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Past in the Making

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Michal Kopecek

Historians Facing Politics of History

The Case of Poland

Rafał Stobiecki

Texte intégral

I.

  • 1 For further reading see e.g., M. Pawłowski, ed., Spór o PRL, (The Debate about the Polish People’s (...)
  • 2 The work summing up the debates and research related to the crimes in Jedwabne is Wokół Jedwabnego (...)

1From a certain point of view one may risk the thesis that the current discussion regarding historical policy is the third great debate among historians since Poland regained independence at the turn of the 1980s and the 1990s. The first debate is usually called “the discussion about the Polish People’s Republic (PRL).” It started when the communist system collapsed and continues more or less intensely today.1 It was and still is a mixture of cognitive, ideological, and ethical themes. From the historiographical point of view the most important questions were those regarding the status of the Polish state after 1945—its regime, relations between the authorities and society, and finally the balance of the development of civilization during the PRL. The second dispute is the debate on the subject of Jedwabne initiated by Jan Tomasz Gross’s book Sąsiedzi. Historia zagłady pewnego miasteczka. (Neighbors. The story of the annihilation of a small Jewish town). The book deals with the extermination of Jews in July 1941 at the hands of “ordinary Poles” inspired by the Nazi occupying forces. Its significance lies mostly in the fact that, by questioning the image of Polish people as solely the victims of World War II, it raises the issue of Polish participation in the Holocaust and initiates a very serious discussion about Polish–Jewish relations throughout the 20th century. 2 In a broader context both these debates and the one presented below are part of the discussion which started at the beginning of the 1990s in Europe regarding the role of history in public life, the significance of ideology in historical discourse and finally the relationship between historiography and individual as well as collective memory.

II.

2I would like to present a more detailed description of the field of my considerations. If we agree that politics of history in its broadest sense is a synonym for conscious and purposeful activity by the authorities, conducted in order to preserve a certain image of the past in society, then with some simplification we may mention two traditional ways of understanding this category. The first is commonly associated with the totalitarian state, where the authorities use mass propaganda and various forms of repression and pressure to try to impose their own version of history on society, with the aim of eliminating any competitive discourse about the past. In such circumstances the “totalitarianization” of history or historiography becomes part of the disempowerment of the whole society. From this point of view history is deprived of its multi-dimensional aspect and becomes one of the most important ideological instruments of totalitarianism, serving to legitimize the current sociopolitical regime. The second tradition relates to the democratic state. In this case, as Michel Foucault puts it, “History is the discourse of authority,” but in a different sense. The relationship between authority and knowledge becomes a particular game, played on the field of culture, and both concepts are interlinked. In this tradition any social group may become the victim of certain value systems which obscure their position. Besides, different discourses about the past compete and conflict with each other. To sum up, in the first case historical policy becomes a unilateral and often primitive form of propaganda based on the state monopoly of information, while in the second it becomes an uninterrupted dispute between various interest groups, each trying to promote its own vision of the past or “impose” it on society. From the present perspective it seems obvious that the politics of history of the PRL belonged unequivocally to the first tradition, while the current debate about the role of the state in creating one vision of the past or another, belongs to the second. This should be clearly emphasized because among the critics of historical policy, including students of the past, the objection is sometimes raised that the present way of treating this issue (i.e., historical policy) more or less resembles the practices of the PRL.

III.

  • 3 For examples of such debates see discussions published in Mówią Wieki No. 8 (2006), Biuletyn IPN N (...)

3In this debate about historical policy, which has gone on for years and is now particularly fervent, an increasingly active part is being taken by those who are naturally closely involved in the issue: the historians themselves. In sociopolitical magazines of different shades the most prominent researchers publish their articles, while editorial committees organize debates about political history in which its opponents and supporters ex-pound their conflicting views.3 The aims of the present chapter are: first, to present the main issues under debate; second, to reconstruct the most important arguments in the discussion; and third, to answer the question of what this debate is saying about us, historians, participating in it.

4In the current discussion the three main disputable issues, to simplify slightly, are: the actual term “historical policy,” its merits, and the function it should perform. The very use of the term “historical policy” or “politics of history” is open to debate as such. According to its supporters, it is rather neutral category, which appeared in Polish public discourse via Germany (from the German Geschichtspolitik), referring to a particular intentional attitude towards the past among some sections of the Polish intellectual elite. Marek Cichocki, commonly regarded not only as the inventor of the term historical policy but also as its main supporter, says in an interview:

  • 4 Statement in the discussion “Historical policy—for and against,” Mówią Wieki No. 8 (2006), See als (...)

I can hardly be considered either the author of the term or the initiator of the discussion. I might, however, attempt to offer my own definition. Historical policy functions in various countries in many different ways. In Poland it seems to lie in the search of a term capable of capturing a certain phenomena that can be observed both in our country and abroad. The phenomenon is more important than the term. But if I were to offer a definition … I would say that it consisted in reinvigorating public discourse about the past by means of different forms of institutionalizing it. The institutionalization occurs on the level of both state as well as local, that is, regional and self-governmental, institutions.4

  • 5 D. Gawin and P. Kowal, “Polska polityka historyczna” [Polish Historical policy], in Polityka histo (...)
  • 6 Ibid.

5According to the supporters of the term, historical policy is not only an obligation of the state and its government, but results from a natural state of affairs. They think that it is impossible to separate collective memory from politics because it provides a strong basis for any community, whether institutional or national. From this perspective historical policy is a set of activities similar to those involved in social and economic policy.5 It is needed to enable society to identify more strongly with the state and its structures and for the Polish people to integrate with the great motherland in an ideological sense as well as to strengthen their bonds with small local motherlands. Besides this, historical policy is treated as a challenge, which “Poland needs to face if it does not want to become in United Europe a mere consumer of the benefits that result from the support of its partners, but an active participant in creating a common European identity.”6

  • 7 M. Cichocki, “Czas silnych tożsamości” [The time of strong identities], in Polityka historyczna… [ (...)
  • 8 M. Cichocki, “Czas silnych tożsamości”, p. 15. Politicians express similar ideas. There is a chara (...)

