Fitting reminder of need for humane outlook in troubled times
On Saturday evening, I was privileged to be in St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, as Eva Hoffman - philosopher, scholar, novelist and the Polish-born daughter of Holocaust survivors - addressed an enthralled audience headed by President Michael D Higgins in the annual Hubert Butler Memorial Lecture.
Dr Hoffman, author of 'Lost in Translation', spoke of her youthful identity crisis as a 13-year-old Polish émigré to Canada, who could not communicate with her English-speaking peers. She spoke of learning English, yet retaining the cultural identification of a Polish formation, as a bifold identity developed. She spoke of developing an internationalist worldview, appreciative of multiple cultural and social forces. She also, however, spoke of her fear of how the 'humanistic' ideals of freedom, both personal and political, that engineered the downfall of communism and drew her native Poland and eastern-block states towards a nascent liberal democratic system post-1989, was in mortal peril with the rise of hard-right, ultra-nationalist factions.
She spoke of how political revisionist projects in the region are moulding collective memory to create a national identity of victimhood under firstly National Socialism, immediately followed by communist totalitarian rule. This revisionist worldview subjugated the suffering of minorities - including the three million murdered Polish Jews of the Shoah - as ultra-nationalist rhetoric retrenched freedoms of the post-communist era.