Part of illustration by Ragni Svensson

Essays Farewell to Poland? The uprising of a nation

The Polish professor in literature, Maria Janion, writes on Polish identity, and its interpretation and reinterpretation, its crisis and the process of shaping a new Polish imagery. There is a ongoing dialog between the past and the present and a constant struggle between the free Poland and the posthumous life of Romanticisim.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Pages 4-13, Baltic Worlds 4, 2011
Published on on January 13, 2012

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Note: An introduction to Maria Janion is found at:

I deliberately paraphrase the title of the famous Romantic work by Maurycy Mochnacki, Powstanie narodu polskiego w roku 1830 i 1831 [The uprising of the Polish nation in 1830 and 1831]. In 2004, we saw the last vestiges of the thoroughly trivialized Romantic paradigm trail away into oblivion before our very eyes. Perhaps this procession of stragglers would not have appeared in this exact formation if it had not been for the urge to provide a kind of quasi-definition of Polish identity, experienced on the occasion of our joining the European Union. Those who caution us against Europe are acutely aware of the need to explore the concept of Polishness. They say, however, “What’s the use, we all know it anyway”, and that there is no reason to stir the primeval loamy depths of our national soul. What transpires here is an extremely typical phenomenon, namely a reluctance to undertake the difficult task of defining Polishness because, obviously, defining it implies a redefinition, a process of debate and a new self-understanding, a possible deconstruction of stagnant beliefs, and an attempt to decipher the subtext of our culture.1

In an editorial debate published in Dekada Literacka [Literary decade] under the significant title “My do Europy” [We, to Europe], Zbigniew Pucek, sociologist and cultural anthropologist, pointed out a typical Polish paradox, which he expressed in very strong terms: “The process of our joining the European Union was dominated by the struggle to obtain subsidies for farmers. […] The idea of Europe was reduced to the trivial issue of financing the thoroughly irrational business of our completely non-European peasantry, who cannot boast that their labor productivity is even acceptable.”2 And it is not by pure chance that such belittling of the European idea, such lack of any widespread discussion concerning its content and meaning, coincides (along with other social phenomena) with the emergence of a process of landmark changes in consciousness, first and foremost in the patriotic consciousness of young people — those between the ages of 20 and 30. As it happens, many of them decided, in short, to bid farewell to Poland.3

After this prelude, let us proceed to the context of the matter, namely a brief analysis of the rhetoric of the “defense of Nice” and the battle against Europe (as this is indeed the proper name for it) during the campaign for elections to the European Parliament.

The ill-conceived slogan “Nice or death”, which dominated the political imagination at the turn of 2003—2004, is a device typical of the rhetoric of Romanticism and revolution, even of Jacobinism, which revels in extremes. The watchword “Fatherland” followed by the response “or death” smacks of an attempt at a last-ditch resistance. This uncompromising “or else” is a very convenient excuse for the creation of an aura of “national treason” around those who would like to place themselves outside such an alternative. These people consider it absurd because they would believe, for example, that European politics should rely on negotiation and compromise. Even thoughts of this nature are deemed highly reprehensible. Such thoughts were believed to lead directly to the formation of the “white flag party”, which advocated surrender, even though defending the position “to the bitter end” was a must. As usual, we have been “abandoned by Europe”, particularly by France, a specialist in desertion, and by the cunning, aggressive Germany. The “treacherous Albion” failed to exhibit this basic trait of hers this time, but perhaps this is only for the time being. As a “proud and great nation”, we will always manage somehow, going to battle “without weapons” (as in the song dating back to the January uprising4), but with the faith of our forefathers on our banners, which bear the words “God, Honor, Fatherland”. The political scientist Aleksander Smolar aptly compared Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s departure for European negotiations in Brussels to “setting forth as if to join another Polish uprising, with the heroic wounded commander leading the party” (Miller had earlier been injured in a helicopter crash).5

This post-Romantic rhetoric intensified during the election campaign to the European Parliament. Let us examine the motifs appearing on the faded banners of our candidates for the Parliament. These motifs recur continually, at present mostly in the politics of history pursued by the Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc):

1. Struggle, fight, and uprising everywhere; we are setting off to fight Europe, to rise against her, we are going to battle, Poland has to defend herself, Europe is threatening her. Only Jan Kułakowski from the Freedom Union (Unia Wolnosci) declares that joining the European Union does not mean defending another Ordon’s redoubt6, but no one listens to him; Poland is being inundated by addled post-Romantic parlance.

2. We take up arms because Poland’s suffering must be avenged; deputy Michał Kamiński from Law and Justice, a man respected for his pluck and courage, the very man who brought a gorget with Our Lady as a gift to Pinochet, declares amid applause that we would go to Europe to recover what is ours — we suffered because of her, she sold us out and now we would extract from her what is rightly ours — thankfully, not “get it back with sabers”, as in our national anthem; the Polish Labor Party (Polska Partia Pracy) announces that we are condemned to perish and demands that Europe subsidize our retirement pensions; the ethos of national martyrdom is usually combined with messianism — the majority of Polish parties emphasize that our Euro-parliamentarians’ effort should not contribute to the world but to the greatness of Poland.