6This notion of historical policy is based on a certain analysis, whether explicitly articulated or not, of the nature of the systemic transformation which took place at the turn of the 1980s and the 1990s and the following years. According to its supporters, who are to be found mainly among historians of ideas, the Third Republic of Poland as a state placed little trust in issues of collective memory and identity and consequently such issues were regarded as a threat to democracy and liberal projects for Polish state modernization. The characteristic feature of this period was “collective amnesia” about the past, especially the recent past, which was sacrificed on the altar of the future (cf., the famous election slogan of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, “let’s choose the future”) and relegated to the margins of public debate.7 In the framework of this notion of sociopolitical reality, historical policy becomes a national issue, a symbol of the hope for a moral change in society and the chance to build a new and better historical identity for the Polish people. So it is not surprising that supporters of this project are somewhat wary of historians. Marek Cichocki states this very clearly: “there are important reasons why we cannot leave history to the historians, and memory must remain a living substance of every policy.”8

  • 9 M. Kula, “Wypowiedź w dyskusji…” [Voice in Discussion…], p. 1.
  • 10 M. Kula, “Wypowiedź w dyskusji,” p. 2.
  • 11 See “Głosy w dyskusji A. Juzwenki i D. Nałęcz” [Voices in discussion of A. Juzwenko and D. Nałęcz] (...)

7But how do the opponents of historical policy see the issue? First of all they reject the neutral character of the term. In public debate it is often emphasized that “historical policy” has naturally become a slogan of the program of that part of the intellectual elite that is associated with the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) party, and has therefore gained currency in the political and ideological context. Marcin Kula gave three reasons why he is skeptical about this. Firstly, the very term seems unfortunate, because it associates politics and history on a semantic level. This not only implies a close relationship between historiography and politics, but also positively evaluates this phenomenon. Secondly, Kula notes that in numerous statements by supporters of historical policy “the one and only right image of history which would be introduced into life, memory and social identity”9 is always implicitly or explicitly present. Thirdly, according to the Warsaw researcher, the very term presumes an instrumental attitude towards history; arises out of a desire “to concentrate on what belongs to us and disguise national complexes.”10 Similar ideas have appeared in other contributions to the debate.11 In general, the objections of the opponents of historical policy could be summarized as follows: according to them, it embodies a positive approach to the national past, which excludes any form of criticism, may lead to the manipulation of history by rejecting its autonomous status, and moreover, safeguards the party’s interests. This point of view implies the fear that the term will or at least may become one more aspect of the political exploitation of different spheres of life such as the media or culture. The opponents of historical policy run the whole gamut of opinions, ranging from concerns, expressed more or less clearly, about the extent to which the state may want to interfere in historical research to strong objections raised against any form of political initiatives undertaken with a view to supporting a given interpretation of the past. One significant problem which arises here is how to determine the limits of historical policy in such a way as to preserve state responsibility for the shape of historical knowledge and at the same time to prevent history from being nationalized altogether.

  • 12 P. Machcewicz, “Polityka historyczna to nic nowego” [Historical policy is nothing new], Gazeta Wyb (...)

8The critics of historical policy also oppose the opinion that the Third Republic of Poland “rejected history” and did not perform a symbolic “de-communization” in the field of collective memory. According to Paweł Machcewicz, the very dawn of independence witnessed a series of activities which constituted historical policy avant la lettre. The researcher mentioned the changing of the national anthem and the national coat of arms, the liquidation of the old celebration commemorating the foundation of the PRL on 22 July and its replacement by celebrations on 3 May and 11 November, and fundamental changes in the symbolic sphere (renaming streets and squares, demolishing old statues and erecting new ones).12

  • 13 A. Wolff-Powęska, “Państwo precz od historii” [The state must leave history], Gazeta Wyborcza (3–4 (...)

9So, there is an apparent clash between the two camps engaged in a dispute over the notion of historical policy, with each of them rarely willing to go beyond the trench lines determining the legitimacy of their own definitions characterizing the object of contention. It seems clear that these lines of division are strengthened by generational differences, political preferences and finally by the image of the historian and his social role imprinted in his milieu. Why is this happening? Why is it that the discussions of the usefulness of the term lack intellectual sophistication and offer little insight into the problem, resembling slanging matches rather than a serious debate? It seems that Anna Wolff-Powęska rightly pointed out two reasons for this state of affairs. In an essay with the title “The state must leave history” she says that “historical policy lies in the field of permanent tension between science and politics.”13 These categories are not only linked to each other but are also related to other spheres of action and behavior. We may add that while politics are dominated by short periods of time, sometimes from one election to another, history or the culture of history, according to Wolff-Powęska, is a field of slow changes resulting from long-lasting mental processes. Moreover, in the researcher’s opinion:

  • 14 Ibid.

the slogan of historical policy, which became a frequent guest in Polish parlors, is used in different contexts; often as a media slogan, the topic of numerous conferences or as a way to describe historical science under dictatorship … it still lacks cognitive values because as a subject of research it is in very preliminary phase.14

  • 15 I mean the three-part essay published in Rzeczypospolita: “Tradycja do remontu” [Tradition for Ren (...)
  • 16 A. Mencwel, “Tradycja do remontu” [Tradition for Renovation], Rzeczpospolita (16–17 September 2006 (...)
  • 17 Ibid.

