment an armed conflict on a greater scale was expected to erupt. This led to a “dry” (today we would say: “cold”) war. The consecutive crises inclined nations to arm themselves on an even greater scale, to “try out” the militarization of their economies and to forge more “defensive alliances.” The disquieted populaces began asking questions about the coming war. “I always thought about the looming war. If it could be avoided,” wrote Daisy Hochberg von Pless in 1911. “In the early winter of 1912/1913 there was increasing talk of the possibility of war between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia... There was quiet turmoil hidden in our country. The wheels of independence were turning feverishly,” recalled the Polish Princess Matylda Sapieżyna. Due to the tension, volunteers swiftly arrived for the Polish and Ukrainian rifle units in 1912–13 in Galicia. When the immediate threat of war seemed to subside, recruitment diminished.

And yet, even all of the above factors need not have sealed the outbreak of a world conflict. Further crises could have come and gone, resolved through established procedures, and the world could have kept on arming itself, continuing to train and parade its armies while war plans reposed in carefully guarded safes. Even with all this going on, it would have been possible to live in peace, though a life of constant tension, from crisis to crisis, from conflagration to conflagration, was certainly not a source of comfort. How many years can one live on a powder keg? Not very long. This is why it should come as no surprise that it was often concluded that, in spite of the risk of war and the lack of certainty as to how things would turn out, an attempt needed to be made. “War [...] was inevitable and unstoppable, as a result of motives that drive states and peoples, like a storm which nature itself must release,” wrote Joseph Conrad-Korzeniowski. Thus, if war is unavoidable, there is no point in delaying it. A surgeon would make a similar argument: an operation is the only chance to salvage the health of a patient, and the chance of its success depends on the speed with which it is conducted. “A just and necessary war is no more brutal than a surgical operation. It is better to give the patient pain and get blood on your fingers than to let the illness spread to such an extent that it becomes a threat to you and the world,” wrote British journalist Sidney Low on the eve of the war. War is, after all, simply another means of gaining political aims. Meanwhile, there is what might be called the compulsion of war. All that remained was to choose the date. The bloody attack in Sarajevo of 28 June 1914 appeared to fulfill these expectations, setting off a chain reaction.


Andrzej Chwalba. Born on 11 Dec. 1949; he specializes in the social and religious history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has been a professor since 1995. He has 380 publications to his name, including twenty-two books. He once served as Vice-rector of Teaching Affairs of the Jagiellonian University. He has received many awards for his books, including The History of Poland, The History of Krakow 1939–1945; The History of the World in the Nineteenth Century; The History of the World 1989–2011. He has also published six books in foreign languages: Polen und der Osten, Suhrkamp, 2005; Kurze Geschichte der Dritten Republik Polen 1989 bis 2005, Harrassowitz, 2010; Collegium Maius. A History, 2010; Polsko 1989–2008. Dejiny soucasnosti, Brno 2009; Poljska Nakon Komunizma (1989–2011), Zagreb 2011; Istorija na Trietaja Polska Republika, Sofia 2013.




1 David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1999), p. 465.


This article has been published in the second issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the European memory of the First World War.

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

Stefan Troebst

„Rok 1945“ jako europejskie miejsce pamięci?

01 August 2018
  • academic
  • historia
  • II wojna światowa
  • lieux de memoire
  • 8 maja 1945
  • rok 1945
  • miejsca pamięci
  • pamięć społeczna
  • historia Europy w XX wieku

Według słynnego dictum Waltera Benjamina „Pisać historię [to znaczy] nadawać datom fizjonomię“1. Takie daty stają się nie tylko mnemotechnicznym ułatwieniem interpretacji, ale przede wszystkim odzwierciedlają wysoko abstrakcyjne wyostrzenia, przewroty i przełomy. W tym sensie mogą zyskać jakość tego, co Pierre Nora zdefiniował jako „miejsce pamięci w znaczeniu przenośnym”.

Jednakże lipski historyk Dan Diner niedawno wskazał, iż data taka jak „rok 1945“ może oznaczać różne, nawet sprzeczne ze sobą lieux de mémoire i stanowi przykład wieloznaczności dnia 8 maja 1945 r. opartej na trzech szyfrach „Reims, Karlshorst, Sétif“ - perspektywy alianckiej zachodniej, sowieckiej i pozaeuropejskiej2.

„Reims“ i „Karlshorst“ oznaczają tu oczywiście obie ceremonie bezwarunkowej kapitulacji Niemiec w kwaterach głównych amerykańskich czy sowieckich sił zbrojnych, natomiast „Sétif“ oznacza zbrodnię kolonialną popełnioną w tym samym dniu, masakrę dziesiątek tysięcy muzułmanów przeprowadzoną przez francuskie siły bezpieczeństwa w Algierii.

To, co wyostrzył Diner tworząc „ikonę pamięci dnia 8 maja 1945 r.“, oraz jej wielorakie, zachodnie, wschodnie i kolonialne znaczenia, dotyczy w jeszcze większym zakresie szerokiego miejsca pamięci „rok 1945“. Jego azjatycki komponent stanowi na przykład zrzucenie bomb atomowych na Hiroszimę i Nagasaki oraz kapitulacja Japonii latem 1945 r. Miejsca pamięci wspomnianego rodzaju posiadają narodowe konotacje – skutkiem czego mogą stać się przedmiotem, a wręcz przyczyną konfliktów pomiędzy narodowymi kolektywami pamięci. Oznacza to jednak, że „rok 1945“ może nie nadawać się na fundament przyszłej paneuropejskiej kultury pamięci. Przyczyna takiego stanu rzeczy zostanie wyjaśniona w dalszej części w oparciu o 10 tez dotyczących różnych, ogólnoeuropejskich i krajowych, płaszczyzn znaczenia, konsensusu i konfliktu miejsca pamięci „rok 1945“.

I. „Rok 1945“ jest bez wątpienia centralnym europejskim lieu de mémoire, o ile nie wręcz najważniejszym miejscem pamięci żyjących dzisiaj Europejczyków. Jak wspomniano, jest on w najwyższym stopniu kontrowersyjny, ponieważ w różnych częściach Europy jest zupełnie inaczej interpretowany. W 1985 r. prezydent Republiki Federalnej Niemiec Richard von Weizsäcker w swym słynnym przemówieniu z okazji 40 rocznicy zakończenia wojny stwierdził: „Zwycięstwo czy klęska, uwolnienie od niesprawiedliwości i niewoli czy przejście w nową zależność, podział, nowe sojusze, potężne przesunięcia władzy – dzień 8 maja 1945 r. to data o decydującym znaczeniu historycznym w Europie“3.

II. Podczas tworzenia mapy odmiennych interpretacji daty „rok 1945“ nad wyraz pomocny okazuje się, zdaniem Oskara Haleckisa, podział Europy według kryteriów kulturowo- i religijno-historycznych na trzy wielkie regiony historyczne: „Europa Zachodnia“, „Europa Środkowa“ i „Europa Wschodnia“ (z dalszym podziałem Europy Środkowej na „Europę Środkowo-Zachodnią“ i „Europę Środkowo-Wschodnią“)4. Abstrahując od makrohistorycznej, długookresowej perspektywy Haleckisa, nie jest to przypadek o tyle, że ta część jego historycznego dorobku po bliższej analizie okazuje się być bezpośrednim produktem II Wojny Światowej i początku Zimnej Wojny.

III. Pamięć o 1945 r. ciągle cechuje komponent „aliancki” czy transatlantycki, czyli komponent mocarstw koalicji antyhitlerowskiej. Zgodnie z nim lieu de mémoire „rok 1945“ oznacza „wyzwolenie Europy”, „zwycięstwo nad hitleryzmem”, a wręcz „triumf demokracji”. Ta interpretacja dominuje w „Europie Zachodniej” Haleckisa, czyli przede wszystkim w Wielkiej Brytanii i we Francji (łącznie z USA), jak również w „Europie Wschodniej“, tzn. na obszarze WNP, tutaj zaś przede wszystkim w postsowieckiej Federacji Rosyjskiej.

IV. W „Europie Środkowo-Zachodniej“ Haleckisa, czyli w Niemczech i Austrii, miejsce pamięci „rok 1945“ wykazuje ambiwalentny charakter: Oznacza koniec morderczej dyktatury, ale przez długi czas oznaczał również „porażkę”, „załamanie”, czy wręcz „katastrofę” lub „okupację”, „sprawiedliwość zwycięzców” i „podział”, zaś we wschodniej części Niemiec ponadto początek ostatniej dyktatury. „Dzień 8 maja dla nas Niemców nie jest dniem świętowania“, powiedział Richard von Weizsäcker we wspomnianym przemówieniu w dniu 8 maja 1985 r., „a jednak […] pozostaje faktem: 8 maja był dniem wyzwolenia“5.

V. W „Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej“ Haleckisa, tutaj przede wszystkim w Polsce i trzech państwach bałtyckich, konotacje szyfru „rok 1945“ są jednoznacznie negatywne, ponieważ jest on niemal identyczny z innym miejscem pamięci, mianowicie z „Jałtą”. „Jałta“ oznacza tutaj zdradę ze strony angloamerykańskich sojuszników w postaci wydania Polski Stalinowi oraz płynne przejście z jednego dyktatorskiego i etnicznie obcego reżimu okupacyjnego do drugiego.

VI. Pluralizm pamięci o „roku 1945“, który został umożliwiony przez epokowy rok 1989, w przestrzeni politycznej przyjął kształt gwałtownych konfliktów pamięci. Dotyczy to przede wszystkim odpowiedniego, szorstkiego kontrastu pomiędzy „Europą Środkowo-Wschodnią“ i „Europą Wschodnią“. Z perspektywy bałtycko-polskiej „rok 1945“ oznacza przejście z niewoli narodowo-socjalistycznej w kolejną, mianowicie sowiecką, natomiast z perspektywy rosyjskiej „rozgromienie faszyzmu hitlerowskiego” i „wyzwolenie narodów Europy” – łącznie z Estończykami, Łotyszami, Litwinami i Polakami.

VII. Kontrast pomiędzy byłymi przeciwnikami z czasów wojny światowej, rozwijając się w przeciwnym kierunku niż gorzkie kulturowe konflikty pamięci pomiędzy „Europą Środkowo-Wschodnią” a „Europą Wschodnią”, niemal zanikł. Dotyczy to zarówno wykładni „roku 1945” jako początku denazyfikacji, demokratyzacji i cudu gospodarczego, która z czasem stała się przedmiotem konsensusu pomiędzy aliancką „Europą Zachodnią” oraz narodowo-socjalistyczną „Europą Środkowo-Zachodnią“, jak również zgodności interpretacyjnej pomiędzy „Europą Środkowo-Zachodnią” - zatem pomiędzy zjednoczonymi Niemcami i Austrią - oraz społeczeństwami post-sowieckimi, jeżeli chodzi o zbrodniczy charakter narodowo-socjalistycznej agresji i przestępczej niemieckiej polityki okupacji i zniszczenia.

VIII. W dużym stopniu konsensualna stała się także z czasem pamięć o „roku 1945“ w „Europie Środkowo-Zachodniej” i „Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej“, czyli pomiędzy Niemcami i Austrią z jednej strony oraz Polską i Republiką Czeską z drugiej strony. Jednak na miejsce pamięci „rok 1945“ częściowo nakłada się miejsce pamięci „wypędzenie”, a tym samym osłabia „środkowo-europejski” konsensus pamięci. Stosowana w „Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej” argumentacja post hoc, ergo propter hoc w części społeczeństw przeciwstawiana jest poglądowi, że taka relacja przyczynowo-skutkowa nie istnieje. Odpowiednio „wypędzenie” Niemców interpretowane jest jako zbrodnia sui generis, a nie jako konsekwencja nazistowskiej polityki okupacyjnej łącznie z jej komponentami przymusowych przesiedleń i eksterminacji.

IX. Jeszcze bardziej konfliktogenny niż stosunek obu lieux de mémoire „rok 1945“ i „wypędzenia“ jest stosunek pomiędzy „rokiem 1945“ i „Holocaustem“: W „Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej“ postulat ogólnoeuropejskiej pamięci o Holocauście odbierany jest jako bezpośrednia konkurencja wobec własnej interpretacji „Jałty”, jako niemile widziane upomnienie, czy wręcz podprogowy zarzut antysemityzmu. Również w postsowieckiej „Europie Wschodniej” „Holocaust“ uważa się za fenomen pamięci, który jest obcy, ponieważ czysto niemiecki, niezwiązany z własną historią narodową i imperialną.

X. Ścisłe powiązanie miejsc pamięci „Holocaust“ i „rok 1945“ z „zachodnioeuropejskiej” i „środkowo-zachodnioeuropejskiej” perspektywy oraz postulat ogólnoeuropejskiego unormowania natrafiają na opór w „Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej“ oraz częściowo w „Europie Wschodniej“ z jeszcze innego powodu: Z punktu widzenia kultury pamięci sowiecka dyktatura komunistyczna jest tutaj stawiana na jednym poziomie hierarchicznym z dyktaturą narodowo-socjalistyczną, odpowiednio zachodniej pamięci o Holocauście jest przeciwstawiana na zasadzie równoważności wschodnia pamięć o gułagach. To z kolei wywołało w Niemczech i Stanach Zjednoczonych gwałtowny protest i zarzuty antysemityzmu bez odniesienia się do kluczowego pytania o ambiwalencję miejsca pamięci „rok 1945“.

Odwołując się do negatywnego północno-afrykańskiego nacechowania miejsca pamięci „rok 1945“ Dan Diner wyraził wątpliwość, „czy symbol 8 maja 1945 jako pozytywne zachodnie wydarzenie założycielskie będzie miało spokojną przyszłość“6. To samo dotyczy dnia 8 (lub według sowieckiego zwyczaju 9) maja 1945 r. jako pozytywnego „wschodniego” wydarzenia założycielskiego ze względu na wspomnianą, środkowo-wschodnioeuropejską antytezę „Jałty“. Tak jak „Sétif“ w ujęciu pozaeuropejskim stawia pod znakiem zapytania europejską ikonę pamięci „rok 1945“, tak samo czyni „Jałta“ z punktu widzenia wewnątrz-europejskiego. Stąd też przypuszczenie wyrażone na początku niniejszej pracy, iż otwarte rozgrywanie kontrowersji wokół centralnego europejskiego miejsca pamięci „rok 1945“, które umożliwił epokowy rok 1989, nie tylko się utrzyma, ale wręcz zaostrzy. Pamięć o końcu wojny i stworzeniu powojennego porządku jest obecnie zbyt pełna sprzeczności – częściowo również zbyt traumatyczna – by mogła posłużyć jako fundament europejskiej kultury pamięci.


prof. Stefan Troebst - Dyrektor Humanistycznego Centrum Historii i Kultury Europy Środkowowschodniej (GWZO) i profesor Studiów Kulturowych Europy Środkowowschodniej na Uniwersytecie w Lipsku. Członek i przewodniczący wielu fundacji. W Europejskiej Sieci Pamięć i Solidarność zasiada w Radzie Naukowej.

Kata Bohus

Anne and Eva: Two Diaries, Two Holocaust Memories in Communist Hungary

01 August 2018
  • Holocaust
  • Shoah
  • Hungary
  • Second World
  • War
  • world war ii
  • Anne Frank
  • Éva Heyman
  • Jews


This article presents the publication histories and reception of two diaries in state socialist Hungary: the world-famous diary of Anne Frank and the much less-known diary of Éva Heyman, the so-called ‘Hungarian Anne Frank’. The analysis shows how Hungary’s Kádár regime (1956–89) tried to thematize Holocaust memory through the publication (or, in Éva’s case, non-publication) of Jewish wartime diaries in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These policies resulted in the emergence of a partial and ideologically loaded Holocaust narrative, but one that should nevertheless not be dismissed as complete fiction. Moreover, in light of this phenomenon, the long-held thesis about the complete tabooization of the Holocaust in state socialist Hungary cannot be maintained.



‘We have our own Anne Frank, only we have yet to acknowledge her’ (Antal 1957) lamented a journalist in the official daily of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Népszabadság, in 1957. He was referring to Éva Heymann whose life story and writing indeed bore a striking resemblance to those of Anne Frank.

Both Anne and Éva came from cosmopolitan Jewish families. Anne and her family lived in Frankfurt, later in Amsterdam, and her father owned a small business selling spices and pectin. Éva lived in Oradea (Nagyvárad), a city on the border between Romania and Hungary, where her family owned a pharmacy. Éva, like Anne Frank, was thirteen years old when she began her diary. She also wrote about the war’s effects on her life and about relationships between people in her family. She also fell in love, only her Peter van Daan was named Pista Vadas. And, like Anne’s, her diary also ended abruptly when she was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was later killed. Éva’s death occurred just a few months before Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945. The diary of Anne Frank was published by her father Otto Frank in 1947 in the Netherlands, and the same year saw the publication of Éva’s diary by her mother, the journalist Ágnes Zsolt in Hungary. 1Anne Frank’s diary was widely popular in various Hungarian theatres in the late 1950s and was consequently published five times between 1958 and 1982 in book format. Éva’s diary, however, was not widely available in Hungary during the same period – a second Hungarian edition was only published well after the fall of communism, in 2009. The goal of this article is to explore the possible reasons for the difference between the two publication histories.

Because of their similarities, both diaries offer insight into the nature of the violence perpetrated upon Jews during the Second World War. The communist regimes of Eastern Europe interpreted the war, primarily as a fight between fascism and anti-fascism. In the context of this ideologically defined struggle, the persecution of Jews (in other words, non-political victimhood) during the Second World War was never a primary focus. Some academics go as far as to assert that the memory of the Jewish Holocaust was mostly suppressed in the Soviet Union2 and its Eastern European communist counterparts (Braham 1999, 51; Cohen 1999, 85–118; Steinlauf 1997, esp. 62–88). Specifically, the idea that the Holocaust in Hungary was a taboo topic during the socialist period is a long-held thesis in academia. Randolph L. Braham asserted, for example, that during the communist period, the Holocaust was ‘for many decades sunk in an Orwellian black hole of history’ (Braham 1999, 50).

While the tabooization thesis seems to hold true regarding the publication history of Éva’s diary, it certainly does not apply to Anne’s. Why was Éva’s diary ignored when Anne Frank’s was widely publicized? What can be learned from these examples about the memory politics of the Kádár regime regarding the Holocaust? This paper reassesses the development of Holocaust memory during the first decade of János Kádár’s reign in Hungary, and demonstrates that the regime made rather clumsy attempts to create an ideological narrative of wartime violence for its own benefit. Partly owing to its willingness to allow public depictions of such violence, the Hungarian state was nevertheless unable to completely suppress the emergence of a Jewish Holocaust narrative that contrasted with its own.

Though there was no censorship process in the strict sense of the word in Kádárist Hungary, 3 all publications were produced by the state, and had to go through a review process coordinated by the Main Directorate of Publishing [Kiadói Főigazgatóság]. Similarly, plays were reviewed by ‘trustworthy’ insiders before their stage adaptation began. Press and journalism was also under party control through a complicated institutional structure. 4 Therefore, it is possible to highlight the main cultural policy considerations and propaganda goals with regards to Holocaust memory based on texts produced within these structures of control.


