Loss, Fatalism and Choice: The Moral Component in the Narratives of Polish Dissident Historians in the 1980s. The Cases of Krystyna Kersten and Jerzy Holzer

Cristina Álvarez González

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/APH.2017.116.11


This article discusses the moral dimension of history writing in the opposition milieus during the last decade of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL). It focuses on the works of two dissident historians who dealt with untold or contested aspects of Polish contemporary history: Krystyna Kersten and Jerzy Holzer. First, the essay describes the narratives about the values and experiences shared in the PRL context by people belonging simultaneously to the intelligentsia, opposition dissidence, and academia (professional historians), with a special emphasis on the discovery and search for the truth under positivistic premises. Secondly, it analyses the counterfactual questions posed by Kersten and Holzer in their bestseller underground books about post-war politics and the trade union Solidarity’s legal period, respectively. The reflections that these two scholars developed about pasts-that-didn’t-take-place provided a complementary ethical component to their discourses concerning decision-making processes and Polish society’s political agency. The idea of losing, the ultimate inevitability of defeat, and the way that defeat was faced in two different moments of Poland’s recent history are tackled by Kersten and Holzer with an educational goal: to explain to readers that, however minute the range of choice is, ethics, together with remembrance, plays an important role in social consciousness and empowerment, and hence can make a crucial difference in the long run.


opposition in the Polish People’s Republic; 1980s; history writing; ethics; Krystyna Kersten; Jerzy Holzer

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