Call for Paper: Transformation of (Post-)Communist Memory. Renaming Public Spaces and Redefining Monuments in the Republic of Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany since 1990

Appel à communications (en allemand —voir avec les organisateurs— et en anglais) pour un Workshop intitulé “Transformation of (Post-)Communist Memory. Renaming Public Spaces and Redefining Monuments in the Republic of Poland and the Federal Republic of Germany since 1990“, qui se déroulera en deux temps :  en ligne les 28-29 juin 2021 et “en présentiel” les 2-3 décembre 2021 à Darmstadt. Une publication devrait suivre.

The workshop examines how the symbolic and material legacy of communism in Germany and Poland is dealt with in terms of memory, history politics and critically reappraising the socialist past. By historizing and comparing debates, case studies and societal implications, a contribution to the understanding of the transformation processes in Europe since 1990 is sought.

In the course of the last two years attention in many German municipalities was drawn to the names of public places or institutions that raise questions of legitimacy due to historical findings. While the current debate mainly relates to Germany’s colonial past, also discussions concerning dealings with the history of national socialism are revived. Finally, phenomena related to the history of the German Democratic Republic are examined, often leading to renegotiating already controversial debates. Various perceptions attracted media attention: the renaming of streets or even entire cities during communism followed by the (supposedly) quietly executed or so-called premature renaming in the period immediately after the peaceful revolution of 1989/90 – or the lack of it. Dealing with heritage from the communist era has once again become a widely perceived question.

In Poland there is a very lively public debate about dealing with national history, which is also – but by no means exclusively – fueled by the importance that the current government attaches to history politics. The main historical frame of reference is the Second World War. However, it is becoming increasingly clear how much public historical interpretations of the war and the German and Soviet occupations are understood only in conjunction with the subsequent period of communism and the dependence on the Soviet Union. In the past 30 years there have been different phases of ‘Denkmalsturz’ and renaming public spaces in Poland. Since April 2016, on the initiative of the central government, re-coding of public space has been intensified at regional and local levels. Symbols and names that the legislature describes as totalitarian are prohibited, and this regulation is enforced through administrative means. The catchphrase for this controversial process, which encompasses a much broader societal context, is “decommunization”.

The German Institute of Polish Affairs is organizing a workshop, funded by the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany. The aim of the event is to compare and analyze the handling of the symbolic and material legacy of communism in Germany and Poland at the interfaces between critical reappraisal, memory and history politics. For this purpose, both Polish and German case studies of the post-communist dealings with street names, monuments and other forms of public commemoration from the time of communism are to be collected, documented and discussed comparatively with the following questions:

  • How was the place of memory (street name, plaque, monument, memorial, place of remembrance) discussed and publicly maintained after 1989/1990?
  • Why were reinterpretations made, why did they not take place or fail? Who were the key players? What are the consequences?
  • In which conjunctures did the reappraisal processes take place? Which phases can be observed?
  • What categories and terms can be designed to understand and differentiate these developments?
  • Are there common developments and comparable phases and how do the conjunctures in Germany and Poland differ over the last 30 years, which turning points and trends can be identified?

The workshop is planned in two parts in 2021, with a subsequent publication in the next year. The first part of the workshop will take place in a digital format, on 28–29 June 2021. It serves to present the individual projects and to discuss the state of research and methodological approaches in relation to Poland, Germany and beyond. The second part of the workshop will be organized “live” in person in Darmstadt, at the German Institute of Polish Affairs, on 2–3 December 2021, if possible, after considering the pandemic situation. The individual case studies and the then far advanced texts are discussed and the common findings are compiled. The deadline for submitting the print manuscripts will be 3 January 2022.

Conference languages are German and English.

Please apply with an abstract (300 words) and a biographical note until 17 May 2021 to roettjer@dpi- You will receive confirmation of acceptance of your presentation as soon as possible.

Julia Röttjer (Darmstadt), Jakub Szumski (Jena)

Julia Röttjer, Deutsches Polen-Institut, Tel. 06151-42020-23,