We celebrate the presentation of the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize - Muzeum Pamięci Sybiru

19 December 2023

We celebrate the presentation of the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize

The Mayor of the city of Białystok, Tadeusz Truskolaski, Member of the Sejm, Krzysztof Truskolaski, representatives of the Association of Siberian Deportees – headed by the president of the Białystok branch Jolanta Hryniewicka — and the team of the Sybir Memorial Museum met with media representatives at a conference on the presentation of the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize to the Białystok institution.

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— It is a great moment, great honor and joy that we can inform you about this award — the Mayor of the City of Białystok, Tadeusz Truskolaski, began the conference. — The Sybir Memorial Museum has only functioned for two years, but it is already the best in Europe.

This is truly an excellent achievement — he said. — We owe this to many people, but at the beginning — to Krzysztof Truskolaski MP, who is a member of the Assembly of the Council of Europe and proposed the candidacy of the Museum. Thank you for this initiative.

— This museum fits perfectly into a map not only of Białystok and Poland, but also of a map of Europe. My dream was for it to be a European or even global museum. Maybe there are some world awards? You will have to report it because this museum can compete on equal terms with others. We owe this to the applicant, but also to the great work. I would like to thank the director and the crew of the Sybir Memorial Museum, who work in this facility in such a way that everyone can be proud of it — said the Mayor of the city of Białystok.

— The museum achieved this success because it was built for a long time, but carefully and systematically. In such a way that it would be a facility that measures the XXI century, although it talks about very difficult matters. I remember accompanying the visit of the President of the Republic of Poland at first and then the visit of Ambassador Marek Brzeziński, who kept repeating: ‘Amazing!’ This emphasizes the universality of this museum. Congratulations, we are all happy that we have such a museum in Białystok. Museum, which is noticed in Europe — concluded the Mayor of the city of Białystok, Mr. Tuskolaski.

Krzysztof Truskolaski MP spoke next: — This is our joint success. I am extremely happy that we can celebrate it together today. I have been a member of the Council of Europe Assembly for almost 8 years. I have looked at many initiatives, including museum ones, and dreamed that one day I would be able to propose a museum that would be related to the Podlaskie Voivodeship, to Białystok. After a year of operation of the Sybir Memorial Museum, after discussions with the director, the Mayor of the City of Białystok and his deputies, we decided that it was a good time to nominate the Sybir Memorial Museum to the Council of Europe Museum Prize. It was a success thanks to the engagement of everyone. I would also like to thank the jury who decided that the Sybir Memorial Museum will be the best museum of 2024. This is the highest award for the museum. I am glad that this museum has already been visited by many distinguished guests. It is already getting more and more famous in Poland and Europe, but I hope that the whole world will soon talk about the Sybir Memorial Museum as the best museum not only in Europe, but also in a broader context. I wish you continued success and I provide further assistance. I hope the museum wins further awards and continues to develop — added Truskolaski MP.

Professor Wojciech Śleszyński, Director of the Sybir Memorial Museum admitted in his speech: — When we begun to build the Museum, we knew that an extraordinary work was being created. Today, not in Paris, London or Venice, but in Białystok we have the best museum in Europe. This is the oldest and most prestigious museum award.

— The Sybir Memorial Museum is a place with a strong and unique identity. It attracted a group of committed and creative people who were making this museum this great team that is standing there. From the very beginning, it had and still has the support of Sybiraks and their descendants all over the world. I would like to express my special thanks to the representatives of the Siberian Community, who are present today — emphasized professor Śleszyński.

— The presentation of the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize proves that the Sybir Memorial Museum stands in one row with the best museums in Europe. Our message is universal and concerns the basic values that build the European Community. The Sybir Memorial Museum allows you to learn about the heritage of Poland, but also of this part of Europe, which is the key to understanding the mechanisms that have shaped today’s Europe. This was appreciated by the Committee awarding the Council of Europe Museum Prize, he added. — The museum was created to preserve, research and disseminate knowledge about the past, but with the future in mind. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine has showed that we also explain the modern phenomena.