3. Finally, the insurgents’ tokens include Christian faith and customs; we will not depart from them but we can also bring them to Europe as the values she has forgotten; admittedly, we are poor but we must show Europe “the dignity of a Christian and a Pole” before the might of which she will surrender; what we are witnessing here is somewhat akin to a crusade — not only a defense of pure faith against European miasmas but also a message to the unfaithful or indifferent.7

The most popular Romantic templates: national uprising, messianism, the ethos of martyrdom, the Christian Crusade. Significantly, although they are completely inappropriate for the situation — working for the European Parliament is clearly not a national uprising, with all its attributes and justifications, nor is it a grandstand for messianic delusions — they are commonly employed with considerable license and by groups with various political orientations. It becomes apparent that a collection of Romantic stereotypes is generally considered to be the foundation of Polishness. Despite the fact that they are at times evoked with no rhyme or reason, they are apparently employed with the hope that the recipients, on hearing a familiar tune, will follow it; that this particular note seduces them and gains applause. Both right and left-wing parties have locked themselves into the same trap of incautiously employed Romantic rhetoric, which breeds the mood of a redoubt under siege. This goes to show that the language of political debate is somewhat undeveloped here, while the debate itself is being reduced to thrashing around a few platitudinous staples and is radically at odds with the mindset of the young generation.

The Father

The monopoly of Romantic stereotypes of “the Catholic Pole” has achieved a characteristic blockage in the realm of ideas. In the public media, particularly radio (and here, of course, I leave Radio Maryja aside — a nationalist, xenophobic, homophobic, pro-life Catholic radio station that wields significant influence in Poland, run by the Redemptorist rector Doctor Tadeusz Rydzyk (called “Father Director” by his followers), the number, significant even before, of broadcasts devoted to the church and religion, Catholic information and worldview programs, increased. My own reactions coincide with Bronisław Łagowski’s comments: “Those interested in books will be surprised by the sheer number of Catholic publications and of priests writing scientific books, which are quite often of excellent quality. Catholic diocese radio stations, Catholic dailies, weeklies, periodicals of various frequency are pitched at the masses and at the elite. […] Priests are present in places traditionally secular, preaching the word of God to businessmen and policemen […]. The Church has its own version of the history of Poland — both remote and the latest. This version is obligatory in school textbooks.”

The tradition of the Enlightenment in Poland, that is, the rationalist tradition, is dying, Łagowski writes.8 Messianic ideas and the ethos of martyrdom usually amount to a compensatory response in the sense of undeserved social harm, which was brought about by the transformation towards the free market. This particular response quite often includes the suspicion, or even certainty, that there is a European, and perhaps simply Jewish, conspiracy directed against us, as well as the conviction that a “defense of Polishness” is necessary to avoid being overwhelmed by strangers.

The cultural community of Central Europe, so-called, a culture that was still being kept alive even recently, primarily by intellectuals, has now begun to crumble. The war in the Balkans brought to Europe and Poland an extremely acute awareness of the power of ethnic nationalism and its criminal consequences in post-communist countries. Speaking of Hungary, Imre Kertész said something that could apply to Poland as well: “It seems that the soul of a small Eastern European nation, the soul that suffers from the father complex and is immersed in sadomasochistic perversion, is unable to exist without a great oppressor, whom it could blame for its historic failures, nor without a national minority, this scapegoat, on which it could vent, releasing the surplus of hatred and resentment, which accumulated in the course of daily defeats. Without anti-Semitism, what kind of identity would a person have who is incessantly preoccupied with his or her specifically Hungarian identity?”9 We could easily replace “Hungarian” with “Polish” and say the same about the soul of the most populous Eastern European nation.

“Young” Polish prose does not neglect the formulation of a cultural diagnosis of this aspect of the contemporary reality. The strength of such novels as Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą biało-czerwoną [Snow White and Russian Red] by Dorota Masłowska, Czwarte niebo [The fourth heaven] by Sieniewicz, and Gnój [Muck] by Kuczok consists of a virtually brutalistic depiction of present-day Poland. These are the realities. I am certainly well aware that the form of these works is not that of a naturalistic reportage but rather that of a symbolic novelistic construction. They are, however, based on the knowledge, which I will now briefly summarize, of the realities of life and people’s views, knowledge laced with fear of the specter of destructive capitalism and of the stagnation of national myths.

