27 June 2011

Katyn Museum as Site of Divided Memory: Warsaw Seminar

On 22 June the Social Memory Laboratory at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw, hosted a presentation by Piotr H. Kosicki (Department of History, Princeton University) A Divided Memory: A History of the Katyń Museum in Warsaw. The presentation was part of the Social Memory Laboratory’s regular ongoing seminar series.

In his presentation Piotr H. Kosicki stressed that “in January 2009, the so-called Katyń Museum − three meager, ill-equipped rooms in the south of Warsaw devoted to the infamous 1940 massacres of Polish officers by the Soviet NKVD − forgotten by the Polish state since the museum’s opening in 1993, ceased overnight to function, without warning or any promise of reopening. Although designs have since been announced for a new site for the museum, its profile has changed little, and there has been virtually no public discussion of what its goals should be that would take into account the history of Katyń commemoration in Poland”.

He then offered three separate lenses on the significance of the Katyń Museum’s story: the social history of Katyń commemoration behind the museum’s creation; the institutional history of the museum itself; and the social, pedagogical, and museological concerns undergirding official discourse on the museum’s reactivation.

Discussion which followed the presentation mainly focused on a question asked by Piotr H. Kosicki: why is it that the Katyn massacre, the event recognized in Poland, but also by many researchers in the West, as a symbol of Soviet repressions, has not yet been commemorated in the form of a modern museum? This is especially striking given that this form of commemoration is very popular in Poland nowadays, with the Warsaw Uprising Museum serving as a perfect example.

We discussed problems of Polish bureaucracy, the relationship between politics and memory, the place occupied by the Katyń massacre in Polish social memory, and the influence of other Polish memory projects on the way in which the Katyń massacre is commemorated. We also tried to look at this problem through the prism of the commemoration practices of Stalin’s crimes in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Dr Zuzanna Bogumil

Academy of Special Education in Warsaw

Piotr H. Kosicki has just completed a Ph.D. in History at Princeton University (defense of his thesis is in October 2011) and teaches at the American University and the Institut d'Études politiques de Paris. He is actively pursuing research in the history of Catholicism in Europe, in the history of commemorations of mass violence, and in the global history of 1989. He has co-edited three volumes and published articles and chapters in five languages.

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