Accepted Paper:

The massive corruption of clever minds  


Andrzej Boguszewski (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives)

Paper short abstract:

I discuss the process of manipulation by the Polish communist authorities to attract followers by recruiting young people to become heralds of the ideology. Many Polish archaeologists chose not to compromise their integrity.

Paper long abstract:

When I think of the years when I have worked as an archaeologist in Poland (from 1974 to 1988), I recall how easy it was to engage in research and get funds for fieldwork. In the Polish People's Republic (PRL), seven academic centres produced about 50-60 graduates a year and because employment was obligatory, most of them found jobs as professional archaeologists. I could not understand the reasons of such policy. Why was the Polish Communist Party (PZPR) so enthusiastic about archaeology? It becomes even more disconcerting if we keep in mind that the main "showcases" of Polish archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s were: excavations of the Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel, discovery of the frescos at the early Christian (Coptic) church in Farras, and the nation-wide archaeological operation related to "1000 years of Christening of Poland." All these projects were the pride of the nation and have inspired youngsters to become archaeologists. How was it possible for the communist regime to uphold such research? All the three mentioned cases concerned religious sites, including two projects on early Christian sites, and digging and reconstruction of the first Christian chapels and churches in Poland. Why did the communist government approve and finance research on Christianity? I suppose it was a part of premeditated strategy to seduce and recruit young, intelligent and interested about the past people to become heralds of the ideology, to win their hearts and minds. If not controlled and manipulated, the past is always one of the biggest enemies of any totalitarian ideology. The plot was divided into three phases: 1) seduction, 2) temptation, and 3) "we've got you!" phase. The hook was to publish enthusiastic news about the successes of Polish archaeologists and subsequently to identify the most gifted among those who took the bait, as the competitive exam to enter the faculty of archaeology was extremely demanding. Quickly arrived the second phase of the plot: the temptation. Graduates were offered a perspective to achieve their dreams, to plan professional careers and to reach a relatively prestigious social status. Initially it seemed great but finally it turned out not be free of charge. The more one progressed in research, the more difficult was to secure funds. The first "glass ceiling" appeared. To get through it seemed simple - a member of the Communist Party (often a faculty member) would suggest: "Why won't you join the Communist Party? It is not a big deal really and, after all, you owed it to our Party, which already helped you so much." This is when the third "we've got you!" phase materialized. It was the crucial moment that the regime counted on a lot. Sometimes the plot was successful, but in majority of situations it didn't produce the wished effects. Why did such elaborate plan for massive corruption fail? I think that it was due to the merit of our professors, our friendships, and the common sense of decency. But it was not easy as life under communism demanded compromises. Other temptations, other "glass ceilings," blackmails and corruption proposals were overwhelming. Why then so many Polish archaeologists chose not to compromise their integrity and despite that advanced their research? In this paper I will propose my personal opinion.

Panel S22
Archaeology under communism: political dimensions of archaeology