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Kinga Pozniak - University of Pittsburgh Press (upittpress.org)Model Socialist Town, Two Decades Later: Contesting the Past in Nowa Huta, Poland
Kinga Pozniak, The University of Western OntarioFollow
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Randa Farah
This work examines people’s experiences of the postsocialist transformation in Poland through the lens of memory. Since socialism’s collapse over two decades ago, Poland has undergone dramatic political, economic and social changes. However, the past continues to enter into current politics, economic debates and social issues. This work examines the changes that have taken place by looking at how socialism is remembered two decades after its collapse in the Polish former “model socialist town” of Nowa Huta. It explores how ideas about the past are produced, reproduced and contested in different contexts: in Nowa Huta’s cityscape, in museums, commemorations, and the town’s steelworks (once the cornerstone of all social life in town), as well as in the personal accounts and recollections of Nowa Huta residents of different generations. Through this, it links together memory, place and generation in postsocialist East-Central Europe.
This work shows that the process of remembering at times of major political, economic and social changes always entails contestation. It argues that the postsocialist period in Poland has been characterized by a complex and paradoxical relationship to the socialist past. On the one hand, there are attempts to delineate the socialist past as distinct and radically different from the present, and to set it aside in favour of present concerns. For example, a generational divide is perceived between people who have experienced life in socialist Poland and those who have not. On the other hand, the past is deployed to validate the political and economic reforms that ensued. Hegemonic accounts thus characterize the socialist period as a time of repression, resistance and inefficiency, although these representations do not go uncontested.
Nowa Huta is a site that embodies these contradictions in memory and representation. In Nowa Huta, there are presently two major trends in representing the past: one seeing to downplay the town’s association with socialism by highlighting its legacy of resistance against the socialist system, the other enumerating its socialist-era accomplishments such as architecture, an industrial tradition, and a legacy of work.
Pozniak, Kinga, "Model Socialist Town, Two Decades Later: Contesting the Past in Nowa Huta, Poland" (2011). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 263.
Kinga Pozniak is quite right that the equating of Communism and Socialism is common in Eastern Europe. But common usage does not make it right.Kinga Pozniak is an anthropologist and visiting scholar at the University of Western Ontario.
Generations of Change in a Model Socialist Town
By Kinga Pozniak
In 1949 construction of the planned town of Nowa Huta began on the outskirts of Kraków, Poland. Its centerpiece, the Lenin Steelworks, promised a secure future for workers and their families. By the 1980s, however, the rise of the Solidarity movement and the ensuing shock therapy program of the early 1990s rapidly transitioned the country from socialism to a market-based economy, and Nowa Huta fell on hard times.
Kinga Pozniak shows how the remarkable political, economic, and social upheavals since the end of the Second World War have profoundly shaped the historical memory of these events in the minds of the people who lived through them. Through extensive interviews, she finds three distinct, generationally based framings of the past. Those who built the town recall the might of local industry and plentiful jobs. The following generation experienced the uprisings of the 1980s and remembers the repression and dysfunction of the socialist system and their resistance to it. Today’s generation has no direct experience with either socialism or Solidarity, yet as residents of Nowa Huta they suffer the stigma of lower-class stereotyping and marginalization from other Poles.
Pozniak examines the factors that lead to the rewriting of history and the formation of memory, and the use of history to sustain current political and economic agendas. She finds that despite attempts to create a single, hegemonic vision of the past and a path for the future, these discourses are always contested—a dynamic that, for the residents of Nowa Huta, allows them to adapt as their personal experience tells them.