Museum of the Second World War (c) Pawel Kwiatkowski

Polish Supreme Court to rule on future of Museum of the Second World War

Patrick Steel, 28.03.2017
Culture minister would like to see focus of museum’s exhibition changed
The Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, Poland, opened last week in the face of pressure from the Polish government to change the international focus of its exhibition. The museum could face closure if a case at the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland goes against it on 5 April.

The governing Law and Justice Party’s minister of culture and national heritage, Piotr Glinski, announced last year that the museum would merge with the yet-to-be-built Museum of Westerplatte and War of 1939, a move that would see the liquidation of the existing museum and the establishment of a new cultural institution.

The government has stated it would like to see the merged museum focus on the history and accomplishments of the Polish Army of the Second Republic of Poland.

The museum, with the backing of Gdansk City Council and the Polish Ombudsman for the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has since fought a series of cases in the Provincial Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland, to preserve the museum and its central exhibition.

Next week’s case will determine whether the government will get its way.

Alicja Bittner, a spokeswoman for the museum, said: “The museum is fighting to stay as we are. The merger would make it possible to change our director and create a new institution with a different exhibition and mission goals, and possibly different staff. It would not be the museum we have worked on for the past eight years.

“There was a resolution from the ministry of culture to merge the two museums with the goal of presenting Polish history with an emphasis on the Polish army fighting the Germans and Soviets. But our subject is the war involving the whole world. It is not just Poles that suffered and died in this war.

“It is a really strange situation because no one from this government has seen the exhibition. The minister of culture has never visited us. We have invited them to visit the museum on numerous occasions. And we have invited them to come and discuss the issues with us.

“We never thought the museum would be an institution in this politically strange situation, we were supposed to be autonomous, not political.”

Sources close to the museum believe political manoeuvring is behind the museum’s troubles: the museum was conceived by former prime minister Donald Tusk, a political opponent of the current administration, and the museum’s director Pawel Machcewicz is a former advisor to Tusk. According to supporters of the museum, the merger is a pretext to remove Machcewicz.

And the content of the museum’s exhibition is rooted in the history of Gdansk and Pomerania, they said, so any accusation that it is not Polish enough is unfounded.

Even if the museum wins the court case, it faces a difficult future under the current administration.

The government has maintained the museum’s funding at pre-opening levels. The museum requested 20m zlotys for 2017 (around £40m), but has received 11m zlotys, just enough to keep the building open. As a result it has had to make cuts to its education programmes for school groups, its publicity activities, and its international marketing budget.

The museum received 3,500 visitors on its opening weekend.

Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
Access , Wrexham County Borough Museum
01.04.2017, 22:56
If the Polish Museum of the Second World War is as good as the Warsaw Uprising Museum then it will be a great pity if the museum loses in the Supreme Court. The Warsaw museum has to be one of the best museums in Europe, at least if you measure museums on the human experience they embody rather than the financial value of the objects on show.

Poland appears to be going through some kind of 'kulturkampf' between on the one side those who want Poland to be part of Europe and on the other the PiS government and its supporters, who appear to want to wind the clock back so they can rewrite history to fit their worldview regardless of inconvenient facts. It looks as if the Communist approach to culture and history has been adopted by their supposed arch-opponents (a habit that has many precedents, though usually the other way round in Central and Eastern Europe.)