The diary of Anne Frank on stage and in book format

The dramatized version of Anne Frank’s diary arrived onto the Hung-arian stage during a rather sensitive period, before the diary had been published in print. Its première in Budapest’s popular Madách Theatre took place in October 1957, almost exactly a year after the outbreak of a revolution. Events that started in Budapest on 23 October 1956 as a peaceful demonstration to express sympathy towards Polish workers, who had risen in Poznań earlier that year, ended in a popular uprising and bloodshed. The revolution became increasingly anti-communist, and the Soviet leadership eventually decided to use military force to prevent Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and the possible dissolution of the Eastern Bloc. On 4 November 1956 Red Army troops marched into Budapest, the reform communist government that had been on the side of the revolution found temporary refuge at the Yugoslav Embassy but later some of its members, including Prime Minister Imre Nagy, were arrested and executed. János Kádár, himself a former member of the Nagy government, was placed in power by the Soviet leadership while the units of the Red Army stayed in Hungary until 1991.

In the immediate years following the establishment of the Kádár administration, cultural policies aimed at ‘uncovering’ the reasons behind what was referred to as the 1956 ‘counter-revolution’. Through these, the Hungarian regime intended to establish at least some semblance of legitimacy both in the eyes of international audiences and its Hungarian subjects. According to official publications, the outbreak of the ‘counter-revolution’ was linked to the infiltration of fascist elements from the West and the re-emergence of domestic Hungarian fascists from the interwar era and the Hungarian domestic far-right Arrow Cross [nyilaskeresztes] movement (Nyssönen 1999, 92–5). The February 1957 ‘Resolution of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party with regards to Current Questions and Tasks’ attributed the actions of the population to a smaller group of provocateurs (Kalmár 1998, 29). This harmful minority, the party narrative maintained, used ‘the dissatisfaction of the masses caused by the previous party leadership’s mistakes, aimed at confusing the working masses’ class consciousness with chauvinist, nationalist, revisionist, anti-Semitic and other bourgeois counterrevolutionary ideas’. 5 In order to substantiate the interpretation of the 1956 revolution as being instigated by (domestic and returning foreign) fascists, Kádár’s propaganda exaggerated their presence and influence during the interwar period.

Anne Frank’s diary was a possible vehicle to remind Hungarian audiences of the evil of fascism. Thus, when the theatre piece opened in 1957, one reviewer commented that ‘the whole drama is a sharp critique of the vandalism of the Nazi world’. 6 The person tasked with reviewing the book for publication supported it by emphasizing that Anne Frank ‘condemns the monstrosities of the fascists with sharp ruthlessness’. 7

Yet, the story of two families hiding from Nazi persecution did not lend itself easily to the communist ideological narrative, which simultaneously emphasized anti-fascist resistance. The Franks were not anti-fascist revolutionary fighters. For that very reason, the drama was banned from being performed on the Soviet stage for a while, because it ‘propagated passive behaviour against the enemy instead of active battle against fascism’. 8 This problem did not escape the attention of Hungarian theatre critics. The apparent contradiction was papered over with the redemptive image of socialism. Népakarat, the official paper of the trade unions put this the following way:

Hero or only a victim? [...] Both. But most importantly a hero – her life proclaims the same as those of the small soldiers of resistance: to believe in life, believe in humankind, believe in the fact that our life, which is offered as a sacrifice, is a memento and our death prepares the happiness of the future, the once coming triumph of humanity. And for this triumph, Anne Frank had to sacrifice her life the same way as the armed heroes of resistance did (Thurzó 1957).

By likening Anne Frank’s death to those for whom combat against fascism was a choice of conviction, the reviewer suggests that the extermination of millions of people by Nazism was the victims’ fight for the happiness of future generations. Anne Frank’s then already famous lines ‘I believe that people are really good at heart’ were turned into a political confession. This logic gave an ideological answer to one of the most debated questions surrounding the Holocaust: why did it happen? It provided an answer to this question not by looking at causes and roots of Nazi policies but by pointing to a future outcome. Anne Frank had to die so that socialism could triumph.

Other articles also gave the impression that Anne Frank’s death was not without purpose because in the present, communists were protecting peace and fighting the re-emergence of fascism. In a personal reflection piece in the paper Magyar Ifjúság, journalist Rezső Bányász expressed this as follows:

See, since you finished your youthful dreams forever, a new world has started to form here. There is a big and strong camp here, in which there are a thousand million people. And this camp is fighting against war and protecting peace. [It is protecting] the lives of Anne Franks, of small and big, young and old, white and black. The strength of this camp is unmeasurable (Bányász 1957).

Another commentator suggested that Anne Frank’s white gloves in the theatre piece (which she puts on for her first date with Peter) symbolized the coming of a free, better world (Nagy 1958). That world, the reader could easily deduct, was the socialist present. In the interpretation of the contemporary Hungarian press, the main message of the play was that Anne Frank’s death brought about the triumph of socialism that ensured that fascism would never return. This statement served a legitimizing function for the Hungarian Kádár regime as a bulwark against the return of ‘fascist elements’ that characterized the 1956 ‘counter-revolution’.

The Hungarian edition of Anne Frank’s diary first appeared in book format in 1958 – a year after the play had been performed – with a print run of 10,000 copies, 9 and was quickly republished a year later. These first two editions were rather simple publications, little more than booklets, unaccompanied by any kind of explanatory note from the publisher or anybody else. In 1962, the diary was compiled with Polish Holocaust child victim Dawid Rubinowicz’s diary and published 50,000 copies. 10 This third edition is more intriguing as an examination of state socialist propaganda and its uses of Anne Frank’s diary. István Bart, who was an editor at Európa Publishing House (the publisher of Anne Frank’s diaries in Hungary), pointed out that if a translated foreign manuscript contained sensitive issues, it was the foreword or the afterword that was supposed to shape the message more clearly for the reader. 11 Indeed, a resolution of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party from 1957 clearly stated that ‘publications that are debatable or include incorrect thoughts should be accompanied by an appropriate Marxist foreword’ (Vass and Ságvári 1973, 161).

There was no foreword to the 1962 edition but the afterword, written by writer Géza Hegedüs, emphasized the universality of the experience of persecution during the war.

[I]s there even one family in Europe’s broad area that does not have anything to mourn from those years? [... I]f Anne Frank’s ancestors had not prayed to Jehovah, she could have also died under the ruins of a house of some German city, her relatives could have fallen on the battlefields of fascism (Hegedüs 1962, 430).

The message is clear: fascism’s destructive force extended well beyond Jewish victims. This view matched the official narrative, which framed Jews as only one group of victims, as also expressed by the general secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party János Kádár at a Politburo meeting in 1960. Commenting on the then ongoing trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Kádár insisted that in the press reports about the trial, emphasis should be placed on the murder of ‘hundreds of thousands of Hungarians’. The Nazis, asserted Kádár, ‘did not only murder Jews, there were others there, too. This is not a Jewish question; this is the question of fascism and anti-fascism’ (Kovács and Miller 2005, 218). Neither Hegedüs’s afterword for the 1962 edition of the diary, nor the majority of the numerous reviews of the theatre adaptation in Hungarian newspapers concealed the fact that Anne Frank was Jewish and the she was persecuted because of that. 12Thus, in contrast to the idea of an Orwellian black hole that simply erased the history of the Holocaust, the Hungarian state, while indeed promoting a different war-narrative, did acknowledge the death of Jews and thus allowed the story of the Jewish Holocaust to come to light.

Not all reactions to the diary were (or could be) controlled by the state administration. This becomes quite clear if one observes the reaction among Hungary’s Jews. This reaction was perhaps more important in Hungary than elsewhere in Eastern Europe because there remained a sizeable Jewish community in this country even after the war. The year 1945 saw about 190,000 survivors (Karády 2002, 68) and despite its steady decline thereafter, Jews in Hungary still amounted to about 150,000 people in the late 1950s, a considerable number.

Anne Frank’s diary represented a particular Jewish experience not generally applicable to Eastern Europe, with Budapest as a possible exception. Though the city’s Jews were forced into ghettos and hiding, and were severely persecuted by the Gestapo and their Hungarian Arrow Cross counterparts, they did not experience, just as Anne did not, extended periods of starvation and were somewhat shielded from the worst theatres of the war. Deportations of Hungarian Jews started shortly after the country’s German occupation, in May 1944, in the provincial and border areas. The capital, Budapest, with its substantial Jewish population of about 250,00013 was to be made Judenrein (‘free of Jews’) last. However, because of the worsening military position of the Germans, the mass deportations from Budapest never took place. The young theatre critic Anna Földes’s review on the theatre adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary in a weekly women’s magazine reflected on these particular experiences.

I should be writing a review, not an autobiography. But now, I am unable to start it in any other way. My name is also Anna and at the age of fourteen, after being persecuted and adrift, I spent weeks [hiding] with ten other people in a sixth-floor studio of a Budapest apartment house. On the blocked door, somebody wrote ‘elevator shaft’ [...] I wanted to read, see and re-live what I went through. In the battles of Anne Frank with the world, I was perhaps looking for my own teenage experiences; in her sad fate I was looking for a soothing balm for the pain of my own and my beloved (Földes 1957).

Anna Földes’s memories, though they did not openly contradict the communist interpretation of the history of the war, did highlight a sensitive issue: the persecution of Jews specifically (who are not presented in her piece as ideological opponents of the political establishment) during the Second World War in Budapest.

Földes was not the only one whose memories were triggered by the play. The official periodical of the Hungarian Jewish community, Új Élet, declared its intention in January 1958 to collect the diaries and memoirs of ‘Hungarian Anne Franks’ in order to preserve the memories of those Jews who died during the Second World War, as well as to document the persecution of Jews during that time. The journal expressed the intention of the leadership of the Jewish community to preserve these documents in the Jewish Museum, as well as to publish from them regularly in the paper.14 Indeed, Új Élet published several excerpts from such diaries in 1958–59. These featured numerous details that did not correspond to the official narrative of the Second World War in Hungary.

For example, an article entitled ‘An Anne Frank from Budapest’ [Egy pesti Anne Frank] from June 1958 highlighted that the young Jewish woman who, like Anne Frank, had literary ambitions ‘could not find in the city of millions a single soul who would have helped her’.15 This remark was clearly not in line with the communist narrative, which preferred to emphasize the presence of anti-fascist non-Jewish ‘helpers’. Új Élet, though emphasizing the ‘anti-fascist’ character of Anne’s writing, failed to interpret her messages in a universal frame: an article inspired by the theatre adaptation asserted that

Anna Frank’s diary is a Jewish writing, but not because in one of the scenes we can hear the ancient melody of Moaz Tsur during Hannukah celebrations. But it is Jewish, because Anne Frank testifies about love, about her Jewish heart even during the most difficult days when she writes into her diary: ‘And I still believe that people are really good at heart.’ 16

Even though the official paper of the Jewish community was under strict state supervision and all its issues had to be approved by representatives of the National Office of Church Affairs [Állami Egyházügyi Hivatal], it seems it was more able to provide room for alternative interpretations of Anne Frank’s message than other papers were. One possible reason for this could be in the state administration’s reluctance to antagonize a still considerable Jewish community but also the fact that the paper appeared in limited numbers and was almost exclusively read by Jews. This meant that the Jewish Holocaust narrative – with all its implications about the attitudes of non-Jewish society in general – was not likely to reach the broader Hungarian public, and thus did not weaken the official narrative of widespread anti-fascist resistance.


The diary of Eva Heyman – the untold story

When establishing why Éva Heyman’s diary was not published, it is worth considering that the reason might simply be that it focused on the Hungarian Holocaust. However, this explanation proves insufficient because some other Hungarian wartime Jewish diaries were published during the period under investigation.

Edith Bruck’s Ki Téged így szeret [Who loves you this much] was published by Európa Publishing House (the publisher of Anne Frank’s diary) in 1964. 17 Bruck grew up poor, in a small village in the Subcarpathian areas of Hungary (today’s Ukraine). In her book, Bruck wrote about her life before deportations, in concentration camps and her wanderings through Europe after the war. In Bruck’s narration, the most important ideological dividing lines in wartime Hungarian society appear between the rich and the poor. When describing her deportation, she mentioned that ‘the people of the village were standing in front of their houses, crying. Mostly the poor ones, because the rich have few tears’ (Bruck 1985, 22). Throughout the book, she frequently suggested a certain solidarity between Jews and non-Jews among the poor. This was in line with the Kádár administration’s interpretation that tended to portray the wartime Hungarian governments’ discriminatory actions as targeting not only Jews, but also communists and the working class in general. Furthermore, Bruck presented the soldiers of the Red Army in post-war Budapest as friendly, and explicitly refuted rumours of rape.

Coming out of the cinema, we saw three Russians on the corner of the street, they were chatting and they had a bottle. Margot was frightened and warned me not to stare but I did look at them. I did not believe the stories I was told. The Russians offered us the bottle and said ‘vodka, vodka’. Margot and Eliz ran away. The soldiers waved a greeting and I waved back (Bruck 1985, 61).

The presentation of Red Army soldiers in a positive light played into the hands of the Kádár regime that sought to make post-1956 Soviet occupation more palatable for the population. Though Bruck described expressions of popular anti-Semitism during the war, her book repeatedly emphasized solidarity (especially among the poor) within wartime society which meshed well with communist interpretations of the Second World War as a class-based conflict where the reactionary ideology of fascism was mainly supported by the petty bourgeoisie, but opposed by the working class that it sought to crush. 18

In 1966 another diary book appeared entitled A téboly hétköznapjai: egy diáklány naplójából [The weekdays of insanity: from the diary of a schoolgirl]. The author Zimra Harsányi was, like Éva, from Transylvania and the same age as Éva and Anne when she wrote down her experiences. However, Harsányi started her diary where Anne and Éva left off: she wrote about life in Auschwitz, Płaszów and other camps. Her writing described in detail the horrors of the Nazi war machine, supporting communist ideological arguments against fascism. Nevertheless, Bruck and Harsányi, who survived the war and chronicled their experiences, both revealed in their diaries that they had been persecuted in Hungary during the war as Jews. Therefore, one must take a closer look at Éva Heyman’s text to establish what in her writing might have appeared contentious to the Kádár regime and prevented the publication of her story.

Éva’s diary highlighted the possible tensions between Jewish and non-Jewish memories of the war. As the journalist and novelist Béla Zsolt (who was also Éva’s stepfather) emphasized in his review of the diary in 1947, ‘Yes, with us [in Hungary] it is almost considered ill-mannered to remind the murderer: he has not always been this good of a democrat [as today], or that he has not always joined so piously behind the canopy during the procession but he used to kill women and children’ (Zsolt 1947, 3). As Zsolt emphasized, Éva’s diary questioned the behaviour of many non-Jewish Hungarians during the war and described contemporaneous Hungarian society as comprising of Jews and ‘Aryans’ (her expression). ‘There always used to be a party on my birthday ... But grandma said she does not permit it anymore so that the Arians cannot say that Jews are showing off ’ (Zsolt 1948, 9). The societal division as depicted by Éva Heyman did not match with the official understanding of an ideological opposition between fascism and anti-fascism. On the contrary, it suggested that the Nazi-inspired racial categorization, which was adopted in Hungary as part of the anti-Jewish legislation from 1941, was reflected in actual social divisions between Jews and non-Jews. 19 Furthermore, Éva also attributed certain opposing political preferences to these two groups: she thought ‘Arians’ supported the political establishment while it was mostly the Jews who opposed it. For example, she described how very surprised she was when her stepfather explained to her that not only Jews could be communists and socialists (Zsolt 1948, 52). The idea that Jews were over-represented among the communists, linked with the notion that the majority of Hungarian society (comprised of ‘Arians’, in Éva’s words) was deeply inimical/anti-Semitic towards Jews was a very dangerous connection that the Kádár regime did not want to highlight. It would have undermined socialist claims for legitimacy and contradicted the official propaganda’s assertion that Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany during the Second World War was only the work of a few ‘fascists’ in power while most of the population engaged in an anti-fascist struggle.

Éva wrote detailed descriptions about the relations between Hungarians, Romanians and Jews in Oradea, which revealed social tensions between these groups as early as 1940 when the Second Vienna Award reassigned Northern Transylvania to Hungary from Romania. The question of territorial loss was a key element of Hungarian interwar politics as well as Hungarian national identity ever since it had occurred following the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 inflicted severe territorial losses on the dissolving Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and as a result, Hungary lost about two-thirds of the territories that had previously constituted the Kingdom of Hungary. The main foreign policy goal of Admiral Miklós Horthy’s conservative-Christian interwar political establishment was the revision of these territorial changes. The return of some territories to Hungary as a result of the arbitration of Nazi Germany in 1940 was greeted with huge popular support. However, Éva’s description of the event highlighted how problematic this development was on a practical level:

So, the Hungarians had been here for a few days then, and grandpa was very upset because they deported all the Romanian families within hours and they [the Romanian families] had to leave all their belongings behind [...] Grandpa called them [the Hungarians] ‘parachuters from the mother-country’ and grandma said that there were all these Arrow Cross-looking people walking around town. One day, grandpa was called to City Hall and the military commander told him that he could no longer be in the pharmacy [that he owned] because he is an untrustworthy Jew who likes Romanians (Zsolt 1948, 27–28).

The excerpt from Éva’s diary highlighted Hungarian chauvinism, as well as anti-Semitism in the lower levels of state bureaucracy and state administration. The issue of widespread anti-Semitism among the Hungarian public and lower-level authorities came up several times in Éva’s diary. She described how a Jewish hotel-owner was arrested and robbed with the help of Hungarians (Zsolt 1948, 47), and suggested the widespread usage of anti-Semitic language among Hungarian authorities. When writing about the police confiscating her bike, Éva quoted one of the policemen saying that a ‘Jewish child is not entitled to a bike from now on, not even to bread, because Jews are taking away the bread from the soldiers’ (Zsolt 1948, 48).

Éva’s diary, if published, might have highlighted many weaknesses in the official narrative of the Second World War. Her repeated implications of widespread anti-Semitism among Hungarians contradicted one of the regime’s claims to legitimacy, namely that it was made up from and supported by a broad stratum of Hungarian society that had actively opposed fascist and Nazi ideas during the war. As opposed to Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria, the home-bred communist movement in Hungary had, in fact, been consistently quite weak and received little support from the population. The generic narrative of communists fighting a war against fascism was especially unsuited to the Hungarian context as opposed to Poland – a country ‘without a Quisling and, in all of Nazi-controlled Europe, the place least likely to assist the German war effort’ (Connelly 2005, 772 ff.). Hungary had entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany and remained its ally up until the abortive attempt to switch sides in 1944. Unlike Poland and Czechoslovakia, which both produced considerable resistance movements during the Second World War, Hungary only generated a weak and insignificant resistance (Deák 1995, 209–33). Until the country was invaded in March 1944, there had barely been any German soldiers on Hungarian soil for any resistance to fight against.



