Sunday, 12 November 2017

Culture Wars: Ethnic History and Ethnic Divisions in the Heart of Europe

Yesterday's march in Warsaw on the anniversary of Poland's 11th November 1918 independence raised a lot of comment in the international media due to the tenor of a lot of the material written on banners and chanted by the marchers. Here is AlJazeera:

Minister Glinski
In relation to my earlier comment here on the absence of cultural professionals and representatives of the social sciences in the debate on identity, Piotr Glinski Poland's current minister of Culture and National Heritage for the PiS (Right-wing populist 'Law and Order') government made some remarks yesterday referring to the xenophobic and racial excesses of yesterday's 'Independence' march: 'Gliński: Nie ma zgody na myślenie o wspólnocie narodowej w sensie etnicznym. Na to wsparcia polskiego rządu nie ma [Glinski, there is no tolerance for thinking of a national unity in ethnic terms. the government does not support this]. He says (I can't be bothered to translate burble, stick it through Google or Babel Fish):
Dziwię się, że wczoraj, faktycznie gdzieś w przestrzeni publicznej, na pięknym marszu narodowym, pojawił się transparent, który mógłby sugerować, że ktoś myśli o narodzie w kategoriach etnicznych czy w kategoriach rasistowskich – stwierdził Piotr Gliński w trakcie I Kongresu Inicjatyw Pozarządowych. – Na to wsparcia polskiego rządu nie ma. Chciałbym wyraźnie powiedzieć, że nie popieramy tego rodzaju haseł – dodał wicepremier. „Chciałbym wyraźnie powiedzieć: popieramy myślenie narodowe w sensie narodu kulturowego. [...] to jest oczywiście potrzebne i ważne. Taka wspólnota jest wspólnotą pożyteczną. Wspólnota narodowa rozumiana w sensie etnicznym jest wspólnotą wykluczającą, wspólnotą, dla której zgody polskiego rządu w Polsce nie ma” 
Somebody should help the Minister with a reading list from social anthropology about the actual meaning of the words he uses. Ethnicity is not the same as 'race', and the interactions between culture and ethnicity are very much more complex than the Minister apparently imagines. Glinski's is the backward-looking government which is felling Białowieźa forest and destroying democracy in revenge for Communist 'wrongs' thirty years ago....

What the young men marching on the streets yesterday were demanding was indeed cultural exclusion, between the 'real Poles' and others - that is exactly what the Party which Glinski belongs to supports. Their leader infamously refers to those opposed to PiS policies a 'worse sort' of Poles, while his own supporters flatter themselves accordingly that they are  'the best sort'. This is the division proudly celebrated in the emblems carried and worn by yesterday's marchers.

Mr Glinski's own cultural policies are in no way inclusive, it is he who is apparently behind the recasting of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk to somehow lessen the emphasis on the Germans (!) and increase the coverage of Polish heroism... The Ministry is not opposing the removal of monuments to the young men who died in fighting in the parts of the German occupied land which later became Poland because they were wearing uniforms with the label 'made in USSR' (dead young men are a tragedy, no matter who sent them into the field to fight and die). This is indeed a totally 'ethnic' approach to modern history - and such reprehensible divisiveness has the full support of the present divisive government of Poland's 'Law and Justice' party.

UPDATE: I am reminded by a colleague that Minister Glinski is a sociologist, so there's even more reason for him to know the difference between race, and ethnicity/culture. 

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