Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Piotr Rypson

The ominous lessons from the post-communist countries are coming back

Warsaw, Poland, 2019
Polish English

Piotr Rypson, Curator, Writer and Literary Historian

The most radical shift in politics in the past decades [since the fall of the Berlin Wall] took place in 2015 when Law and Justice took power. They took a very active sequence of actions to change the elites in culture, to a certain extent in the Academia, and to a large extent in the media. This was done very systematically, engaging various techniques and resources. Now we see that, a number of museum directors (an issue which is closest to my most recent professional experience), are being replaced by new people directly chosen by the government.  You see this with the film industry where we had a system of film studios run a number of prominent film directors responsible for production of feature films. The studios have all been closed down now to create one agency, or institute, I don’t think it has a form yet, with a new director - which will amass the resources of all of those previous, separate studios into one body and obviously it is done to serve some political purposes and be subjugated to direct control.    


Numerous magazines and journals, especially literary magazines, but also scholarly or cultural magazines do not get funding anymore. Right-wing magazines, especially those with a clear Catholic agenda, are receiving the funding. Theater is also under a lot of pressure. 


Poland was successful in the past 30 years to create a whole systems of NGOs in different parts of Polish social life, including help for children, cultural affairs, social activities, and medical help. These are being targeted as well. There is a new special government body, which ironically is called the National Freedom Institute. The aim is to distribute central funds, government funds, to various NGOs and there is again a shift towards institutions that are connected to either the desired political goals or directly to the Catholic Church. 


The ruling party also has a long-term agenda, something new in Polish politics I would say, of creating a major social shift (one that is being planned for one generation probably) to reshape social identities and mythologies. That is why the change of the elite is so crucial, because one needs new actors who will command a new narrative and provide a new voice. This of course is creating a lot of problems since it is difficult to create a new Polish elite overnight.  


Over 60 years ago the communists were pretty successful in this respect. They managed to create  new elites. I think what is most unpleasant is to see that the ominous lessons from the past in the post-communist countries are somehow coming back. The politicians are obviously relying on social technologies learn from the past, from their young years in a Communist system. Thus they know the mechanics, the technologies of power …  and they model what they are doing employing issues ranging from simple ones up to  environmental issues, within a nationalist framework which, as they believe, will consolidate the society against immanent threats of the future.  

This conversation was in English

Photo courtesy Piotr Rypson

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