Shadow Places: Return to Warsaw

By Gruia Badescu

 

How strongly do historical shadows cling to a place? Who determines which are the “light” and which are the “dark” chapters of history ? These were some of the questions at the core of the conference Shadow Places. Urban Strategies of Dealing with Painful Pasts , which took place in Warsaw between March 7th and 10th, co-organized by the German Historical Institute in Warsaw and by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam. The concept of shadow places was developed by historian Martin Sabrow (2015, 2018), and refers to places that are confronted with a historical burden and which have been memorialized, but also touristified. Sabrow distinguishes, however, shadow places from dark history and dark heritage, as the term “shadow” would imply also positive interpretations of the past alongside the negative ones. This distinction was unpacked in the discussions of the conference, which aimed to engage the concept of shadow places with a series of international situations. As such, it included papers covering geographies ranging from Northern Ireland to China and pasts from war and political violence to drug-related deaths. The participants came from several disciplinary backgrounds, with historians and heritage scholars in a majority. The conference included speakers who are very connected with related concepts such as dark tourism (Philip Stone), dark public history (Jessica Moody), and traveling memory (Astrid Erll). Several presentations engaged with Sharon McDonald´s dark heritage, also exploring hidden forms of shadow heritage (for instance, Margaret Comer and Julie Deschepper´s paper on the heritigization of the Chekists town in Ekaterinburg ).

The various situations analysed put forward the frictions of specific contexts rooted in distinctive memory cultures and regimes with the German-originated shadow places, particularly in the connection that Sabrow made to the emotion of shame. As Julie Deschepper pointed out, the translation of the concept can be challenging- how could one translate the concept in the romance languages without implying an external actor which shadows ? (cf. lieu ombragé/ assombri (by someone/something)? This related to the enduring question of the conference on whether places are projecting the shadow of the past or they are shadowed by the past. As Margaret Comer put it, can this concept be related to situations existing within constellations of memory and political contexts that are quite distinctive from the German approach on dealing with the past (eg. Russia; a multitude of post-colonial contexts). The geography of the conference applied indeed to mostly Eurasian situations, with a dash of the US and Australia. Moreover, what about the scale of shadow places? In their final discussion, led by Stephanie Eisenhuth and Hanno Hochmuth, it was pointed out that most papers concentrated on specific sites- eg. Prisons, public spaces, memorials, with little discussion was on cities as a whole, something that my paper on Sarajevo´s contemporary ambivalence between cosmopolitanism and antagonisms has discussed.

 

While the debate was exciting, I underlined in the closing discussion that what was missing in the debate was place itself. Perhaps from a disciplinary bias, historians tended to take place for granted as a static, background category. Yet a two-term concept such as shadow places needs to engage more with place, with various understandings from human geography and other spatial disciplines; from the humanistic emphasis on the meanings of place (Edward Relph, Yi Fu Tuan) to the understanding of space and place as relational (Doreen Massey). More discussion is needed with regards to what extent is place essential and constitutive in the shadow places concept. Furthermore, another important question is to what extent does place communicate- something that I pointed out in the final discussion with reference to Roma Sendyka’s paper, which richly brought forward readings of landscape. Sendyka´s intervention was welcome presence in the conference, opening up these questions about agency of materiality so important in geography, archaeology as well as humanities and social sciences having embraced the so called material turn, not excluding memory studies. In reaction to Sendyka´s paper which highlighted the sensorial experience of past events by contemporary witnesses of landscape, I questioned, however, whether one needs knowledge of the history of a place before experiencing affect. I pointed towards Fredric Jameson’s discussion of the unconscious and the allegorical frames of reading architecture and the built environment. In my opinion, these are questions that the discussions on shadow(ed) places should tackle in order to develop the concept further and also distinguish it more conceptually from dark heritage in its ambivalent relationship to the past.

 
 

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As part of the conference, four parallel tours of topical issues in Warsaw took place. I attended an excellent tour by Anna Mieszko, one of the curators of the Monument: Central and Eastern Europe 1918-2018 exhibit. I recommend everyone visiting Warsaw who is interested in memory , representations and the Central and Eastern European 20th century to visit it.

Fragile monuments: Skopje souvenirs (depicting the controversial Man on the Horse/Alexander the Great statue on the main square, part of the city’s recent makeover), broken on the way to the exhibit.

