Historical memory: building a myth around history is needed

During the second day of the “Freedom Games” we had the opportunity to host Luba Jurgenson (lecturer of Slavic studies at Sorbonne), Paul Gradvohl (a historian specializing in the history of Central Europe) and Janusz Marszalec (political scientist and historian). The main theme of the discussion panel led by Sebastian Adamkiewicz was the memory in political and historical terms.

First, the guests were wondering what memory was. It has been defined by our speakers as a very important thing in modern life, because it affects the present and our identity. Professor Luba Jurgenson drew attention to the new discipline of the study of memory, which indicates the enormous role of this phenomenon in today’s world. “National memory will ensure dominance and political unity” – these words of the French historian have become the leitmotif of the further part of the debate. The specialist, however, added that in some countries (in Poland, Russia) there are numerous historical mendacies. What’s more, memory varies depending on individual countries and historical periods. Janusz Marszalec emphasized that there is no one memory (we distinguish collective and individual memory, family memory). He also focused on its credibility, which nowadays, in the era of news appearing every second, is very difficult to obtain. What’s more, credibility is something else to everyone, it is not universal. Janusz Marszalec pointed the first part of the meeting with the words: “The whole art is not to go crazy in excess of emotions and information and to base your knowledge on credible foundations, which for everyone will be something else.” At the same time, bad grounds can lead to behaviors such as xenophobia.

The second part of the panel was dedicated to the memory in history, or strictly historical memory. This kind of memory serves to create a national identity, important for all of us. “Memory reflects our present because it can change it” – such words of a professor from the Sorbonne led to very interesting reflections on the Cursed Soldiers, because the memory of them was awakened not earlier than five years ago. According to all the lecturers, in Poland, there is a memory model that assumes that children are taught in our country that a real and good Pole had to belong to the resistance movement. This in turn causes the basic danger – a model of heroism, which forces people to deny the basis of human behavior, which is never unambiguous. Of course, scientists have admitted that the Cursed Soldiers can not be forgotten, but you can not create myths and break the truth. They noticed that the really important works of Polish historians do not make it to historical textbooks where you can see the manipulation of facts and the creation of myths about many personalities and social groups. It happened because public institutions controlled by the government had more power than independent scientific and university research.

Interestingly, Luba Jurgenson noticed that constructing a myth around history is needed. Even museums are places where a utopia is created, so memory is never universal. Someone who has survived certain events, passes them on, and every story passed verbally (and this is how the history of the whole world was created) will end up being mythologized. Unfortunately, this leads to the blurring of responsibility for certain events – so the NKVD is not considered by many to be a criminal organization. The paradox is that on one side we can do without such myths, but on the other hand, we can not live without them, because every society needs a hero’s model. Professor Gradvohl, touched on the subject of human ambition, which consists in understanding others. Memory is the tool we use to fight the fear of freedom and the ambition of freedom. What is local is no longer limited to what is local.

The meeting left viewers with an incentive to reflect on memory, a phenomenon that we use every day, although we do not even realize it. Paul Gradvohl summed up the panel saying that we should be able to explain what is important to us to other people without the same cultural and political experience. “First, it is necessary to reliably learn history from reliable sources and then propagate it further” – with such a conclusion on the peripheries of Polish history in Western Europe, we were left by Doctor Janusz Marszalec and we must admit that it is difficult to disagree with him.

Nina Baranowska


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