Politics of memory

Poles are proud of their history

Data 2016-12-23
Most Poles consider themselves to be patriots and say there's nothing to be ashamed of in Poland's history.



Key points

Only one in three Poles is interested in history. Twenty per cent of respondents say they are very interested in history, 43 per cent rate their interest as average. These results have not changed significantly in 30 years, although in 2006, the number of those interested in history rose to 75 per cent, and then fell. Three-quarters of Poles believe knowledge about the past is necessary today (-10 percentage points since 1987). For 33 per cent, knowledge of history is an important element of education and refinement (+2 points since 1987), for one in six respondents it is the basis of identity and national consciousness (+9 points since 1987). Three-quarters know that Poland regained independence on November 11, 1918.

Poles proud of their history. Four out of five respondents believe that Poles can be proud of both historical figures and events (no major change since 1987). According to one in five, there have been figures in Poland's history that brought shame to the country (-13 points since 1987), and one in four thinks can also point to shameful events (-8 per cent). Almost two-thirds of those polled also say that there are things in Poland today that they are ashamed of - the number has fallen by as much as 15 points since 2003, though. At the same time, the number of people who think that Poland is better country that most others has increased visibly (55 per cent, +22 points since 2003).


John Paul II the biggest source of pride. Almost half of all respondents (46 per cent) named Karol Wojtyła as the figure they are proud of (+35 points since 1987), John Paul II also came first in a ranking carried out in 2003 (43 per cent). Lech Wałęsa is second (20 per cent, not named in 1987), followed closely by Piłsudski (19 per cent, +6 points). In 1987, Poles tended to name heroes from Poland's history before the 20th century (Tadeusz Kościuszko, Władysław Jagiełło or Copernicus). Not many respondents named figures that Poles should be ashamed of - Wojciech Jaruzelski topped the list (4 per cent), which in previous studies was headed by Edward Gierek (8 per cent, 1987) and Lech Wałęsa (9 per cent, 2003), with the latter also taking third place in the pride ranking.


Poles are not usually ashamed. The events which Poles take the most pride in are: the choice of Wojtyła as Pope (19 per cent, +16 points since 1987), the political and economic transformation (18 per cent) and regaining independence (14 per cent, +8 points). One in 10 respondents named the Battle of Grunwald and the Warsaw Uprising. In previous studies, the Battle of Grunwald (26 per cent in 1987) and the transformation (19 per cent in 2003) headed the list. Poles are reluctant to recall embarrassing events in history. This year, the most frequently named were the Jedwabne pogrom (4 per cent) and martial law (3 per cent). In 1987 Poles were most ashamed of the partitions (9 per cent) and in 2003 - martial law (8 per cent).

Poles consider themselves patriots. As many as 88 per cent of those polled see themselves as patriots (according to CBOS in 2016), three quarters are proud of being Polish. Respondents believe that patriotism means showing respect to the emblem, flag and the national anthem (answer given by 94 per cent), passing down national values in the family (92 per cent) and looking after historical monuments (91 per cent). Most Poles also believe that being a patriot involves taking part in elections (88 per cent), buying Polish products (80 per cent) and paying taxes (72 per cent). Of those polled, 52 per cent own a red and white flag.


Poles are proud of their past and only ashamed of a few events. This shows PiS's strength in the symbolical sphere - respondents support Jarosław Kaczyński, who accuses his opponents of propagating the so-called pedagogy of shame. Historical policy is one of PiS's key areas of activity, the party puts emphasis on spreading national values in public media, fights for the good name of Poland abroad and tries to influence contents conveyed by museums. The opposition is also beginning to appreciate the power of historical policy, and giving it more and more space in its programmes.

Source: TNS Polska study for the National Centre for Culture, July 2016, sample of 1512 people.

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Joanna Sawicka
Senior Analyst for Political Affairs
Joanna Sawicka
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