One reason for the relatively frequent publication of Anne Frank’s diary was its political usefulness for the Hungarian communist regime. The diary was presented as an anti-fascist testimony, in accordance with the ideological interpretation of the Second World War as a fight between fascism and anti-fascism. Moreover, it was levied to warn against the resurgence of fascism, which was sought to support the Kádár regime’s narrative of the 1956 revolution as the result of ‘fascist instigation’. A redemptive image of communism was evoked to assure theatregoers and readers moved by Anne Frank’s story that nothing similar would happen again because communists were strong security against fascism, new and old. The printed version of the diary provided an opportunity for the regime to emphasize the universality of experiences of persecution during the Second World War instead of focusing on the Jewish Holocaust. This message became especially important in the aftermath of the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1961–62, 20 which, according to several scholars, marked the beginning of Holocaust memory around the world. 21

An important reason why Éva’s diary was not published was its presentation of sensitive issues of Hungarian national memory, which the communist establishment did not want to address. While it may have been acceptable to acknowledge that Hungarian Jews had died at the hands of the Nazis during the war, the regime had no interest in publishing a diary critical of Hungarian attitudes towards Jews. Éva’s diary described in no uncertain terms that anti-Semitism was widespread in Hungarian society and that non-Jewish Hungarians sometimes benefitted from the persecution of Jews. Furthermore, Éva’s diary highlighted that the generic communist interpretation of the Second World War as a fight between fascism and anti-fascism was particularly unsuited to Hungary, where the communist movement was especially weak, and resistance negligible.

Although the Hungarian state clearly controlled the interpretation of Anne Frank’s story, the publicity of the play and the book brought about an increased interest among Hungarian Jews in similar testimonies. These were published in the official journal of the Jewish community, Új Élet, and though they only reached a limited Jewish public, they brought important aspects of the Holocaust in Hungary to the surface.



Kata Bohus

Kata Bohus is a post-doctoral researcher in the Anne Frank Research Group at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg – the Göttingen Institute of Advanced Study, Georg- August-Universität Göttingen. She received her PhD from the Central European University in 2014. Her research focuses on state policies towards Jews, Holocaust memory formation and anti-Semitism during the state socialist period in Central Europe, and especially Hungary.





1 It is not clear how much of the text of the published diary is written by Ágnes Zsolt. For details, see Kinga Frojimovics, ‘A nagyváradi gettó irodalmi bemutatása. Zsolt Béla Kilenc koffer című regénye’ [The literary representation of the Nagyvárad ghetto. Béla Zsolt’s novel, Nine Suitcases], Studia Judaica XIII (2005), 201–10; Gergely Kunt, ‘Egy kamasznapló két olvasata’ [Two readings of a teenage diary], Korall 41 (2010), 51–80; Dániel Lőwy, ‘A “magyar Anne Frank” naplójának eredetisége’ [The originality of the diary of ‘the Hungarian Anne Frank’], Amerikai Magyar Népszava, 27 March 2010, 14.

2 See, for example, William Korey, ‘Down History’s Memory Hole: Soviet Treatment of the Holocaust’, Present Tense, vol. 10 (Winter, 1983), 53.

3 On the working mechanism of state control in the arts, see Miklós Haraszti, The Velvet Prison. Artists under State Socialism (London: I. B. Tauris, 1987).

4 On press and journalism in the Kádár era, see Róbert Takács, ‘A sajtóirányítás szervezete a Kádár korszakban’ [The structure of press control during the Kádár era], Médiakutató, 2009/3. Accessed 25 October 2016: http://www.mediakutato.hu/cikk/2009_03_ osz/07_sajtoiranyitas_kadar

5 Minutes of the meeting of the Temporary Executive Committee, 23 November 1956. M-KS 288.5/4, Magyar Országos Levéltár [Hungarian National Archives, henceforth MOL], Budapest.

6 Lectoral report on Frances Goodrich and Albert Heckett’s ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. File: Goodrich-Hackett: Anna Frank naplója, Madách Színház, 1957.X.19. Országos Színháztörténeti Múzeum és Intézet [National Museum and Institute of Theatre History, henceforth OSZMI], Budapest, Hungary.

7 Lectoral report on ‘Het Achterhuis’ by Lászlóné Frank, 22 April 1955, 5. File: Anne Frank Naplója lektori jelentései, Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum [Petőfi Literary Museum], Budapest, Hungary.

8 Hungarian lectoral opinion of an article in Variety, 27 April 1957. File: Goodrich- Hackett: Anna Frank naplója, Madách Színház, 1957.X.19. OSZMI.

9 Letter from Európa Publishing House to the Main Directorate of Publishing about books at the Week of Books Festival, 14 April 1958. 16–8/1958, file 3, box 33, XIX–I-21-a, MOL.

10 Report from Európa Publishing House to the Main Directorate of Publishing, 10 January 1961. XIX–I-21-a, box no. 86. doboz, Európa Publishing House, 1961, MOL.

11 Author’s interview with István Bart, 6 January 2015.

12 More than half (20 out of 37) reviews I found mentioned that Anne Frank was Jewish.

13 ‘Virtual Jewish World: Budapest, Hungary’ in Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed 25 October 2016: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Budapest.html#5

14 ‘Magyar Anna Frankok’ [Hungarian Anne Franks], Új Élet, 1 January 1958, 1.

15 ‘Egy pesti Anna Frank’ [An Anne Frank from Budapest], Új Élet, 15 June 1958, 4.

16 ‘És mégis bízom az emberi jóságban’ [And I still believe in the goodness of humankind], Új Élet, November 1957, 5.

17 Though she was of Hungarian origin, she wrote her books in Italian, thus the diary was a translation.

18 For more details, see David Beetham, ed., Marxists in the Face of Fascism: Writings by Marxists on Fascism from the Interwar Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983), 197–204; Léon Trotsky, The Struggle against Fascism in Germany (London: Pathfinder, 1971), 155–56.

19 The so-called ‘third Anti-Jewish Law’ of 1941 appropriated the racial definition of Jews as used by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws; it forbade mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews and also punished sexual relationships between them.

20 The former Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina in 1960 and subsequently tried and executed in Jerusalem. During the war, he had been responsible of managing mass deportations of Jews from German-occupied Europe, including Hungary. During the trial, the Hungarian chapter of the Holocaust featured prominently, which the Kádár administration tried to reformulate, through Hungarian media coverage, to fit its own interpretation of the war. For details see: Kata Bohus ‘Not a Jewish Question? The Holocaust in Hungary in the Press and Propaganda of the Kádár Regime during the Trial of Adolf Eichmann’, Hungarian Historical Review, vol. 4, no.3 (2015), 737–72.

21 See, for example, David Cesarani, ed., After Eichmann. Collective Memory and the Holocaust after 1961 (London and New York: Routledge, 2005); Michael Rothberg, ‘Beyond Eichmann: Rethinking the emergence of Holocaust memory’, History and Theory, vol. 46, issue 1 (February, 2007), 74.

List of References

Books and articles

Antal, Gabor (1957) ‘Anna Frank naplója’ [The diary of Anne Frank], Népszabadság, 29 October.

Banyasz, Rezső (1957) ‘Késői levél Anna Frankhoz – a békéről’ [Late letter to Anne Frank about peace], Magyar Ifjúság, 30 November.

Bart, Istvan (2002) Világirodalom és könyvkiadás a Kádár-korszakban [World literature and book publishing in the Kádár era]. Budapest: Osiris.

Beetham, David, ed. (1983) Marxists in the Face of Fascism: Writings by Marxists on Fascism from the Interwar Period. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Bohus, Kata (2015) ‘Not a Jewish Question? The Holocaust in Hungary in the Press and Propaganda of the Kádár Regime during the Trial of Adolf Eichmann’, Hungarian Historical Review, vol. 4, no. 3, 737–72.

Braham, Randolph L. (1999) ‘Assault on Historical Memory: Hungarian Nationalists and the Holocaust’, East European Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 4, 4–11.

Bruck, Edith ([1964] 1985) Ki Téged így szeret [Who loves you this much]. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó.

Cesarani, David, ed. (2005) After Eichmann. Collective Memory and the Holocaust after 1961. London and New York: Routledge.

Cohen, Shari J. (1999) Politics without a Past: The Absence of History in Post-communist Nationalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Connelly, John (2005) ‘Why the Poles Collaborated so Little: And Why That is No Reason for Nationalist Hubris’, Slavic Review, vol. 64, no. 4, 771–81.

Deak, Istvan (1995) ‘A Fatal Compromise? The Debate Over Collaboration and Resistance in Hungary’, East European Politics and Society, vol. 9, no. 2, 209–33.

Foldes, Anna (1957) ‘Anna Frank üzenete’ [The message of Anne Frank], Nők Lapja, 24 October.

Frojimovics, Kinga (2005) ‘A nagyváradi gettó irodalmi bemutatása. Zsolt Béla Kilenc koffer című regénye’ [The literary representation of the Nagyvárad ghetto. Béla Zsolt’s novel, Nine Suitcases], Studia Judaica XIII, 201–10.

Haraszti, Miklos (1987) The Velvet Prison. Artists under State Socialism. London: I. B. Tauris.

Harsanyi, Zimra (Ana Novac) (1966) A téboly hétköznapjai: egy diáklány naplójából [The weekdays of insanity: from the diary of a schoolgirl]. Budapest: Franklin Nyomda.

Hegedus, Geza (1962) Afterword to Anne Frank és Dawid Rubinowicz naplója [The diaries of Anne Frank and Dawid Rubinowicz]. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó.

Kalmar, Melinda (1998) Ennivaló és hozomány. A kora kádárizmus ideológiája. [Food and dowry. The ideology of early Kádárism]. Budapest: Magvető.

Karady, Viktor (2002) Túlélők és Újrakezdők [Survivors and restarters]. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő.

Korey, William (1983) ‘Down History’s Memory Hole: Soviet Treatment of the Holocaust’, Present Tense, vol. 10 (Winter), 50–54.

Kovacs, Andras and Michael Miller, eds (2005) Jewish Studies at the CEU IV (2004–5). Budapest: CEU.

Kunt, Gergely (2010) ‘Egy kamasznapló két olvasata’ [Two readings of a teenage diary], Korall 41, 51–80.

Lőwy, Daniel (2010) ‘A “magyar Anne Frank” naplójának eredetisége’ [The originality of the diary of ‘the Hungarian Anne Frank’], Amerikai Magyar Népszava, 27 March, 14.

Nagy, Judit (1958) ‘Anna Frank fehér kesztyűje’ [The white gloves of Anne Frank], Film, Színház, Muzsika, 25 July.

Nyyssonen, Heino (1999) The Presence of the Past in Politics. ‘1956’ after 1956 in Hungary. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä Printing House, 1999.

Rothberg, Michael (2007) ‘Beyond Eichmann: Rethinking the emergence of Holocaust memory’, History and Theory, vol. 46, issue 1, 74–81.

Steinlauf, Michael (1997) Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Takacs, Robert (2009) ‘A sajtóirányítás szervezete a Kádár korszakban’ [The structure of press control during the Kádár era], Médiakutató, 2009/3. Accessed 25 October 2016: http://www.mediakutato.hu/cikk/2009_03_osz/07_sajtoiranyitas_kadar

Thurzo, Gabor (1957) ‘Anna Frank naplója. Bemutató a Madách Színházban’ [The diary of Anne Frank. Premier in Madách Theatre], Népakarat, 22 October. File: Goodrich-Hackett: Anna Frank naplója, Madách Színház, 1957.X.19.

Trotsky, Leon (1971) The Struggle against Fascism in Germany. London: Pathfinder.

Új Élet (1957) ‘És mégis bízom az emberi jóságban’ [And I still believe in the goodness of Humankind], November, 5.

Új Élet (1958) ‘Magyar Anna Frankok’ [Hungarian Anne Franks], 1 January, 1.

Új Élet (1958) ‘Egy pesti Anna Frank’ [An Anne Frank from Budapest], 15 June, 4.

Vass, Henrik and Agnes Sagvari (1973) A Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt határozatai és dokumentumai 1956–1962 [The decrees and documents of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party 1956–1962]. Budapest: Kossuth.

Zsolt, Agnes (1948) Éva Lányom [My daughter Éva]. Budapest: Új Idők.

Zsolt, Bela (1947) ‘Feleségem könyve’ [My wife’s book], Haladás, 30 October.

Documents and manuscripts

Author’s interview with István Bart, 6 January 2015.

File: Goodrich-Hackett: Anna Frank naplója, Madách Színház, 1957.X.19. OSZMI.

Hungarian lectoral opinion of an article in Variety, 27 April 1957. File: Goodrich-Hackett: Anna Frank naplója, Madách Színház, 1957.X.19. OSZMI.

Lectoral report

on Frances Goodrich and Albert Heckett’s ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. File: Goodrich-Hackett: Anna Frank naplója, Madách Színház, 1957.X.19. Országos Színháztörténeti Múzeum és Intézet [National Museum and Institute of Theatre History, henceforth OSZMI], Budapest, Hungary.


Lectoral report on ‘Het Achterhuis’ by Lászlóné Frank, 22 April 1955, 5. File: Anne Frank Naplója lektori jelentései, Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum [Petőfi Literary Museum], Budapest, Hungary.

Letter from Európa Publishing House to the Main Directorate of Publishing about books at the Week of Books Festival, 14 April 1958. 16–8/1958, file 3, box 33, XIX–I-21-a, MOL.

Minutes of the meeting of the Temporary Executive Committee, 23 November 1956. M-KS 288.5/4, Magyar Országos Levéltár [Hungarian National Archives, henceforth MOL], Budapest.

Report from Európa Publishing House to the Main Directorate of Publishing, 10 January 1961. XIX–I-21-a, box no. 86. doboz, Európa Publishing House, 1961, MOL.

‘Virtual Jewish World: Budapest, Hungary’, in Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed 29 September 2016: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Budapest.html


This article has been published in the fifth issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the memory of Holocaust/Shoah.

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

Joseph M. Ellis, Keeley Wood

Revolution by Song: Choral Singing and Political Change in Estonia

01 August 2018
  • Estonia
  • choral singing
  • song festivals
  • chorus


After being subsumed by the Soviet Union during World War II, Estonia suffered greatly during occupation. But one area that the Soviet authorities could not completely control was Estonia’s tradition of “Song Festivals”. Sung primarily in the Estonian language, these choral festivals lasted through Soviet rule, and became the bedrock for preserving Estonian culture. Moreover, this singing tradition spilled over into Estonia’s fight for freedom, as Estonians used song as a peaceful, non-violent means of protest. Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” lasted roughly from 1987–1991 and resulted in independence for Estonians. This paper will assess this period of Estonian history by using survey data and over 30 participant interviews gathered by the authors. These structured, in-depth interviews assess the meaningfulness of the Song Festival tradition and crystallize the role of these festivals in post-independence Estonia. More specifically, the authors also will connect discussion of these song festivals to the social capital literature made famous by Robert Putnam. The authors argue that song festivals and choruses were a significant component of fostering social cohesiveness and civic engagement among Estonians – both native and abroad – and thus served as a bulwark against the intrusion of Soviet ideology.


The collapse of the Soviet Union is one of the monumental episodes of the 20th century, resetting the world politically, economically and ideologically. Perhaps the most fascinating turn of events in the build-up to this collapse lies in the myriad of avenues through which revolutionary activity was fomented and spurred throughout the Eastern bloc. From Romania’s very violent turn of events over Christmas in 1989, to Czechoslovakia’s relatively peaceful “Velvet Revolution,” change in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union proceeded in very different ways. One of the more remarkable stories of revolutionary activity was that of Estonia’s so-called “Singing Revolution,” an effort by native Estonians to protest Soviet occupation through song. Though Estonia is not the first (nor will it be the last) country to use song as a form of political and social protest, the Estonian experience is germane for what it says about the position of music within Estonian culture and language. In addition, as the authors argue in this essay, music – particularly choral music – was a central organizing tool for Estonian protest. Borrowing from the voluminous work on civic engagement and social capital in the political science discipline, the authors will contend that the Estonian “Singing Revolution” was a combination of cultural re-awakening and political strategy that fostered community activism. Estonian choral music and singing during the Soviet collapse not only rekindled a notion of “Estonian-ness,” but also provided a platform for many individuals who were otherwise not politically active to engage in social and governmental protest.

For this article, over thirty Estonian song festival performers were interviewed, many of whom participated in the political struggle of the mid to- late 1980s. These interviews provide an enriching narrative of Estonian views on song and its relation to social and political change. Moreover, these interviews offer further insight into the differences between Estonian choral protest and other countries’ use of song protest. This matter is particularly relevant given recent musical protests, such as Russia’s feminist-inspired Pussy Riot, and the musically-charged protests lodged by Syrian youth against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad (MacFarquhar 2011). In all of these instances, although music was the medium by which grievances were transmitted, the songs were varied in audience, content, arrangement and perhaps most importantly, participants.

This essay is organized into three parts. First, an overview of the Estonian political situation in the 1980s is examined, with special attention paid to the effect of Soviet occupation on Estonian politics and society. Second, the history of the song festival tradition will be analyzed, including interviews with participants. Lastly, the third section links both the political history of Estonia and its history of song festivals to the literature on social capital. Though it is truthful to argue that “singing” was a major catalyst in ending Soviet occupation, the manner in which this unfolded requires further distillation. Thus the third section explores how song choirs became important networks for political and social change within a closed-off environment like the Soviet Union. The authors also will touch briefly on how singing allowed social networks to be fostered across Estonian expatriate and émigré communities in the USA and Europe, and what this meant for the preservation of Estonian culture as a whole.

Occupation and Revolution in Estonia

Estonia’s tortured relationship with outsiders dates back centuries, as it was settled and occupied by countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Russia for roughly 700 years, in what Kyllike Sillaste entitled Estonia’s unfortunate history of “conquest and survival” (1995, 119). However, by 1919, Estonians declared their independence, wrote a constitution, and enacted a democratically-elected parliament. This first “independence period” brought the flourishing of Estonian schools, business and culture, an era that lifted Estonian society to a level comparable with “Western” neighbors such as Finland. Even so, twenty years following independence, in 1939, the dream of freedom was halted. German and Soviet forces used Estonia as one of their theaters of war during World War II, with both militaries taking turns ruling parts of the country. By the culmination of the war, Soviet forces dominated Estonian territory and incorporated Estonia into the Soviet Union. For Estonians, the period from 1945–1953 was especially traumatic, termed by Estonian political scientist and politician Rein Taagepera as the “years of genocide” (Mertelsmann and Rahi-Tamm 2009, 308). “Approximately 8,000 were arrested for political reasons during the first year of Soviet rule” noted Olaf Mertelsmann and Aigi Rahi-Tamm. “Of these, only a few hundred survived” (2009, 310). Anatol Lieven, in his book The Baltic Revolution, argued that the Estonian population had declined by 25-percent in the 1940s, and further speculated that “it is difficult to exaggerate the amount of damage done to the Baltic States by Soviet rule” (1994, 82).

The penetration of Soviet influence into Estonian political and cultural life was particularly galling and unsettling for Estonians. Not only were they unable to control their political fortunes or to possess autonomy over political decisions, but Estonian language and customs were struggling to maintain a foothold. “As early as 1959,” wrote political scientist David Smith, “over 50 per cent of the school-age urban population of Estonia were native speakers of Russian, receiving their education in Russian language schools, where little or no Estonian was taught” (1999, 296). Other scholars estimated that by the 1980s, less than 70 per cent of the population were actually “Estonians,” as years of industrial plans and collectivization campaigns brought growing numbers of outsiders to the region (Sillaste 1995, 122).