Man in the shadow: Renegade statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, first leader of the Soviet secret police, the Cheka

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The conference was not only an occasion for me to engage with the concept and exchange with a group of wonderful scholars, but also to be back in Warsaw, a city deeply connected to my main research topic of the last 15 years. It was a visit to Warsaw in 2003 that made think for the first time about the connection between urban reconstruction and dealing with a difficult past. Seeing Warsaw’s Stare Miasto, rebuilt brick by brick, and thinking of the resilience of Poles, I started asking myself how did the process occur in neighboring Germany. After all, Germans destroyed Warsaw and several other cities, had most of its cities destroyed on its own, but , as I was thinking as a then 18-year old, the situation was strikingly different: how could reconstruction along similar lines (ie. restorative reconstruction) work in a country that had a different responsibility? How are the political emotions of guilt and shame connected to urban space rebuilding? That became a central question of my research, with my BA at Middlebury College dedicated to the German reconstruction, and my PhD in at the University of Cambridge examining reconstruction after the recent wars of the former Yugoslavia, framed by some war scholars as embodying the changing character of war, ie. “new wars”. Being in Warsaw now, that I am finalizing my book manuscript on architecture and dealing with the legacy of war , also meant revisiting many of my thoughts of my first visit. I had a chance to get to some of the rich new research on Warsaw’s reconstruction, pointing out to its complexity and actors, beyond older Manichean interpretations. I got the chance to see intriguing projects such as the Woło neighbourhood reconstruction by Simon and Helena Syrkus experimenting with modern form while the new authorities wanted socialist realism. On Marszalkowska and at Boya, the contrast between the Stare Miasto reconstructions and the operations of removal of the “bourgeois layer” of 19th century Warsaw by demolishing still standing structures came to light. Warsaw´s reconstruction, portrayed as the city´s deathknell by some, and deemed a liberating modern project by others, opened up its many complex meanings, but also became somehow related to a shadow place of its own. The trip ignited new reflections and a drive to revisit categories and frames I associated with Warsaw on my first, pre-research trip.

 

Post-war and post-socialist makeovers of the Warsaw city core, with 1950s-built Palace of Culture and Science towering over the Plac Defilad

The new old town- a corner of the rebuilt Warsaw Stare Miasto

Destroying Warsaw: exhibiting the city’s destruction and reconstruction at the Monument Interpretation Centre

Wolo district: Modern vision of early reconstruction projects in Warsaw

 

Sabrow, Martin. “Schattenorte.” (2015) Merkur, 77-83.

Eisenhuth, Stefanie and Martin Sabrow (2018). Schattenorte: Stadtimages und Vergangenheitslast. Göttingen: Wallstein.

 

A Tale of two Manchesters, Fieldwork report

Author: Piotr Kisiel

Industrial Museum Chemnitz

Many inhabitants of Manchester (UK) might not be aware that there are some cities on the continent that claim their kinship with their city. This assertion made by the Saxon (Chemnitz) and Polish Manchester (Łódź) is based on their role as the centre of the textile industry during the long 19thcentury. Today, the two cities are trying to reinvent themselves, not that different from the way in which (the “original”) Manchester transformed into the city it is today.

During my visit in both cities I’ve looked what from the industrial past is commemorated and how, both in the urban public space as well as in city museums. There are many fascinating aspects of the post-industrial city landscape, but two things seem crucial to me. Firstly, the both cities are narrated in a way that leaves the workers out. These are post-industrial cities, which are told without mentioning the workers. One can learn quite a lot about the factories and the technologies used to produce the textiles, one is shown the splendour the industrial tycoons residences, but not much about the workers themselves. The other important thing I’ve learned is that one of the biggest problem with the industrial heritage is that hardly anyone sees it as its heritage. This raises a question, if heritage framework is the best one, if it plays almost no identity role.

 

Former Textile Industry Theodor Haase (Chemnitz)

Former Georitz Factory (Chemnitz)

Manufaktura –  former industrial complex founded by Izrael Poznański (Lodz)

Entrance to the palace of Karol Scheibler and the view of his factory (Lodz)

The African and Caribbean War Memorial, An Unique Site of Memory in Europe

Author: AS Schoepfel

Interview with Jak Beula, the founder of the African and Caribbean War Memorial in Europe, 07/11/2018

Brixton, Windrush Square

I was walking around Brixton. Suddenly, I noticed a memorial I had never seen in Europe. It was a memorial dedicated to the soldiers of Africa and the Caribbean who had fought during the First and Second World Wars. This memorial was not only unique to Europe but was also significant for the recognition of people from the former British colonies. By chance, there was an important-looking person being photographed in front of the memorial. It happened to be Jak Beula, the founder of the memorial. I invited him for an interview which was kindly accepted. 

Ann-Sophie Schoepfel: How would you introduce the monument you’ve created?

