Watch the interview on YouTube Alicja, you are one of the founders of the KARTA Centre. Can you please go back into the times of 1980s and tell, in which activities your organisation was involved at that moment?
The KARTA Centre is an independent historical institution, but we started our work 34 years ago as an underground movement in the times of the Martial Law in Poland. At that moment, we were just a small independent newspaper, which was published on one sheet of paper. It was type-written. In Polish, one piece of paper is ‘kartka’ or ‘karta’. Due to that translation, the name of our newspaper and later institution is KARTA. But it was also in relation to the word “charter”, because we were thinking of the Charter of Human Rights. And we were also thinking of an independent organisation in the Czech Republic  – “Charta 77”. We started from the underground by collecting historical documentation like private documents, photos, memories of eyewitnesses, Polish citizens, who were victims of the World War II, also those of the Soviet occupation, because this topic was absolutely forbidden in Poland in the 1980s. We were thinking that if we hadn’t collected memories of the past, this past would have disappeared for the people. Our idea was just to collect sources of information about this past. We started arranging independent archives of historical sources and a very huge collection of eyewitnesses’ reports. As of today, KARTA still has got huge archives of about 5,000 reports of eyewitnesses and 240,000 historical photos. We have huge collections of documents. Certainly, it is not the only one of our activities. As I told already, KARTA is an independent historical institution, which has been not only collecting the documents, but keep on trying to publish results of the research on collecting activities. It means we prepare a lot of publications, we have a series of books and the KARTA Magazine, which is a historical quarterly magazine, which is full of sources. KARTA and all our activities have the same way of presenting the past, the history. It means that we always present history through our personal lives, sources, and documents.
And in this regard, I would like to ask you more on the Project “Historia Bliska”, or “History at Hand”. It deals with such a personal approach as well and seems to me to resemble the Memorial’s Contest “Man in History – Russia in the 20th Century”. Can you please – as the Project Coordinator – elaborate more on this topic?
To be honest, the competition is Russia just followed our competition. We taught our friends, how to organise such an event. “Historia Bliska” is a historical research competition for young people. The idea was to involve students to work in the KARTA’s framework, ie to collect documents, memories, photos, to make research in their very close surroundings – families, villages, towns, etc. For the first time, the competition was organised in 1996. So, this year that was the 19th round of our historical competition. Within this period, we had more than 40,000 young people as our particpants, who prepared historical research works for our competition. And our colleagues from “Memorial”, who followed us, has lately organized the 17th round of competition. Both “Memorial” and us are a part of a network for the organisers of historical competitions in almost all over Europe. As of today, 24 countries are involved in organising this kind of competitions for young people.
Very encouraging! Now we are talking in Perm. A couple of moments ago, the “Different Wars” Exhibition was opened here in the Urals – as a fruit of cooperation within the Working Group “Historical Memory and Education” of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Can you please tell more about the exhibition and a special attitude of Polish history textbooks to the topic of the World War II?
We at KARTA wanted to cooperate more with our friends and colleagues from Russia in many fields – and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was a chance for such a deeper cooperation. Among other things, this cooperation resulted in the preparation of the “Different Wars” Exhibition. As regards the Polish point of view, that was very important for us, as long as we know that attitudes towards World War II are different in Poland and Russia. While we somehow agreed on what had happened in those times with German colleagues, we still can see big differences between Polish and Russian historical memory or knowledge about the World War II, when comparing opinions and views on both sides. Due to that fact, it was very important for us to determine, how those views will be reflected in this exhibition and what will be an attitude our colleagues from Russia towards these very difficult historical topics in the framework of the Polish-Russian relations. In this regard, I mostly think of such difficult topics as September 1939, especially 17 September 1939, when the Red Army invaded Poland, the Katyń Massacre, the Warsaw uprising, or liberation of Poland by the Red Army. That was not necessarily liberation for Poles, as long as a kind of a new – Soviet – occupation started at that very moment.
Apart from Poland and Russia, historians from other countries also participated in this exhibition. Which insights did you have while anylising data from historical textbooks from the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, or Lithuania?
From the Polish and Lithuanian perspective, it is more about fight against Nazis and a problem of Holocaust. We have different attitudes towards this topic, like it is the case with the topic of Holocaust, which has been differently treated in all the countries involved. In Polish textbooks, the Holocaust is one of the main topics, while it is not so important for the textbooks from other countries. Sometimes, it is rather a too narrow focus on the topic. Another problematic topic is collaboration: In Poland,  we assume that our citizens were not collaborating with the occupation authorities – due to a strong resistance movement. As a result, this topic is not seriously reflected in the textbooks.
The KARTA Centre is a member of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Which current challenges do you see for the Forum’s work? How can they be tackled?
Nowadays, it is very important for us to be in the Forum, because the situation in Poland has changed dramatically. Being a part of the European Union, Poland should act a little bit differently now than it used to be before. And this is another challenge now than it used to be just a few years ago, when we started our work. I hope the Forum will be there to support our activities with all our open-mindedness and a European perspective on history. Poland will also need our work in the future, as long as we have been experiencing changes in Polish authorities as well as historical and cultural policies and we are a bit afraid of that those are going not in the right direction – towards nationalist rhetorics. We at KARTA prefer a more European attitude towards our history – a multiperspectivity. And this is a very big value for us in the Forum to have a chance for such a multiperspecitve view on the history.
What would you like to wish to the Forum members under these uneasy circumstances but still with chances for a better collaboration?
I think the biggest challenge for the whole Forum is to face an uprising nationalism in Europe as such. We face the same developments in many countries, not only in Poland but also, for instance, in Hungary. Likewise, the Czech Republic has its own problems and treatment of history in Russia raises concerns. Despite all those developments, our Forum needs to be strong, to keep relations on the civil society level, and to believe that we can be together – regardless of what is going on in-between.

The interview was shot on 16 June 2016 by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in Perm.