By: Bogdan Sajovic
With Dr Marek Mutor, President of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience and Director of the Centre for Memory and the Future based in Wrocław, we discussed, among other things, the activities of both organisations, communist crimes, and Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Dr Marek Mutor is a Polish philologist and historian, a graduate of the University of Wrocław, who also completed his postgraduate studies at the Academy of Cultural Leaders at the University of Economics in Kraków. Marek is the founder and director of the Memory and the Future Centre and the Historical Depot, the organiser of projects of historical exhibitions, including “United Wrocław”, “Train to History”, and “Wrocław 1945-2016” (permanent exhibition at the Historical Depot Centre). He specialises in the biography of Cardinal Bolesław Kominek, the initiator of a letter sent by Polish bishops in 1965 to German bishops. From 2005 to 2006 and 2016, he was the director of the National Centre for Culture. He is one of the creators of the national programme Patriotism of Tomorrow and a member of the European Platform of Memory and Conscience, an international organisation that seeks to spread knowledge about the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. He was responsible for organising the official celebration of the anniversary of the letter of the Polish bishops to the German bishops and for coordinating the national celebration of the 1050th anniversary of the baptism in Poland. Marek Mutor is the author of numerous publications on the post-war history of Wrocław. In 2002-2009 he was a councillor of the Wroclaw Municipal Council, and in 2006-2007 its vice-president.
DEMOKRACIJA: Mr. Mutor, what does your institute do?
Mutor: We deal with the post-war history of Wrocław, the largest city in western Poland, which was the scene of the strongest anti-communist resistance in the 1980s. Among other things, our institute writes about the history of communist oppression in Poland. We have built a museum collection that presents visitors with life in a totalitarian regime. We also have an archive where we collect testimonies from victims of communist violence.
DEMOKRACIJA: Is this aimed primarily at younger generations?
Mutor: Also, to the older, to those who may have already begun to forget. They now remember their younger years and some of them therefore nostalgically remember the time when they were young. It is a selective memory in which the criminal regime is not considered. In addition, we are also trying to dispel some myths. For example, the myth that the war state introduced by General Jaruzelski was something positive or justified. That his dictatorship prevented a greater evil, that is the direct invasion of the Soviets. There are many such myths that try to justify communism.
DEMOKRACIJA: And what is the attitude of Poles in general towards communist totalitarianism?
Mutor: In general, most Poles condemn communism. Of course, there are exceptions, those who were allies of the regime and did well under the communist regime. There are also a few younger people who did not experience communism directly and had their heads filled with romantic illusions about it by old communists.
DEMOKRACIJA: I think this is not a problem only in post-communist countries, it is similar in western countries?
Mutor: It is true that in the West, communism, its criminal totalitarianism, was not experienced directly at all. Therefore, it is easy to sell false illusions to part of the population, especially young people. In the style of “communism is a good idea, only the implementation was wrong”. This is a lie; communism is criminal as an idea.
DEMOKRACIJA: One is horrified to see the top of the European Union, which attended the unveiling of the Karl Marx monument…
Mutor: This is because they have never experienced communist terror on their own. We who have experienced this criminal system must explain it to those who have not. At European level, we are doing this in the framework of the Platform of European Remembrance and Conscience…
DEMOKRACIJA: Of which you are the president…
Mutor: That is true. It consists of 68 public and private institutions and organisations from 23 countries, including 15 members of the European Union.
DEMOKRACIJA: Are there any Slovenian organisations among them?
Mutor: There are three organisations from Slovenia that are our members: the Study Centre for International Reconciliation, the New Slovenian Covenant, and the Institute of Dr Jože Pučnik.
DEMOKRACIJA: Well, in Slovenia we already have problems with getting through the parliament the condemnation of communism as a totalitarian regime, let alone lustration…
Mutor: Every country that suffered under the communist regime has its own peculiarities, but there are still some in our country who resist the condemnation of communism.
DEMOKRACIJA: But at least you carried out the lustration…
Mutor: We carried it out, although the assessments of the success of the procedure were different. We renamed the streets and buildings that glorified the memory of the communist regime, and there were many condemnations on a moral level. There are also several institutions that research and disseminate knowledge about this, led by the Institute of National Remembrance. But many communist criminals escaped actual punishment or were only mildly punished, amnestied…
DEMOKRACIJA: If I am not mistaken, even those who murdered Father Popiełuszko.