On the occasion of Wojna polsko-ruska appearing in French, a female journalist from the magazine epok traveled to Gdańsk and wrote the reportage “Gdańsk, terminus”. The hallmarks of this text are the description of the present state of the legendary Gdańsk Shipyard and the statement by Przemek Gulda, age 39, a journalist and a teacher, and the guru of Gdańsk nightlife: “Young Poles today are torn apart. They are not rooted in communism, nor in capitalism, which tends to be exclusionary. They are neither in the West, despite the imminence of Poland joining the European Union, nor in the East, but rather in some unspecified environment”.10 This statement reflects very well the sense of being suspended, but also of being disinherited and excluded. Andrzej Brzeziecki, a participant in the well-known debate on the young generation, published in Gazeta Wyborcza [Election Gazette] in early 2004: “What threatens Poland today is not an occupation but an exclusion of a fairly large part of the society”. Under communism, the number of those affected by exclusion was significantly smaller. He believes, however, that young people have a chance of ending this “degraded and degrading” reality. All this was published under the telling title “Ja się stąd nie ruszę” [I will not move from here].11

Masłowska12 rendered the state of suspension and exclusion in a stream of fabricated language, which depicts Polish consciousness as grotesque and most of the time intrinsically contradictory. The author herself describes her method as follows: “This is the manner in which I think. There is something in my head that’s not right; a surplus of data, which I am unable to handle. I never listen to the radio and yet I know all the songs by heart, like a hairdresser. And my thinking goes like this: one-third of a sentence from a commercial, then a scrap of a poem and a fragment of catechism from grade three, elementary school. The truth for me is not a solid whole, it is a million little crumbs, for which I search with a magnifying glass among the worst dross. These crumbs are often mutually contradictory. Because of this, my inner life is extremely wearisome.”13

Masłowska demonstrates that the language of hatred and violence is being established, first of all, against “the Russkis”. “Russki-foe” (whether a “Russian” or a “communist”) is the glue that holds the Polish identity together. We are “bad” but they are still worse, and also represent the terrible might of the Great Oppressor.14 Andżela recounts: “Then she asks if I know that there is a Polish-Russki war on our land by the white-and-red flag, which is between the Poles and the Russki thieves, who are robbing them of the excise band, of nicotine. I say to her that I know nothing about it. She replies that this is so, that there are rumors that the Russkis want to con the Poles out of here and establish a Russian state here, maybe even Byelorussian; they want to close all schools, public offices, kill Polish newborns in hospitals to eliminate them from the society, impose tributes and forced contributions on consumer goods and food products.”15 This is a truly excellent collection of persecution phantasms.

The magnificent display of the comic “world in language” ends in disaster: the girls set fire to a dumpster as if setting fire to the world. On the last pages, in a different style, a manifesto of death appears. The narrator creates some kind of lyrical, girlish “dugouts” (“empty packages remaining after us, after us, who had been eaten out of them”, p. 201), adding up to a Bruno Schulz esque plan of escape into a lateral corridor of time. The image of a dead girl, which dominates the ending of the novel, recreates the state of breaking up with reality in which you can become only a “crazy woman without a tongue” (paraphrase of the sentence on p. 198). “Everything amounts to the threat of everything else; life contains the threat of death” (p. 202).

Masłowska accomplished, among other things, a demystification of Polish xenophobic mentality. However, as Kinga Dunin aptly states, “continually constructing our collective identity around the same axis, namely ‘the Polish-Russki war under the white-and-red flag’, makes it difficult for other discourses to evolve, while this one is becoming less and less satisfactory”.16

The novel by Mariusz Sieniewicz is also grotesque but in the fantastic-expressionistic-paranoid way. Czwarte niebo [The fourth heaven]17 depicts the defeat of provincial “shrinking violets” at the time of the so-called capitalist transformation: “a fine team of messed-up emigrants from everyday life”, “drifting aimlessly” (p. 83). The decision deeply concerning their fates was made behind their backs.

The family home cannot provide any refuge. “It’s always the same thing. If they are not talking about the Jews, television, or gay people, it’s always about money — credits, rebates, salaries, jobs, and debts. The ways to make money, have stuff, survive. Dough in your ears, dough in your eyes, dough on your hands” (p. 146).

The dough is also the foundation for the alliance between capital and the Church. “In this country, only churches and banks are being built quickly. Churches, in order to resist the moolah, and banks, in order to save and to provide for the church collection plate, baptism, marriage ceremony, and funeral” (p. 146). Towards the end of the novel, a blasphemous transposition takes place, leaving us with: “Strangers and our own kind; Europe and Poland; tradition, God, honor, rot” (p. 311). Subverting, and often destroying, the meanings becomes the result of an all-embracing disgust against the entire world in all its forms. Rebellion had been destroyed (“Straight from the innards of existence! And this ‘I am shitting into the stocking of my mother’ a sign of the young generation’s rebellion (as in: shit — mother) and of protest against the tyranny of sex (as in: shit — stocking)! But all this together — as old as the added-up years of Bataille, Genet and de Sade. This is nihilism in a modern stocking! Ha! Ha! Let’s go, brothers, let’s move the shit from the world’s foundation!” p. 286). Despair morphs into a terrorist attack. All that remains afterwards is, as in Masłowska’s novel, death.