10Literary historian Andrzej Mencwel presents one of the few attempts to conceptualize the category “political history” in a series of articles.15 The researcher mentions three meanings or spheres of political history. In the first, narrow sphere, it relates to the authorities and to administrative activities; this is the most common meaning presented in the media. It is reflected, for example, in decisions to reward some people and lustrate others. In the second, medium sphere, according to Mencwel, politics of history becomes the domain of activities “in the field of values and symbols, the construction and choice of tradition, the creation or recreation of collective identity including national identity.” In this sense, the changes in the names of streets and squares can serve as a good example. Finally the researcher mentions the third “great” sphere of historical policy, to which no conscious citizen can remain indifferent. It means a thorough vision of the past, which suggests a new interpretation, from the perspective of permanent historical changes; the sense of national history.16 Obviously according to Mencwel this last meaning of historical policy should become the focus of public debate. It is “the supreme arena in which the shape of national identity can be decided, it is the foundation of a new scheme of memory and tradition or a means of deconstructing the old one.” The author is also specific about a social mechanism which, in his opinion, is responsible for creating historical policy. According to him any deliberate attempt to constitute such a “coherent narration about our whole history” would fail. It is created through a natural process of trial and error “in individual work and social activities, in local initiatives and regional associations, in religious feasts and national rituals because we all feel that we are becoming different in a new Poland and a new Europe, never seen before.”17

  • 18 The significance of this dilemma was pointed out by A. Dudek in his speech published in Polityka h (...)
  • 19 D. Gawin, O pożytkach i szkodliwości historycznego rewizjonizmu [On the advantages and disadvantag (...)

11Now I will turn to the next item of the discussion—to that concerned with a contention over the specific issues dealt with in the conduct of historical policy. It seems that the debate is focused on the question of the shape of Polish patriotism at the beginning of the 21st century. On the symbolic level the subject of the dispute is well illustrated by the titles of two articles published in Rzeczpospolita during the discussion about Jan T. Gross’s book Sąsiedzi (The Neighbors). Andrzej Nowak published an article entitled “Westerplatte or Jedwabne?”, which provoked a response from Paweł Machcewicz’s “Westerplatte and Jedwabne.”18 A good example of the discussion about content is a polemic started by D. Gawin and D. Karłowicz against Jan Józef Lipski’s famous essay “Dwie ojczyzny. Dwa patriotyzmy / uwagi o megalomanii narodowej i ksenofobii Polaków” (Two motherlands. Two patriotisms. Remarks on the national megalomania and xenophobia of Polish people), published in 1981. Gavin claimed that the model of critical patriotism proposed by Lipski combined hostility and suspicion towards all forms of megalomania or xenophobia with the evangelical imperative of love and forgiveness. Consequently it eliminated from the discourse any possibility of using the category of collective interest because the latter is by its nature marked with egoism. In Gawin’s opinion “Historical policy from this perspective is totally dominated by ethics, it becomes the field in which not only is collective identity being created but where through a painful process of autopsychomachy one rejects the possibility of sin which belongs inherently to the community and the political sphere.”19

  • 20 D. Karłowicz, “Pamięć aksjologiczna a historia” [Axiological memory and history], in Pamięć i odpo (...)

12D. Karłowicz used different arguments. In his opinion Lipski’s proposal, like the rest of his ideas about Polish patriotisms, is aimed against what the author calls “axiological memory.” “It is the record of a value system embedded in the collective memory that constitutes a spiritual dimension of a community.”20 From this point of view immoderate criticism of the national past rejects the axiological sphere and therefore destroys the basis of the community, leading to the tribalization of collective memory.

13The idea of reinterpreting the category of patriotism proposed by these two historians of ideas did not win much favor. In most cases the proponents of stronger state activity in the field of historical memory do not relate to the above-mentioned source of inspiration but to the 19th-century vision of patriotism, which is based on the following beliefs. Firstly, the uniqueness of Polish historical experience against the European background. It is no accident that the brochure popularizing the idea of opening a Museum of Polish History says:

  • 21 Odkryć historię—zrozumieć wolność. Muzeum Historii Polski [Discovering history—understanding freed (...)

In the Museum’s activities the emphasis should lie on what was unique, specific and fascinating in Polish history. Poland is a country with one of the longest republican and parliamentary traditions in Europe, the country of citizens’ freedom, which reached a unique level of religious tolerance in modern history, the country of a unique culture and customs.21

14Secondly, by emphasizing the relationship between modern patriotism, Christianity and the Catholic Church. One of the researchers from the Krakow magazine “Arcana” notes:

  • 22 T. Wituch, “Narodowy bilans XX wieku” [National Balance of the 20th Century], Arcana No. 2 (1999): (...)

It is high time to realize the point we have reached. It is time to reconsider our past. That is the necessity we are facing today. In this respect, we cannot count on any support from the West. They seem even less capable of recognizing the real problems of our times and lag behind us in returning to normality and right principles. We need to reject and deny the whole left-wing tradition – starting with Jacobinism. Because this tradition and this mentality contradict the foundations of our identity: Catholic, Christian, Polish, national but also Latin, Western. It is an urgent and inexorable imperative … We cannot free ourselves intellectually, morally and therefore politically unless we realize what is enslaving us. It is only by exploring the ideological debris of today that we will be able to find our way to the future.22

  • 23 The first quotation is a statement by J. Choińska-Mika published in Polityka historyczna… [Histori (...)

15And thirdly, the concept of patriotism popularized by political history supporters in most cases relates to nationalism in its narrow sense, based on the simple dichotomy “us—them” in its most extreme form, or patronizing “the others” in its gentler form. Generally the aim of the supporters of historical memory is to restore pride in the national past, and—what is equally important and necessary for them—to reinterpret chosen subjects from the history of Poland, both ancient and recent. They see an urgent need to reject that kind of historical consciousness which one of the authors named “the PRL version of a conservative or Jester school”. It is necessary, they claim, to break with a negative perception of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth symbolized by Bobrzyński`s synthesis and to show “the real heroes who remained for the last 70 years in the garbage of history, where they were kept over the last 15 years.23

  • 24 Kicz patriotyczny… [Patriotic kitsch…] See also R. Traba, Walka o kulturę [The battle on culture], (...)
  • 25 A. Romanowski, “Historia, kłamstwo” [History, lie].
  • 26 A. Walicki, “Czy możliwy jest nacjonalizm liberalny?” [Is Liberal Nationalism Possible?] “Znak” 19 (...)
  • 27 “O liberalizmie wspólnocie i historii.” [Liberalism, community and history] Rozmowa “Łukasza Gałec (...)