As in the rest of Eastern and Central Europe, and throughout the Soviet Union, things began to rapidly change for the people of Estonia in the 1980s. While it is true that economic and political softening brought by glasnost and perestroika augmented changes in Estonia, the tipping point occurred in 1987, over environmental problems related to open-pit phosphate mining in north-eastern Estonia. As political scientist Andres Kasekamp points out, environmental concerns were a catalyst for revolutionary spirit in all three of the Baltic States, and especially in Estonia (2010, 161). However, environmental harm related to phosphate mining was not the only issue, as the mine also sought to employ over 100,000 workers who were not from Estonia (Smith 1999, 297). From 1987 onward, Estonians proceeded down a political path that would radically alter the prospects for future generations. This path included large-scale social activism that rallied native Estonians against what they saw as Soviet and Russian occupation.

From 1987–1990, Estonia formed several new political and civic movements, including the Estonian Popular Front – an organization led by Edgar Savisaar and composed of many reformist communists – the Estonian National Independence Party, a group that argued that Estonians never relinquished their independence to the Soviet Union to begin with, and the National Heritage Society, a “proto-political force” that, among other things, challenged Soviet authority by restoring Estonian monuments and the Estonian tri-color national flag (Lieven 1994, 217–220). Additionally, Estonians took to the street to protest, when, in 1989, they locked arms with Latvians and Lithuanians in a 400-mile long human chain connecting Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn, an action known as the “Baltic Chain.” This protest commemorated the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had given the Soviet Union control over the Baltics (Sillaste 1995, 123). By 1990, many communist governments throughout Eastern Europe – in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Romania among others – had collapsed or were on the brink of collapse. Soviet-occupied spaces such as Estonia and the rest of the Baltics followed suit. In April 1990, Estonia “simply cancelled the Soviet annexation, and declared that Estonia was in a period of transition to full independence” (Lieven 1994, 242). A provisional government was formed around members of the Popular Front and headed by Savisaar.

Not all shared in the independence struggle in 1990, however. Thousands of Russians who feared their own political and cultural extinction formed the group Interfront, and staged a sort of insurgency against the new government, attacking the Estonian parliament building (the Riigikogu) located on Toompea Hill in Tallinn. Savisaar went to the radio broadcast tower in an attempt to alert the public, declaring: “Interfront gangs have surrounded Toompea Castle and are attacking. I repeat – Toompea is under attack!” (Vesilind 2008, 146). Estonians flooded up the hill, chanting for freedom, and surrounded the Interfront group. Remarkably, no one was injured or hurt in the protests and counter-protests. The Russians filed out peaceably, and Estonians returned to their homes.

This episode marked a turning point in the Estonian independence narrative. Estonians remained united behind this cause and let little stand in their way. The following year, in August 1991, the Soviet Union was collapsing upon itself – Gorbachev was removed from power, a coup was being staged in his place, and Boris Yeltsin was moving Russia towards independence. Clumsily, Soviet tanks were still moving in the Baltics, having killed 14 Lithuanians in an effort to take television communications away by knocking out and scrambling their TV tower (Vesilind 2008, 148). The tanks then rolled on into Latvia, and later, Estonia. But, Estonians staged physical and human blockades to protect the tower, and two young, Estonian border policemen stood guard until the Soviets retreated, never to return. Estonia was a free country again.


A key component missing from the previous narrative (and existing literature generally), is a substantive discussion of the contribution made by Estonian singing, especially the long-standing tradition of choral music within Estonian society. Ultimately, one cannot fully understand the Estonian independence movement without referencing singing. In 2008, this notion was made famous by James and Maureen Tusty’s documentary The Singing Revolution and Priit Vesilind’s accompanying book of the same name. Though research into Estonia’s choral traditions and song festivals has been advanced by a number of scholars (Thomson 1992, Puderbaugh 2006, Brokaw and Brokaw 2008), The Singing Revolution documentary broadcast the Estonian independence saga to wide and far-reaching audiences beyond academic communities. Not only was there limited distribution of the film in theaters, and thousands of copies of the film sold and distributed to libraries, but PBS (Public Broadcasting System) picked up the documentary as well, airing the story to millions of Americans through their televisions.

Drawing on the inspiration of Tusty’s film, the work done by many scholars on this topic, and the courage demonstrated by the Estonian people in the face of cultural and linguistic annihilation, the authors continued to delve further into Estonia’s singing revolution. In particular, the authors were not only interested in the history behind the singing, but also the effect of this singing in the lead-up to independence. In the following section, Estonian singing traditions are examined, both through secondary research and through 34 semi-structured interviews conducted by the authors via surveys, emails, and face-to-face contact. The interviews were conducted in English, over the course of four months in the Spring and Summer of 2013. All face-to-face interviews were conducted at the LEP-ESTO festival – a convention that brings together native and ethnic Estonians – in San Francisco, California. The interviewees were a diverse lot – from teenage to senior citizens, from Estonian-natives to first- and second-generation people of Estonian heritage residing outside of Estonia, and from veteran choral performers to prideful on-lookers. This diverse selection was culled intentionally, to achieve a variety of perspectives on Estonian singing, and to demonstrate its meaningfulness to the Estonian people.

Before proceeding, the authors must clarify the general use of the words “song festival” in the Estonian culture. In short, there are many different types of Estonian song festivals. The most notable of those forms is the Laulupidu – literally meaning “song festival.” Laulupidu occurs every five years – the last being in 2009 and the next one in 2014. The festivals are the largest gathering of Estonian choirs in the country and typically are the festivals to which our respondents refer. However, there are many other song festivals in Estonia, including the Estonian Night Song Festival (Öölaulupidu), the Estonian Youth Song and Dance Festival, the Viljande Folk Festival, and more recently, the Punk Laulupidu, among others. These festivals occur in the intervening years between the larger, more prominent Laulupidu, though they are no less important to some Estonians.

Singing and Song Festivals in Estonia

Estonia has a rich folklore and storytelling tradition that dates back centuries. The most famous of these stories was that of the mythological giant Kalevipoeg (Kalev’s son), a tale that tells the national story of the Estonian people. But other, less famous, stories began to be collected in the early 19th century. Jakob Hurt, a German pastor dubbed the “King of Folkfore,” persuaded Estonians to begin collecting and writing down the literally hundreds of thousands of stories and tales passed through the generations (Thomson 1992, 15). This ongoing project created a repertoire of Estonian narratives that became crucial to preserving Estonian culture, but also served as a natural springboard to the composition of Estonia-specific songs. During what is known as the “National Awakening” period of Estonian history, poets such as Lydia Koidula constructed a narrative from which future generations of composers would borrow. Koidula’s place in Estonian history is so significant that following independence her picture was placed on the former 100-kroon bank note (Thomson 1992, 76).

Coupling the growth of folklore literature with an already rich tradition in music and choir singing, Estonia began hosting a Song Festival (Laulupidu) in the nineteenth century. The first festival began in 1869 and was organized in part by Johann Voldermar Jannsen, a newspaper publisher who created the Estonian-language newspaper (Postimees) and was also the father of Koidula (Vesilind 2008, 32; Thomson 1992, 75). In the university city of Tartu, and in conjunction with the national awakening, the festival was held in an effort to raise the national consciousness of the Estonian people and to encourage them to embrace Estonian as the official language of the state. “I think that in general the first song festivals were not so much about politics,” said Estonian song festival participant Merit Künnapuu, “than cultural awakening and identity” (Künnapuu, Merit. Survey Interview. 22 February, 2013). Tartu saw 51 male choirs consisting of 845 musicians, with 10,000–15,000 in the audience during the first year of the Song Festival (Raun 2001, 75). Singing came naturally to the people of this small Baltic country; “you get three together and they start singing” said Mari Truumaa, an Estonian-American (Truumaa, Mari. Personal Interview by Authors. 29 June, 2013). The festivals then played out uninterrupted for three decades before Estonia was rattled with revolution and war. The singing resumed during Estonia’s first period of independence from 1923–1938, but was halted due to Soviet occupation and the introduction of communism. The 1938 festival was in fact the last festival that was entirely an Estonian project, “rife with Estonian nationalism” (Puderbaugh 2008, 33)

Thought of as “one of the darkest sides of Stalinism,” the decrease in cultural output and expression is what weakened Estonia the most in the early years of occupation. In typical communist fashion the Soviets fought for “ideological purity” and banned many aspects of Estonian culture including literature and the arts (Raun 2001, 186). What they did not ban at first, however, was soon molded into something that was no longer Estonian in nature, but Soviet-inspired and then Estonian-produced. In this way, literature could be published only if the author was an Estonian Communist Party member (ECP), theatres could produce only Soviet Russian or Soviet Estonian works, and composers were encouraged to create music that reached the masses of people. This same concept was used to neatly package the Estonian song festival tradition into something that was Stalinist in spirit, and as this event encouraged a mass participation it offered the perfect opportunity to establish the new principle of “national in form, socialist in content” (Raun 2001, 188).

Kai Põld, an Estonian born before the Soviet era of occupation and attended every song festival since his childhood, expressed a sentiment that many of his fellow countrymen felt when their twenty-year bout for independence was contested with the onset of WWII: “What can one do when there are one million Estonians and 150 million Russians? What more than wait. So we worked and sang and waited” (Põld, Kai. Email Interview, May 22, 2013). While Hitler began his invasion of Central Europe, the small Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were disregarded by the rest of Europe and left “for 50 years to the barbarian Soviet Union,” as Leonardo Meigas, a veteran of all song festivals dating from 1965, acrimoniously recalled (Meigas, Leonardo. Email interview, 4 July, 2013). Communism had settled effortlessly into Estonia, and with a population of only 1.3 million it infiltrated all aspects of everyday life, making it impossible for the Estonian people to embrace their own cultural heritage and long-enduring traditions.

Many families fled the country during the 1940s, narrowly escaping the desolation the Soviets would reap upon their homeland and its people. Truumaa’s family – for example – lived in the city of Tartu in Estonia, but left for the United States in 1952 after being displaced persons in Germany for six years. Upon her marriage in 1965 she claimed that “at the time there really was no hope of Estonia, at least in my lifetime, to become free” (Truumaa, Mari. Personal Interview by authors. June 29, 2013).

The Soviet Union, however, underestimated the strength and perseverance of Estonians. While their plight was not unique in the grand scheme of war and occupation, their sentiment toward the situation was. Estonians collectively refused to acknowledge their perceived hopelessness with the same pessimism that potentially could have become their downfall, but instead came together as a nation. Instead of feeling guilt that their sons and daughters could grow up knowing nothing beyond foreign oppression, they channeled their energies into fighting using their one strength: singing. While defeating 150 million Russians was unrealistic, so was silencing one million Estonians. Estonia was ready to raise its voice.

“Singing is the best therapy in everything. You can sing about your joy, pain, longing, grief, dreams... and express yourself through music,” said Estonian native Kertu Vallerind, who has performed in every song festival since 1976. “And to do that together with thousands of other singers, it’s such a powerful feeling. It makes you feel that you can move mountains, and you can in your soul!” (Vallerind, Kertu. Email Interview. 7 June, 2013). In late June 1947, following a conscious collaboration with the Soviet government, Estonia was allowed to resume their century long tradition and continue the beloved Song Festival, but with very strict guidelines. This was the first song festival since the 1938 festival, which was a wholly Estonian performance. However, in 1947, Soviet influence on the musical program was apparent to all Estonians.

The repertoire started with God Save the Tsar “A lot was forbidden,” said Vallerind, referring to absence of many Estonian choral classics. But Estonians eluded the Russians by hiding messages in verse. “The censor couldn’t stop you as the message was hidden carefully into the text and melody – through ‘flowers.’ The censor didn’t notice it or they just couldn’t find a proper reason to decline” (Vallerind, Kertu. Email Interview. 4 June, 2013). For many people, it was not the words they were singing or the communist propaganda that united the country, but the feeling of togetherness through choral music. Estonians were able to experience a sense of cultural identity that was not present during the majority of their occupation. “It was a tool that we used to show to the Soviets that they did not manage to kill our culture and spirits and that if we wanted to restore our freedom then there was nothing that would stop us,” said Künnapuu (Künnapuu, Merit. Survey Interview. 22 February, 2013).

Eva Türk, an Estonian born during the end of Soviet occupation, recalled: “My grandmother used to say some decades ago when we were a part of USSR: ‘Attending the festival makes me feel Estonian again...’ I think that this says a lot” (Türk, Eva. Survey Interview. 22 February, 2013). Even so, the 1947 Soviet-influenced festival was not the same as the pre-war performances. First generation Estonian-American Aavo Reinfeldt said that if he had to describe those first festivals “the words I would use would be gray, somber, unified sadness” (Reinfeldt, Aavo. Personal Interview by Authors. 29 June, 2013). As David Puderbaugh argued, the purpose of the festival from the Soviet perspective was to attain three main objectives. The Soviets wanted to create a sense of comfort in the wake of war and devastation, to celebrate the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany, and to show off the Soviet economic and societal advancements made in Estonia (Puderbaugh 2008, 35).

Though the 1947 festival was still shrouded in communist ideology, 28,000 people came to sing and another 100,000 filled the audience, the largest turnout in Estonian history. With the Soviets keeping a close watch on the repertoire, Estonians spent two days singing compulsory songs centered around socialist themes, such as the nobility of hard work and the glorifying of the deeds of Stalin, Marx, and Lenin. “It was better to continue our national events than not do it,” said Põld (Põld, Kai. Email Interview. 22 May, 2013). Accordingly, it was when Gustav Ernesaks took the stage that Estonia was exalted for the first time in years. Ernesaks led the choir in “Mu isamaa on minu arm,” a poem written by Koidula during the national awakening movement and a song that is considered the unofficial national anthem of Estonia. Put to a new arrangement, thousands of Estonians sang this song in their native tongue, expressing hope for the future of their homeland through the lyrics. The Estonians sang: Mu isamaa on minu arm // kell’ südant annud ma // sull’ laulan ma // mu ülem õnn // mu õitsev Eestimaa. This translates in English as: Land of my fathers, land that I love // I’ve given my heart to her // I sing to you // my supreme happiness // my flourishing Estonia! The song slipped past the Russian censors and the true message it conveyed was lost in translation.

Ernesaks is arguably the most famous conductor in song festival history, and an enormous statue of him graces the song festival grounds in Tallinn today. Perhaps not surprisingly, during the 1940s and 1950s, some Estonians looked upon Ernesaks with great suspicion, as a sort of Soviet traitor. Someone like Ernesaks would have been among the handful of Estonians permitted to travel throughout the Soviet Union, and his attempt at conducting Sovietthemed material proved problematic for his reputation at the time. “[He] was considered a collaborator,” Põld said, “But nobody told him that he was treated like a national hero, for he started [sic] continuing our song festival tradition” (Põld, Kai. Email Interview, May 22nd, 2013).1 The following year three conductors were declared “enemies of the people” and arrested. Ernesaks was able to escape arrest and possible deportation because of his high public profile in society, both among the Estonian people and Soviet dignitaries. Still, during the 1950s, the song was banned from the song festival and did not reemerge for a decade (Puderbough 2008, 41).

In 1960, as the Fifteenth Estonian song festival was winding to an end and people were filing out of the song festival grounds, following a repertoire that contained the customary Soviet songs, the opening lyrics of Mu isamaa on minu arm were heard quietly trickling through the audience. A tune that had not been heard publicly in over 10 years quickly picked up with vigor until thousands of Estonians were singing the song that had first struck a cord with the Estonian people in 1869 at the first song festival. The people knew what they wanted and were rebelling in the only way they knew how. One participant recalled: “Why people are still crying, singing ‘Mu isamaa on minu arm?’ Because having homeland is more important than having home. Losing it you can’t buy a new one” (Meigas, Leonardo. Email Interview. July 4, 2013). Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the song festivals continued, each with a mixture of Soviet and Estonian songs. But following the backlash over phosphate mining in 1987, Estonians began to organize more and more public protests centered around their singing culture. A prominent example is the June 4th, 1988 rally, where close to 100,000 people marched and sang songs, working their way from Old Town Tallinn, and weaving down the street toward the Song Festival grounds, about a four kilometer walk (Puderbaugh 2008, 41). Noted Meigas: “In 1988, spontaneous night festivals of young people singing old forbidden songs [fed] our belief and hope to live in our free homeland someday again” (Meigas, Leonardo. Survey Interview. February, 20, 2013). The song protest participants were a diverse lot, ranging from formal conductors, to noted Estonian rock stars like the late Alo Mattiisen. Without sacrificing one life or shedding an ounce of blood Estonia had managed to restore its independence peacefully. Though it would be an overstatement to suggest that song alone brought forth revolution, it is not hyperbole to remark that choral music in some ways saved Estonia. Most Estonians do not deny the importance of the song festival tradition during the Soviet period, nor the challenges it presented to communist authority. “In the Soviet period, under the Russification pressure it was the only legal public way to demonstrate mental and cultural togetherness of a small nation,” said Meigas (Meigas, Leonardo. Survey Interview. February 20, 2013). After the Soviets left and the Republic of Estonia was once again independent, some Estonians worried that the tradition would diminish in its breadth and significance, since there was no longer a direct cause to precipitate the act of engaging in song. “The one in 1990 [song festival], it was like everyone was convinced they would become free...it was a tremendous nationalistic movement,” said Truumaa. “And I thought, well now that everyone is free maybe not everybody is going to participate, oh no! It was raining on the parade, everybody was doing it anyway. We were sitting in the rain. Whenever it started raining everybody put their ponchos on... They said there were over 20,000 singers...” (Truumaa, Mari. Personal Interview by Authors. June 29, 2013).

Liina Steinberg, an Estonian veteran of six song festivals, believes the song festival tradition is “the most visible part of Estonian culture.” As she states: “...Estonian music can be enjoyed without knowing the Estonian language – so the song festivals provide everybody with a more tangible example of Estonian culture” (Steinberg, Liina. Survey Interview. February 22, 2013). Türk furthers the sentiment by saying that the song festivals give her “a feeling of being one of many – it is part of my cultural consciousness” (Türk, Eva. Survey Interview. February 22, 2013). This is important as even Estonians – admittedly so – are typically regarded as being a very reserved group of people. In this regard, Künnapuu said: “I think we don’t really appreciate each other that much and we rarely refer to those cultural ties in our everyday life. It seems to me we mostly come together and feel united when in trouble” (Künnapuu, Merit. Survey Interview. February 22, 2013).

Stories like Liina’s, Eva’s and Merit’s were told to the authors in numerous ways by numerous interviewees. One of the key themes that emerges from the authors’ interviews with these diverse individuals of Estonian heritage is the notion of music as a source of collective action, or more broadly, as a vehicle for bringing people together in common pursuits that transcend the songs themselves. It is important, though, to distill what is unique about the role that song played in fostering these larger pursuits in Estonia and for Estonians living outside of their native land. Such an understanding, it follows, will permit a thorough recognition of the sources underlying – and the after-effects of – forms of civic engagement across other cultures. To directly address these matters, the authors turn to a discussion that links the unique traits of Estonian song with existing literature that addresses the notion of “social capital.”

