Looking across the river
German-Polish border communities and the construction of the Other
The paper reports results of an ongoing ESRC-funded project into constructions of identity in German and Polish border communities. We are interested here in how our informants from different generations position themselves and their communities with regard to those on the other side of the river.
The data come from a set of semi-structured interviews conducted in the towns of Guben (Germany) and Gubin (Poland) separated by the river Neisse, with some reference to the data elicited in the similarly split communities on the former East West German border on the Saale. For the people living in our target communities, the official narratives of the nation were re-written not just once, but in the case of the older generation at least three times. This meant a challenge of how to construct their own cultural identity in response to official changes and in relation to oppositional constructions of the nation on the other side of the border literally by ‘looking across’ at the Other in their every-day lives.
In this paper we discuss how members of the oldest generation living on both sides of the river Neisse in the respective German and Polish towns of Guben and Gubin construct each other in their discourses. We show that the discourses of the Other are ridden by a mismatch in the constructions of the ownership of the past and the present. While the Polish narratives construct the German neighbours in terms of threat to the present status quo of the town, the German narratives position Gubin mostly in terms of the nostalgic past.
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