Exhibitions and Museums of Communism in Poland
It was a cold Monday in early December 2006. On the way to work I passed a tram stop. A black and white poster with heavy red lettering “Thou Shalt not Kill” hung on the wall of a tram shelter. It hung between two colorful posters, one with a girl saying “I am looking for a mummy and a daddy“—part of a social campaign for adoption—and another “Apocalypto by Mel Gibson“—a movie advertisement. My first idea was that the black and white poster must relate to the fairly controversial antiabortion debate. Yet, a closer inspection explained everything: there was a large, blurred picture of a street with a tank and some people, alongside two small black inscriptions: “13 December 1981. Katowice” and “The Pacification of 'Wujek' Coalmine.”1 The quote from the Ten Commandments was in red ink—the color of blood, of the workers' movement and of Communism. It was a public exhibition about one of the most tragic events of Communist rule in Poland. In spite of many years of investigations and trials, nobody has ever been found guilty on the basis of the existing evidence. Interestingly, there was neither a caption nor an author's name. It was an anonymous public commemoration.
The end of Communism and the introduction of parliamentary democracy led to the transformation of symbolic spaces and the public sphere in Eastern Europe. In Poland, pre-war national holidays, such as 3 May and 11 November, were re-introduced, while the communist celebrations of 22 July and 7 November were erased from the calendar of state holidays. Furthermore, the names of streets and squares were changed throughout Poland, many monuments to Soviet leaders and heroes were removed, and new monuments and memorials commemorating previously neglected
1 “Wujek” coal mine is in Katowice. On December 16, 1981, after the introduction of
martial law, the workers on strike were brutally attacked by the army and riot police,
who opened fire, killing nine and injuring twenty-one miners.