16Critics of this notion of “tomorrow’s patriotism” point out its numerous weaknesses and limitations. Some historians try to contrast the vision of an affirmative concept of national history with critical patriotism, not antagonistic but respecting the subjectivity of others. This notion of patriotism relates to the nation as a kind of political and civic community, not an ethnic one. According to Robert Traba in a historical policy program there is no room for what he describes as “‘not our’24 national history” and further on he adds “If those who are involved in creating a historical policy fail to adopt a clear stance on the problem of regional patriotism and do not do justice to the multinational character and the heritage of the old Poland, their project will never be credible. It will remain a short-sighted political action of no consequences for historical debates in Poland.” Andrzej Romanowski is even more radical in his attempt to sound the alarm and warn the public that the postulate of creating national pride is based on “a huge dose of hypocrisy and deceit.” In his opinion it should be discredited for two reasons. First, it leads inevitably to the disguising of Polish national complexes. Secondly, it conflicts with the truth and naturally “has a touch of propaganda.”25 It is in this context that the idea of liberal nationalism, formed by Andrzej Walicki, appears.26 With some simplification we may say that it is derived from the criticism of ethnic nationalism and proposes replacing it with a notion of national ideology in which “nation” means a pluralistic community. In this interpreted vision the natural state involves the presence of many memories complementing one another and creating a community based on plural identity. As Walicki says: “It is not a nation in the name of which one may request the unification of opinions and moreover institutionalize a catechism of common memory. In such a community it is impossible to impose identical memories or to use state institutions for this purpose.”27

  • 28 A. Mencwel, “Dwie trumny wiecznie żywe…” [Two coffins always alive…].
  • 29 Ibid.

17One of the few positive (though not uncritical) attempts to interpret the slogan “tomorrow’s patriotism” and the essays of Cichocki, Gawin, and Karłowicz came in the series of articles by Mencwel that we have already mentioned. Accepting the social need for public debate on the postulated content of historical policy, the researcher linked it to Jerzy Giedroyc’s well-known saying about the two coffins, in the shadow of which the debate about Polish tradition has been taking place for years. In his opinion the starting point of the debate on Polish identity and the vision of patriotism should be the final and critical evaluation of the thought of Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski, not in their literal meaning but as “the concentration of meanings,” which expresses two main models of nation: society and state.28 I will not present Mencwel’s argumentation in detail, but in his opinion the continuation and verification of Dmowski’s model after 1945 was “the program of agreement with the communists proposed by “national Catholic” leader Bolesław Piasecki, and Piłsudki’s model was creatively developed by the creator of Parisian “Culture,” Jerzy Giedroyc. According to the above-mentioned historian the former transformation was “adaptational, totalitarian and satellite,” while the latter was “creative, democratic and independent.”29 Obviously those two traditions imply exclusive visions of Poland and patriotism with their respective cultural systems, educational ideas and practices. Mencwel’s conclusion is not very revealing, but undoubtedly unequivocal. In the debate on historical policy we are in a situation; tertium non datur.

  • 30 The chapter, according to which negating Turkish genocide of Armenians is a crime, was voted on an (...)
  • 31 See. D. Gawin, “Polityka historyczna i demokratyczne państwo” [Historical policy and democratic st (...)
  • 32 See. “Polityka zagraniczna—polityka zagraniczna?” [Foreign policy—foreign policy?], in Polityka hi (...)
  • 33 A. Nowak, statement in the discussion “Polska polityka historyczna…” [Polish Historical Policy…], (...)
  • 34 See A. Romanowski, “Historia, kłamstwo…” [History, Lie]; “Polityka kłamstw historycznych…” [The Po (...)

18Now let us turn to the politics of history. Based on the statements heard so far there are at least three, the first of which is the legitimizing or ideological function. From today’s perspective it should support democratic order, the freedom of public discussion and the debate between different traditions. It is especially important at times of danger coming from the state, as can be illustrated by the French experience: both the petition published on 13 December 2005 about “Freedom for History,” protesting against the so-called “Memory Acts” and the recent law condemning the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1915.30 Secondly, there is the integrative-activist function: in this case the intention underlying historical policy is to unite the Polish people around a commonly accepted vision of the past and to inspire its approval and support. Thirdly, we find the “uncovering” function, with the aim of showing strange, false contents and defining the enemy (enemies) both in internal and foreign affairs. In the debate that we are now analyzing only the first of these functions seems not to be controversial;31 the other two divide historians. According to the supporters of memory policy its role is to oppose the false images of the national past that were formed under the PRL and to counter the sometimes aggressive decisions to ignore the Polish perspective on historical policy of our neighbors (especially Russia).32 From this perspective, some of them do not hesitate to speak openly of “counterpropaganda” as an antidote to the nihilism of propaganda activities during the PRL and their continuation after 1989.33 Critics of memory policy relate to the same clichés but evaluate them a rebours. For them the contemporary form of historical policy, both in its program and methods, means a return to communist times.34 These historians also shun the idea of applying “direct” historical policy in diplomatic activity. They emphasize the inefficiency of actions based on reinforcing mutual conflicts, the need for empathy, and rejection of the temptation to treat Poland as the core of all things. Walicki’s state-ment on Polish–Russian relations is a good example of this context:

  • 35 “O liberalizmie, wspólnocie i historii…” [Liberalism, community and history], p. 30. There are sim (...)

