BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Varieties of Nostalgia and Right-Wing Populism in Poland

Fri8  Apr02:40pm(20 mins)
Teaching Room B


Marta Kotwas, Jan Kubik


Politics of memory studies explore a variety of instruments adopted by political actors, ranging from museums and monuments to commemorative practices. But can nostalgia be understood as such an instrument? In what conditions does it become a political phenomenon?

We argue that some varietes of collective nostalgia be instumentalised by political actors. As Boym observes: “The nostalgic desires to turn history into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition.” Drawing on Boym’s distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia, we examine in particular how right-wing populists in Poland use nostalgic discourses. On the one hand, they strive to construct the past in a mythologised manner by co-opting what we call 'assertive' nostalgia. Such mythologies, relying on the Manichaean vision of social reality, serve to legitimate populist power but also exacerbate the resulting symbolic and political polarisation. On the other hand, they employ the 'suppressive' nostalgia to invoke and restore a specific - decisively positive - way of representing the complicated Polish history, and eradicate the nuanced discourses based on the growing body of historical evidence.

At the same time, we ask questions about the consequences of (dis-)engagement with various nostalgic discourses for actors on all sides of the political spectrum.