Gnój (Muck) by Wojciech Kuczok18 was artistically inspired by Thomas Bernhard and his terrible, hyper-realistic and concretist narrations featuring the bourgeois family and the violence pervading it. Gnój is a revelatory story told by a beaten child, presenting the subtlest, if this term can be used, shades of beating, and later, when the child has already become a boy, seeking to crush “the grown cub of the human race in entirely new ways” (p. 180). This is an extended metaphor of the world of violence — social, religious, political. The subtitle “anti-biography” is aimed at the image of the “bucolic, angelic” childhood. The “Muck” to which the title refers means both the beaten child, nicknamed “Muck”, and the entire parental, or rather paternal, home, which at the end of the novel is literally flooded by excrement in a revengeful oneiric vision. In his review called “W imię ojca” [In the name of the father], Przemysław Czapliński stresses, as do other critics, that this is not a case of some pathological family barely existing on the margins or on the very bottom of the social hell: “Absolutely not. Kuczok depicts a phenomenon that is as normal as dust and as monstrous as a nightmare, invisible and all-pervasive at the same time: the patriarchal model of education. This is a model based on violence and — in its average version — having nothing to offer except violence. The model is present at home first of all, but is also embedded in the Church, the school and all the authoritarian institutions, geared towards producing obedience”.19 Kuczok said in one of the interviews that the resentment of the protagonist of Gnój towards religion (“Wierzyłem w Boga” [I believed in God], p. 152) stems from the fact that “God the Father is one of the fathers”.20 The book is directed against the toxic “Polo-Catholicism”.21 In Gnój, there is also a longing for a war or, preferably, an uprising, even if it were of a very short duration. To what end? In order to kill “old K.” on this occasion, meaning the father (whom the protagonist never calls “father”). Obviously, this is a very consistent story of a patriarchal father and his phantasmic murder. The protagonist is well aware that if he kills his father during a war, or an insurgency, he will not be a patricide, having acted on the strength of the same sanction of violence in the name of which he was tormented by his father.

There have been many fathers in the Polish novel but to date there has been none like “old K”. This is because Kuczok reached, without flinching, into the very core of power and violence, depicting the family as a “concentration camp”, to quote Marcin Świetlicki, to whom he refers, and considers this expression to be “an ideal definition of growing up in the so-called healthy Polish family”.22 As with other young authors,
his objections to the father here reflect upon the fatherland. Kuczok admits that for him the word “fatherland” has a disturbing ring to it “as if it were not the land of the fathers but rather the father in the feminine gender. I prefer ‘motherland’. Mothers are nicer”.23 The mother alone will survive the apocalyptic flood of excrement in Gnój.

The Mother

During the last 200 years, when Romanticism reigned supreme, Polonia was depicted as an allegory, a symbol, a myth.24 The female embodiment of the fatherland was usually a suffering body; tormented, unhappy, chained, put in the stocks, pushed into a grave, even crucified. She was dying before our eyes, but it was obvious that she would be resurrected. She sent her sons to death for the cause of her resurrection, and they willingly accepted their fate. Garbed in black, the mourning mother, Polonia evoked horror and abject fear, but also compassion and a love that trembled with terror. “O Poland, you holy specter”, Stanisław Wyspiański25 exclaimed in Legion. The mournful mother, the mother-specter, ruled supreme in the Polish imagination until the Second World War, until the period of martial law, and it sometimes appears even today.

Her face was often shrouded in a black hood or a black veil. Everyone knew, of course, that there is something wonderful concealed under it. When her face was revealed, it was most often in the full glory of beauty: young, innocent, and noble. This was because in her concealment, as in a grave, she underwent a metamorphosis, and when she appeared to our eyes she was always beautiful and sublime. She was also identified with Polish nature in all seasons, equipped with the combined charms of spring, autumn, winter, and summer. She was always pure in all possible meanings of the word. Admittedly, foreigners — and not only foreigners — created “the black legend of Poland”, pointing out the impassable roads full of mud (which they had to use), dirty inns, poor houses, drunken peasantry and noblemen who did not shy away from strong liquor either. The metaphor of the famous Polish anarchy was a tangle (plica polonica).26 It was, however, always possible to idealize Poland as the noble mistress of our hearts, deliberately ignoring the somewhat grim reality.

Meanwhile, a spectacular breakdown occurred at the railway station in Oświęcim, Auschwitz. Michał Olszewski, age 26, the initiator of the discussion in Gazeta Wyborcza27 which was eventually reduced to the question: to leave or not to leave Poland, confessed that everything at that station moved him to revulsion and disgust. He enumerated: “cold, snow, this damned tea, the color of a very light beer, in a plastic cup, reduced to mulch by hot water”; the black and white mosaic floor; the uneven surface of the oil paint, the freezing Krakow-Oświęcim passenger train, “the heat from burned cooking fat and from bodies too seldom washed”. And overall, thick mud around it and the pervasive grayness. Perhaps the author failed to consider the fact that the place itself (Oświęcim, Auschwitz) was marked with grim significance and may still bear traces of its tragedy. And that in Poland places like this, which were the scenes of genocide, are many. And that this fact may be somewhat relevant today as well.

The scales fell from his eyes. He admits that it was “as if only after the political change that the transient, makeshift nature of this country became apparent”. He is also fed up with the symbolic “woman shrouded in mourning”, wandering around those muddy parts. She is irritating not only because she had been there but also because she left, no longer demanding anything and leaving nothing behind. The antidotes to this abomination are, according to Olszewski, the sunny beaches of the South, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, life in warmer countries, suffused with color and appealing to the senses.

