Was Pope Johannes Paulus II a superhero who overthrew communism? According to the latest Polish government campaign on cultural heritage, that’d be correct. With the slogan “It’s worth investing in monuments” the ministry for Culture and National Heritage hopes to increase awareness for the preservation of heritage and monument protection amongst young generations, but opposition is criticizing the government’s newest heritage campaign as propaganda.
Nonetheless, the Polish government has spared no expense: they will allocate extra funds, found a special conservation body, a new heritage institute, record podcasts, and even an audiobook according to a press release from the ministry. The campaign slogan: “Don’t cut yourself off from the past, take care of monuments” shows a clear message, one that resonates with Polish citizens.
“Never seen before”
Recent reports from international consultant agency IPSOS showed that many Poles regard heritage as something important and valuable. “87% of our citizens believe that well-maintained monuments in their local communities translate into development opportunities, while 55% of Poles believe that it is extremely important to protect monuments – especially neglected ones”, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński pointed out during the press conference where he announced the start of the campaign.
The financial budget of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage resembles that interest. In the last seven years, the funding for their programme on heritage and monuments has been raised from approximately PLN 80 million (€17 million) to PLN 220 million (€47 million). And while a new national programme for the reconstruction and preservation of monuments is still in development, Gliński already promised that the budget is a whopping PLN 3 billion (€641 million): “a huge sum that has never been seen before.”
Focus on youth
The recent investments in national heritage and monument programmes have a clear goal: to let the Poles (re)connect with their heritage. The IPSOS report showed that as Poles become older, they have less frequent contact with heritage or monuments. Most young people visit monuments or museums during school trips or museum lessons, but after their education, these visits decline at a worrying rate. Hence why the latest campaign is heavily focused on getting young people and children more involved in heritage in the long run.
However, the phrase “It’s worth investing in monuments” can also be understood in another way. The Deputy Minister even emphasized that monuments are also opportunities for economic development. “Poles know that the quality of life increases among well-maintained monuments, but there are also opportunities for development in terms of attracting tourists and developing economic sectors”, Gliński explained the plans.
Nonetheless, not everyone is pleased with the increased heritage budget and cute campaign videos. Opposition parties in Poland are more worried about the content of the campaign itself: “They see it as a part of the ‘museum offence’ of PiS, the leading government party”, Poland correspondent Dore van Duivenbode explained on Dutch Public Broadcasting radio NPO Radio 1. “The opposition’s main critique is that painful and complex pages of Polish history are now purposefully forgotten or presented with a bias. And that includes presenting the Polish pope as a superhero who overthrew communism.”
Since this campaign focuses on educating young people about history and heritage, the opposition feels it’s ‘blatant propaganda’ from the government. “When PiS came to power in 2015, they immediately started redeveloping museums”, Van Duivenbode notes. “And the same minister of Culture, Piotr Gliński, declared back then, ‘that by redeveloping museums, we will transform the Polish identity.’ So these millions, being poured into culture and heritage, are regarded with suspicion.”