Both nations, Polish and Russians, have suffered and are extremely sensitive in questions of historical memory. Our mutual relations are often marked by hysterical reactions. The Russians too present similar behavior. If we reopen our own wounds, it is not so big a problem. The real problems crop up when the Poles set about reopening Russian wounds and Russians begin to reopen the Polish ones. A war over historical memory will do the Poles no good. That is why I think it is better advised to abstain from making it the object of great politics.35

  • 36 R. Stobiecki, “Historyk i jego rola we współczesnym świecie” [The historian and his role in the co (...)

19There is another interesting question about historical policy: What does it say about us historians? I have already mentioned the two images of historians derived from the 19th century which still predominate in research circles.36 The first one is related to the figure of the “neutral observer,” “the impartial searcher for truth” who is guided only by cognitive pursuits. The second identifies the historian as the “spiritual guide and the educator of the nation,” who would like to transform history into a treasury of useful knowledge and an important part of common opinion.

  • 37 Z. Krasnodębski, the statement in the discussion on “Historical Policy, the Role of Historians,” i (...)

20We may get the impression that in the debate on historical policy both images are somehow being up-dated and gaining new justification. Obviously the supporters of historical policy most often identify themselves with the latter image. The key issue in this context remains the relationship between historiography and social life, especially politics. As usual, the starting point is the diagnosis of everything that happened in Poland after 1989. According to one side of the debate the characteristic feature of this period was that historians believed that the role of the researcher could replace that of the judge and citizen, and politicians occupied themselves with historical policy, choosing a future without any reference to the past.37 In the opinion of supporters of memory policy the division between the scientific and the public spheres is inherently false and artificial, and cannot be sustained. One characteristic statement of this point of view goes:

  • 38 T. Merta, the statement in the discussion on “Historical Policy, the Role of Historians,” ibid., p (...)

I cannot completely understand how a historian can declare that in reality he does not belong to the political sphere. It is not only the question of the contrast between the historian and the politician, who comes from outside and is demanding or suggesting something, or wants to use his knowledge instrumentally. Politics in its broad sense is present in the historian’s very activity, in such elementary issues as choosing a subject for research and presentation. I think that politics does not exist “somewhere else”; it is an inherent part of all human activity, and therefore of the activities of the historian. His decisions are political par excellence and should be treated as such.38

  • 39 A. Nowak, statement in the discussion on “Polska polityka historyczna” [Polish historical policy], (...)

21From this perspective one may add that the results of historical research are not used only for scientific purposes, but should also contain some educational aspect. Supporters of historical policy want to legitimize two types of historical discourse in regard to their social role: the academic and the popular-scientific. According to them historical research is a mission that is clearly described by one researcher as follows: “History implies some obligation (…) We cannot revive the imagination of young generations only with souvenirs. We must show them certain tasks through history, if they want to feel the value of being Polish.”39

  • 40 B. Geremek, “Pamięć…,” p. 125.
  • 41 D. Grinberg, contribution to the discussion “Could the State Rule over History?” Gazeta Wyborcza ( (...)
  • 42 Romanowski, Historia, kłamstwo…

22Opposing this, we find the voices of those representatives of historical circles who favor the first of the above-mentioned images of the historian. They are afraid of involving the historian in current politics, for presenting his political views and ideas clearly contradicts the idea of independent historiography. Here is one example: “The sphere of the past (…) should remain the autonomous domain of researchers and should not be given away to the prosecutors who rule memory according to the interests of the state or raison d’etre.”40 Other discussants note that there are two ways of dealing with history: gratuitous and mercenary. In the former case “even the worst truth is better than a lie”; in the latter the researcher favors the selective and instrumental aspect of science.41 There are some radical opinions among the opponents of historical policy. The description “political historian” sometimes becomes the personification of someone who “knows what he knows and does not bother to prove it, and moreover insults others”; it is an image which contradicts the ideal of the historian’s work, the pursuit of truth, and disregards the common rules of historical methodology.42

23The moderate voices of those seeking a compromise between the world of politics and the historical community are in a minority. P. Machcewicz voiced such an idea: in his opinion both sides should be “longsighted and deliberate”:

  • 43 P. Machcewicz, statement made during the discussion on “Historical Policy, the Role of Historians, (...)

politicians must appreciate the significance of history, support scientific research and educational activities relating to the past, but avoid an instrumental approach. But historians should recognize their civic obligations and the fact that the results of their work are important not only for them but for the whole community. At the same time they should guard their independence as they would protect their own eyes, avoid the temptations of “court historiography” and be able to say “no” to the politicians in certain situations … I believe that such a model of co-operation is achievable, however difficult.43

24It would simplify the picture if one thought that this layer of the discussion about historical policy revealed only a fundamental conflict between two images of the historian: “the independent scientist” and “the historian concerned about the spirit of the community.” It is also an issue of the place of knowledge about the past in public debate and questions about the historian’s responsibility. Consequently the following questions become significant: first, should the researcher remain indifferent towards different modern ways of using the past? Second, is it possible to limit the abovementioned problem of responsibility only remaining faithful to truth in the most reasonable meaning of this word and historical methodology? Or should it reach beyond the purely scientific sphere and emphasize the historian’s obligations towards the community: state, national or local?

IV.

25The voices of historians presented above, emphasising differences rather than similarities with regard to the debate on historical policy, allow us to come to what are obviously provisional conclusions.

26Firstly, there is no doubt that the debate, which has gone on for several years, has not only brought new life into academic circles but has also helped us to realize that the past exercises extraordinary power and constitutes an intrinsic component of our present culture. The atmosphere of the debate and its sometimes extremely emotional tone clearly show that the assumptions that were characteristic of the nineties, of a flexible future and a past which hardly imposes any limits, have disappeared. For some time it seemed that in the latter sphere there were no major issues to be debated. Today a significantly different opinion prevails. The discussions summarized above show spectacularly that arguments about the past have grown in importance and that this is no temporary trend. At the beginning of the 21st century the recent history of Poland has become the arena of major debates, which divide different generations of Polish people.

  • 44 W. Wrzosek, “Historiograficzny status historii narodowej” [The historiographical status of nationa (...)

