This article analyzes the reorganization of public memory space in postsocialist Poland and how the state and municipal councils use it to legitimate themselves. Drawing on research conducted in Gdańsk, the birthplace of the social movement (Solidarność) that questioned the legitimacy of the socialist state in the 1980s, it examines the proposed redevelopment of the shipyard where the movement was formed. While the redevelopment sets out to create a public memory space, it is rife with contradictions, for it involves demolishing many buildings associated with the movement. What legitimated the municipal council’s authority over its memorial landscapes was not so much its rediscovery of complex local histories as it was its ability to define the local past in “material” terms.
At a time when European cities redefine themselves through 'culture' in an attempt to attract tourists, investors and potential residents, policymakers have to negotiate different notions of 'local culture' defined by state governments on the one hand and by the EU on the other. Drawing upon research conducted in the Polish city of Gdańsk in the context of the redevelopment of its urban landscape, the article illustrates how 'local culture' is redefined as 'culture of freedom' by municipal and state institutions in order to establish a relationship of historical continuity between the time when Gdańsk was a thriving multicultural city and the post-socialist present. The article puts forward the argument that while the reformulation of local culture as 'culture of freedom' involves reconciling notions of national identity with new norms of local, regional and European integration, it does not necessarily entail the supersession of nationalism.