The commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the fall of communism in Poland – a fractured memory regime
The dissertation examines the 2019 commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the fall of state socialism in Poland, seeking answers to how and why different political actors commemorated the events in the way they did. The commemorations are studied through Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik’s theory of the politics of memory (2014), according to which political actors adopt different mnemonic actor roles (abnegator, pluralist, warrior, prospective) that in turn determine the memory regime of a commemorative event (unified, pillarised, fractured). The data consists of 29 speeches and texts drawn from thirteen events clustered around the Roundtable Talks and the beginning of June. The speeches are analysed with qualitative content analysis primarily from video recordings. The dissertation updates Bernhard and Kubik’s analysis of the same topic from ten years ago. In 2019, the memory regime pertaining to the events of 1989 remained fractured, with the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) celebrating separately from the opposition. PiS initially attempted to abnegate the commemorations of the Roundtable Talks and the first semi-free elections of 4 June 1989 by not organising major state-endorsed celebrations. In the end, the opposition organised an 11- day celebration in Gdańsk together with local governments, whereas PiS opted for small-scale celebrations in the form of a special sitting of the Senate. Both sides featured mnemonic warriors who rallied around three major narratives. The opposition presented itself as the inheritor of the Solidarity movement and accused PiS of trying to negate this legacy. PiS presented itself as the inheritor of Pope John Paul II and focused on commemorating the 40th anniversary of his first pilgrimage to Poland, presenting this as the beginning of the Solidarity movement. Second, PiS emphasised the dissolution of the first democratically elected government of Jan Olszewski on 4 June 1992 and associated the opposition with the ‘post-communist’ system this allegedly created. Notable mnemonic pluralists included former president Aleksander Kwaśniewski and current president Andrzej Duda (PiS). A comparison with the commemorations of 2009 suggests that being in the opposition prompted the old governing party Civic Platform (PO) to adopt a mnemonic warrior position – a notable change from their earlier pluralist and abnegator stance. In addition, the opposition used the commemorations to kickstart their campaign to the autumn parliamentary elections. Both sides used memory layering – the combining of different memory regimes – as a central strategy. The divided commemorations give no reason to believe that the polarisation of Polish society is going to diminish. On the other hand, the political usefulness of mnemonic conflict about 1989 seems to be receding, with the ideological battle between a liberal and conservative vision of Poland being fought on other fronts.
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