March 1968 in Poland and the Anti-Semitism Controvery in 2018
AN ILCHESTER LECTURE BY KNUT ANDREAS GRIMSTAD (University of Oslo)
Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 5pm
Taylor Institution, St Giles (Lecture Room 2)
Professor Knut Grimstad’s research interests lie in the area of Polish literature and culture, including Polish-Jewish cultural relations, Polish national identity discourse after 1989, language and literature in contemporary Poland, and cinema and screen culture after 1989. He has published several books and many articles in these areas, as well as on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Polish and Russian literature. For a synopsis of his lecture, please see the obverse.
The lecture is free and all are welcome.
After Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, the Polish government followed the Soviet lead with a media campaign under the guise of anti-Zionism. Based largely on the clichés of Soviet anti-Semitic propaganda, it led to the final exodus of Jews from Poland. After censorship slackened its reins in 1989, the heavily symbolic March 1968 has stirred controversy and reckoning, while the virtually non-existent Polish Jew has become a rhetorical figure that dominates much of the public domain.
An enduring notion is that of Żydokomuna (Judeo-Bolshevism), originally referring to alleged Jewish-Soviet collaboration in importing communism into Poland, where communism was often identified as part of a wider Jewish-led conspiracy to seize power. In today’s Poland, especially with the government’s introduction of the Anti-Communist Law (2016) and the Holocaust Law (2018), the notion is commonly associated with ‘leftists.’ This is an umbrella term for opportunistic ex-communists and runaway liberals, or simply what leading politicians call ‘Poles of the worst sort,’ that is people who are genetically predisposed to treason.
In the Polish media, March 1968 is usually shown either as part of a cataclysm caused by the Communist authorities (without the participation of society), or in relation to a starting-point in the history of the Polish opposition against the authorities. It is also depicted as a kind of a ‘recurring catastrophe,’ predicting, as it were, an event of the calibre of the Holocaust. Against this background, I examine the March narratives in selected Polish newspapers and news magazines.
Does the remembrance of March overlap with the remembrance of the Holocaust? Does the March discourse of today echo the ‘anti-Zionist’ discourse of 1968? In exploring these and related questions, my focus is on coverage of this year’s 50th anniversary commemoration and the exhibition ‘Estranged. March ’68 and its Aftermath’ organised by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.