Singing, Engagement and Social Capital

What separates much of Estonian protest music from music in the rest of the world is the use of choruses as the primary framework for musical expression. While it is true that Estonian song festivals occasionally feature solo performances – Tõnis Mägi’s version of Koit is an excellent example – most of the music is structured around the choral traditions of the country. The most rudimentary (and perhaps most important) quality of a chorus is the amount of participation that it engenders. When respondents noted that 20,000 singers would sing all at once this was not an exaggeration. Including the audience, which would frequently join in, over 100,000 Estonians could sing in unison at a song festival. The group-dynamic of choral singing in the Estonian case also helps to make sense of the success and peacefulness of the revolution in the country.

To understand this idea, Robert Putnam’s books Making Democracy Work (1993) and Bowling Alone (2000) provide some insight. Putnam’s work on the concept of social capital was developed in these books, the first about civic engagement in Italy, and the second about declining civic engagement in the United States. Social capital – as he defines it – is “features of social organization, such as trust, norms and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions” (1993, 167). Putnam’s work set off a firestorm of debate in the political science community about the extent to which these social networks impacted politics, and whether increased social capital was, on balance, a healthy component of political communities. While the authors do not wish to delve too far into those debates, we do think the social capital literature has relevancy to this particular project on Estonian choral singing.

In this regard, Matthew Baggetta at the University of Indiana examined in detail the use of choirs as important social networks. In his study of Boston-area (USA) choirs, he argued that choral groups offered “opportunities to interact with others, experience [in] governance, and [connection] with community institutions” (Baggetta 2009, 194). Baggetta also touched upon two other important components of choir groups in his research. First, he noted that choirs create great opportunities for individuals to assert “organizational management,” as member-volunteers often are tasked with organizing and planning choral practices and events (2009, 187). “Choruses are relatively complex managerial undertakings,” Baggetta stated, “with substantial budgets, limited staff presence and significant amounts of volunteer labor” (2009, 189). Second, Baggetta highlighted the collaborative nature of the choral experience. Choirs frequently interact with other musicians (vocalists need instrumentalists, for example) and people of various ages and skillsets. Choirs also frequently perform in the community, connecting not only with other artists but also with people who hold only a passing interest in music (Baggetta 2009, 189).

Choirs in Estonia certainly provide the kind of networking and organizational components Baggetta observed in Boston-area choirs. Survey respondent Viivi Verrev stated that being part of choirs in preparation for a song festival “are great practice in organizing a major event on a tight budget” (Verrev, Viivi. Survey Response. February 25, 2013). Another interesting example of the organizational power of choral groups was relayed by Leonardo Meigas, an aforementioned singer: “Edgar Savisaar, the newly elected Prime Minister, managed to get a message on the radio saying ‘Toompea is under attack. I repeat, Toompea is under attack!’ I left my frightened and crying nine-month pregnant wife waiting at home and I rushed to Toompea, being really ready to meet a conflict. But when I got there, I saw a crowd of perplexed and downcast Russians already descending with their red flags...” Meigas explained that this event happened on a Tuesday, which has been a traditional rehearsal day for amateur choirs who practice in schools, theatres, and other venues with large recital halls. “That’s why many angry Estonian choirs quickly reacted,” Meigas clarified. “Nearly a thousand men got through in 15 minutes to Toompea to protect our newborn independence!” (Meigas, Leonardo. Email interview. July 31, 2013).

Singer Hanna-Liina Vosa, arguably one of the most popular performers in Estonia, got her start singing traditional songs in a song festival choir. While she has had a successful career in theatre, starring in many big name musicals such as Grease, My Fair Lady, and Les Miserables, and even having an audience with and performing for Queen Elizabeth II, she has not forgotten her roots, and performs in many Estonian festivals, most recently singing at the 2003 song festival and the 2009 Tallinn Days in Moscow. “It means a lot to people who are from smaller places in Estonia because they practice, they rehearse the songs all year and then they come together and it kind of expands, but they feel like they really give it their all,” said Vosa. “Because they feel like their voice counts even though there are 20,000 people singing” (Vosa, Hanna-Liina. Personal Interview with Authors. June 29, 2013). Respondent Kerstti Kittus agreed. She noted: “...Choir singing is an important part of social life outside of the big cities like Tallinn and Tartu” (Kittus, Kerstti. Survey Response. February 23, 2013).

As Künnapuu stated, the song festival is an event that has the power to bring everyone together, “[...] no matter the age, gender, economic background; it’s all about the love for the country and to feel that connection and sense of belonging” (Künnapuu, Merit. Email interview by authors. June 5, 2013). In the same breath, Eva-Tiina Põlluste, an Estonian veteran of nine song festivals, noted: “In my opinion Estonians are quite individualists, but sometimes you would like to feel that people around you are similar and thinks and likes the same. So that is what unites us on the song grounds and we can feel that we are the same nation and we breathe in same rhythm” (Põlluste, Eva-Tiina. Survey Interview. February 22, 2013).

Especially following the fall of the Soviet Union when Estonia was free to sing as she pleased, the people needed an event that was going to unite them again as a country and make them forget the evils they had faced to reach that point. As Reinfeldt stated:

Estonians’ spirit does come alive during song festivals because everything aside there is nothing to be afraid of. When you’re afraid you don’t want anyone to overhear what you’re saying. When you’re afraid you don’t want anyone to read your letters. But everyone knows how to sing. Everyone knows how to hold hands. Everybody knows what it means when your emotions sort of take over. And imagine the power of thousands not thinking of negative things, but positive (Reinfeldt, Aavo. Personal Interview by Authors. June 29, 2013).

Even those Estonians that moved abroad following independence have not lost their cultural roots, with many returning year after year for the song festival. Besides coming home every five years to sing for their country, those Estonians that have moved abroad often join choirs in other countries, like the European Choir of Estonians that was founded in 2007. One member, Mairis Minka, grew up during Soviet-era Estonia but currently lives in Luxembourg, where she was a part of a few different choirs before going back to her roots and joining an Estonian-based group. “I have been living in Luxembourg ten years and there was a period of my life where I was searching for some choirs but I didn’t match with these Luxembourg choirs,” said Minka. “I was singing there but I didn’t feel well there, it’s not at all the same singing Vivaldi, it doesn’t touch you” (Minka, Mairis. Personal Interview by Authors. June 29, 2013). “SILLER” is another choir that seeks to unite Estonians living abroad, translating in English to “a group of Estonians living in Finland.” Co-founder Maria Lume helped start this choir in 2006, because much like Minka in Luxembourg, no matter where they are, “singing is in the blood of all Estonians.” While this group is based in Helsinki, their objective has always been participation at the song festival in Estonia, which they “do not consider an obligation, but rather a privilege” (Lume, Maria. Email Interview. May 27, 2013).

What makes this Estonian tradition all the more unique is the staying power it had with the people. “In Estonia the folk dance and singing is not dying out, it’s getting more and more popular, while in other countries it’s not popular,” stated Tuuli Solom, a member of the Choir of European Estonians who grew up during Soviet-era Estonia, but now lives in Germany. “That’s the phenomenon in Estonia. Even though we do these traditional things we try to modernize it also, it will not stay in the old fashioned way” (Solom, Tuuli. Personal Interview by Authors. June 29, 2013). Upon gaining independence, some feared that the song festival would lose popularity, especially with the younger Estonians being a generation removed from the devastation of war and foreign occupation. As Trummaa said of the post-independence festivals: “And I thought, well now that everyone is free maybe not everybody is going to participate” (Truumaa, Mari. Personal Interview by Authors. June 29, 2013).

Once again, Estonians impressed their adversaries by capitalizing on their newfound independence. The song festivals were considered vital, and a way for the people to sustain their optimism for the future and to promote much needed nationalism among the smallest of the Baltic countries. As Solom emphasized, by modernizing the festival and composing new melodies and songs, such as Rahu (a pop song performed by the famous contemporary group Ruja) and Isamaa ilu hoieldes, (an upbeat rock song written by the late Mattiisen), the tradition has not been left stuck in the nineteenth century. “I think it’s delightful to see how eager the young generation is to perform and wear national costumes,” said Steinberg. “Some smaller cultures face the problem that the younger ones don’t want to carry on the cultural traditions of the nation.” This does not seem to be true, however, in the Estonian case.

Proof of this assertion lies in the story of Estonian orchestra conductor Jaan Ots, who was born in 1988, and is currently a rising star within the Estonia orchestral community. Too young to remember the major strife between Soviet Russia and Estonia, Ots feels the passion of the song festival every time he attends. “Music-making together, and so many people together, and good music and good emotions that unite people and this feeling that you get... It’s such an international feeling, it’s not only about Estonians. If you can create a good energy with singing and making music, that’s the most important thing I think” (Ots, Jaan. Personal Interview with Authors. June 29, 2013). “I am not worried about the younger generation,” added Künnapuu. “Maybe 100 years from now [the] song festival will be just another social event but right now it is so much more” (Künnapuu, Merit. Email Interview. June 5, 2013).

For now, the song festival is not diminishing in value or representation. “Knowing the historical, political and cultural meaning of these festivals to Estonians and taking into account that during such a festival about ten per cent of our nation is present,” said Steinberg, “you feel and see history in making.” (Steinberg, Liina. Email Interview. June 5, 2013). An Estonian respondent named Maria, who asked for her last name to be withheld, is a veteran of six festivals. She believes the song festival still helps the people unite in a very special way, and said: “There is a hint of nostalgia in song festivals when singing songs had a political impact, but there’s also a lot of joy and it seems that song festivals help people believe in a better tomorrow (Maria. Survey Interview. March 12, 2013). Added Ots: “There is a kind of atmosphere that you cannot find anywhere else. Maybe you can but it isn’t in any way special (Ots, Jaan. Personal Interview by Authors. June 29, 2013).

Künnapuu best summarized the significance of the song festival and choral singing for Estonians both near and far:

These days a lot of people go abroad to work, study or just have an adventure. And many stay abroad. But our song festival is something that always brings people back. No matter the age, gender, economic background; it’s all about the love for the country and to feel that connection and sense of belonging. There are always a lot of expatriate Estonians going to song festivals who emigrated during the cold war. Their life is not in Estonia anymore but I think every Estonian is at least a little bit of a nationalist at heart. And with a population of 1.3 million we need that something that will always bring us together. (Künnapuu, Merit. Email Interview. June 5, 2013).


Estonia is not the first country to use song as a form of political and social protest.2 For example, in her study of the French Revolution, Laura Mason uncovered how a revolutionary song culture was a critical piece of understanding that period of French history. As she noted about Paris at that time: “It was a city that encompassed a cacophony of voices as revolutionaries and royalists filled streets... giving speeches, rioting and throughout all, singing” (1996, 2). The same was true in Cuba in the 1950s, as Fulgencio Batista’s army clashed with the bourgeoning communist movement led by Fidel Castro. All the while, however, Cuban music exploded in popularity both at home and abroad. “Batista’s final years in power are thus associated simultaneously with pleasure and political repression, hedonism and terror” (Moore 2006, 27). Cuba is a particularly interesting case as artists both hailed the coming revolution with songs such as “En eso llego Fidel” (That’s When Fidel Arrived), but also grew to be critical of the restrictions placed upon them, opting for exile rather than for censorship (Moore 2006, 60–67).

Dozens of other examples also could be mentioned, including the folk and rock protests of American music in the 1960s or the recent punk protests of a band like Russia’s Pussy Riot. Music is a wonderful medium for rallying people to engage in activities in which they might not otherwise partake. Valerie Samson’s study of music during the Tiananmen Square protest represents a case in point. “[...] Music was a significant factor in politically arousing protestors to such a degree that they increasingly engaged in risky behavior,” Samson wrote. She also noted that music “enhanced [...] audience participation. [T]hese performances were auditory realization of the abstract concept of democracy” (Samson 2012, 518, 527).

Of course, not all politically-charged protest music is necessarily uplifting or constitutive to healthy communities or democratic practices. This is certainly true of the plethora of neo-Nazi bands in places like the United States, Germany and England. Consider the Croatian band called Thompson. While their music and lead singer Marko Percović Thompson are widely popular on Croatian radio, he has been accused of glorifying the Ustaše, Croatian soldiers that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II (Muršič 2012, 191). The popularity of his music coupled with on-going political and religious tensions in that area, demonstrates how song also can rally communities in very divergent directions.

The Estonian case is special because the music was, as one might infer from the interviews discussed herein, almost exclusively uplifting. It was also inclusive of many participants from different walks of life, a hallmark of what Putnam defines as “bridging” social capital (Putnam 2000, 22–24). More specifically, the songs united people around themes that were universal, like nature, or even the honey bee. For example, the classic song festival tune Ta lendab mesipuu poole roughly translates to “He flies toward the beehive,” and is a song about the return of bees to the hive. Some bees are lost along the way, but others have returned home. The subtext is obvious to an Estonian, but the theme of returning home is a universal one.

To draw a quick illustration in closing: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song Fortunate Son is an appropriate example of 1960s protest music that emerged in the United States around the time of the Vietnam War. The song details how many fortunate sons were able to avoid serving in Vietnam by being well-connected, or having wealthy fathers, while thousands of lower – and middle-class people were sent overseas. The song was direct, blunt, and for many, divisive and scandalous. While it would be a mistake to assume that everyone in Estonia unites around the themes of the song festival – ethnic Russians living in Estonia have their antipathies, for example – the content and melodies of the songs are designed to bring everyone together, and during the independence period from 1987–1991, this was true for many. After countless emails, conversations, interviews and surveys conducted by the authors, the primary realization of this research is not only that Estonians love to sing, but also that, for many, the act of singing represented a central organizing force in their lives. And thus, singing is a critical part of understanding the evolution of Estonian independence.


Joseph M. Ellis. An Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wingate University in Wingate, NC (USA). His research interests are in comparative politics and post-communist transitions, specifically in the former Soviet Union. He has written extensively on the Baltic States and flat taxes, and more recently, on counter-intuitive forms of social capital, such as pick-up soccer and choral groups. He received his BA from Winthrop University (USA) and his MA and Ph.D from Temple University (USA). He would like to thank the Wingate Summer Research Grant fund for supporting this work and Hemant Sharma, Ph.D at the University of Tennessee, for his editorial advice.

Keeley Wood. An undergraduate student at Wingate University majoring in Communications. A native of Sanford, NC (USA), she was awarded a Summer Research Grant from Wingate to conduct research on Estonian song festivals. In addition to her academic prowess, Wood is a three-time All-Conference and a two-time All-Region performer in cross-country. She is also a Capital One Academic All-District athlete.



1 This has some parallels to the story of the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the preeminent composers of 20th century and someone who played on both sides of the ideological divide. On the one hand, Shostakovich was a favorite composer and propagandist of Stalin and the Soviet government; on the other hand, his music had a sub-text that went deeper than the surface level, and even was critical of Soviet form. “To Shostakovich, music was the true language of multiplicity, which always expressed the truth, never lied, yet was always subject to interpretation,” wrote Jennifer Gertsel. “With music he felt he was able to say everything and admit nothing” (Gertsel 2012, 156).

2 Estonia’s neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania, have very proud and storied singing festivals and choral traditions also. Though the focus of this paper was only on Estonia, a number of works have addressed the importance of song in the lives of Latvians and Lithuanians. See Janis Chakars (2010) “Work Life in the ‘Singing Revolution’”, John Ginkel’s “Identity Construction in Latvia’s ‘Singing Revolution’”, and Guntis Šmidchens (2013) The Power of Song, which compares Estonia’s, Latvia’s and Lithuania’s singing cultures.

List of References

Books and articles

Brokaw, Alan J. and Marianna Brokaw (2008) “Identity Marketing and the Case of the Singing Revolution,” Journal of Nonprofit and Public Sector Marketing 8(4), pp. 17–29.

Gertsel, Jennifer (2012) “Irony, Deception and Political Culture in the Works of Dmitri Shostakovich,” in Ian Peddie (ed.) Music and Protest (London, UK: Ashgate Publishing), pp. 154–156

Kasekamp, Andres (2010) The History of the Baltic States (London, UK: Palgrave MacMillan), pp. 160–167.

Lieven, Anatol (1994) The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence. (New Haven: Yale University Press), pp. 82–220

MacFarquhar, Neil (2011) “In Protests, Syrians Find the Spark of Creativity,” The New York Times, December 19, p. A10.

Mason, Laura (1996) Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787–1799. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), pp. 2–17.

Mertelsmann, Olaf and Aigi Rahi-Tamm (2009) “Soviet Mass Violence in Estonia Revisted,” Journal of Genocide Research 11(2–3), pp. 307–322.

Moore, Robin D (2006) Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press), pp. 27–67.

Muršič, Rajko (2012) “Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Encounters with Popular Music and Human Rights,” in Ian Peddie (ed.) Music and Protest (London, UK: Ashgate Publishing), pp.191–212

Puderbaugh, John (2008) “How Choral Music Saved a Nation: The 1947 Estonian National Song Festival and the Song Festivals of Estonia’s Soviet Occupation,” Choral Journal October edition, pp. 29–43.

Putnam, Robert (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster), pp. 22–24

Putnam, Robert (1993) Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), pp. 167

Raun, Toivo (2001) Estonia and the Estonians. (Palo Alto, CA: Hoover Institute Press).

Samson, Valerie (2012) “Music as Protest Strategy: The Example of Tiananmen Square, 1989,” in Ian Peddie (ed.) Music and Protest (London, UK: Ashgate Publishing), pp. 518–527.

Sillaste, Kyllike (1995) “Conquest and Survival: An Outline of Estonian History,” World Affairs 157(3), pp. 119–123.

Smith, David (1999) “The Restorationist Principle in Post Communist Estonia,” in Christopher Williams and Thanasis Sfikas (eds) Ethnicity and Nationalism in Russia, the CIS and the Baltic States (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Press), pp. 287–321.

Thompson, Clare (1992) The Singing Revolution: A Political Journey Through the Baltic States (London, UK: Michael Joseph), pp. 7–15.

Vesilind, Priit (2008) The Singing Revolution: How Culture Saved a Nation. (Tallinn, Estonia: Varrak Publishers), pp. 32, 148


  • Anonymous, “Maria,” Survey response to Authors, 12 March, 2013.
  • Kittus, Kerstii , Survey response to Authors, 23 Feburary, 2013.
  • Künnapuu, Merit , Email message to Authors, 5 June, 2013.
  • Künnapuu, Merit , Survey response to Authors, 22 February, 2013.
  • Lume, Maria , Email message to Authors, 27 May, 2013.
  • Meigas, Leonardo , Email message to Authors, 4 July, 2013.
  • Meigas, Leonardo , Email message to Authors, 31 July, 2013.
  • Meigas, Leonardo , Survey response to Authors, 20 February, 2013.
  • Minka, Mairis , Personal interview with Authors, 29 June, 2013.
  • Ots, Jaan , Personal interview with Authors, 29 June, 2013.
  • Pold, Kai , Email message to Authors, 22 May, 2013.
  • Polluste , Eva-Tiina, Survey response to Authors, 22 February, 2013.
  • Reinfeldt , Aavo. Personal interview with Authors, 29 June, 2013.
  • Solom, Tuuli . Personal interview with Authors, 29 June, 2013.
  • Steinberg, Liina , Email message to Authors, 5 June, 2013.
  • Steinberg, Liina , Survey response to Authors, 22 February, 2013.
  • Truumaa, Mari , Personal interview with Authors, 29 June, 2013.
  • Turk, Eva , Survey response to Authors, 22 February, 2013.
  • Vallerind, Kertu , Email message to Authors, 7 June, 2013.
  • Verrev, Viivi , Survey response to Authors, 25 February, 2013.
  • Vosa, Hanna-Liina , Personal interview with Authors, 29 June, 2013.

