Photo by Institute of National Remembrance
For many years we did not know how to tell our unique and beautiful history, including stories about the Polish Underground State, the heroic Home Army soldiers, the daily resistance against the invaders and the fact that no Polish government would ever collaborate with the Germans.
In conversation with Jarosław Szarek, PhD, President of the Institute of National Remembrance
Fighting historical lies is one of the most important tasks of the Institute. What, in your opinion, should you do to accomplish that?
The Institute of National Remembrance employs over 2,200 people, including eminent academic researchers. This enormous potential can be harnessed to carry out long-term educational campaigns that promote Poland’s recent history. We want to break through with the true account of Polish history to international audiences. We need to bear in mind, however, that our success overseas is possible only if we are able to make our story attractive and engaging.
And how do the Institute want to do this?
First of all, we want to do away with shame pedagogy, which has been fostered for many years now. National identity must be built on positive foundations. This is emphasised in the Preamble to our Constitution, which says that we should pass on our values and heritage to future generations.
The period of political transformation, which started in the 1990s, was marked by the escape from history or the focus on its darkest pages. The slogans about the future were so engaging at the time that they could easily win you the presidential election. The dominant narrative was that Polish national identity is a burden and we have to become more European. One of the implications of these attitudes was that mendacious terms such as “Polish concentration camps” began to appear in the global media. Had we taken emphatic and immediate action against this, nobody would be saying now that German camps and German death factories were Polish.
For many years we did not know how to tell our unique and beautiful history, including stories about the Polish Underground State, the heroic Home Army soldiers, the daily resistance against the invaders and the fact that no Polish government would ever collaborate with the Germans. It is a pity that the Polish film industry has never created a film about cavalry captain Witold Pilecki, who is considered by Western historians to have been one of the six most courageous men in World War II.
When are we going to make up ground?
We are doing this already. Much of the credit goes to young people, who began to speak up for Polish history. These young people are proud to wear our white and red national colours and patriotic clothing. They have turned patriotism into a fashion.
Changes in awareness and attitudes towards history are also visible in other areas. Take our embassies and consulates for example. Not so long ago, the Polish diaspora could count on little support from the Polish diplomatic service when they began their protest against the term “Polish camps”. We have seen a marked improvement recently. Another fine example is the Museum of World War II in Gdańsk. Initially, the Museum’s focus was on the universal account of World War II. However, we can now see the necessity in presenting the Polish perspective more fully.