Polish Archaeology in Transition

By Schild, Romuald | Antiquity, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Polish Archaeology in Transition


Schild, Romuald, Antiquity


A glance at the past

There is no doubt that the condition of archaeological research in Poland before the great political change of 1989 was relatively good. Obviously, the money was not plentiful and there were certain ideological conditions that had to be fulfilled. In the 44 years of the Polish People's Republic many archaeological institutions emerged from nothing. The Institute of the History of Material Culture (IHMC) of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS) was founded in 1953 and by 1988 it had over 300 staff members. Archaeological institutes at several universities grew to considerable size: for example, the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw employs about 70 persons by comparison with a handful in 1939. By the end of 1988 there were around 500 professionals making a living from archaeology. The Ministry of Culture was also often quite generous in funding archaeological rescue work as well as the preparation of the central register of archaeological monuments (Archaeological Picture of Poland).

Ideological pressure was negligible in comparison with that in other social sciences, particularly after 1956. A party card was helpful, but never essential in the career, at least to the level of professorship. There was never complete freedom to travel abroad and at the time of martial law it was seriously restricted. Direct political interventions by the authorities were rare, but they did take place from time to time. A recent one was that triggered by Peter Ucko, who persuaded the Polish Embassy in London to seek help in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to force the then IHMC director to send a representative to the 1986 World Archaeological Congress in Southampton.

Access to world archaeological literature was not too easy, particularly for small institutions that lacked funds and publications for exchange. On the other hand, archaeological establishments with large outputs of their own publications exchanged them for foreign literature. In this way IHMC has built up an archaeological library that is among the best in Europe. In short, the isolation of Polish archaeology was never complete, although access to foreign publications and travel abroad sometimes might have been difficult.

General structural changes in the management of science

Archaeology represents only a small fraction of an extensive array of scientific disciplines practised in Poland. Most of the problems, therefore, that archaeology is facing are common to the entire scientific world. A few are specific only to archaeology. There are two major factors that affect science in today's Poland.

The first is common in some parts of the world: lack of money caused by shrinking government funds earmarked for science. In recent years the money set aside for science in the central budget plummeted from 1.43% of GNP in 1990 to c. 0.7% of GNP in 1992. This does not include the expenditure reserved for universities in the budget of the Ministry of Education, and the funding of museums, either by the Ministry of Culture or local governments.

The second reason is very specific and reflects changes in the regulations concerning the management of science, education and national heritage. Many amendments to older legislation and new laws are reminiscent of their Western counterparts.

Perhaps the most radical shift in the management of science came with the public law creating the State Committee for Scientific Research passed by the Sejm (Parliament) on 12 January 1991. The State Committee for Scientific Research (SCSR) is by law the sole distributor of funds allotted for science in the state budget voted by the Sejm. It includes 58 members (mostly professors) elected by nationwide ballots, five Ministers (Education, Finance, Industry, Environment, Natural Resources and Forests) and seven representatives of local governments and industrial enterprises. The President of SCSR is appointed by the Sejm and its Secretary by the Prime Minister. …

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