Politics of memory

PiS fully engaged in re-writing Poland's history

List 2017-08-31
Ministries, state companies, schools and museums are all getting involved in the promotion of history.

23 August 2017

The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) is checking whether the former president provided false testimony on the TW "Bolek" documents. Lech Wałęsa testified that the documents found in Gen. Czesław Kiszczak's home were not written or signed by him, but the IPN claims that they are genuine. Wałęsa's office says the Institute lacks proof and that a specialist opinion indicates that the material is too limited to be deemed genuine. The IPN's actions will prompt criticism of PiS's historical policy and accusations of underplaying Wałęsa's role in history.

7 April 2017

"After the Supreme Administrative Court's ruling, MinCult immediately appointed Dr. Karol Nawrocki acting director," write Emilia Stawikowska and Krzysztof Katka in Gazeta Wyborcza. Nawrocki, who previously worked at the IPN, is a patriotic activist and likely PiS candidate for mayor of Gdańsk. Former director Paweł Machcewicz was offered a lower post. Nawrocki's appointment aims to build political capital before the local elections.

3 November 2016

"The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) will declassify the files with restricted access," writes Wojciech Czuchnowski in Gazeta Wyborcza. The main supporters of doing so are MinDef Antoni Macierewicz and deputy head of the IPN collegium Sławomir Cenckiewicz. The move is planned for March 31, 2017. The collection is around 361 metres long, 217 of them currently owned by the Internal Security Agency (ABW) and 54 by the Intelligence Agency (AW). According to IPN archivist Witold Bagieński, there may be little cause for sensation as the records only contain isolated cases of Poles still active in political life. (page 4)

8 September 2016

"MinCult is to combine two museums because it is the only way to remove the director of the WWII Museum in Gdańsk and change the exhibit criticised by PiS," writes Krzysztof Klatka in Gazeta Wyborcza. MinCult Piotr Gliński has decided to merge the museum with the Westerplatte Museum he created and make Zbigniew Wawer, head of the Museum of the Polish Army, the new institution's director. According to Paweł Machcewicz, head of the WWII Museum since 2008, the ministry wants to get rid of him and change the idea behind the exhibit; PiS wants it to support the Polish historical narrative. (page 1)

12 August 2016

"I want the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) to initiate historical conflicts. We cannot think, look and act alike. We cannot all become Europeans all of a sudden. I don't want to live in such a world; it is boring and empty. We must impose debate, also on Jedwebne. There are more such historical conflicts, for instance, Volhynia," IPN head Jarosław Szarek told Jacek Nizinkiewicz of Rzeczpospolita. "If we had dealt with Polish-Ukrainian issue in the early 1990s, we wouldn't be having the problems we are having with Volhynia. If we had completed lustration and decommunisation back then, we would be in a different place historically and politically." (page A5)

Key points

Ministries promoting history. Antoni Macierewicz wants soldiers to model themselves on the regular and partisan formations from the past. He assigns a special role to the so-called accursed soldiers. His ministry has patronage over many performances and mass events presenting historic events. MinFor has changed the diplomatic service's motto from "Serve Poland, co-create Europe, understand the world" to a fragment of the Polish Home Army oath - "Be faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland" An interdepartmental team has established new rules of communicating "Poland" as a brand, recommending that references be made to the country's heritage and history. Alongside historic events, screenings of the film Smolensk are also organised.

Statutory changes in street names, symbolic resolutions. In 2016, the Sejm passed a law banning the promotion of communism through street names and made it possible to remove monuments glorifying totalitarian systems. A Committee for National Celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Regaining Independence has been set up. PiS is trying to change the interpretation of history through resolutions - on the occasion of the recent 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Olszewski government, the Senate called its opponents "a coalition of fear", and Lech Wałęsa secret agent "Bolek". The ruling camp emphasise the Christian roots of the state - the Sejm marked the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima and the 250th anniversary of the Bar Confederation "created to defend the Catholic faith and independence".

Strengthening the IPN. The National Institute of Remembrance's (IPN) budget next year will amount to PLN 400 million, PLN 110 million more than in 2017. PiS has amended the law on IPN, increasing politicians' influence over the institute. It also increased the powers of the IPN's investigators - until recently, they investigated cases from 1917-1990, while the new law allows the ProsGen to order the institutes's prosecutors to conduct preliminary proceedings. That is why it is IPN that checks if Wałęsa falsely testified that he did not sign the secret agent "Bolek's" documents found in the so-called Kiszczak file. In accordance with PiS's announcements, IPN declassified its archive's secret collection which includes the personal files of secret agents.

State companies sponsor remembrance. They act as patrons to events commemorating historic events, invest in advertisements, social campaigns and exhibitions. In August, PGE placed an advertisement showing an insurgent, captioned "Sacrifice is a lot of energy". The Polish Security Printing Works organised an exhibition entitled "German killers, Polish victims". An event commemorating the start of the Warsaw uprising was held in the headquarters of PGNiG. 2017 is the second year of the "Send a card to an insurgent" campaign, supported by LOT, PWPW, Poczta Polska and Energa. PKO BP, in its turn, sponsored the commemoration of the Accursed Soldier's Day and the 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland.

New school syllabus. History in fourth year of primary school will be limited to Poland's past, based on the biographies of famous Poles, such as Józef Piłsudski and John Paul II. The Accursed Soldiers have been included in the syllabus at this early stage. There will be more military and less social history. PiS is also investing in the construction and modernisation of museums. Most of the substantive staff at the World War Two Museum have left, and the new management is changing the exhbition. Following efforts by Macierewicz, a new headquarters of the Polish Army Museum is being opened at the Citadel, the minister has also announced the construction of the Battle of Warsaw Museum in Ossów as well as three monuments. The Citadel is also to house the Polish History Museum.

what's next

PiS's goal in conducting such an active history policy is to create new elites and bring up young people with values close to the party. PiS approaches it on a much bigger scale than its predecessors, involving a number of state institutions in the process. The government ensures that the bodies responsible for this area of policy receive additional financing - 2018 will see an increase not only in the IPN budget, but also in MinDef's spending on museums (the latter has been doubled to over PLN 140 million). The actions of some institutions are accompanied by aggressive statements by PiS politicians undermining Lech Wałęsa's achievements, among other things.

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Joanna Sawicka
Senior Analyst for Political Affairs
Joanna Sawicka
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Juliusz Skibicki
Fmr. Political Affairs Analyst
Juliusz Skibicki
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