    This article has been published in the third issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the consequences and commemorations of 1989 in Central Europe.

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

Weronika Kann

Sound in the Silence project: Teaching method

03 September 2017
  • education

The twentieth-century history of Europe was marked by two world wars and two totalitarianisms, national socialism and communism. To pursue their objectives, these two systems - despite their ideological differences - were making use of similar means, i.e. violence and terror, incarnated as concentration and forced labour camps. (…) Apart from being a unique kind of cemeteries, museums set up on the grounds of former death and concentration camps have also become monuments to the past, commemorating victims to regimes. It was there that a new area of educational activity, unknown before, was born in a natural way: memorial site pedagogy.
Luiza Kończyk, Pedagogika (miejsc) pamięci, 2012[1]

1. Introduction

Sound in the Silence is an international interdisciplinary educational project delivered by the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity (ENRS) in cooperation with the cultural centre MOTTE from Hamburg. Its main goal is to make adolescents attending upper secondary schools familiar with some difficult aspects of Europe’s past in a way that matches their emotional sensitivity. Guided by artists and educators, the participants visit memorial sites where they explore selected events from the history of totalitarianisms in East-Central Europe. Then, referring to their own emotions and experience, they process the newly acquired knowledge during art workshops of several days. Their work finds its culmination in a public performance which combines various genres of art: dance, theatre, music and stage setting. Emotions and feelings related to visits at memorial sites – particularly those marked with violence and pain, giving rise to emotions sometimes hard to express in words – become thus externalised in an artistic message.

2. Teaching method

The place where young learners come into contact with history for the first time, the school does not always offer conditions conducive to understanding the past. Sound in the Silence is intended to fill that gap, facilitating international, interdisciplinary cooperation between schools and external experts and artists representing various disciplines. Offering young people an opportunity to directly experience memorial sites and interact with others who have different experiences, the projects stimulates sensitivity, curiosity and tolerance. Learning in an international environment, coupled with integration and dialogue of youth from different countries and marked by twentieth-century history in different ways, will help them better understand the past and broaden their horizons.

The educational process proposed by the project includes two parts: one based on learning and history and one based on arts. During the first part, the young participants are guided around a selected memorial site, a concentration or forced labour camp. They learn about its history as well individual fates of its inmates, which facilitates stepping in their shoes and thus a more in-depth understanding of the past[2]. Then the participants attend an interactive lecture and discussion staged by scientific coordinators. The lecture aims at presenting a broader historical context as well as systematising and consolidating their existing knowledge (accounting for school syllabus differences in individual countries); the discussion, in turn, provides a space for asking questions, exploration and comprehension.

The other part is art workshops of around a week, during which the final performance is prepared as a team effort. They are delivered by means of an exposing teaching method intended to activate the student’s whole personality, both intellect and emotions. The method consists in simulating situations and role-play using words, gestures, movement and sometimes props[3]. The point is not theatre, however, as the final performance is not based on a ready-made text but is an open structure where new content, actions and interpretations can be inserted. Consequently, playing a specific role requires personal engagement on the part of the student. The method allows for the emotional experience of specific problems, looking for one’s own solutions as well as making choices. It also accelerates the students’ emotional, intellectual and social growing up. It additionally teaches them understanding themselves and others at the level of feelings and emotions.

3. Project measures

Project work begins long before going to the memorial site and comprises the following stages:

3.1. Project site selection: project coordinators select a site as the axis of a given edition of the project. They also select and describe a leitmotif, closely linked to the history of the site, which helps define activities to be performed more precisely. Then materials for the students and teachers are prepared, with the subjects contained therein to be explored more in-depth and supplemented with new aspects during the historical workshop. The coordinators remain in close cooperation with the institution or museum in charge of a given memorial site.

3.2. Recruitment: it targets teachers and schools, lasts two months and is executed by means of online applications. Each year, students and teachers participating in the project are recruited by a selection team comprising ENRS and MOTTE staff. Four upper secondary schools from EU member states may select seven students and a teacher to spend eight days at a selected memorial site. The following aspects are subject to evaluation during the recruitment process: motivation (the selection team will assess the convergence between the project objectives and the teacher’s interests, expectations and personal development plans); project recruitment modalities (the way in which the teacher/school selects seven young project participants as well as the teacher’s approach to the project’s interdisciplinary nature); experience in the delivery of interdisciplinary projects (outside the school syllabus) and the knowledge of English (with the teachers and students obliged to declare it to be at least at the B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages standard of the Council of Europe).
The project assumes that the teacher and the students he/she selects take part in all activities planned by the organisers, with the teachers not involved in work during individual workshops and playing mainly the roles of guardians and aides.

3.3. A trip to the memorial site: the formula – that of a momentary break from daily duties and routines – facilitates the creation of a safe space for discussion, becoming familiar with different point of views and consciously working out new perspectives. As a result, visits at memorial sites serve not just to help improve one’s knowledge of history but also as a starting point for juxtaposing various opinions in a way accessible to adolescents.

3.4. Visiting the memorial site and an educational workshop: the basic objective of the substantive workshop is to make the participants familiar as to the location where the project is delivered as well as discuss selected topics from the history of totalitarianisms in East-Central Europe. The knowledge acquired in the early days of the visit will also help the participants better prepare their final performance.

3.5. Groupwork with artists: one of the project objectives is to develop new outside-the-box ways to deal with history, based, on the one hand, on the participants’ individual involvement and dialogue, and openness on the other. Hence the idea for combining visits at memorial sites with art workshops as well inviting youth, artists, experts in memory and educators from different countries and with different experience and knowledge of history to work together. The work is executed in several workshop groups, each led by a different artist. During the first workshop day, after each leader has presented their approach, the students select the genre of art that suits them best.

3.6. Final performance: the last day and a half of the project serves to combine the ideas of all groups into a coherent whole and rehearse the final performance which is then presented to the public. Emotions and feelings related to visits at memorial sites – particularly those marked with violence and pain, giving rise to emotions sometimes hard to express in words – become externalised in an artistic message.

4. Learning through arts

The combination of two apparently contradictory domains as learning and arts may be seen, encourages young people to come into contact with history and points a way towards expressing one’s views personally and critically. Using one’s intellect, emotions, imagination and senses for learning purposes facilitates looking at the past from various angles and perspectives of many parties to the very same conflict. The formula of Sound in the Silence offers both students and teachers alike the possibility to move away from traditional history teaching routines giving a voice to witnesses to past events. The project has been conceived of as basic ground preparation work, aimed at counteracting exclusion, preventing nationalist attitudes, sensitising the participants to challenges faced by the modern world as well as promoting such terms a empathy, tolerance or dialogue.

The project focuses on individualised and multidimensional experience of the past. During the workshops, the students are encouraged to critically analyse the history presented. Dates and facts are contextualised with the experiences and feelings of those who lived past events coming to the fore. This is the point of visiting memorial sites, reading witnesses’ accounts or watching feature films and documentaries. Additionally, each student is given an opportunity to select a workshop related to the type of art most suited to their sensitivity. The artists are mentors, showing various ways to interpret historical events by means of arts. They are also there to help the participants work through and understand the most difficult topics, for which there is often no time available at school. Such an interdisciplinary and multidimensional approach to complex history facilitates reflection made more in-depth by one’s own emotions and understanding of both the past and presence. Use of forms and means to which contemporary youth can relate helps them find the importance of historical events for the modern-day world. As a participant of the previous edition put it: “I have never felt so connected to history before and would never have by just looking at a picture”[4].

Facing the history of the project site in emotional terms requires ensuring a common, safe space for dialogue for participants of various ages, characters and maturity levels. Thanks to re-defining certain educational methods, Sound in the Silence is a good solution for students who find it difficult to understand the timeless universality of historical messages. The artistic techniques applied as well as direct contact with memorial sites make the process of knowledge acquisition and analysis more accessible. They also facilitate personal engagement on the part of the participants and showing links between the past and their present-day lives.

One of the key challenges as regards the delivery of Sound in the Silence is transmission of expert historical knowledge to persons of various nationalities in a language other than their native one. The coordinators communicate with the adolescent participants in English, which may hamper the understanding of specialist historical terms. Should comprehension problems appear, the participants should contact the project coordinators or their guardians.

An additional difficulty as regards working with adolescents from various countries is varied levels of knowledge of the history of the site and region visited as well as differences in their knowledge of twentieth-century European history. That is why cooperation begins long before the project implementation stage. The coordinators meet representatives of the schools or hold consultations with them over Skype. They offer them materials prepared for the young participants serving to minimise such discrepancies. From the very start, the project is consulted with school teachers, head teachers as well as artistic and substantive coordinators. The point is to define the goals and objectives of the project precisely and communicate them to all the interested parties so that misunderstandings and tensions could be avoided.

Each edition of the project is assessed by all the persons involved in it: artists, teachers and students and then subject to detailed evaluation by a team from the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity. The conclusions are used while planning is being done for successive editions of the project.

5. Summary

The idea behind Sound in the Silence is multi-track historical education delivered both at memorial sites and art workshops as well as integration and exchange of experiences between peers from various countries. Sound in the Silence makes us aware that new forms of historical education make it possible to combine individual engagement with exploring the past together. One’s own experience and sensitivity as well as understanding of views characteristic of individual countries allow for changing one’s own personal perspective and mutual contact regardless of where the participants hail from. Learning history through arts and expressing it through emotions makes it easier for adolescents to understand history and the world around them.

6. Organisers

6.1. European Network Remembrance and Solidarity
The European Network Remembrance and Solidarity is an international initiative established pursuant to the Declaration of 2 February 2005 by ministers of culture (or their equivalents) from four countries: Poland, Germany, Slovakia and Hungary. Back then, they acknowledged the need to hold a dialogue about twentieth-century history as well as engage in joint research, documentation and dissemination of most recent European history marked by wars and totalitarian dictatorships. In 2009, the intention to establish the ENRS expressed in the Declaration was repeated in letters of intent signed by the ministers of culture of Germany, Poland and Hungary. In May 2014, an annex was added to the Declaration as another country, Romania, joined the Network. The ENRS was set up as an entity active in the area of remembrance policy, an ambitious attempt at shaping international discourse about the history and memory of Europeans. An important factor that defines the nature of the initiative is the fact that there are constantly differences to be faced present at several levels of cooperation:
• level of the substance the Network deals with: various historical narratives specific to each member country;
• level of structure: various organisational or institutional solutions specific to the remembrance policy systems in the member countries;
• level of culture: different ways and experiences related to commemoration, different means of communication or interpretation of specific phenomena.

The current members of the Network are Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, while representatives of also Austria, the Czech Republic and Latvia serve on its advisory assemblies. Since the establishment of the ENRS Secretariat, i.e. 2005, the Network has delivered around 100 initiatives varied in terms of nature, theme and scope. Some of them have become flagship ENRS projects and are delivered in successive editions now.

6.2. Cultural Centre MOTTE
Established in 1976, MOTTE is a municipal centre of culture in Altona, a formerly working class district of Hamburg. From the very beginning, its main objective has been supporting its local, ethnically diverse, community through cultural education, promotion of media knowledge as well as development of vocational and social competences. The dynamics of the centre’s operation is based on cooperation with diverse institutions, i.e. schools, cultural centres, libraries as well as culture animators, journalists or artists.

Projects delivered by MOTTE target almost all age and social groups. Apart from a crèche and community centre for youngest children, the organisation offers many free programmes for adolescents aged 12 and above. Its activities cover such fields as remedial classes and advice in vocational development planning, games and cuisine workshops, or workshops for girls or persons with disabilities. Initiatives are also offered supporting schoolchildren in improving their vocational competencies in cooperation with local schools. Children aged 6-12 can benefit from a project at the intersection of black light theatre, musical play and film, where the participants learn to create their own radio broadcasts and develop their creativity. MOTTE is also planning to soon expand its operations and offer projects focusing on senior citizens.

Text has been written based on relevant literature on the subject:

Auschwitz i Holokaust : dylematy i wyzwania polskiej edukacji, edited by: Piotr Trojański, Oświęcim: Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau, 2008, s. 397.
Michael Gray, Teaching the Holocaust: Practical Approaches for Ages 11–18, Routledge, New York, 2015
Grunewald, D., A., (2003). The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place, Educational Researcher 4 (32), s. 3-12.
Grzegorz Żuk, Edukacja w miejscach pamięci – od reliktu do refleksji, [in:] Pamięć jako kategoria rzeczywistości kulturowej, red. Jan Adamowski i Marta Wójcicka, Lublin 2012
James Woodcock, History, music and law: commemorative cross-curricularity, https://www.holocausteducation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Teaching-History-2013.pdf, (accessed on 5 May 2017)
Knapp, C., L., Woodhouse, J., L., Place – Based Curriculum and Instruction: Outdoor and Environmental Education Approaches, http://www.ericdigests.org/2001-3/place.htm, (accessed on 5 May 2017)
Luiza Kończyk, Pedagogika (miejsc) pamięci, 2012, http://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/element/bwmeta1.element.desklight-1efca15a-a273-4533-aaa4-d482a723326b/c/11.pdf (accessed on 5 May 2017)
N.H. Weber, H.-F. Rathenow, Pedagogika miejsc pamięci – próba bilansu, „Kwartalnik Pedagogiczny” 1996, nr 2, s. 3–36; I. Scheurich, NS-Gedenkstätten als Orte kritischer historisch-politischer Bildung, w: B. Th imm, G. Kößler, S. Ulrich (Hrsg.), Verunsichernde Orte. Selbstverständnis und Weiterbildung in der Gedenkstättenpädagogik, Frankfurt a. M. 2010, s. 38–44.
Victoria Nesfield, Keeping Holocaust education relevant in a changing landscape: seventy years on, University of Leeds, UK, 2015.
Theodor W. Adorno, Education After Auschwitz, http://paep.ca/doc/CIYL%20-%20Theodor%20Adorno%20-%20Education%20after%20Auschwitz.pdf, (accessed on 5 May 2017)
Wincenty Okoń, Wprowadzenie do dydaktyki ogólnej, Warsaw, 1998
Wizyty edukacyjne w Państwowym Muzeum na Majdanku Poradnik dla nauczycieli, edited by: Tomasz Kranz, Lublin, 2012


1 Luiza Kończyk, Pedagogika (miejsc) pamięci, 2012, http://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/element/bwmeta1.element.desklight-1efca15a-a273-4533-aaa4-d482a723326b/c/11.pdf (accessed on 5 May 2017)

2 Grzegorz Żuk, Edukacja w miejscach pamięci – od reliktu do refleksji, [in:] Pamięć jako kategoria rzeczywistości kulturowej, red. Jan Adamowski i Marta Wójcicka, Lublin 2012, p. 237–244

3 Wincenty Okoń, Wprowadzenie do dydaktyki ogólnej, Warsaw, 1998

4 Mereike Fischer

The story behind the picture

24 August 2017
  • Memory
  • 20th century history
  • borders

The "In Between?" project is about stories and history, but it is also about pictures. During each study visit, the participants scan archival documents, take hunderds of photos, and record video images in order to capture the wider context of the accounts which are shared with them. In order to emphasize this dimension of the project, each event organised in connection to the "In Between?" has a separate visual identification based on one of the pictures collected by the participants.

This time, for the seminar in Berlin in 2017, it is a photograph from the archives of Ms. Maria Gavra from the Hungarian-Romanian borderland. Here is its story:

"Regarding the picture, I can only give you an approximate date on which it was taken, but I can describe the historical context in more detail.

Firstly, the characters: on the right, with a lighter coloured hat, is my maternal grandfather, with my grandmother besides him. My grandfather's name was Radosav Mircu - born in 1907, in Bătania, to a Serbian father and a Romanian mother, having moved to Romania after the border changes - and my grandmother's: Radosav Maria - maiden name Păștean, born in Curtici, in 1910, into a Romanian family. Next to them there are their friends, Lungu Ivan - half Serbian, half Romanian - and his Romanian wife, Lungu Valeria, born in Pecica.

The picture was taken in Turnu, a village [in Romania] close to the border with Hungary, approximately one or two years after the end of the Second World War. Those were still rough times, with many shortages. Almost all the people who lived in the village were poor. The situation was the same across the border, in Hungary, but there they were lacking in salt, which one could find in Romania. However, it couldn't be transported legally across the border, so my grandfather, together with his friend Ivan, decided to start to sell salt on the black market.

There was a connection in this regard, as my grandfather, who was born and spent his childhood in Bătania (Battonya in Hungarian), knew enough people in that village, especially since he had an uncle there, Soldan Traian, with whom he had very close relations. In 1907, the year when my grandfather was born, the village Bătania (Battonya), in which many Romanians and Serbs lived, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the border changes at the end of the First World War, my grandfather moved to the neighbouring village, Turnu, which had become by then a part of Romania. While there are only 6 kilometres between Bătania and Turnu, they have been separated by the border ever since.

Smuggling was very difficult, not only due to the risk of being caught, but also because carrying the salt on one's back was physically very demanding. They had to cross the border during the night, through the fields, not on the road, and when it rained, they could barely take their feet out of the mud. In the beginning, they were joined by a brother of my grandfather, also from Turnu, but he gave up quickly when he realised how difficult it was. Even I have memories from my childhood of my uncle telling the family: "I stopped going, I didn't do anything to deserve being put through this!"

At some point, my grandfather and his friend Ivan were caught and taken to the soldiers' picket of Turnu, and then they were taken back to Arad, to prison, for a short period of time (I can't tell you exactly for how long).

This picture was taken when the two of them came back from prison and were not sure what the future held in store for them. Many times peasants would take pictures of themselves in critical moments of their lives like disease, prison, when they didn't know if they would make it."

- from an account of Ms. Maria Gavra, born in 1957 in Turnu, currently teaching Romanian Language and Culture at University of Szeged.

Collected by: Anna Alexandrov, Laura Boglárka Bóka, Ana-Maria Despoiu, Šarūnas Rinkevičius, Diana Takácsova, Gabriel Vivas
Translation: Cătălina Vrabie

Ksenia Wilaszek

What can we learn from visits to "well-known" places?

24 August 2017
  • Memory
  • 20th century history
  • borders

Ksenia Wilaszek recalls her experience from the 1st edition of the "In Between?" project.

When I decided to take part in the “In Between?” project I hadn’t expected to see so many new things and experience such wonderful moments. After all, I have been living in Lubusz Land – the area which we have visited – for six years by now. But to understand the region’s phenomenon properly, one needs to explore its diverse history.

Throughout the ages, Lubusz land belonged to various countries and members of many different nations lived here. One of the most crucial phases in the history of this area was the second half of the 20th century when, as a result of post-Second World War arrangements, Lubusz land became a borderland and the furthest western area of Poland. That was the time of a great population exchange which resulted in a mosaic of cultures, religions and ethnicities that we can observe in this region till this day.

