Translating Memories Online Speaker Series Autumn 2021

19 October 2021 16.00 (EEST)
Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
Palimpsestic Memoryscape: Heterotopias, “Multiculturalism”, and Racism in the Polish Cityscape

9 November 2021 16.00 (EET)
Maria Kobielska, Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland
Poland Exhibited: Polish Museum Boom and the Problem of International Recognition

30 November 2021 16.00 (EET)
Mischa Gabowitsch, Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany
Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities

Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius
Palimpsestic Memoryscape: Heterotopias, “Multiculturalism”, and Racism in the Polish Cityscape

In this talk, I will present an article that has recently been accepted for publication in the History & Memory journal. The article examines the palimpsestic memoryscape of Białystok, the largest city in northeast Poland, to illuminate the ongoing struggle in contemporary Poland between two memory regimes: the declarative “multiculturalism” and the submerged racism. It employs the concept of “heterotopia” as a theoretical device and walking as a method to study the Jewish Heritage Trail (JHT) as an attempt to recover the memory of bygone multiethnicity and, in doing so, to mint a new “multicultural” brand for the city. By analyzing the post-Jewish spaces located on the JHT—all of which have been appropriated, erased, and/or marginalized—the article shows that this new “multicultural” memory regime is shot through with racism, because it reproduces the inequalities and segregation that structured inter-ethnic relationships in the past.
Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius is Postdoctoral Researcher (Core Fellow) in media and communication at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki. Having previously done research on ethical trade communication, she is currently working on a project concerning mediated racism and nationalism in Poland. Her articles have been published in journals across disciplines such as Nations and Nationalism, Globalizations, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, and Media and Communication.

Maria Kobielska
Poland Exhibited: Polish Museum Boom and the Problem of International Recognition

In the talk, I explore the potential of the Polish past being exhibited in the global context, drawing on my research on the Polish museum boom in the 21st century. In recent years, historical museums have gained particular attention in Poland; multiple newly founded or rearranged institutions, offering spectacular exhibitions, powerfully influence visions of the past. “New museums” occupy prominent position within contemporary Polish memory culture and thus can serve as touchstones of its dynamics. As visual, performative and emotional memory media, museum exhibitions promise to transcend the boundaries of a single national perspective and language in order to make regional past intelligible in the global context. Museum creators frequently express their aspirations to do so. For instance, Paweł Machcewicz, the first director of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk, elaborates on the figure of a “tourist from Portugal” as an imaginary visitor of the exhibition, used in the course of his team’s work to communicate regional and Polish memory of the war in an internationally comprehensible way (Machcewicz 2017). Leading museums of the 21st century often aim at both domestic and international audiences and consequently struggle to simultaneously perform divergent, if not conflicting, tasks. This has so often been a bone of contention: how should museums prioritise? On the one hand, there is a risk of self-colonisation, when local memory is reduced to an internationally recognisable form. On the other, when celebrating local memory is valued over contextualising and communicating, it is probable that ressentiment rather than empowerment will follow. In the course of the talk I will analyse diverse museum strategies designed to neutralise both risks, taking into account prevalent historical policies and codes of memory culture. I will focus on Polish museums that are most popular among the international audience, like the Warsaw Rising Museum and the Museum of the Second World War, but also explore lesser-known cases that can inspire “curatorial dreaming” (Butler&Lehrer 2016) about new forms of citizenship and community.
Maria Kobielska, PhD, is a memory scholar, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Polish Studies of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, member of the Research Center for Memory Cultures (JU), of the Memory Studies Association, and of the Polish Association of Cultural Studies. She has written on contemporary Polish literature and culture in the context of memory and politics. Her most recent book discusses Polish memory culture in the 21st century (Polska kultura pamięci: dominanty. Zbrodnia katyńska, powstanie warszawskie i stan wojenny, 2016) and she is currently working on a research project that focuses specifically on new Polish historical museums.

Mischa Gabowitsch
Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities
The rise of expressions of regret and atonement for past atrocities has been described as the triumph of an international norm, and recent years have seen increased scholarly interest in the different actors and processes—sub-, trans-, or supra-national—that contribute to the diffusion of that norm. Yet in most cases, the idea is articulated not simply as the application of a universal norm to a particular national or local context, but by analogy. Other countries are held up as examples, as models to emulate or as unreachable gold standards of atonement. Germany in particular is often referred to as a master atoner, a country with an exemplary track record of “coming to terms with its past” that holds valuable lessons for other nations.
Based on a major volume I edited, in this talk I will explore the effects and implications of atoning by analogy. I distinguish between four different ideal-typical uses of foreign models in debates about atonement: as a springboard, a yardstick, a foil, or a screen, and illustrate them with examples from around the world before focusing more specifically on the role that references to the “German model” have played in a Soviet and post-Soviet Russian context.
Mischa Gabowitsch is a historian and sociologist based at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany. He holds a BA and MA from Oxford and a PhD from the School of Advanced Social Studies (EHESS) in Paris, and is an alumnus fellow of the Princeton University Society of Fellows and past editor-in-chief of the Russian journals NZ and Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research. His book publications in English are Protest in Putin’s Russia and Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities. He has also edited several books in Russian and German on war memory and commemoration in Russia and beyond. At present he is working on a history of Soviet war memorials as well as a book on Victory Day celebrations since 1945, and also has various projects related to pragmatic sociology and specifically the sociology of regimes of engagement.

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