Pamięć o nie swojej przeszłości. Przypadek Bieszczadów

Patrycja Trzeszczyńska
Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego

Kraków 2016

“Overall, the Bieszczady region is populated by people who constantly speak about themselves, at the same time, as if also constructing their world for others” (p. 30), says Patrycja Trzeszczyńska in the introduction to her book devoted to the creation of a collective memory of Bieszczady in the Bieszczady region in the post‑Second World War period. As the author disclaims, the book is not a comprehensive monograph on the whole region – incidentally described here not in strictly geographic terms, i.e. as a mountain range that is part of the Carpathians, but rather in “tourist terms”, as an area encompassing today’s Lesko and Bieszczady powiats (counties), and partly even the Sanokpowiat. Accordingly, rather than a monographic study, readers are offered a narrative divided into two main parts and built on the basis of the author’s anthropological field research. The first part analyses the region’s inhabitants’ practice of the memory of the whole region, while the second part provides a case study of – in the author’s own words – “the unfinished project of domesticating the place” concerning the memory of not‑one’s‑own past in the village of Wisłok Wielki located in the borderland between two regions: Bieszczady and the Lower Beskids.
Even though the author follows an imprecise and commonly accepted – or “­tourist” – spatial understanding of Bieszczady, it appears to be an appropriate one, and, importantly, by and large, it overlaps with the areas of the former Western Boyko Land. I mention this because the publication of Trzeszczyńska’s book coincided with the release of a monumental two‑volume work authored by over thirty scholars and edited by Jacek ­Wolski, Bojkowszczyzna Zachodnia – wczoraj, dziś i jutro (The Western Boyko Land: Yesterday, today and tomorrow, 2016). Therefore, her book was not created in a vacuum, and, providing an original contribution to the scholarship on this region, it ought to be read in the context of this scholarship. In fact, the author demonstrates perfect awareness of the multifaceted research conducted about and in the Bieszczady region. Accordingly, her choice of Wisłok Wielki as the subject matter of the second part of her book is not accidental. In the 1980s the village was examined by another researcher, the British anthropologist Chris Hann. Reading Trzeszczyńska’s explanation for her choice and the description of her study and its methodology, I could not help but compare this author’s idea with another instance of a repeated examination of another village, namely Żmiąca in Lesser Poland, carried out a few years ago by Michał Łuczewski in his fascinating book Odwieczny naród. Polak i katolik w Żmiącej (Primordial nation. The Pole and the Catholic in the village of Żmiąca, 2012).
Of course, when Trzeszczyńska writes about practising not‑one’s‑own past, she means the complex historical situation of the analysed region, which, before the Second World War, as a cultural borderland, was a multinational and multiethnic melting pot populated by Boykos, Lemkos, Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, Roma and Germans. Out of this melting pot, as a result of the war, the Holocaust, the double – in 1945 and 1951 – redrawing of the border of Poland, and the forceful resettlement of the Rusyn and Ukrainian population, only a memory remains, as well as vacant land resettled by the incoming population from other Polish regions. This historical and cultural situation has led to two tendencies in the construction of memory narratives about the past in today’s Bieszczady. The first and historically older one focuses on highlighting the beauty of the nature and landscape of the region, and gives rise to the conviction, still prevalent today, about its naturalness, consequently stressing that it is wild, inaccessible and remote. The second tendency, somewhat more recent, but increasingly visible, is a story surrounding the bygone, distant, and attractive multiculturalism. This attitude, as Trzeszczyńska writes, “is one of Bieszczady’s skeleton keys to its regional specificity” (p. 35). Importantly, such skeleton keys are not keys proper. For, as is commonly known, multiculturalism as a concept created with much success in the 1970s for the purpose of describing first the Canadian, and then Australian society in the late 20th century, when applied to reflection on the multiethnic cultural character of Central and Eastern Europe before the Second World War usually – owing to the a historical use – becomes its own caricature. On the other hand, this does not preclude the great popularity of the word “multicultural” in tourist and advertising brochures, in strategies used by cities and regions, as well as in popular‑scientific books in this part of Europe. In the Central European narratives of the past painted with warm colours it would be difficult today to find anything that did not use to be “multicultural” once.