During the “In Between?” project I explored Lubusz land with: Anna Anastasiia Zubko (Ukraine), Mariya Vasylyeva (Ukraine), Karen Nikiforov (Ukraine), Christoph Jakubowsky (Germany) and Kinga Czechowska (Poland). Igor Kalina (European Network Remembrance and Solidarity) and PhD Dorota Bazuń (Zielonogórski University) were our coordinators and guides. Thanks to them we were able to spend a whole week experiencing the uniqueness of the region. During those 7 days we carried out interviews with the Locals – citizens of the post Nazi Germany declaring Polish origins – and Bukovina inhabitants, mainly Poles who migrated to Lubusz land as a result of repatriation. We also talked to the inhabitants of “the other bank of the Bug river”: Ukrainians, Romanies and Greeks. Each of these people and their families shared their life story with us, giving us a glimpse at the tremendous history of the region.

What have I learned from visiting these places that I thought I knew so well? First and foremost, that it is possible to lead a beautiful life and cultivate our tradition, culture and religion along with people of different beliefs and history. I also learned more about the problems faced by the inhabitants of Lubusz land, where people differ from each other so much. Some of them were coerced to leave their homes and settle down on a new, foreign land. This couldn’t be carried out without any conflicts or misunderstandings caused by religious, social and linguistic differences. All in all, I admire the strength of those people who – despite these difficulties – managed to succeed in life. They have become a respected community and they can be proud of the place they live in.

Another lesson coming from communing with so many incredible people is how to love and call a place home, even when it has been assigned to us without our permission. Lubusz land isn’t a land of milk and honey for everyone. Many of its inhabitants still miss their first home. Talking about times before they came to these western lands evokes nostalgia in them. However, all the interviewees underlined that Lubusz land was their home now. Here they had spent most of their lives. Sooner or later each of them came to terms with their new situation and found themselves in this reality.

There is also a second group of people living here known as the Locals. They have been in this area for ages. Their lives and environments have undergone a huge transition, even though they haven’t moved anywhere. Their neighbourhood changed as new people arrived bringing their individual views of the world and their culture along with them. It’s been quite a challenge for the Locals to meet their new neighbours halfway and adjust to living in an inhomogeneous community. Therefore, what we can all learn from the local inhabitants is how to cultivate one’s traditions and customs while learning and applying new, foreign ones at the same time; how to build new and common relations on the basis of very different histories; and, last but not least, how to forgive and ask for forgiveness. I believe that all the stories we had the chance to hear during our visit in Lubusz land show that we mustn’t forget about our roots. At the same time, we need to learn tolerance and openness, and when to compromise and back away.

One of our interviewees said: “Everyone tells their story; all the stories are very similar and yet each is unique. Things are sad because every moment, every year, about thirty people (a moment of silence) pass away... We’re passing away… We are the last generation which can tell you how it used to be in those days, and soon we will be gone too.”

This is why the most important lesson for me coming from the “In Between?” project is that we have to care for memories and pass them on to the next generations. The stories of our interviewees included variety of moments: from hard and even traumatic ones to those which were optimistic and heartwarming. All of them will stay in our minds for long, and hopefully, thanks to programmes such as the “In Between?” project, other people will get a chance to hear them as well.

Joanna Urbańska

First Impressions. In Between? in Bukovina

24 August 2017
  • Memory
  • 20th century history
  • borders

”Thoughts on how my grandfather visited Ukraine 28 years before I did.” Joanna Urbańska, one of the In Between? participants, compares her experiences from Bukovina with those of her grandfather.

My grandfather had been a teacher and as such he went on a trip to Ukraine with a group of teenage boys. For him this was not holiday time. Being responsible for these children doubled the pressure that came with his first time being so far away from home and family. Moreover, the trip took place in August 1988, a year before the Polish transformation. His wife says: “These were the times of communism. And these riots...! Do you know how nervous I was here with children while he was, you know... And here there were riots all the time. If they would come back or not... When they were leaving, there weren't any riots, they began later here!” My grandfather and his group stayed in a pioneer camp in the woods near Kharkiv and their interactions with local inhabitants were limited. In fact, he states that: “There, you understand, I think it was forbidden to leave the camp. And we would sneak out through a hole in the fence..."

My encounter with Ukraine was very different, but in some ways also similar. The aim of our “In Between?” study visit in Bukovina was to carry out ethnographic research and for that contact with the local people was necessary. We had many more opportunities for such interactions, due to the mere fact of staying in a hotel situated almost at the heart of Chernivtsi. Even though I visited Western Ukraine, many people expressed their concerns, alarmed by the on-going Ukrainian-Russian war. My grandfather went on his trip during an unsteady time for Poland and I went on mine when the situation became rough for Ukraine. Both of us also experienced a language barrier, but he dealt with it a lot easier, having studied Russian at school.

What my grandfather probably remembered the most about his visit was the train ride itself. In a postcard that he sent from Moscow he wrote: “When I'm writing this letter we've already been travelling for 36 hours. I don't know how much is still ahead of us”. In the end their journey lasted 52 hours and included a whole day of waiting for the train from Moscow to Kharkiv. Their ride back followed the exact same route and took just as much time. I cannot compare these experiences to my own, but what I want to focus on is border crossing. When asked about the border, my grandfather recalls: “At that time it was all Russia. Everything was Russia. The Russians were ruling it all. Only afterwards, 10 or 15 years ago, did it fall into pieces…” Nevetheless, I can easily relate to his stories about border crossing, even though he was referring to the former Polish-USSR border. A man he met on the train told him: "They [the officers] have even taken my socks off, but I haven't washed [my feet] in a long time, so, whatever...". The story continued, in my grandfather’s own words: “They searched him everywhere. But when it came to us, they only asked us questions. In the past they used to control everyone very thoroughly, they searched everything. It wasn't appropriate for them to do that to the youngsters. They asked me what I had. I said: this and this. They searched us in no time and they were gone." When I was crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border I felt the situation was somewhat similar. I, being a Polish citizen, received smiles and polite questions from the officers. In the meantime, my fellow travellers with Ukrainian passports were treated rudely and their possessions were double-checked.

My grandfather tends not to differentiate between Russians and Ukrainians, he even uses the terms interchangeably. He speaks as if he was under the impression that the Soviet Union was in fact populated by Soviet people (though he strongly emphasizes the differences between them and the Poles). “One time they [the pioneers] asked me if we would play football with them. I asked the boys: ‘Are we going to play?’, and they answered: "Yes, we can". I hadn’t known that all of these boys who were there, played in Warta [football team in Poznań]. So we won 2:0. They [the pioneers] couldn't get over it for a week. They said we should play again and this time we won 3:0. They stopped speaking to us. A Russian man cannot be defeated, you understand. They were teaching them [the pioneers] that. Do you know what they were doing? They were given just a bit of food and nothing more, and they went hiking for 2-3 days with their guardian. It was a sort of a survival camp.”

On one hand my grandfather speaks of Soviets as a separate nation, but on the other he has some history knowledge that lets him distinguish between Russians and Ukrainians as separate groups. "Stalin murdered half of the people of Ukraine, you understand... You know, what he did? He took away all the food. There were obligatory deliveries, and when they [the Ukrainians] didn't give enough food, he sent there the police and whatever people had hidden, he took everything away from them. And people died of famine, some people... many people died of famine."

In his stories, my grandfather presents also a different image of Ukraine. He mentions that their group was under observation, which at the time they didn’t realize: "And you know, they were watching us, I didn't know that. We were on a sort of a ground floor and there was also a basement. And one girl had a nice toy, of this remote-controlled kind, you know. And she was standing on a kind of a balcony... And the toy was riding there, downstairs... Right away, out of nowhere, a guy appeared, you know, from that basement, and wanted to catch it. A moment later, two more appeared, grabbed him and he was gone. He disappeared, I don't know where he came from.” Surprisingly enough, my grandfather does not remember being scared of being under surveillance and more importantly, he comes up with an explanation: "People there were normal, very polite, you know... Elderly... Only they were worried about us, because it was Ukraine, you know, different kinds of rebels".

Surprisingly, Polish national narration that often portrays Ukrainians as “different kinds of rebels” was also a starting point for many arguments even between Polish and Ukrainian researchers in our Bukovinian “In Between?” group. Obviously, modern day Ukraine does not follow the invigilation practices of the USSR. I think that nowadays, not only is it right to distinguish between Russians and Ukrainians, but it is necessary. Being in Ukraine it is impossible to forget which country you are in. In Chernivtsi every pole on the side of the road was painted blue and yellow, and the national colours were omnipresent on cars, doors and fences.

In the eyes of my grandfather Ukraine of late 1980s was definitely a great and rich place. He remembers that the architecture struck him as very sophisticated and more technologically advanced: "There was a golden dome, you know... Golden! I don't know how it was made, but it was really golden"; "There were 16 [underground stations] and all covered in marble. Everything in marble, everything... It was retty". He also points out a wide range of goods that some shops had to offer: "They had a lot of toys, there was a lot of toys there. If here [in Poland] there weren't such toys, they were there [in Ukraine]." With some kind of pride he exclaims: "So you see, I am a man of the world. They [his relatives] were in the West, but I was in the East!" For him, in 1988, the East was the world.

I think that after the fall of the USSR, for many eastern Europeans “the world” moved to the West – Germany, France, USA. What I observed and felt during my study visit was a very strong emphasis put on Ukraine’s bond with the western part of the world. This can be especially seen in Bukovina which used to be under the Habsburg rule. That period is cherished and often referred to, as indicated by the German language courses and summer schools, and bilingual German-Ukrainian books.

The stories that I presented are just a little part of my grandfather’s memories from his trip, but I think they are the most relevant ones. My aim was to show how some phenomena that my grandfather encountered in 1988 are still present in Ukrainian reality as seen through the eyes of the Polish visitors, even though their context is completely different now. Of course, such processes are unavoidable since the world changes every day. However, no matter how much political, geographical or social contexts get altered, the memories stay the way they were. To my grandfather, Ukraine is still the place that he visited 28 years ago: he even e keeps using present tense while describing it. For me, this is a great example of the idea of being “in between”. We, as people, are constantly trying to balance the actual, objective contexts that are thrown upon us with our own feelings and beliefs. It is not so much a clash of ideas as it is an attempt to follow official narratives without losing personal experiences. In my opinion, to be in between is to respect differences, understand reality and stay loyal to one’s values.

Joanna Urbańska - an aspiring cultural anthropologist and Hebrew student at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Passionate traditional music singer and traveller.

Anna Czyżewska

In Between? - An Academic Introduction

24 August 2016
  • Memory
  • 20th century history
  • Conflict of Memories
  • borders

Scientific consultant: Professor Anna Engelking, Institute of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences

“Were Europe to have its collective memory,
it is as diverse as Europe’s nations and cultures”

Claus Leggewie


The project entitled “In Between? Searching for Local Histories in Borderlands of Europe” was born out of the need to experience local histories. In terms of its objectives, it is primarily an educational measure, and indirectly also a research and documentation effort. Its aim is to search for ways in which the past functions today. It is an attempt at looking at memory of the past in its individual dimension, between members of a single family (both as an intergenerational and intercultural experience), between various families within the same community or between various groups composed of communities with their often contradictory experiences and identities shaped by them.

The framework for this pursuit will be the in between category, broadly understood as being in between in terms of identity. The search for local histories will make it possible to enter an area of identity-shaping factors and activities, which consequently have an impact on shaping relations between people as members of various groups. Stories, recollections but also daily practices which may derive from past events will be the basis for reflexion on the local dimensions of the in between phenomenon.

The project is to be a pretext for young Europeans to experience the “borderland”, both in geographical or political and cultural, social and intergenerational terms. It will also be an opportunity to discover individual and collective memories, yet primarily to meet the “Other” and to listen to their story in the context of the dramatic events of the 20th and 21st centuries, resulting in reconfigurations of individual and collective identities. The places visited saw tragic events play out in the past (e.g. repressions, forced resettlement, the Holocaust), which affected not just individuals or families but entire communities and had a vital impact on the shaping of local identities.

We believe that by linking a research-oriented approach to the reality under observation (related to the carrying out of ethnographic field studies: participant observation and biographical interview) with historical examination of the past will help the participants of the "In Between?" project better understand the people they meet on their way.

During a week-long stay in one of four regions and meetings with specific families, the participants of the "In Between?" project will, in international teams, collect preliminary documentation, to let them express their subjective understanding of the notion of in between using their own voices. In December 2016, they will all convene at a summary seminar, to yet again look at their borderland experience acquired in the field.

Project objectives

Identity and in between

Identity is one of the key terms in the “In Between?” project. Understood as a sense of belonging to a certain group, it is created when in contact with the “Other” (Eriksen 2009). It must be remembered that everyone has got a number of parallel and not mutually exclusive social identities and it is only the context that determines which ones are activated/used at any given time. And so identity is not constant, but constantly created and negotiated in contact with others. According to Fredrik Barth, for ethnic identity to survive it must be solidified in social situations in which one participates. Such areas are most frequently religion, language, work or marriage (Barth 1969). This definition can be extended from the ethnic dimension to the universal understanding of identity, which can be perceived as a constant social practice in which individuals take part and through which they define themselves, and the in between state, being in a borderland, assumes in this case the existence of two or more social groups or spaces between which one is or happens to be. Such constant negotiations as to one’s belonging can be expressed by making specific choices or by specific daily practices.

In the “In Between?” project, there are many dimensions of being in between to be discovered by the participants. First and foremost, it will be the individual level. Then the family followed by relations between individual families (but also individuals) in a given region, and then between various groups: ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic or social. The project is to be an attempt at finding an answer to the question what such being in between can be in particular local contexts. Work in international teams in specific spaces, primarily based on studying communities, their histories and contemporary practices of daily life, yet also referring to the participants’ knowledge and experience, will be an opportunity to jointly interpret the phenomenon in question. Meeting people who live in spaces “between” will not only facilitate a search for answers as regards the essence of the in between state but also show a multitude of possible interpretations, perspectives and experiences of the phenomenon in various European regions. This is also an opportunity to reflect on the “borderland” category. What can it signify today? Where can it be found in the dynamically changing reality where one has got a number of parallel coexisting and constantly negotiated identities? Whether and how can the notion of borderland be implemented in a transcultural world described by Wolfgang Welsch, where cultures are not homogenous or separate any more but constantly influence each other and merge? To what extent is transculturality a state of being in between? This is also a question concerning identity: who are we? Who are they and how do they define themselves?

Another category whose contemporary ways of functioning can be examined by implementing the “In Between?” project is “in-betweenness”[1] (Jackson II 2010), understood as a hybrid identity (Jorge 2008). It assumes that an individual with some migration experience in the post-colonial era exists between two national identities – the current one where he/she does not fully belong and the past one where he/she cannot return. The displacement experience equips the individual in recollections going beyond the narrow boundaries of national belonging. Can this term, created on the basis of post-colonial studies, serve as a tool for interpretation of the situation of individuals in Central Europe[2]? How can experiencing conflict and interaction between one culture and another (or a set of values, principles) function in heterogeneous communities? Can, and how, be this hybrid identity extended from individuals to families?

Another important notion behind the “In Between?” project is the “borderland” from its title. Europe means hundreds of various “borderland” spaces. Scholars call for a separate subdiscipline focusing on the issue (e.g. anthropology/sociology of borderlands). Researchers are moving away from the geographical meaning focusing on its cultural and social meaning. Grzegorz Babiński says that “contemporary borderlands, and now maybe only boundaries of national cultures, are often only subjective and symbolic in nature, as frequently there are not even linguistic differences there” (Babiński 1999). Andrzej Sadowski, in turn, claims that “borderlands are becoming increasingly subjective, symbolic, defined by the identities and identifications expressed by their inhabitants” (Sadowski 1999). In the context of the “In Between?” project, the perspective postulated by Justyna Straczuk is also inspiring, seeing borderland as a communication community, “which develops in the course of daily life, a cultural amalgamate which constitutes an integral entity with a wider repertoire of elements coming from traditions meeting” (Straczuk 2004). The project is going to be an opportunity to check how that “communication community” is shaped in different families. Is borderline, and how, subject to different interpretations made by members of different communities or groups? The project will also offer a chance to search for answers to the question “whether borderland man exist”. What shapes his identities6? How are relations built between borderland people? What role is played by past and current migrations, motivated by various factors, in shaping local identities?

The Past

“Each 'present' brings together movements of different origin and different rhythm. Today has its roots at the same time in yesterday, the day before yesterday, and some time ago,” wrote Fernand Braudel (Braudel 1971, p. 60) in his book Textes des ecrits sur l'histoire. The past and memories superimposed onto each other shape various identities which function in parallel. In order to discover that wealth and diversity of identities one must watch those individual and local memories in their qualitative and miniature (rather than global and quantitative) dimension.

With such objectives in mind, it seems useful to invoke the microhistorical approach postulated by Carlo Ginzburg and Carlo Poni in 1979. Trying to grasp the reality of the historical world, they were looking for the “normally extraordinary” in the lives of ordinary people (Ginzburg, Poni, 1979, after: Domańska 2005). It was, on the one hand, moving away from great narratives, and on the other exploring history from the perspective of an individual or a small community. (Domańska 2005). Microhistory “tells a story of man thrown into the world, of human existence in the world, human experience of the world and ways to experience it. It is then a history of experiences, feelings and private microcosms. Man and his fate are encountered by means of cases, “miniatures”, anthropological stories which let one enter the daily reality like a probe” (Domańska 2005). Observing all that is ordinary and mundane lets one search for answers as to being in between in its most daily but also particular dimension. Culinary practices, religious practices, one’s relation with their body, educational or professional choices, language, matters of kinship – the in between state may be manifested in these and many other areas. Depending on the history of a given person or family, they can come into being in various configurations.

When exploring or documenting individual, familial or local histories, one must be aware of the relation between history and social memory as well as individual memory. In the “In Between?” project, “memory” will be treated not just as a tool for discovering knowledge about the past and knowledge about borderlands but manly as a source of knowledge about the in between state and the identities being discovered (Kaniowska 2003)[3], as it is memory that creates one’s identity. Memory is a source of knowledge about man, as it accumulates and consolidates his/her experiences (Kaniowska 2003 after: Ingarden 1995). A study of identity is a study of the memory (i.e. narrative about the past) of those who are at the same time the main characters and authors of the story and who fill that past with meaning through the need to remember it and transfer it on (Kaniowska 2003).

This is confirmed by the postulates put forward by Maurice Halbwachs, who has claimed that memory is no mechanical remembering of facts but their reconstruction in a certain framework offered by the community[4] one is a member of. “In society, man typically acquires recollections, recognises and locates them” (Halbwachs 2008) – without a group individuals would not attach to past events meanings which would allow to ascribe them the role of events worth remembering. Individuals remember when adopting a collective point of view – they remember what the group wants to be remembered. There are as many various memories as there are groups. At the same time, social memory (as memory of a group) materialises and manifests itself in individual memories (Halbwachs 2008).


