10.00  Transformation of the Political-Economic System in Poland and New Values of Built Heritage

9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper concerns the changes and modifications of Polish built heritage after 1989. For Poland, the year of the fall of the Iron Curtain marked the beginning of political and economic transformation, of a transition from a socialist state and a member of the Soviet Bloc to a capitalist state integrated in the European Union. The implementation of democratic institutions and procedures, and the rise of free-market economy based on private property has nurtured profound changes in the standard of living, which in turn triggered significant transformations of the traditional cultural landscape. Along with the development of pluralistic society, new ideas and approaches arose in the heritage sphere. 

The phenomenon described by Pierre Nora as “the explosion of memory” was one, but not the only, source of these changes. The heritage practices were just as well shaped by the cultural policy of the state. As international cooperation was deepening, and the integration with the European Union was progressing, the makers of this policy were increasingly drawing on the ideas and solutions stemming from the experiences of the developed countries of the West.

The heritage policy of the period was also influenced by the economic interpretations of culture, especially the idea of cultural capital, understood as a reserve of cultural values. Among Polish heritage experts and professionals, the works by Gregory J. Ashworth contributed significantly to the popularity of the ideas of David Throsby and Arjo Klamer. Ashworth presented heritage enterprises as an alternative to traditional approaches to conservation, emphasizing that “the primary objective of managing relics of the past as a part of heritage is not their protection, but their consumption.”

Heritage policies based on management strategies derived from economic science may be analyzed on various levels. However, in the context of the session “Re-writing history in the time of late capitalism. Uses and abuses of built heritage,” the axiological and ethical aspects seem to be the most relevant.

The primary objective of this paper is to present the changes that the criteria of evaluation of monuments have been undergoing in contemporary Poland. The process is tremendously dynamic, which becomes apparent when one considers the widespread, grand-scale changes to the relics of old architecture in the last two decades. In this paper, the entry point for a discussion on the recent state of conservation ethics will be the statement by G. J. Ashworth that, “while treating heritage as a commodity, one should always aim to balance economic supply and demand.” This statement was elevated by Ashworth to a basic principle of working with heritage, and it was the views embodied in this statement that contributed to tearing apart Polish conservation circles. The supporters of postmodern theories adopted such approach as a way to become liberated from long-obsolete duties and impractical limits that curb creativity. In turn, those who considered the pursuit of preserving the continuity of historic substance to be the core of conservation activity saw Ashworth’s ideas as a shocking disrespect for local traditions and a marketing ploy for the values of consumer society.

This paper will describe examples of controversial uses of built heritage on the level of a single monument, a group of buildings and whole site. It will also detail the circumstances behind a number of particular cases when the authenticity of visitors’ experience was chosen over the authenticity of a material relic of the past.

Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (Poland).