— We all treat this award as a confirmation that we have chosen the right direction. We operate internationally — that was the will of the Mayor of the City of Białystok. We build historical commissions and implement international memory projects. We build the leading position, network European museums and right now we are the mentor for other museums in Poland. A year ago, in this very room, we established a network of museums in Eastern Europe, from the Baltic countries to Moldova. Such an international project is, for example, the Memorial Peloton, which takes place from Tallinn to Chisinau — continued Director Śleszyński.

— I think it would be no exaggeration to say that we are the pride of Białystok. Today, visiting the museum has become an obligation for all tourists, from Poland and abroad. We keep developing to be a museum fit for the 21st century — noted the professor.

— Let me thank the Mayor of the City of Białystok for trusting us twice, we count on further support and trust. When he appointed me with a group of six people in 2017 to build the museum and again when we were given the opportunity to run the museum after its opening. After two years of operation, it is the best museum. I would also like to thank the MP for reporting our museum. Special thanks go to the team. It’s always the case that the director takes the credit, but without this great team there would have been no museum. Just like without the support of the Siberian Community, which we had from the very beginning.

— Finally, let me thank the third group from whom we always knew we had support and who was always here: journalists — added Professor Wojciech Śleszyński.

Jolanta Hryniewicka, President of the Association of Siberian Deportees, branch in Białystok, spoke on behalf of the Siberian Community: — Sybiraks join the congratulations with all their hearts and acknowledging the gravity of the situation and are very pleased that this museum, which is our Siberian heart, has received such an award. Sybiraks cooperate very closely with the Sybir Memorial Museum and are grateful that all our collections, documents, memories and diaries collected in our modest Siberian Museum have been secured in the museum where we are now, secured to serve all generations. All our efforts are common and we are grateful that the permanent exhibition is organized in such a way that presents our entire journey in exile, and visitors have the impression that they are in exile with us.

— I would like to thank the Museum for its cooperation, the director and all employees, that we have such wonderful contacts and that our actions are joint — she added.

Piotr Popławski, PhD head of the Educational and Cultural Projects Department, spoke on behalf of the Sybir Memorial Museum team: — Some of us have been in the team from the very beginning, since 2017, others joined later. I would like us to convey very clearly to everyone that regardless of whether someone has been with us for several or several dozen months, their role is equally important — he said.

— When we were headed for the opening of the Museum, when the last months of rehearsals were underway, we were wondering what would happen next. After this effort, will we still have the strength and energy to continue doing something great after such a huge project? Then the museum was opened, more people joined us, there are more of us, and all the employees contributed to the fact that this award has now reached our museum — emphasized Piotr Popławski, PhD.

— It was a huge effort, but thanks to the fact that we did it with the trust of local authorities, state authorities, and with the support of our Sybiraks — we can be proud of it today. This is the most important thing, that today there is a place in Białystok that makes the inhabitants and employees of this place proud to be inhabitants of Białystok — said an employee of the Museum.

At the news that the Sybir Memorial Museum had been awarded the Museum Award, Białystok began to receive congratulations and words of appreciation from all over the world. Some of them took the form of video recordings, three of them were presented at the conference.

Anna Parmhagen, one of our donors, sent her statement from Stockholm, where she has lived for years. She recalled her first contact with the Sybir Memorial Museum:

In 2018, I sent photos of the mementoes brought by my family from Kazakhstan in 1946. I found out then that they have great exhibition and historical value. I decided right then to come to Białystok for the first time in my life, I brought with me all the mementoes of my grandfather, Adolf Saraniecki. They were letters, photos and drawings that are part of the permanent exhibition. During his stay in Siberia, my grandfather was a delegate of the Polish embassy in Semipalatinsk. (…)
The newly built museum made a great impression on me and my family, both in terms of the preparation and design of the exhibition and in terms of its very specific atmosphere. Therefore, I am very happy that I could contribute to the creation of this exhibition on behalf of my side of the family. I would like to very sincerely congratulate the Sybir Memorial Museum, congratulate the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize.

