Exodus of Kresy one of the ”Geneologies of Remembrance” themes

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Over one hundred scholars from around the world debated for three days in the University Library in Warsaw on violence and trauma of the twentieth century in the collective memory of the inhabitants of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. One of the panels of the international conference ”Regions of Remembrance. Central and Eastern Europe in a Comparative Perspective” was dedicated to the Polish experiences related to the forced resettlement of Poles (but also Jews and other nationalities) from the former ”Kresy” (”borderlands”) area. After World War II, they massively left the former Eastern provinces of the Second Polish Republic which had been attached to the Soviet republics – Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. 

As a result of World War II, the collective memory of Central and Eastern Europe’s societies concerns not only the committed crimes but also, as the sociologist Dr. Małgorzata Głowacka-Grajper from the University of Warsaw argued, the mass displacements of, among others, Poles and Jews in Kresy. ”In this case you cannot really speak of the repatriation since people didn’t return to their homeland but rather were evacuated,” pointed out Głowacka-Grajper in her paper.

”The remembrances of the resettlement and local homeland from which they came, were actually pushed to the margins of social and political life during the whole period of communism (…). However, after the beginning of democratic changes in Poland, even a little before 1989, there was a phenomenon that can be called the Kresy remembrance explosion,” emphasized the UW researcher, adding that this phenomenon was manifested by publishing a large number of memories, albums, reportages concerning the life of the former Kresy-inhabitants and by organizing trips to the territories of modern Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

”Also a lot of organizations were established but what is characteristic is the fact that it has never been a one joint organization,” noted Głowacka-Grajper, explaining that it is related to the different identities of ”Kresowiacy” (inhabitants of Kresy). ”The ambiguity of the remembrances of Kresy (…) is very subtle and is expressed in the very use of the concepts of Kresy and Kresowiacy. It is a collective term that combines very diverse communities, situations and territories,” explained the sociologist. The people examined by the sociologists do not consider themselves ”Kresowiacy” but for example inhabitants of Vilnius or Lviv and deem it a mistake to fall under this joint definition.

While summarizing the paper Głowacka-Grajper noticed that nowadays we can talk about the next ”Kresy remembrance explosion,”  this time manifesting itself in creation of numerous websites, where stories of Kresowiacy and testimonies of their life in old Poland are collected. The Internet and recollections of Kresowiacy published thanks to it, may partially compensate for the loss of Polish collective memory of Kresy. ”This loss was caused, among others things, by the lack of communication in many families during the communist period. They were afraid of talking about their experiences, about where they came from and what was their life like before the war,” pointed out the sociologist.

The estimated number of people coming from Kresy and their descendants living today in Poland amounts to about 6 to 8 millions. Some Poles, however, could not or did not want to leave their  Little Homelands – after the subsequent expatriations that took place from 1944 to 1959, nearly one and a half millions of Poles remained on the territory of the former Soviet Union (according to the census from 1959 – 1.38 millions). Currently, the number of Poles living in the former Soviet republics is estimated at 800-900 thousand, half of whom still live in dense groups in areas of the historical ”Wileńszczyzna” (Vilnius Region), divided during the years 1939-1940 by Stalin between Lithuanian and Belorussian SSR. About 200 thousand Poles live today on the Lithuanian and about 230 thousand on the Belarusian side of the border, which has become part of the new European “Iron Curtain.”

At the conference “Regions of Remembrance. Central and Eastern Europe in Comparative Perspective,”  the scholars also touched upon the issues such as the civil war in the years 1946-1949  in the biographical memory of the Greek repatriates from Poland, the post-war presence of the Polish Jews in Lower Silesia, their remembrance of this experience and emigration from Poland in the 50s and 60s, the collective memory of communism in Romania after 1989, boundary changes in the twentieth century (India-Pakistan), dealing with the past and reconciliation processes (at the example of Rwanda, Peru and Germany), the use of remembrance for political purposes (in Ukraine and Egypt),  minorities remembrance (Crimean Tatars, Roma, Old Believers), remembrance of the city multiculturalism (Białystok, Lublin).

”Genaologies of Remembrance” is a project launched in 2011 by the European Network   Remembrance and Solidarity, carried out jointly with the Institute of Sociology of the University of Warsaw, Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities and Freie Universität Berlin (Free University of Berlin).

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/exodus-kresow-jednym-z-tematow-genealogii-pamieci

Tłumaczenie Milena Jajkowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Milena Jajkowska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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