27Secondly, the debate on historical policy has revealed, although only hazily so far, the controversy regarding the relationship between historiography and collective memory. The reason for this situation is an almost simultaneous change in the circumstances under which professional historians operate. As Wojciech Wrzosek observed in a slightly different context: “historians ‘breathe in’ the stereotypes of their profession and recognize the fact of breathing only when the circumstances in which they breathe change.”44 What was the sense of this change? French historian Pierre Nora describes the new situation as follows:

  • 45 P. Nora, Czas pamięci [The time of memory], Res Publica Nowa No. 7 (2001), p. 41.

The whole of history … now transformed into a field with scientific ambitions, was built on the basis of memory, but memory was not perceived as individual, psychological and unreliable; it was useful only as a proof. History was the domain of the community, a memory of privacy. There was one history and ex definitione many kinds of memory, because memory is by nature individual. The idea of collective memory liberating and being praised means the exact opposite situation. Individuals had memory, communities had history. The idea that communities have memory implies a significant change in the place of individuals in community and their mutual relationships …45

  • 46 Ibid., p. 43.
  • 47 An example of a totally different opinion from Pierre Nore’s is presented in the latest book by K. (...)

28The identification of history with memory has two consequences. One is the rapid intensification of the use of the past in politics, tourism, and the economy, the other is the fact that the historian has lost his traditional monopoly over the interpretation of the past. Today the historian is not the only producer of the past. He shares this role with judges, witnesses, the media and legislators.46 The boundary between common and scientific discourse naturally becomes blurred. Both contain the same categories, however differently understood. We are observing their fusion and mutual replacement. The very term “historical policy” is a significant example. From this perspective the debate on historical policy shows the tensions and conflicts between those who treat it as a way of manipulating collective memory and those who want it revived as a fundamental part of the Polish historical experience. The former case clearly shows the opposition between collective memory and historiography; the latter emphasizes their complementary relationship.47

  • 48 Cf. K. Bachman’s, Długi cień Trzeciej Rzeszy. Jak Niemcy zmieniali swój charakter narodowy [The Lo (...)

29Thirdly, the debate presented above has raised the question of which model of historical policy Poland should adopt, especially in relation to our neighbors. Undoubtedly every historical policy relates to a certain system of values. Therefore, it is worth wondering whether it should be a civic paradigm, based on notions of human rights, democracy and pluralism, or a national paradigm emphasizing the following issues: sovereignty; the interests of the nation; and the national state.48 There are two reasons why it is hard to answer this question. On the one hand, Poland is in a difficult geopolitical position. Even if we assume that it would be easier to achieve a compromise with the Germans using the civic or multinational code, we still have to deal with the challenge of Russian historical policy; the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War two years ago show that we are facing a revival of national and imperialist rhetoric. On the other hand we must face the dilemma: on which axiology should we base a program of historical policy? Are we mentally prepared to use two systems of values simultaneously? Is it possible at all? Its consequences would involve compromises between the contradictory axiologies, priorities and methods used in different cases.

30The debate about historical policy has already raised many such questions. Only by answering them can we move beyond well-known, comfortable ways of thinking and indirectly add a civic aspect to history, thus protecting Polish people from the always dangerous act of usurping it.

Notes

1 For further reading see e.g., M. Pawłowski, ed., Spór o PRL, (The Debate about the Polish People’s Republic) (Cracow: Wyd. Znak, 1996); S. Ciesielski, and W. Wrzesiński, Uwagi o stanie badań nad dziejami powojennej Polski, “Polska 1944/1945–1989. Studia i materiały,” [Remarks on the state of research on postwar Poland, “Poland 1944/1945/1989. Studies and Materials”] (Warsaw: 1995), pp. 217–240; A. Friszke, “Spór o PRL w III Rzeczypospolitej (1989–2001)” [The Debate on the PRL in the Third Republic of Poland (1989–2001)], Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość [Memory and Justice] 2002, No. 1, pp. 9–28; Ibid., “Polish Communism in Contemporary Debates,” in Stalinism in Poland. Selected Papers from the Fifth World Congress of Central and East European Studies, Warsaw 1995, A. Kemp-Welch, ed. and trans. (London: Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1999), pp. 144–157; P. Machcewicz, “Spory o PRL w polskiej historiografii i publicystyce po 1989 r.” [The Debates about the PRL in Polish Historiography and Writing after 1989], in Historycy polscy i ukraińscy wobec problemów XX wieku [Polish and Ukrainian historians facing 20th-century problems], in P. Kosiewski and G. Motyka, eds. (Crakow: Wyd. Universitas, 2000), pp. 68–81; R. Stobiecki, Spór o interpretacje PRL w publicystyce i historiografii polskiej po 1989. [The Debate on the interpretation of the PRL in Polish historiography and historical publicism after 1989], in Historia, poznanie i przekaz. B. Jakubowska, ed., (Rzeszów: Wyd. WSP, 2000), pp. 169–182.

2 The work summing up the debates and research related to the crimes in Jedwabne is Wokół Jedwabnego [Around Jedwabne], P. Machcewicz and K. Persak, eds., Vols. 1–2, (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, 2002). See also: Jedwabne: Spór historyków wokół książki Jana T. Grossa “Sąsiedzi” [Jedwabne. The Historians’ Debate around Jan T. Gross’ book “Neighbors”] (Warsaw: Wyd. Fronda, 2002); “Thou Shalt not Kill”: Poles on Jedwabne (Warsaw: Wyd. Więź, 2001); B. Törnquist-Plewa, “The Jedwabne Killings—a challenge for Polish collective memory. The Polish Debate on Neighbours,” in Echoes of the Holocaust. Historical Cultures in Contemporary Europe, K. G. Karlsson and U. Zander, eds., (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2003), pp.

141–176.

3 For examples of such debates see discussions published in Mówią Wieki No. 8 (2006), Biuletyn IPN No. 5 (2006), or Gazeta Wyborcza” Nos. 1–2 (October 2005).

