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13.30  Remembering Ethnic Cleansing and Lost Cultural Diversity in Central and Eastern European Cities: The Case of Breslau/Wrocław

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11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper will present some results of a newly finished research project that analyzed how the present-day population in a number of Eastern European cities relates to the memory of the ethnic cleansings that took place there in the twentieth century and to the cultural heritage of the people that vanished in the wake of these events. The paper will focus on the city of Wroclaw one of the seven cases studied within the project. In 1945 Breslau, one of the biggest cities in pre-war Germany, was deserted by fleeing and expelled Germans and taken over by Poles, due to the redrawing of the borders between Germany and Poland. The new settlers felt insecure in the conquered city and were susceptible to the Polish communist propaganda that presented Wroclaw as “ever Polish.” The memory of the German dominance in the city’s history was repressed and the German heritage in Wroclaw was made invisible (monuments and cemeteries destroyed, buildings appropriated and vernacularized, street names changed). However, after the fall of communism in 1989, the attitude to this previously contested urban heritage has changed.

This paper will examine the new local politics of memory that emphasizes both the German and the multicultural heritage of the city. I will discuss the motives and driving forces behind the current transformation of Wroclaw’s contested urban heritage to a symbol for Polish-German reconciliation and will ask how it is done. How can we describe the local memory agents and their strategies? I will especially emphasize the influence of global trends (such as Heimat tourism) and transnational memory agents (with EU as an important actor) on the local memory narratives and heritage policies in Wroclaw (German Breslau) after 1989. 

The new, transnationally oriented discourse has its opponents and critics. As an example of it the paper will analyze a stormy local debate in 2007-2008 regarding the local authorities’ decision to give back the German name "Jahrhunderthalle" to the hall build in 1913 by Max Berg (renamed to Volkshalle by Polish Communist regime and known as such to Wroclaw inhabitants). The debate brought to the fore a lot of emotions connected to Polish uneasy attitude to the material traces of German culture (war booty or unwanted heritage?) and to the difficult history of Polish-German relations. The hall was built in 1913 to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of Prussian victory over Napoleon's army (that included his Polish allies). This awoke a very emotional and controversial question: shall the Poles commemorate and celebrate (by the name giving) how the Prussians defeated them? The paper will argue that Wroclaw represents an effort to create a new Polish national identity, free from the traumas of the past and more tolerant and open to other cultures. Thus the debates on memory in Wroclaw are not only of local importance; they are part of an ongoing struggle in Poland over the form and content of the Polish national identity. This kind of debate evokes the question to what extent the politics of memory and heritage in the post-conflict situations (such as Eastern European cities after expulsions) contribute to the transformation of local communities and attitudes to the “others”? Can we speak about the transformative power of cultural heritage?

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