The phantasmal flesh of Poland turned out to be sad and dirty. Disillusion is obviously related to the crumbling of ideals. “After the traditional road signs — faith, family, patriotism — only empty holes in the ground now remain, which I must fill on my own, even though no one taught me work of this kind.” It does not help to have “a set of Romantic notions slowly collecting dust, such as patriotism, the nation, and patrimony”. Disinheritance is experienced very acutely in view of such realities of existence, such an ugly body of the fatherland, such emptiness of ideas. Yet you can still live freely in countries that are warmer and more beautiful. What has kept the author in Poland and continues to do so is a sort of illusion, which one should cast away as soon as possible.

The crisis of culture

We know from school that alternating Romanticism and positivism in Polish culture has always come to our rescue. Romantic rebellions and exaltations were followed by the positivist’s steady effort to plough the fallow land. Nowadays, however, this alternating rhythm does not seem to apply. In vain, Magdalena Miecznicka, in the debate after “Kraj sportów extremalnych” [The country of extreme sports], implores: “Michale, daj się uwieść” (Michał, allow yourself to be seduced) and tries to tempt him with “Poland A, the Poland that strives to catch up with the West, Poland without banners and Styrofoam, the Poland of professionals, globalization, modernity”.28 People like Michał Olszewski can no longer be seduced by Romanticism, but “positivist” work towards the country’s modernization does not appeal much to him either. Judging from his collection of short stories Do Amsterdamu [To Amsterdam], which describes the drugged poverty of the Second and Third Poland, his narrator turns out to be more susceptible to “pangs of conscience”, to some kind of family sentiments, to fatalistic premonitions, than he would seem at first glance. However, Przemysław Czapliński is rather uncompromising in his assessment of this collection of short stories by Olszewski. The author, he writes, provides not so much a rendition of a generation as a rendition of generational newspaper myths, “which determine the way of seeing the world, participating in the public life and building the private life”. To him, this book is “very superficial and myth-permeated in its reconstruction of consciousness”.29

In any case, what is known as social concern affectsOlszewski to a greater extent than it does the authors of the article published, also in Gazeta Wyborcza, after the end of the debate triggered by “Kraj sportów ekstremalnych” under the categorical title “Żegnaj Polsko” [Farewell, Poland]. Wiktor Ferenc, age 28, and Jakub Wojnarowski, age 26, the former the president, the latter a member of the board of the Polish Association of Political Consultants, firmly declared that “among the lamentations over the poor condition of the Polish economy, in the face of the political crisis, growing divisions into a poor country and a very poor country, the time has come for the young generation to part with Poland, because Poland has nothing to offer to young people”.30 The reason for breaking the contract, the authors argue, is that Poland was allegedly the first one to say farewell to the young.

The dramatic striving to part employs the excuse that Poland is continuously represented by the same people and elites from before 1989, and that the former opposition became entangled in “post-communist methods of action, pervaded with corruption and dirty political struggle” (I had no idea that these were “post-communist” methods). The authors propose that a new party should be created which would endeavor to rebuild the state and allow a generational change of the political class. It would also have to liberate itself from the perspective of the “national person” who does not understand the necessity of and the conditions for European integration. This diagnosis is, eventually, too general to render any useful conclusions — other than the demand for a generational change of guard in politics — and fails to provide any sufficient motivation for such a categorical parting with Poland. The authors do not realize what their contemporaries write in their novels: that in this culture young people feel stifled. We are witnessing a cultural crisis here, which thus should be discussed precisely in terms of culture.

Postcolonial burden

Edward W. Said, one of the most outstanding writers of postcolonial criticism, was accused of limiting himself in his works to colonial and postcolonial relations between the cultures of the “First” and the “Third” World. According to Clare Cavanagh, contemporary postcolonial criticism ignores “the so-called Second World, that is, Russia and its satellites from the recent past, in Europe and Asia”. The postcolonial experience of Eastern Europe is not being considered at all. The fate of Poland, nevertheless, deserves to take its place among studies of postcolonial culture.31 Understanding Polish postcolonial and colonial complexes might, among other things, contribute to clarifying the present relationship with Russia and to shaping a new attitude towards that country. Historian Janusz Tazbir, when recently reflecting on the myth of the bulwark of Christendom, which is both significant and enduring in the Polish collective consciousness, quoted the bitter words directed by Jacques Maritain to Józef Czapski: “You maintain that you are the bulwark of Christendom and, at the same time, you believe the Russians to be half-human; you harbor a deep contempt for them.”32 This statement still holds true.

I will now reflect on a certain coincidence. Fred Halliday, the author of the book Islam and the myth of confrontation, emphasizes that he was born and to a significant extent raised in Ireland, the country “whose political and social problems are to a certain extent the same as those of the Near East”.33 This statement seems quite surprising at first glance. The matter becomes clear in the course of the argument. The author, too, criticizes Said for not seeing the colonial syndrome in Ireland or in Eastern Europe. In the history of Ireland, however, the consequences of this syndrome are apparent. I will quote the description of some of them since certain symptoms of postcolonialism are reminiscent of the Polish case:

1. “The destructive and creative role of foreign domination and settlement.” Let us merely say that undoubtedly this ambivalence in Poland is less pronounced in the territory of the former Russian partition, where the occupation is considered to be unequivocally destructive, while the case is entirely different with Galicia, which used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and, as we know, drew a certain advantage from that fact.

