Nearing the 100th anniversary of Poland’s independence, the national museum in Krakow opened one of the largest art exhibitions in the country’s history. The large show was named “dziedzictwo ” (heritage) and raised questions about the Polish national memory.
In his song published in 1994, the bard Marek Grechuta sang:
When you ask me what Homeland is, I will answer:
At least once he walked the market in Cracow,
Have you seen Wawel, chambers, cloisters,
Places where the past gives you strength
These questions are raised in the oldest and largest national museum in Krakow. More than 650 exhibits create a perfect frame for Grechuta’s questions and answer the questions of the curator, Andrzej Szczerski: What did the Poles inherit from their ancestors who once inhabited the Polish territory? Which pictures, publications, and events are molding the Poles’ national consciousness? Which customs have structured the lives of Poles? And in which language do they talk about all that?
The word dziedzictwo is usually introduced with a hashtag. It was to connect the traditional and the present and look forward toward the future. At the opening of the exhibit, this was emphasized by national President Andrzej Duda, the guardian of the exhibit: “Here, the hashtag symbolizes an invitation to discuss the past and the future. We are discussing the inheritance in the context of Poland’s republic, its people, its territory and its language, tied together by the very same inheritance.”
The Polish canon of art and culture is considered an important source of knowledge that helps to understand how the Polish soul functions. To understand the Poles and what it means to them to be a Pole, one needs to know not only the political and social history of the republic but also the cultural inheritance of the Polish nation. That is what Duda emphasized: “This exhibit makes all of us conscious of the heritage, the heritage of a great and mighty nation, its proud history and its proud people. The exhibit shows us our inheritance. And it shows us how valuable is this heritage and how responsible it is to protect this inheritance and to take care of it, as much for the actually governing as well as by those who shape our homeland in the future.”
The upcoming anniversary of Poland’s independence in 1918 may offer a good opportunity to build a citizenry upon these values that have been important for the nation in the course of its history. This was emphasized by Jaroslaw Sellin, who was responsible for the centennial celebration and who functions as secretary of state in the ministry of culture and national heritage: “This wonderful exhibit altogether belongs to the independence festivities. They throw light on our heritage from different perspectives. Honestly, today Polish society is very divided for different reasons. So we want to use the independence day celebration to rebuild a “Gemeinschaft.” And we want to celebrate together what our ancestors achieved a hundred years ago, even though they belonged to different political camps. They actually succeeded in fighting for an independent state.”
Wolf D. Fuhrig, a professor emeritus of political science and criminal justice, has been a columnist since 1981. This and other articles by him can be found online at www.independentcritic.com.