Ricardo Villalobos Grzybowicz sent congratulations from Mexico:

I am so happy to know that the Museum and the whole staff of the Museum have been recognized with this award. It is an honor to know that all the work that you have done in the last few years to preserve the memories of our families in particular Polish-Mexican Community and what our loved ones experienced in Siberia.
It is very important for future generations that we do not make the same mistakes and that we benefit from the great example that our ancestors set for us.
Congratulations and I hope to visit your museum soon.

Krystyna Prażmowska said from Argentina:

I am very pleased to congratulate the Sybir Memorial Museum on receiving the Council of Europe Museum Prize. It is very important to me, as the daughter and granddaughter of Sybiraks, that the Museum’s work continues to develop and the memory of those who did not survive and those who survived despite inhuman conditions is further disseminated in Europe and around the world. Congratulations, I wish you continued fruitful work and greetings from Argentina!

The conference ended with a group photo of the Sybir Memorial Museum team with the representatives of authorities present at the meeting.

What prize has the Sybir Memorial Museum received? Who has granted it?

The Sybir Memorial Museum has received the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize. The decision was made on December 5, 2023 at the meeting of the Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In addition, we were nominated for the European Museum of the Year Award.

The Council of Europe is the oldest European institution upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It was established in 1949, so after the experience of World War II in order to bring peace and cooperation in Europe based on common, fundamental rules. From the very beginning, among those values, culture was on a high place as a carrier of the ideals of freedom, tolerance and respect towards human dignity.

Based on the recommendations developed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in March 1977, the program for European museum prize was created. For museums that promote stating the human law, help understanding modern, social problems, support diversity and dialogue, take care of collective memory and build bridges between nations and cultures. The program consists of, most of all, the Council of Europe Museum Prize and the European Museum of the Year Award.

Grafika zawierająca granatowy napis "Museum Prize/Prix du musee 2024" oraz logotyp Rady Europy z napisami Council of Europe i Conseil de l'europe

‘The award scheme of the Museum Prize has an important role in promoting the core values of the Council of Europe, the values that we cannot take for granted and that we need to keep defending continuously.’ Mrs. Vesna Marjanović, member of the Serbian Parliament and former Rapporteur for the Council of Europe Museum Prize.

Every year European Museums want to interview for the program. Museums, which have been established or extensively renewed in the last three years. The Sybir Memorial Museum in Białystok entered the competition in the spring of 2023.

In June 2023 we hosted in Białystok Mr. Beat Haechler, director of the Alpin Museum in Swiss Bern, who was a judge. According to the rules of contest, before the jury had time for deliberation, our museum could have been visited one more time by the judge, this time remaining anonymous.

In November, at the Portuguese headquarters of the European Museum Forum takes place the jury deliberations, which makes a list of nominated to the European Museum of the Year Prize — these museums are invited to the May meeting in Portimão, during which the ceremonial gala is held and the winner is pronounced.

The jury avail of the November recommendations at the later meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which choses the laureate of the Council of Europe Museum Prize in Strasbourg.

On December 4, 2023 we found out that the Sybir Memorial Museum was among 50 nominees to the European Museum of the Year Prize. The other nominees from Poland were the Mazovian Museum in Płock, the National Museum in Lublin, the Museum of the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice in Wrocław and the Museum and Memorial in Sobibór. Who will be the winner, we find out in May 2024.

One day later, on December 5, 2023 we received a message saying, that we had been given the 2024 Council of Europe Museum Prize. Its handing will take place in April 2024 in Strasbourg.

According to the committee representative for the Museum Prize, Constantinos Efstathiou (Cyprus, SOC):

‘The museum works with the strong narrative of deportation, reducing research-based material to the essentials, working with strong spatial images that give a voice to the selected authentic objects. The museum’s ability to convey history through workshops, events, media, publications and new formats is impressive and brings it to a broad audience.’

Among the honoured with the Council of Europe Museum Prize in its decade-long history were such facilities as: The Workers Museum in Copenhagen (2023) or Nano Nagle Place in Cork (2022). Until now only one polish facility has received this prestigious award. It was European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk — in 2016.

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