2. “The illusions and disillusionments of nationalism.” This is particularly evident at the time of the so-called emergence from communism, since post-communist countries are becoming susceptible to nationalism. Kertész writes in his “chronicle of the change” about the resurgence, after 1989, of the fascist Arrow Cross Party, founded in Hungary in 1937. He describes young people marching under the Arrow Cross banner; beside them appears “an old man with a white beard, wearing a yellowish uniform of a gendarme, an armband in national colors, with a black double cross in the center, a scout’s hat on the head, the stipa grass, colorful feathers, scars … a nationalist Winnetou”. Everything looks as if these were the same people that he viewed as persecutors in the 1940s: “They are completely lacking in any subtler instinct of assimilating; they have sealed themselves and can only eliminate, and when the culture of a certain community is unable to keep pace with the world culture, it stares blankly into the abyss that opened at its feet, and yet the abyss is there on purpose, precisely in order to engulf it”.34 A similar statement can be made about “our” All-Polish Youth, with its origins harking back to the 1930s.

3. “An awkward union of national and religious identity with democracy and gender equality; which accounts for a major stumbling block on the road to European integration.” These difficulties are readily detectable in our culture, considering its traditionally patriarchal and Catholic character, demonstrated by the official, institutionalized domination of the male, national, heterosexual element.

The defining aspect of our condition is the fact that we are Slavs. As the “Orientals”, we are counted among the “organically imperfect” nations from the point of view of the Western European civilization. The Latin psychological complex results in a sense of expropriation from the Slavic culture. At the same time, the image of a Slavic cultural union evokes the fear of imperial Russia, together with her once officially sanctioned love of the Slavic. Jerzy Pilch in his Rozpacz z powodu utraty furmanki [Despair caused by the loss of a wagon], which has been described as a story of a political and mental transformation after 1989, in which the stress is placed on political changes and unchanging mentality, begins with the section “Europejczyk w prasłowiańskich gaciach” (A European wearing ancient Slavic underpants) and precedes the essay so entitled with an epigraph from Czesław Miłosz:
In the shadow of the empire, housed with chickens, wearing ancient Slavic underpants
You must learn to like your shame, because it will be with you always,
And will not abandon you even if you move to another country….35

Miłosz reveals an attitude laced with fatalism, which permeates Slavic genealogy and Polish-Russian relations. Nevertheless, the conditions are changing, although the famous “Slavic sadness” remains. It is absolutely necessary to break free from the magic circle of alternating suspicion of either Russophilia or Russophobia.

Male and female

Studies of cultural gender identity reveal associations between sexuality and the national and nationalist ideal. Nationalism is a male movement, which dissociates itself from any contamination or deviation. George L. Mosse writes that the nationalistic male ideal has been strengthened in its striving for perfection by isolating itself from the despised femininity, seeking out phantasmal “countertypes”: a Jew, a homosexual, a pansy, a hysteric.36

From the point of view of postcolonial criticism, the struggles between Poland and Russia can also be conceived in terms of male versus female. The sovereign is a male, the subordinate a female. Here is a very interesting proof of such thinking.

Alexander Koshelov, dispatched as an official to the Kingdom of Poland, prepared a note for Tsar Alexander II in 1866, in which he assessed the situation in Poland within the Russian Empire and the proposed methods for the unification of Poland with Russia. Since he believed that he had become thoroughly familiar with the nature of the Poles, he deemed it his duty to express himself on the subject. Here are the results of his honest efforts: The Pole is unreasonable, mendacious, false, dependent, and cunning. “Women in Poland share all of the same vices, perhaps even to a more advanced degree than the men. […] This is the reason why the domination of women over men is easily explicable. Given that the vices mentioned above occur as a rule more frequently in women than in men, ‘femininity’ is the best term to describe the character of the Poles most exactly. Consequently, it is evident why, during their independence, the Poles were unable to possess a self-reliant state and why intrigues, both internal and foreign, were the basis for their entire state and social life.” It is, likewise, quite obvious to Koshelov why Catholicism, with its
hypocrisy and intrigues, is so well adapted to the
nature of the Poles.

To this world of hypocrisy and feminine intrigues, the author opposes the straight and direct “virility of the Russian spirit and the holiness of our Orthodox Church”. A Russian is virile, prudent, sagacious, and trusting, and the Orthodox Church righteous and tolerant. The conclusions from this confrontation are obvious in their political simplicity: “We are in possession of all the means to conquer the Poles, to overcome Poland and completely subdue her”.37 This reads exactly like the many passages quoted by Said, which contemptuously feminize the nations of the Orient, conquered and colonized by the British or the French. The colonial discourse assumed that the male West must conquer the female East and needed no further justification. For Koshelov, Poland was such an “East”.

