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

Zuzanna Dobrzańska

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

10 July 2019
Tags
  • communism
  • In Between?
  • Albania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

>> More about the In Between? project

 

List of References

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

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

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

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

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

The story behind the picture

24 August 2017
Tags
  • 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
Tags
  • 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
Tags
  • 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
Tags
  • 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

Introduction

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).

Methodology

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)

Summary

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.

References

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.