In the “In Between?” project we do not define areas – identities that we want to explore. We do not want to limit the search to one’s national, ethnic, religious or linguistic identity. This may also be an experience of migration or social roles. Assuming that identities are multidimensional and constantly constructed anew, we leave a space for the young researchers so that they can find themselves in between areas of most interest to them. While guided by the anthropological assumption of openness to what one meets in the field – we do not want to impose the study framework in advance.

The “In Between?” project will be carried out based on the “oral history” method, i.e. collecting stories about lives of ordinary people, participants of and witnesses to past events. This working method based on recording (audio or video) and making transcripts of the testimonies lets one see history and reality through the eyes of an individual. Listening to interpretations of particular facts, the researcher can appreciate the multidimensionality of phenomena which seems obvious at first. It also helps examine identity by exploring the conditions of one’s religious, cultural, territorial or social belonging. All those elements constitute the research area in the “In Between?” project.

In the case of this method, the descriptive dimension is not less important. Interviews are not merely dry declarations of belonging or participation. They are narratives, which facilitate sketching out a context and introducing reality of daily practice and actions.

One must obviously be aware of the controversy surrounding this mode of work. Memory is not just a list of facts but an internally and externally conditioned interpretation of the importance of events and individual experiences. However, what may be a disadvantage to some, should be treated as a gain in this case. Traditional historical methods based primarily on analysis of found sources appear to be less effective in search of individual experiences of the in between state than induced sources. The use of audio and video recordings will allow the project participants to work creatively on the interpretation of the materials collected.

We want to search for the essence of in between mainly in individuals and families, hence our focus on memory in these two dimensions. We are going to talk about both important events in the history of individuals and families and about daily life (also understood as annual and family festivities). We would also like to know the impact of the sense of being a cultural minority or holding the official status of a minority on the sense of being in between. What problems does it entail? What privileges? How does an individual/family function in relations with authorities (locally but also in terms of the state)?

The search for an answer as regards the ways of being in between will be a combination of the oral-history method with ethnographic and anthropologic methods. These will not be, however, classic, long-term stationary studies of a local community but rather qualitative studies based on interview (biographical, autobiographical narrative interviews and interview by questionnaire) and analysis of family memories or local/group memories, and remembrance practices. The essence of anthropology is a detailed understanding of a phenomenon through field research treated as the most important source of knowledge (Eriksen 2009). The in between state is just such a phenomenon the project participants will strive to become familiar with and comprehend.

As remembrance practices we understand various activities undertaken in order to preserve, transfer and manifest the past. In the familial dimension, this may be collected archives and keepsakes. Interesting and inspiring activities may be performed with photographs or objects attributed sentimental/personal/family value. They can be collected in albums, displayed at home or for various reasons handed over to museums, halls of remembrance or archives. They can also be symbolically destroyed in an attempt to sever one’s ties with the past. At group level, these may be various activities performed in the public space or virtual space. This is confirmed by Pierre Nora, who claims that memories are rooted in specific group contexts – in specific places, practices, gestures, images or objects (Nora 2009). Such diverse activities may also be the starting point for a search for different variations of the in between state.

In memory studies, a major role is played by the division into different types of memory – primarily that into individual and collective memories. What also matters is the role of the family and intergenerational memory transfer. This is pointed out by Jan and Aleida Assmann, German memory researchers. Jan Assmann has made the distinction between communicative memory and cultural memory, the former based on experience and biographical and factual in nature. It is shared by a single (participating or witnessing) generation which can emotionally transfer it to its children (as successive generations). So transmitted, it can last 80-100 years, with the family playing the key role in the process. In time, the need appears to institutionalise that communicative memory transferred through generations. Then its preservation in a specific form becomes important. To that end, archives and museums are set up, and various performing arts appear which lend specific forms to memory of the past. In this way, cultural memory develops (Assmann 2008).

Aleida Assmann, in turn, differentiates between individual memory and that of generations (the latter appearing as a result of experience transfer within the family, i.e. between generations) as well as collective (national-political) memory and cultural (archival) memory (Assmann 2013). The two first mentioned could be classified as communicative memory and the other two as cultural memory according to the division postulated by Jan Assmann. In the “In Between?” project, the young researchers will be able to both focus on one of the proposed memory dimensions and explore the relations developing between various memory dimensions in specific communities. This may be particularly interesting in the context of accounting for the power relations between the dominant group and a minority group which can compete or support each other in remembrance practices in many different ways.

In the case of becoming familiar with local memory/history of the twentieth century, particularly in trauma-affected communities, it is worthwhile to take into consideration the category of “postmemory” (a term coined by Marianne Hirsch). This marks an important distinction between the memory of a direct witness or participant and the memory of successive generations, not so clearly highlighted in Jan Assmann’s notion of communicative memory. In the case of postmemory, the contemporary generations are not/have not been witnesses to the most tragic events of the twentieth century. They are more of recipients and transmitters of mediated content – both in the form of direct accounts and – mainly – texts of culture/products of culture (films, books, museums, monuments, etc.). This is mediated memory, “a relation linking the generation that participated in the experience of a cultural or collective trauma with the successor, which ‘remembers’ it only thanks to stories, images and behaviours making a context for their growing up. This experience has been transferred to them in such an emotional manner that it appears to be a foundation of their own memory.”(Hirsch 1993)


For us, this physical and intellectual (research-related) discovery of borderlands and the in between phenomenon has a dimension of experiencing otherness to it. Apart from showing that life can be different, being on the periphery and meeting “Others” makes us conscious of being immersed in our own culture. In turn, microhistory – qualitative and miniature, not global and quantitative (Domańska p. 244) – lets us hear polyphonic diversity (Hans Medick). Such an approach shakes us out of the safe position of the only legitimate narrative leading on to a path of dialogue-based memory, which makes it possible to accommodate in one’s own memory not just one’s own suffering but also that of others (including that caused by ourselves) (A. Assmann 2011). This resembles the agonistic mode of remembering[5], which makes it possible to draw on experiences of many different event participants (victims and perpetrators of violence as well as observers). It offers a possibility to express the multitude of past experiences and accept them. Both approaches let us build the foundations of solidarity with others on the basis of reflexion and dialogue.

The project participants are free to choose the forms in which to eventually present their interpretations of the in between phenomenon. These may be texts, but also video-notes, audio recordings, photo documentation or animation-performance acts. Thanks to the diversity of the media and the participants’ competences, we wish to showcase the multidimensionality of experiencing the in between in individual, family, group, local, but also intercultural, intergenerational and European dimension.


Andrade Fernandes, Jorge Luis. Challenging Euro-America's Politics of Identity: The Return of the Native. London: Routledge, 2008.

Assmann, Aleida. Miedzy historią a pamięcią. Antologia [Between History and Memory. Selected Texts]. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2013.

Assmann, Jan. Pamięć kulturowa. Pismo, zapamiętywanie i polityczna tożsamość w cywilizacjach starożytnych [original:Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination]. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2008.

Babiński, Grzegorz. “Pogranicza etniczne i kulturowe” [Ethnic and cultural borderlands]. Marian Malikowski, Dariusz Wojakowski (eds.), Między Polską a Ukrainą. Pogranicze – mniejszości, współpraca regionalna. Rzeszów: Mana, 1999.

Braudel, Fernand. Historia i Trwanie [original: Textes des ecrits sur l'histoire]. Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1971.

Cohen, Anthony. Symbolic Construction of Community. London, NY: Routledge, 1985.

Domańska, Ewa. Mikrohistorie: spotkania w międzyświatach [Microhistories: meetings in interworlds]. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2005.

Eriksen, Thomas. Małe miejsca, wielkie sprawy [original: Small Places – Large Issues]. Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza Volumen 2009.

Halbwachs, Maurice. Społeczne ramy pamięci [original: Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire]. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2008.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning and Post-Memory. Discourse. 15, no. 2 (1992 – 1993) (1993).

Jackson II, Ronald L. Encyclopaedia of Identity. London: SAGE Publications, 2010.

Kaniowska, Katarzyna. “Antropologia i problem pamięci” [Anthropology and the notion of memory]. Konteksty. Polska Sztuka Ludowa, LVII 2/3, pp. 57-65 (2003).

Pierre, Nora. “Between the memory and history: Les Lieux de Mémoire”. Working Title: Archive, no. 2, pp. 4-12, 2009.

Sadowski, Andrzej. Tożsamość. Identyfikacja. Pogranicze” [Identity, Identification. Borderland]. Sadowski Andrzej, Mirosława Czerniawska. Tożsamość Polaków na pograniczach, Białystok: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Białostockiego, pp. 11-32, 1999.

Straczuk, Justyna. Cmentarz i stół. Pogranicze prawosławno-katolickie w Polsce i na Białorusi [The cemetery and the table. The Orthodox-Catholic borderland in Poland and Belarus]. Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2006.

[1]Individuals who experience „in-betweenness” face continuous negotiations between being here and there, themselves and others, thereby creating their hybrid cultural identity.

[2]Whose history can also be examined from the perspective of post-colonial criticism.

[3]According to K. Kaniowska, in anthropology memory plays various roles: of a source, a subject and a tool.

[4]A family can be perceived as a community.

[5]The modes of memory were discussed by David Clarke during the conference “Genealogies of Memory” organised by the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity in Warsaw in December 2015.

Marek Kornat

That old Soviet idea

27 August 2015
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • Poland
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop contract
  • 20th century history
  • Second World War

Poland’s decision to reject the Soviet demands as regards the Red Army passage did not matter from the perspective of Stalin’s motivation, yet it awarded him a pretext used by Soviet propaganda and historiography.

“Once it became obvious that Hitler pushes for a war, France and Great Britain tried to set up a front to counter the aggression and sent a delegation to Moscow so as to agree a programme for cooperation. The Soviets did not exclude a possible agreement, saying that they could accept the proposal under the condition that the Red Army troops (...) were allowed to move through Poland. Proud and suspicious, the government in Warsaw rejected the idea and the Soviets interpreted the response as a manifestation of distrust towards them. There might not have been any Ribbentrop-Molotov pact (and maybe the Second World War, either), had the Poles not believed so much in their own ability to counter the German troops. As regards the Soviet entry into Polish territory, the Soviet decision was understandable. Since Poland, as Germany intended, was to disappear, why would Russia not restrict the German expansion by taking a slice of the country for itself?” Such are the reflections presented a few days ago in the “Corriere della Sera” daily by the Italian writer, journalist and diplomat Sergio Romano.

Unfortunately, the successive “round” anniversaries of the outbreak or end of the Second World War make that old Soviet idea recur. Let us recall the fact then.

In the night from 11 to 12 August Allied military delegations arrived in Moscow to hold talk with the Soviets (the British headed by Admiral Drax and the French by General Doumenc), which meant that the efforts to negotiate a tripartite alliance treaty between Great Britain, France and the USSR entered into the decisive phase. The leader of the Soviet delegation in the Moscow talks Marshal Voroshylov demanded the use of Polish and Romanian territories for fighting with the Germans. He stated that as the USSR did not share a border with Germany, the Red Army was unable to take part in the war and deliver on the commitments it had made. On 18 August, the ambassadors of France and Great Britain to Poland presented the issue to the Polish government in Warsaw.

The Soviet demands concerning the Red Army “passage” through Poland and Romania were an unambiguous proof that the Soviets wished to break off the negotiations with the Allied Powers, as it would have been inconceivable to imagine that the Polish reply would be anything but negative. And indeed, such was the Polish stance communicated to the ambassadors of the Allies several times between 18—22 August. Already on 19 August, a German-Soviet economic treaty was signed in Berlin, and von Ribbentrop was invited to Moscow a week later. On Hitler’s personal request to Stalin, the hastened trip took place as early as 23 August. The talks in Moscow resulted in the well-known agreement concerning the division of the “spheres of interest” in Eastern Europe between both totalitarian powers.

To satisfy the Soviet demands would have been tantamount to an agreement to have the east of Poland occupied and a death sentence voluntarily signed. Upon the Soviet entry on Polish territory, Poland would have lost independence just as the Baltic States had lost theirs: having let in the Red Army in October 1939, they were unable to put up resistance in June 1940.

One must have no illusions concerning Stalin’s policy in 1939. His pronouncements concerning Poland and the Versailles order reveal his true intentions. The 7 September 1939 entry in Georgi Dimitrov’s Diary quotes Stalin’s very clear words about Poland: “Doing away with that country in conducive circumstances would mean one bourgeois fascist state less. What wrong would that be if as a result of shattering Poland we spread the socialist system over a new territory and population?” True, the Soviet dictator was forced in 1934 to proclaim his orientation towards cooperation with western democracies, yet this did not mean any fundamental change to the strategic principle: the notion that the Versailles order had to be demolished, put briefly. Highly important and suggestive remain his words from July 1940, where in a conversation with the British ambassador to Moscow Stafford Cripps the USSR leader said that before the outbreak of the Second World War no Soviet-British rapprochement was possible as his country focused on the demolition of the “old” balance of powers built after the First World War without Russia, while Great Britain fought for its retention. “The Soviet Union wanted to change the old system of powers (…), while England and France wished to keep it. Also Germany wanted to make a change in the power system and this joint wish to do away with the old system became the basis for the rapprochement with the Germans.”

One should repeat after the German historian Martin Broszat that Hitler found in Stalin a partner for waging a total war of destruction, a “partner equally eager to treat foreign territories lightly”. Because of this, “Hitler’s way of thinking in terms of dividing spheres of interest on vast areas which he tried to propose to the English in vain, met with a mutual sentiment (...).” This, in turn “must have been a potent stimulus and incentive to start just in Poland the implementation of the nationalist-socialist concept of a new large-scale system of relations in terms of territory and population.”

Poland’s decision to reject the Soviet demands as regards the Red Army passage did not matter from the perspective of Stalin’s motivation, yet it awarded him a pretext used by Soviet propaganda and historiography. Currently, the propaganda of Putin’s Russia makes use of such ideas. In Russia, history was and still is a political tool. What remains more striking is the fact that the Soviet version of the interpretation as to the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War keeps finding believers outside Russia.

In the summer of 1939, the Soviet Union and the German Reich, two totalitarian powers, struck an agreement. Although it would not be long-lasting, it was definitely real. The Polish government could be nothing more than a passive observer of the developments. No Polish policy was able to take the Soviet authorities away from their intention to pursue cooperation with Germany in order to secure new territories in Eastern Europe. No Polish policy was able to prevent the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, or to change the inevitable course of the events leading to the war.

Could communism have collapsed without Wałęsa's Nobel Peace Prize?

09 October 2013
  • communism
  • Lech Wałęsa
  • fall of communism

Ewa Piłat: You came to Poland right after completing law studies in Rome in 1958 as a correspondent of Il Giorno. As a correspondent for RAI Television you reported on such things as the birth of Solidarity. For years in the European Parliament you had been a spokesman for Polish affairs and interests. Fifty-five years in and around Poland must have given you unique insight into assessing whether we have achieved as much as we could have after toppling communism?

Jas Gawronski: That all depends on the perspective through which we evaluate the changes that took place in Poland. Despite all its horrors, communism had its good sides as well: it toughened the nation up and brought out the best and the worst character traits in people. It verified a person's value. Pope John Paul II highlighted that fact in a conversation I had with him. As we were musing over which part of Europe had benefited the most from the unification, he said it was the West. Thanks to communism, people in the East were stronger, he maintained. They added a breath of fresh air, energy and morality to Europe. Following that digression I can answer your question. Poland has made superb use of its historic opportunity thanks to the quality of its people. It has also taken advantage of its geographic opportunity by virtue of being situated in this part of the world.

On 11 October 1982 the European Parliament adopted a resolution you had proposed on nominating Lech Wałęsa for the Nobel Peace Prize. A year later, almost to the day, on 5 October 1983, the Nobel Committee announced it was awarding the world's most prestigious prize to the leader of Solidarity. When preparing that resolution, did you foresee the great historic consequences that act would have for Poland and Europe?

No, I did not. Back in 1982 I did not foresee what the consequences of that effort might be. First of all, I wasn't sure I could get the resolution adopted. If it were only a question of voting, it would have been simpler. But preparing the resolution required collecting a set number of signatures. Deputies had to want to make the effort and be convinced about a given issue. I myself was surprised that 223 MEPs signed the resolution. At that point, I wasn't sure what the Nobel Committee's decision would be as there were many candidates in the running.

Without the Nobel Prize could Lech Wałęsa have brought about the collapse of communism?

I think he could have. It has been said that the Nobel Prize had been a kind of protective umbrella for Wałęsa, because the communists couldn't treat a Nobel laureate the way they normally dealt with opponents. However, I believe an even bigger security umbrella was provided to the Solidarity leader by John Paul II. The Nobel Peace Prize in turn gave him, Solidarity and the changes taking place in Poland world-wide publicity.

Had you known Mr Lech Wałęsa before preparing that resolution?

Yes, quite well. We met in 1980 in Gdańsk. Later we conversed in Warsaw. One time he came to collect me at Gdańsk airport. We got in the vehicle and there were cars of secret police in front of and behind us. We couldn't shake them off. It was then that I realised how easy it was being a foreign correspondent in Poland and how difficult the life of an opposition activist could be.

You were the first journalist who succeeded in conducting an interview with John Paul II. Many times you have emphasised the Polish Pontiff's contribution to the toppling of communist rule. Was it greater than that of Lech Wałęsa?

Both were indispensable to the overthrow of the communist system. One could not have achieved anything without the other. Not long ago I took part in a conference which raised the question: which of those two 20th-century heroes will be better remembered 50 years from now? Most of those in attendance pointed to the pope. I however would vote for Wałęsa. There have been many popes and no-one knows when some new one might eclipse ‘our’ John Paul II. But there was only one leader of the many-million-strong trade union movement which overthrew the criminal system.

In the 1990s, when the first effects of the transformation and Poland's European aspirations became visible, you said that for Poland, membership of the European Union was more important than NATO. Why was that?

I continue to hold that view. In a situation where there is no real threat to the state, NATO does not mean a whole lot. But being in Europe means a great deal: for the Polish economy, culture, science and the mentality of Poles – one could go on enumerating.

Four years ago, after five terms in the European Parliament, you took leave of that institution, but to Jan Gawroński the question of a common Europe remains close at heart. From the sidelines it is often easier to see the virtues and vices of EU organs. What tasks in your view should today's MEPs be dealing with?

The most urgent matter is to tackle the economic crisis and resolve financial problems. In the long run, MEPs will have to work on people’s mentality and convince them to want to regard themselves as Europeans. Today there is no sense of community, only a sense of belonging to an institution that ensures specific economic benefits. That's not enough to predict a good future for the European Union.

Jas Gawronski – Italian politician of Polish ancestry; up till 2009 an MEP belonging to the European People's Party which affiliates politicians with moderate conservative, Christian Democratic and democratic views. His father, Jan Gawroński, was the last pre-war Polish ambassador to Austria, his mother, Luciana Frassati-Gawrońska, – a social and conspiratorial activist (she escorted the wife of General Władysław Sikorski from occupied Warsaw to the West). His grandfather, Alfredo Frassati, founded the daily La Stampa, and his mother's brother, Pier Giorgio Frassati, was elevated to the rank of blessed, the penultimate step to Catholic sainthood.

Interviewed by: Ewa Piłat, Dziennik Polski, 24 May 2013

Interview is published courtesy of the May 77 Society