Narrative memory practices, concentrated on such presumed multiculturalism, are also perfectly visible in the Bieszczady of today, and their successive examples described in Trzeszczyńska’s book become an excellent study of memory constructed in order to meet the needs of the region’s contemporary inhabitants. The author successfully applies the term “boutique multiculturalism” borrowed from Stanley Fish, which, in contrast to “strong multiculturalism”, is characterised by a superficial and cosmetic, skin‑deep approach to cultures other than one’s own; importantly, it is the kind of approach which is in no way conflicted with the norms of one’s own culture. Folklorisation, seeming authenticity, festivalisation, “folk art” fairs, the interiors of restaurants and the design of menus, and finally the apparent “self‑folklorisation”, to use the term introduced by Ewa Klekot – these are only some of the signs of the abovementioned boutique multiculturalism perfectly visible in Bieszczady today, which construct a quasi‑ethnographic discourse about the region’s past that many find convincing. Patronising diminutive forms (cer­kiewka – “a little Orthodox church”, chałupka – “a little peasant cottage”, ikonki – little icons), the image of the happy savage borrowed from the influential Polish ethnographer Roman Reinfuss, the Boyko peasant, exoticisation of “the East”, the remote periphery of Poland, “regional cuisine”, “Boyko” and “Boyko‑Lemko” cuisine – as labels for Hutsulpierogior Ukrainian blinis – all evoke, as Trzeszczyńska writes, “not‑our‑own” past. Rather, it is a past which does not belong to the contemporary inhabitants of Bieszczady, but instead is seen from “our” point of view: “a past about which we speak on behalf of someone else for whom it was the present, or on behalf of someone who treats the past of their ancestors as their own deposit” (p. 39).
Of course, the author is right in saying that the past of Bieszczady does not belong to those who construct it in the way described above. Equally importantly, however, neither does thus formatted past, transformed into a conventional system of markers of folkness, belong to its “rightful” owners and their descendants, who would hardly find in its image their own authentic historical experience. Moreover, this almost exclusion from the world of experience, also the historical one, is not innocent. As Trzeszczyńska observes, “What is being created is an image of an honest, happy Boyko, dressed up in the raw truth of Bieszczady and deriving from it a sense of his existence – and this is to manifest itself in the food, magic, musical folklore, etc. Thus Boyko and Boyko‑Lemko, even Rusyn are invited to come to Bieszczady – but not Ukrainian ones yet. It seems too soon for that” (p. 136).
The second mode of constructing memory that Trzeszczyńska is interested in is a derivative from the abovementioned “nature‑landscape” model, which at the same time – as an already historical account about the second half of the 20th century – is itself subject to historicisation and attempts at its narrative processing. For this reason it becomes a point of reference for the memory of the “New Bieszczady” as well as today’s performances of memory which is more “one’s‑own” than “not‑one’s‑own”. Nonetheless, it does not exist in complete separation from the stories about “multicultural” Bieszczady. The fact that this mode of constructing a narrative is “closer” does not mean that it is free from indoctrination, inaccuracies and mythography. Trzeszczyńska traces it on many levels of the linguistic operations to which the Bieszczady region is subjected. The myth of wilderness and naturalness is connected with the localsui generisconcept and practice of freedom which, as it appears, is the most important point of reference here. It is somewhat akin to the highlanders’śleboda, a mythical idea of freedom from the dictionary of folklorisation and self‑folklorisation at the same time, which has been successfully applied to characterise the mentality of the inhabitants of the Podhale region since the 19th century. It could even be asserted that the freedom of Bieszczady’społoniny(mountain pastures), unfettered by convention, is to some degree its equivalent; an attempt to apply thetoposof the mountains well‑known in Polish culture (originating in the Tatras) to another mountainous region (Bieszczady).
This freedom, combined with a life in harmony with nature and the post‑war narrative about its colonisation, finds its expression in the toponyms visible in the region today (i.e. names of bars, lodgings, parts of villages), but above all in the two most Bieszczady‑specific cultural phenomena of the second half of the 20th century.
The first one is the activity of the punk youth group called Wolna Republika Biesz­czad (Free republic of Bieszczady), created in the late 1970s in Ustrzyki Dolne, and of the legendary punk group KSU, with which it had close links. In the interpretations of lyrics of the KSU songs included inPamięć o nie‑swojej przeszłości, two types of narrative about the region’s past intertwine: the one stressing its multicultural past and the one affirming freedom.
The second phenomenon which is successfully problematised and deconstructed in the book thanks to its inclusion in the discourse of Bieszczady’s memory iszakapiorstwo. A zakapior, the mountains’ honorary clochard, a man – not infrequently having a criminal past, yet also a spiritual depth, is a truly Manichean figure. This figure from Bieszczady’s post‑war folklore is an imaginary one, and no less so than the region’s seemingly coherent past. It is said to be like that, but it is doubtful whether it in fact was.

• Wojciech Szymański

Translated from the Polish by Ewa Kowal