4 Statement in the discussion “Historical policy—for and against,” Mówią Wieki No. 8 (2006), See also, Polityka pamięci [The Memory Policy], Rzeczpospolita Nos. 10–11 (June 2006).

5 D. Gawin and P. Kowal, “Polska polityka historyczna” [Polish Historical policy], in Polityka historyczna. Historycy—politycy—prasa, (Warsaw: Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego, 2005), p. 13. (Materials from the conference relating to this theme organized on 15 December 2004.)

6 Ibid.

7 M. Cichocki, “Czas silnych tożsamości” [The time of strong identities], in Polityka historyczna… [Historical policy…], p. 17. See also R. Kostro and K. M. Ujazdowski, “Odzyskać pamięć” [Regaining Memory], in Pamięć i odpowiedzialność [Memory and responsibility], R. Kostro and T. Merta, eds., (Cracow–Wrocław: OMP-Centrum Konserwatywne, 2005), p. 45.

8 M. Cichocki, “Czas silnych tożsamości”, p. 15. Politicians express similar ideas. There is a characteristic statement by Jan Maria Rokita: “Historical memory is not only the property of the professors of history and academics, historical memory is a collective memory, not private Klio property,” ibid., “Głos w dyskusi” [The voice in the discussion], in Pamięć i polityka zagraniczna [Memory and foreign affairs], P. Kosiewski, ed., (Warsaw: Fundacja im. Stefana Batorego, 2006), p. 135.

9 M. Kula, “Wypowiedź w dyskusji…” [Voice in Discussion…], p. 1.

10 M. Kula, “Wypowiedź w dyskusji,” p. 2.

11 See “Głosy w dyskusji A. Juzwenki i D. Nałęcz” [Voices in discussion of A. Juzwenko and D. Nałęcz], in Polityka historyczna… [Historical policy…], pp. 45–46, 52–53; “Kicz patriotyczny. Wywiad J. Kurskiego z R. Trabą” [Patriotic kitsch. The interview of J. Kurski with R. Traba] Gazeta Wyborcza 7–8 (January 2006), R. Traba, “Walka o kulturę. Przestrzeń dialogu w najnowszej debacie o polskiej historii i pamięci” [The Battle on Culture. The Space for dialogue in recent debate about Polish history and memory], Przegląd Polityczny No. 75 (2006): pp. 45–53. After the publication of this text the whole collection of R. Traba studies appeared as Historia—przestrzeń dialogu [History—The Space for Dialogue], (Warsaw: Wyd. Instytutu Studiów Politycznych PAN, 2006); A. Romanowski, “Historia, kłamstwo i banał”, Gazeta Wyborcza (15–16 July 2006); “Polityka kłamstw historycznych” [The Policy of Historical Lies], Gazeta Wyborcza (7–8 October 2006) (Trancript of UMSC in Lublin debate with the participation of K. Pomian, A. Michnik and J. Życiński).

12 P. Machcewicz, “Polityka historyczna to nic nowego” [Historical policy is nothing new], Gazeta Wyborcza (20 April 2006).

13 A. Wolff-Powęska, “Państwo precz od historii” [The state must leave history], Gazeta Wyborcza (3–4 May 2006).

14 Ibid.

15 I mean the three-part essay published in Rzeczypospolita: “Tradycja do remontu” [Tradition for Renovation], (16–17 September 2006), “Jak stwarza się naród” [How to Create a Nation], (23–24 September 2006), “Dwie trumny wiecznie żywe” [Two Coffins always alive], (30 September–1 October 2006).

16 A. Mencwel, “Tradycja do remontu” [Tradition for Renovation], Rzeczpospolita (16–17 September 2006).

17 Ibid.

18 The significance of this dilemma was pointed out by A. Dudek in his speech published in Polityka historyczna…[Historical Policy…], p. 104.

19 D. Gawin, O pożytkach i szkodliwości historycznego rewizjonizmu [On the advantages and disadvantages of Historical Revisionism] in: Pamięć i odpowiedzialność… [Memory and Responsibility], p. 20. It is worth mentioning that Gawin’s criticism is not aimed directly at J.J. Lipski but rather at the social consequences of his ideas. “The attitude of Jan Józef Lipski may become a symbol of patriotism and civil obedience for the next generation of Polish people. He preferred not to mention his own patriotism, which could be a reason for pride… It was a noble and ethically radical position. At first not threatening anyone with consequences, but with time it has brought more and more significant results, because it contained some risk. The attitude of heroic ethically radical criticism was the basis of the bringing whole masses of intellectuals to use involuntary automatic criticism. Radical criticism becomes intellectual addiction, a mental disposition overcoming any thought.” Ibid. p. 28.

20 D. Karłowicz, “Pamięć aksjologiczna a historia” [Axiological memory and history], in Pamięć i odpowiedzialność… [Memory and Responsibility], p. 35.

21 Odkryć historię—zrozumieć wolność. Muzeum Historii Polski [Discovering history—understanding freedom. The museum of Polish history] (Warsaw: Muzeum Historii Polski, 2006), p. 16.

22 T. Wituch, “Narodowy bilans XX wieku” [National Balance of the 20th Century], Arcana No. 2 (1999): 25. See also the opinions of T. Wituch and Marek K. Kamiński published in Arcana as the answer for their survey regarding historical patterns in contemporary Poland, Arcana No. 1 (1988): 20–25, 31–32 and the contributions of J. Żaryn, A. Nowak and Marek Jurek in the discussion “Polska polityka historyczna” [Polish Historical Policy] published in Biuletyn IPN No. 5 (2006): 2–3, 7–8, 11.

23 The first quotation is a statement by J. Choińska-Mika published in Polityka historyczna… [Historical Policy…], pp. 79–80, the second is part of A. Nowak’s contribution to the discussion “Polska polityka historyczna” [Polish Historical Policy], Biuletyn IPN No. 5 (2006): 28.