Jak Beula: This memorial known as the African and Caribbean War Memorial (AC Memorial) is the vision of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, of which I am the founder. Built in memory of the two million Africans and Caribbean soldiers that served in both the World Wars, this memorial in Windrush Square, London, is unique not only to Great Britain but to Europe as well. Unfortunately, before this memorial was built, there existed no monuments that commemorated and emphasized their sacrifices. 

Why did the British government not acknowledge these people’s contribution earlier?

Here there are monuments to dogs but no monument to remember these two million peoples. Maybe the British government has forgotten their heroic sacrifice. But, I suspect, racism has played a major part in this omission.

What did inspire your decision to create this monument?

My grand uncle served in World War I. But that is not the reason why I created the monument. It is a matter of dignity. When a particular racial group having made an enormous contribution, is not being acknowledged, something is not right. And that was our team’s biggest motivation to create this monument. The monument was inspired by the fact that many World War One veterans, now in their eighties and nineties, had no place to remember their fallen comrades. So I was inspired to create and design the monument. With the help of my team, it was installed. I carried out all the groundwork including the design, research, and funding of the monument, which was then provided to the planning commission for construction of the only Black war memorial in Europe.

How did you design the monument? 

The memorial has been designed using one tall obelisk. The obelisks are used as a male symbol. I also emphasized the female reference through use of a triangle. The memorial is male and female symbolizing unity and infinity, which is beautiful. The design incorporates an African element as well; the obelisks may be associated with Ancient Egypt. However, the pyramids originated in Uganda, and not in Egypt. The very first pyramids were built in Uganda, and from there the concept slowly spread further north and beyond.

Initially in 2014, when I got first involved, the thought was to pay tribute to the African Caribbean soldiers only. But when I went on the Square, I realized that this project has to be done properly. I had to include the soldiers of Africa and the Caribbean, to provide an accurate element acknowledging the impact of these people in history. I wanted to create a lasting legacy for my children as well as those who were from that region, regardless of color. We have a lot of Indian, Chinese, and Caucasian folk in the Caribbean.

Did the British government support your initiative?

To be fair, the government, through the Home Office, and via the sub-department called Department of Communities of Local Government (DCOG) did contribute to this cause. They gave me 80000 GBP (which is a drop in the ocean) after meeting them twice. Fortunately, we received a further contribution of 50000 GBP from the Council Member which helped create this splendid piece of architecture. It is worth noting that many memorials have been built with a spending of over half a million GBP. It’s amazing to witness what the Black community has achieved with just a little bit of money.

What is the impact of the monument on a local level?

This monument is here in Brixton. After World War II, Brixton became the first centralized point for the Caribbean. It is also known as the heart of Black London and Black Europe. People can come here, remember and share war lives. Something about this place is very spiritual. A lot of schools visit the monument. A lot of veterans’ groups visit here too. People come from all over the world. One must remember that this is the only World Wars’ memorial that remembers the Black soldiers. 

Who benefited more from construction of the memorial?

The construction of the memorial did benefit the British government: When Theresa May was faced with the Windrush debacle, she publicly capitalised on the existence of the war memorial in Brixton. But the biggest beneficiaries are the war veterans who now have a common gathering point and the Black community who now have a place where they can learn more about their contribution to the World Wars’ history.

Does this memorial represent a symbol of political change in Great Britain?

No, I do not think so. The reason being that although the memorial was unveiled just a year back on 22nd June (which is Windrush Day) in Windrush Square, we have still witnessed a scandal this year (2018) where persons of the Windrush generation had to defend being a part of this country. Ironically, even after creation of the memorial they were being denied their rights as citizens. This unfortunately shows that the memorial has not changed the attitude of the British government. What it has changed though is people’s awareness, and perhaps encouraged them to research more, and comprehend the seminal role the African and Caribbean people have played in the World Wars.

Do you think that change is possible?

To be honest, things are slowly changing. A new mind set is necessary, which I think, the current administration does not have. I would hope that this memorial is the first of many more. It’s important as a recognition for the whole country.

Simone Reynold, a member of Jak Beula’s team: As a footnote, we intend to create a virtual museum online. It’s important to raise awareness of such issues and create a positive impact within the school education system. The work we are doing is so important.

To know more about the memorial: http://www.acmemorial.com

Generating New Insights into the Study of Collective Memory

Author: Lina Klymenko

In November 2018, I participated in the workshop “Contested Memories in the City: Monuments, Archives, Traces” organized by Sarah Dornhof (Center “Cultural Foundations of Integration”) and Ulrike Capdepón and Piotr Kisiel (Balzan Price research group led by Aleida and Jan Assmann) at the University of Konstanz.