An intricate pattern

Poland, however, was capable of “being a man”. It was one also when colonizing the eastern areas of Ukraine and Belarus. Even until the present day, Poles retain colonial impulses with respect to these countries, treating them as culturally lower and obliged to submit to the “more right” Polish reason, particularly in the assessment of the historical past. This is the tradition of Sienkiewicz, the eulogist of imperial beauty.38 Stefan Swieżawski understood very well the risks to the society and to the Church in Poland which flow from this: “Deeply ingrained in us is the Poland which I call ‘Sienkiewicz-like’. Henryk Sienkiewicz39 was certainly a genius as a writer but the models which he left us and on which entire generations are mindlessly raised are terrible. They are full of contempt and hatred towards other nations, other cultures and religions, which are, after all, close to us, since they are our neighbors. Living these ideals, we will never become an open, tolerant, ecumenical nation. The Church will be an exact, reflected image of the society.”40 Sienkiewicz provides the basis for the myth of the Eastern Borderlands, so important to the Polish national identity, which must cast off its fantasies of cultural superiority. The persistence of the Sienkiewicz and post-Sienkiewicz mentality reveals the tension, often drastic in its manifestations, between the “integrity” of nation and creed, set against the growing cultural “diversity” of contemporary societies.41

The ideas of a superpower bulwark were revived during the twenty-year period between the two world wars. The resistance against them was weak but witty. According to Janusz Tazbir, Antoni Słonimski, who lived in England as an emigrant in 1941 and was weary of the superpower thrashing, wrote: “We want to live in an ordinary country. Not on an entrenchment, not on a bastion, not on a barbican, not on a bulwark, but in an ordinary country. We do not want any historic missions, or leadership, we do not want superpower or imperialism.”42 This could be applied also to the present-day rhetoric expressing Polish pride in being a great nation.

A glance at our contemporary cultural consciousness from this perspective allows us to detect a certain intricate pattern inherent in it. We are a postcolonial country, which simultaneously experiences — this is a fairly common occurrence — a superiority over our colonizer, Russia. At this point, we have believed and still believe ourselves to be European, engaged in a struggle with Asian barbarism. As the real Latin, Catholic, Mediterranean Europeans, we cannot identify too much with the Slavic world, since this would bring us close to the “inferiority” of Russia. Nevertheless, being a postcolonial country, we are not real Europeans either, since — as Slavs — we are secondary with respect to them because the Russian-Slavic mongrel nature is reflected in us. We were at the same time a colonial country and a country that colonized the fraternal Slavic world. To this day, we feel superiority over it, but also a certain kinship with its “inferiority”. Similar traits are inherent also in the attitude of Poles towards the Jews.

In this terribly intricate tangle, the national, male megalomania takes the upper hand now and again, which ostensibly allows us to settle, to our advantage, the issue of “inferiority” and “superiority”, of being “worse” or “better”, the issue that, in fact, is in this case one of rule and power.

This is what renders our life unbearable in the vicious circle of domination, imposition, enslavement, elevation, and humiliation, of continual struggle for acknowledgment of some mythical superiority and better status, of constant show of pride and desire to rise above the others. Witkacy43 called it a run-to-the-dogs noble legacy, also inherited from the Eastern Borderland “kinglings”: “Hence every Pole tends to climb, even if only on his toes, in order to appear taller, and to create what I call ‘a puffed-up nobleman’s hat’ for himself, an artificial self-extending superstructure, ornamental and empty, which is aimed at confusing the others as to the real value of the head concealed by this headgear. […] Eternal dissatisfaction and eternal inflation over the limits of feasibility, living above one’s means, both physical and, to some extent, spiritual, with respect to the sense of one’s importance and power, has become the fundamental mental trait of almost every Pole.”44 Let us hope this “puffed-up nobleman’s hat” finally breaks and explodes!

The crisis of Polish identity, the crisis of patriotism, the crisis of traditional culture, which is apparent in the declarations of parting with Poland, seems indicative of the process of shaping a new Polish imagery. It has to come to terms with the relics of the national megalomania, which is the legacy of a messianic vision of Poland. Not only is this megalomania blatantly at odds with the real economic and political weakness of Poland, but it also makes it impossible to attain a distanced, objective idea of self, and prevents our giving up the ambition to dominate and despise “others”. In order to understand them, a new narration must be created; “another story” must be told. Is it possible — taking into account the mechanisms, embedded in capitalism, of absorbing the cultural sphere into the system of capitalist economy and of converting spiritual values into goods — is it possible to attempt rebuilding social trust and the ability to empathize?45

Poland, despite the pious wishful thinking and the mendacious assurances, is not a multicultural country today. It is precisely the uniformity of the patriarchal “Polo-Catholicism”, as Kuczok called it; the aversion to diversity; the inability to loosen the armor of a megalomaniac, vain Polishness, that stifling band of moralizing control over all aspects of life that contributes to the acute sense of cultural crisis. Poland is a poor and flat monolith, predominantly national and Catholic. This is why she feels so tedious to her citizens, who wish to part with her and leave for Europe, conceived of as the space of cultural freedom. It would be possible to endure living even here, without the southern sun, if our culture were more diverse, free from colonial and postcolonial obsessions, more “colorful” in fact.