24 Kicz patriotyczny… [Patriotic kitsch…] See also R. Traba, Walka o kulturę [The battle on culture], pp. 45–53.

25 A. Romanowski, “Historia, kłamstwo” [History, lie].

26 A. Walicki, “Czy możliwy jest nacjonalizm liberalny?” [Is Liberal Nationalism Possible?] “Znak” 1997, No. 3.

27 “O liberalizmie wspólnocie i historii.” [Liberalism, community and history] Rozmowa “Łukasza Gałeckiego z Andrzejem Walickim,” [Interview of Lukasz Galecki with Andrzej Walicki] “Przegląd Polityczny” No. 75/26 (2006).

28 A. Mencwel, “Dwie trumny wiecznie żywe…” [Two coffins always alive…].

29 Ibid.

30 The chapter, according to which negating Turkish genocide of Armenians is a crime, was voted on and accepted by the French parliament on 17 October 2006. For further reading see. E. Bieńkowska, “Demokracja—historia—cenzura” [Democracy—history—censorship], Europa. Tygodnik Idei 19 July 2006; L. Sonik, “Wojna o historię” [The war on history], Rzeczpospolita (11–12 March 2006); T. G. Ash, “Nie potrzebujemy nowych tabu” [We do not need new taboo topics], Gazeta Wyborcza 21–22.10. 2006.

31 See. D. Gawin, “Polityka historyczna i demokratyczne państwo” [Historical policy and democratic state], in Polityka historyczna… [Historical Policy…], pp. 22–27.

32 See. “Polityka zagraniczna—polityka zagraniczna?” [Foreign policy—foreign policy?], in Polityka historyczna… [Historical Policy], pp. 121–151, especially A. Nowak’s statement regarding Polish–Russian relations, ibid., pp. 125–128. See also Pamięć i polityka zagraniczna… [Memory and Historical Policy].

33 A. Nowak, statement in the discussion “Polska polityka historyczna…” [Polish Historical Policy…], p. 33.

34 See A. Romanowski, “Historia, kłamstwo…” [History, Lie]; “Polityka kłamstw historycznych…” [The Policy of Historical Lies].

35 “O liberalizmie, wspólnocie i historii…” [Liberalism, community and history], p. 30. There are similar statements by other debaters. See B. Geremek, “Pamięć indywidualna a pamięć zbiorowa” [Individual and collective memory], in Pamięć i polityka zagraniczna… [Memory and historical policy], p. 125.

36 R. Stobiecki, “Historyk i jego rola we współczesnym świecie” [The historian and his role in the contemporary world], in Gra i konieczność. Zbiór rozpraw z historii historiografii i filozofii histori [The game and necessity. The compilation of writing on the history of historiography and history of philosophy], G. A. Dominiak, J. Ostoja-Zagórski, W. Wrzosek, eds., (Bydgoszcz: 2005), pp. 49–60.

37 Z. Krasnodębski, the statement in the discussion on “Historical Policy, the Role of Historians,” in Polityka historyczna, p. 90.

38 T. Merta, the statement in the discussion on “Historical Policy, the Role of Historians,” ibid., p. 98.

39 A. Nowak, statement in the discussion on “Polska polityka historyczna” [Polish historical policy], Biuletyn IPN, p. 8.

40 B. Geremek, “Pamięć…,” p. 125.

41 D. Grinberg, contribution to the discussion “Could the State Rule over History?” Gazeta Wyborcza (17–18 June 2006). This is a shortened transcript of the discussion on “The Jewish Subject and Polish Historical Policy”, which took place on 24 May 2006 during the IXth Days of the Jewish Book organized by the Midrasz association.

42 Romanowski, Historia, kłamstwo…

43 P. Machcewicz, statement made during the discussion on “Historical Policy, the Role of Historians,” pp. 95–96.

44 W. Wrzosek, “Historiograficzny status historii narodowej” [The historiographical status of national history], in Wielokulturowe środowisko historyczne Lwowa w XIX i XX w. [The Multicultural Circle of Historians in Lvov 19th and 20th centuries] (Lvov— Rzeszów: Wydawnictwo Universytetu Rzeszowskiego, 2006), p.14.

45 P. Nora, Czas pamięci [The time of memory], Res Publica Nowa No. 7 (2001), p. 41.

46 Ibid., p. 43.

47 An example of a totally different opinion from Pierre Nore’s is presented in the latest book by K. Pomian, Historia. Nauka wobec pamięci (History. The science towards memory) (Lublin: Wyd. UMCS, 2006), especially pp. 181–187.

48 Cf. K. Bachman’s, Długi cień Trzeciej Rzeszy. Jak Niemcy zmieniali swój charakter narodowy [The Long shadow of the Third Reich. How the Germans changed their national character] (Wrocław: Wyd. Atut, 2005) and my review of this work was published in Dzieje Najnowsze No 2 (2006): 199–204.

Auteur

Rafał Stobiecki is Professor at the Chair of the History of Historiography of Łódź University. His fields of interest include the history of modern historical thought with special emphasis on the historiography of the communist period and Polish historiography in exile. Author of numerous books, most recently Bolszewizm a Historia. Próba rekonstrukcji bolszewickiej filozofii dziejów [Bolshevism versus history. An attempt to reconstruct the Bolshevik philosophy of history] (Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, 1998); Klio na wygnaniu. Z dziejów polskiej historiografii na uchodźstwie w Wielkiej Brytanii po II wojnie światowej po 1945 r. [Clio in exile. On Polish émigré historiography in Great Britain after 1945] (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2005); co-author with Jarosław Kita of Słownik biograficzny historyków łódzkich [Biographical dictionary of Łódź historians] (Łódź: Ibidem, 2000); Jerzego Giedroycia rozrachunki z historią i polityką [Jerzy Giedroyc’s coming to terms with history and politics] (Łódź: Ibidem, 2005).

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