The workshop gathered scholars and artists who work on collective memory in an urban setting. It combined keynote speeches by leading scholars in the field of Memory Studies, presentations of other scholars, and talks given by artists involved in public art projects. In their key notes, Chiara De Cesari elaborated on the uses of European heritage by far right political parties and Teresa Pinheiro talked on the persistence of imperial memories in Portugal. In her speech at the end of the workshop, Aleida Assmann shared her reflections on the changing shapes of public monuments across Europe. The artists Randa Maroufi, Manaf Halbouni and Mohamed Fariji offered their perspectives on public art projects in Spain, Germany and Morocco, respectively.

In line with the title of the workshop, we discussed the concepts of ‘memory’, ‘contestation’, and ‘urban space’ in various cultural settings in Europe, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Our discussions centred on the diverse forms and functions of memory sites such as monuments, museums, street names and historical buildings. Scholars discussed the formation of historical memories of French rule in North Africa, British rule in Southeast Asia, Ottoman Turkey, the Franco dictatorship in Spain, and the Communist regime in Poland and Ukraine. Other scholars analysed the formation of collective memories in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon and in post-socialist Poland and Eastern Germany.

We engaged in discussions on how the collective memory of certain historical events has been negotiated, for example in transnational communities (presentations by Susanne Mersmann and Nadia Sabria), as well as between neighbourhood communities in London (Astrid Swenson and Ann-Sophie Schoepfel); city communities in Lodz and Chemnitz (Piotr Kisiel); central and local governments in Poltava (Lina Klymenko); political parties in Madrid (Ulrike Capdepón); groups of architects in Sarajevo and Beirut (Gruia Badescu); the victimizer and the victimized in Yerevan and Istanbul (Suzan Meryem Rosita); and the colonizer and the colonized in Luanda (Nadine Siegert), Yangon (Felix Girke), and in cities in Algeria (Dónal Hassett).

We discussed how the formation of collective memory relates to broader questions of identity, political regime, transitional justice and international relations. In this regard, one of the most inspiring presentations was Ulrike Capdepón’s talk on the current change of street names in Madrid in the context of Spain’s coming to terms with the Franco dictatorship. It triggered an intense debate on working through the past in post-dictatorial countries, spurring questions such as: What are the strategies of coming to terms with a dictatorial past?; How is this process embedded in a specific cultural context?; What does the change of street names mean for the general public and the political elites of a country?; and How does the change of street names work as a transitional justice mechanism?       

Ultimately, the workshop offered a great opportunity to present research to a broader audience, to develop research cooperation, and to prepare a joint publication!

The Future and the Materialization of Memory in Public Space

Link

The Future and the Materialization of Memory in Public Space, 8-10 November 2018

Author: Piotr Kisiel

The conference in Nova Gorica, Slovenia The Future and the Materialization of Memory in Public Space: Nova Gorica – A Town Built on the Border after the Second World War in Comparative Perspective (programme) examined how political and national conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries have changed the cities and their public spaces and how those processes have influenced historical memory. The attending scholars came primarily from art history, but some also represented history or anthropology.

The comparative approach taken at the conference has enormous value as it allows to look beyond the particularities of various case studies and see broader patterns across time and space. The conference contributes to deeper understanding not only of the functioning of collective memories and politics of memory, but also of shaping of the cityscape in Europe.

One of the most interesting papers was presented by Dragan Damjanović who demonstrated how urban space of Zagreb in the late 19th century was used to negotiate political power between the national oriented politicians in control of the city council and the government of the crownland which was aligned with Budapest. The comparison to similar cases in Cisleithania allow to better understand the dynamics in both halves of Austro-Hungary.

The conference would have benefited with addressing more the under-theoretisation of memory studies in the lines of the arguments of Hirst&Manier and Wawrzyniak. During the conference, “memory” and/or “collective memory(ies)” had at least three distinctive meanings: (1) actual memories of historical events among the population of a given city, (2) politics of memory on state/urban level and (3) works of art depicting past events. Yet, these three sphere are very different from each other and do not address the same issues. Furthermore, it is hard to agree that knowledge of historical figures or events and collective memory are the same thing.

One shortcoming of some presentations was the assumption that mere presence of a historical monument, even if locally anchored cannot be taken as an evidence of shared memory in the given community. For that one has to examine who initiated the project, how it was financed and how it functions in the public space.

For these reasons, I think there is still a great need for more methodological consideration when dealing with issues of collective memory. This concept still has a huge scientific potential but it has to be used with a lot of precision and not just as an all-encompassing key word.