Wypowiedź na Kongresie Kultury Polskiej 2000. Forum - Ochrona dziedzictwa kultury w Polsce (7 grudnia 2000 r.)
A STATEMENT MADE AT THE CONGRESS OF POLISH CULTURE 2000. Forum: The Protection of the Cultural Heritage in Poland (7 December 2000)
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Profound transformations in social historical consciousness, which coincided with the twilight of the cultural formation of modernism, also affected the approach towards the cultural heritage. There are many reasons for assuming that both history, conceived as an academic discipline, and its applied branches, namely, the protection of souvenirs of the past — both dating back to the beginning of the nineteenth century — are going through a crisis. Without a suitable identification of the nature of this crisis — and this problem constitutes the topic of my speech — it would be difficult to delineate new plans for the protection of the cultural heritage of Europe, brought up to date, and its Polish fragment. I would like my statement not to be treated as a critique, but as an attempt at an abbreviated diagnosis of the current situation in this domain. Let us recall that in its modernist dimension history was closely connected with the ideology of a modern, post-Enlightenment nation-state (unless it became an outright ideology of the nation-state) even if, as in the case of Poland, the systemic component did not assume its full form until the twentieth century. The political creation sought support in, i. a. historical artifacts, leading to a definition of the national legacy and, starting with the 1830s, the institutionalisation of its protection. Since that time, the existence of relics of the past was subjected to three overlapping determinants: not only the already consolidated interests of the educated part of society (today nearing its extinction), but also the programmes of politicians and the professional activity of conservators. Our epoch is frequently described as post-historical. This term pertains to the shrinking of historical social awareness, sometimes to the limits of group amnesia, rather than to the exhaustion of heretofore historiographic systems. The process in question embraces also the cult of historical monuments — a laicised eighteenth-century form of a cult of relics, which today have lost their function of a „fetish”, helpful in the awakening and protection of national- social identity. Paradoxically, in the most universal cultural circuit, regardless of the severance of organic ties with tradition, we may observe the growth of a certain new obsession with the past, which would have never developed without the intervention of politics and the support of the press. Public opinion (if such a thing exists) is stimulated more than ever by the celebrations of assorted anniversaries or the discoveries of official monuments of history. Presupposed cultural tradition is compared with a so-called theme park or a son et lumière spectacle. Even the revitalisation of an historical town sometimes aims at the artificiality of a „municipal historical reservation" or the theatrical archaeologism of a Skansen or Williamsburg, not to mention the worst of all — the fairy-tale surrealism of Disneyland. In other words, the fundamental role played in the contemporary world by relics of the past, envisaged as a transmitter of collective memory, appears to be succumbing to limitation and banalisation. Most frequently, the past is exploited for the purpose of two functions. First, its provides a foundation for the accentuation of the cultural identity of certain populations or environments postulated by political structures. Second, it creates resources for the increasingly important tourist industry (the marketing of landscapes and historical monuments). In order to refer my above outlined statements to the most topical issues of greatest interest to us — the present-day idea of European integration is not only at odds with the old model of the nation-state, but also, to a certain degree, with the conception of the national legacy. Does this heritage truly follow a path from the nation-state towards Europe, and along a downward route — to regions and metropolises? Is this the reason why there is less room for it on the national level? Only two geographic-cultural extremities are vividly marked — one is composed of the whole European Continent, including monuments of World Heritage, and the other includes the small homelands of assorted communities, together with their traditional regional culture, local landscapes and a continuum of artistic manifestations. Regardless of the common goal of constructing a New Europe, the world of m odern political, social and artistic conceptions and symbols developing in the West, does not always correspond to Central-Eastern Europe. Moreover, at a time when in Western democracies the conceptions of the heritage and the realisations of its protection increasingly often depend on social interest and the charity of public institutions, in other countries they are subjected more directly to political bodies and, as a consequence, to the administration sector — with conservation acting as the most sensitive barometer of this process. A characteristic feature of the conservation of historical monuments in contemporary Poland is a hybrid tangle of the utilitarian protectionism of the authorities, multifaceted iconoclasm and Romantic reconstructionism. I do not wish to delve into an assessment of the actual outcome of this situation, but merely wish to draw attention to the fact that among the professional circles of Polish conservators a modern identification of monuments on a philosophical and socio- -cultural level is relatively weak. Notice is paid to artistic merits or sentimental, picturesque expressiveness, but, generally speaking, the monument is perceived mainly as an historical source — an approach which indubitably comprises a considerable simplification. Hopefully, the new generation of conservators will be capable of an integrated, interdisciplinary planning of the protection of the past, a profound comprehension of a complicated network of economic, social, political, legal and philosophical problems, rooted at the basis of the policy of the protection of historical monuments. Well aware of the tricks played by history they will have to be open to endless transformations of the criteria of evaluation. No conservation doctrine can aspire to act as an exclusive model. No monument possesses a concrete substance or delineated boundaries. The reason lies not merely in the fact that it is historically multi-tiered and remains in a state of constant transformation, but also in the fact that it depends on irrational interpretations, founded on the binding hierarchy of values, the dominant world outlook and... our taste.
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