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Every July Poland and Ukraine revisit the tragic events which occurred in Volhynia in 1943. During each anniversary politicians and the media give us the same routine performance which then affects society at large. Politicians, as usual, seize the moment in order to “take a stance” on the behalf of some “community” they claim to represent. Media complement their news footage with clips of interviews with experts. This is when historians get their fifteen minutes in the limelight. The genuine social and religious rituals, such as mourning, church services, meetings and difficult conversations, unfold quietly in the shadow of this media circus. Among the grand narratives, ideological constructs, phantoms, stereotypes, declarations, definitions and numbers retrieved for this occasion, we ultimately tend to forget about individual experiences, tragedies and small miracles which emerge in the individual biographies of those who lived through those events.

Macrohistory has found its way to media and politics, but what is happening to microhistory? Do we have any place left for microhistory whose dull, tiresome and unclear nature cannot be reconciled with politics or the media? Among all the spokespersons for Volhynia, is there anyone among them who has genuinely done something for the people who had crossed “the shadow line”? Is there anyone who has listened to the stories the witnesses have to tell? Is there anyone who has expressed willingness to preserve the testimonies of the eyewitnesses or a readiness to understand the complexities of the relations in the borderlands?

The articles featured in this issue of Kultura Enter have been given the title “Volhynia. Voices”. They reflect our reaction to contemporary conflicts and ideologies which attempt to appropriate memory and human suffering. In this issue of our magazine we also want to promote a very special book. The book, entitled “Reconciliation through Difficult Remembrance. Volhynia 1943″, documents a project undertaken by Stowarzyszenie Panorama Kultur (The Panorama of Cultures Association). The aim of the project was to collect testimonies from the inhabitants of Volhynia. Excerpts from the recently published book are available on the website www.pojednanie.pk.org.pl. The excerpts are supplemented by additional material, such as commentaries, unpublished testimonies as well as reflections and perspectives of the participants, which situate the project within the context of the Polish-Ukrainian dialogue.

Delving into the issue of wartime Volhynia has led us to think that it is impossible to avoid a direct confrontation with inherited traumas in the process of undertaking constructive borderland dialogue. The core content of “Reconciliation through Difficult Remembrance” consists of stories recounted by Volhynian Ukrainians and Poles, local inhabitants, people from “here”. Ideologies intruded into their world from outside. As those who inhabited a “land soaked in blood” they had the misfortune to experience one of the most common forms of state-building prevalent in the 20th century.

For our contemporary world, which thoughtlessly consumes fiction and remains helpless against ideological appropriations, working with witnesses to history, as we have done during the project “Reconciliation through Difficult Remembrance.Volhynia 1943″ is something unusual and unique. This project tells the story of direct experiences and offers a small step forward in the difficult process of reclaiming reality.

Below you will find excerpts taken from the introductory section of the book written by its editor Aleksandra Zińczuk. The links will take you to the free digital copy of the book, which is available in three language versions.

Grzegorz Kondrasiuk


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Reconciliation is not a one-off act of embracing each other; it is a process of developing a shared awareness on both sides of the border. The current conflict of memory can be resolved through more meetings, conferences, open and honest discussions and, last but not least, the opening of more cemeteries. The point is that the process has to be patiently and painstakingly continued.


You have finally come

The conversations we had with Ukrainian and Polish Volhynians yielded surprising results. We discovered that on the level of personal memories both Polish and Ukrainian stories tend to be consistent. Unfortunately, amidst the entire propaganda war hardly anyone seems interested in what some elderly villagers have to say.

Oral history in Ukraine: personalities, priorities, perspective

The present “situation of oral history” in Ukraine is characterised by an extraordinarily rich choice of subjects, which are studied employing the method of witness interviews. The development of oral history in Ukraine is gradually becoming more integrated with international projects undertaken in this field.

Ukrainian (Non)Rememberence of Volhynia 1943

In contemporary Ukraine a greater part of the society yearns for simple answers to the complex challenges posed by modernity. The casualties of this “desire for simplicity” are a critical reflection on one’s past, the development of empathy for alternative memory and willingness to see yourself in history not only as a victim but also as a culprit.

Jakub Wydrzyński | 24-11-2014

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