“The day after the fall of Khrushchev, the editors of Pravda, Izvestiia, the heads of the radio and television were replaced; the army wasn’t called out. Today a country belongs to the person who controls communications.” So writes Umberto Eco in his essay “Towards a Semiological Guerrilla Warfare.” I very much doubt that Piotr Glinski, the Polish Minister of Culture (or Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), who really seems to be calling the shots in the country) has read Eco’s essay, and yet, they have certainly taken the message to heart.
First, there were the sweeping dismissals of directors and culture managers from Polish Culture Institutes around the world. In Berlin, Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska was allegedly fired for showing “too much Jewish themed content” such as the Academy Award-winning film “Ida,” about an orphan nun who discovers that her parents were Jews and had been murdered during World War II by their Polish neighbors. Poland has recently cracked down on free-speech, particularly with regard to Holocaust remembrance, with laws prohibiting public insults to the Polish Nation, including, but not limited to, acknowledging Polish atrocities during the Holocaust (historian Jan Gross, whose book “Neighbors” describes the massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne at the hands of Poles, has been accused of violating this law).
In the latest assault on free speech, the PiS Government has dismissed historian Pawel Machcewicz from his post as the director of the Second World War Museum in Gdansk. According to a report from The Art Newspaper, “The move comes shortly after a court ruling paved the way for a controversial merger with the still-unbuilt Westerplatte Museum, allowing Poland’s right-wing PiS government to create a new state-sanctioned institution.” The Second World War Museum has previously been described by the PiS Government as “too universal,” which one can safely assume to be code for, not sufficiently subservient to nationalist myth. The Second World War Museum, which includes historians Timothy Snyder and Norman Davies on the board, had been conceived under the previous Polish government, but the merger with the state-run Westerplatte Museum will allow the PiS regime to control the staff of the museum and the curation.
The Westerplatte museum will be dedicated to the battle of Westerplatte, in which overmatched Polish forces in Gdansk (then Danzig) held out against the Nazi invasion for a week in 1939. This subordination of a “universal” World War II museum to a museum specifically dedicated to a moment of national pride is unsurprising, and already, Karol Nawrocki, the newly-appointed acting director for the merged institutions, has said he is considering changes to the exhibition. But, as The Art Newspaper reports, Machcewicz isn’t going down without a fight – he told the publication that “he plans to protect the existing displays on the grounds of copyright.”