Mutor: Father Popiełuszko’s direct killers were given prison sentences, but they were only a tool. Those who gave the actual order to kill remained hidden and were not punished at all. It is worth mentioning that among the leaders of the Communist Party and the perpetrators of war crimes, only Kiszczak (Minister of the Interior in 1981-1990) was convicted. The final verdict in his case was handed down in 2015 after years of litigation, appeals, and legal tricks. The sentence was small, and the convict died soon after. General Jaruzelski and other leaders avoided a final verdict.
DEMOKRACIJA: Based on the experience of the Slovene communists, I assume that they continued their careers in the new conditions.
Mutor: Very likely and they probably did not change their beliefs.
DEMOKRACIJA: Would you agree that the big problem is that communism did not have its Nuremberg after the end of the Cold War?
Mutor: Definitely. The crimes of communism have never been condemned. Membership in the Communist Party was not criminalised in the same way as, for example, membership in the Nazi Party, let alone participation in the Nazi repressive apparatus.
DEMOKRACIJA: The apologists of communism claim that communism defeated the Nazis, so its condemnation is tantamount to the restoration of Nazism…
Mutor: Therefore, in the first point of its programme, our platform emphasises that our goal is to condemn all totalitarianisms, including Nazism and fascism. But they had already been convicted, they had their Nuremberg, whereas criminal communism did not yet have its Nuremberg.
In Poland, we experienced the terror of both evil ideologies, first Nazism and then Communism. That is why Poles, at least the vast majority, do not label one as bad and one as not good. Both are criminal.
DEMOKRACIJA: And in 1939 they both invaded Poland together.
Mutor: Unlike Nazi Germany, which was punished after the war, the communist Soviet Union was never punished. After the war, it was able to annex the occupied eastern Polish provinces, from which it expelled the entire Polish population. Both of my parents come from these provinces, and their families settled in Wrocław after their expulsion, from which the German population was expelled if they survived. I do not know if you know, but Wroclaw, then Breslau, was declared a “fortress city” by the Germans, and after a long siege it fell two days after the fall of Berlin. The city was 90 percent destroyed.
DEMOKRACIJA: I see that your institute is also dealing with the history of the city.
Mutor: We also have a permanent exhibition on the history of the city in the period 1945-2016. We also have temporary exhibitions. We may have to close one of them to help accept war refugees from Ukraine. Poland has already accepted about two million of them, and we are looking everywhere for accommodation for them.
DEMOKRACIJA: Could you say that the non-conviction, even the reward for the communists’ cooperation with the Nazis, also gave Putin the courage to act aggressively?
Mutor: Of course, Putin is relying on the former regime, in which he himself was actively involved as an intelligence officer. Ever since he came to power, he has used the rhetoric of the former communist regime extensively, glorified the communist revolution, rehabilitated Stalin, and the regime in general. He celebrates the “Great Patriotic War” and uses the same justifications for enlargement as those used by the Stalinist regime at the time, claiming that the country is under threat and therefore had the right to prevent this threat by military intervention in neighbouring countries.
DEMOKRACIJA: So, if communism had its Nuremberg, maybe there would be no invasion of Ukraine?
Mutor: Although we cannot categorically claim this, there is a high probability that it would not exist. At the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the staff of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance sent the following message: “Thank you for your recent support. This war is not just against Ukraine, this war has destroyed European peace and security. Ukraine will defend itself in all possible ways. We believe in your victory! Finally, we would like to emphasise once again that today’s war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine was largely possible because the world community did not adequately condemn the crimes of the Soviet communist totalitarian regime. This is clear from the words and actions of the President of the Russian Federation. This work will have to be done even after the victory of the civilised world over the aggressor!”
Łukasz Kamiński, former president of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, is of similar opinion. At the time of the corrupt Russian invasion of Ukraine, he wrote that in the case of communist Nuremberg, Russia would look different: “In decommunized Russia, the KGB would be disbanded, not just renamed. The chances of the country being led by a colonel of a hated organisation would not be great.” Kamiński believes that we are partly to blame for Russia’s and Putin’s aggression: “But it is not just Russia. Regardless of the (rare) more or (usually) less successful attempts to deal with the past in individual countries, we have not generally dealt with the experience of communism. We did not organise a new Nuremberg – we did not organise it – neither in the legal nor in the symbolic dimension. We have not used existing instruments of international law, especially the rule of universal jurisdiction – any country can prosecute crimes against humanity or genocide. When the “Black Book of Communism” was published 25 years ago, its findings were rejected by many intellectual circles.”
DEMOKRACIJA: Will this aggression against Ukraine finally spark, which will awaken “intellectual circles” and provoke the condemnation of communist criminal ideology, perhaps only lead to communist Nuremberg?
Mutor: Hopefully this will finally really happen.