I wrote the major part of this text in 2004. Two years later, the rate of emigration from Poland has increased significantly since European labor markets opened, and those who emigrate are mostly young. In mid-2006, the number of those living and working abroad was estimated to be between 1.1 and 2 million, that is, about 5 percent of the total population. The press is debating whether those emigrating still are considering the possibility of returning to Poland, or whether they have left for good. In any case, this is considered to be one of the phenomena most characteristic of contemporary Poland.

When asked about their reasons, those who emigrate say that they leave in search of “work”,46 a “better life”, “freedom” from the stifling atmosphere here, from politicians interfering with people’s personal lives.47

From the perspective of the history of Polish spiritual life, the highlight of the recent period was John Paul II’s death. Mirosława Marody and Sławomir Mandes are right in stating that, due to the ideas of organic unity of the Polish nation and Catholicism that he had been proclaiming for a quarter of a century, “the Pope became the emblem and the guarantor of Polish identity, and as long as he lived this identity could be manifested only through religious rituals. This is why John Paul II’s death was for the Poles the moment of the most powerful manifestation of national unity since the first ‘Solidarity’ movement — Whether we want this or not, John Paul II’s death broke the connection between the national unity and the religious unity of the Poles, which had lasted since the beginning of the modern era. […] Limiting the ‘national’ public sphere to religious rituals fostered the idea of the nation which united the Poles around ‘moral rightness’ and not around publicly negotiated interests”. This will now have to change. A debate on contemporary national identity is necessary, and so is forming “broader communities, which offer a secular platform for uniting the people”.48

Marta Dzido, a young female writer who debuted with an interesting novel, Małż [A clam] (2005), was interviewed by a journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza [Election Gazette]. The relevant fragment reads as follows:

Marta Dzido: But Poland doesn’t move me either. I don’t define myself through nationality.

Wojciech Staszewski: How come? How about the flag, the anthem, the Eagle, the national soccer team?

Marta Dzido: This doesn’t move me at all. Neither the anthem, nor the Legia soccer team, nor the Pope. Since childhood, I’ve felt oppressed by all this “God, honor, fatherland”. Jesus hanging from the cross, transfixed with nails. Poems from grade school, concentration camps, glorification of martyrdom, 123 years of struggle for national liberation. This is only a fraction of our history; there is also, for instance, the razing of Ukrainian villages. Still, all that is being said is that they’ve been robbing and tormenting us. If a person who is 12 years old reads poems such as “Warkoczyk” [Pigtail] (by Różewicz), she gets the shivers for the rest of her life.49

Here is The Confession of a Child of the Century, who is, rather significantly, a young, well-educated girl. ≈

Note: The essay “Farewell to Poland” was taken from Niesamowita słowiańszczyzna [Uncanny Slavdom], Wydawnictwo Literackie 2006, pp. 301–337.


  1. Recent books that attempt to diagnose the present day condition of Polishness, published by the Centre for Political Thought in Krakow, which fosters “conservative and liberal ideas, rooted in the Christian tradition”: Dariusz Gawin, Polska, wieczny romans: O związkach literatury i polityki w XX wieku [Poland, the eternal romance: On relations between literature and politics in the 20th century], Krakow 2005; Marek A. Cichocki, Władza i pamięć: O politycznej funkcji historii [Power and memory: On political function of history], Krakow 2005; Zdzisław Krasnodębski, Drzemka rozsądnych: Zebrane eseje i szkice [Slumber of the sensible: collected essays and sketches], Krakow 2006. Papers by Gawin and Krasnodębski, as well as discussions and polemics with them, appeared in the book Jaka Polska? Czyja Polska? Diagnozy i dyskusje [What Poland? Whose Poland? Diagnoses and discussions], published by the Stefan Batory Foundation, Warsaw 2006.
  2. “My do Europy” [We, to Europe], Dekada Literacka [Literary decade], No. 2 (1994). The press confirmed the sociologist’s concerns. It recently reported the reasons for the refusal by the European Union to subsidize Polish farmers: “Farmers received subsidies even though many of them did not comply with the so-called good agricultural practice, which is the requirement for receiving subsidies. The term refers to keeping the farm clean, recycling liquid waste, rotating crops, protecting groundwater from fertilizer runoff, and proper care of animals.” Poland may have to pay back the money already paid out to farmers, and perhaps Brussels will even cancel payments under the program of Aid to Farmers in Less Favored Areas. The reply by the representative of the Agency for Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture is pathetic: “We cannot penalize the farmers, whom we won over for the integration with so much effort” (Krystyna Naszkowska, “Unia się zezłościła” [The union got angry], Gazeta Wyborcza, 2006-07-27).
  3. Hanna Świda-Ziemba, “Trzeba skończyć z martyrologią” [We should end with the ethos of martyrdom], Gazeta Wyborcza, 2006-09-07). When reporting the results of a study on values upheld by university students, conducted in 2006, Hanna Świda-Ziemba, sociologist and educator, declares that patriotism took 78th place among 80 concepts. But what is understood as patriotism? Perhaps the reason behind the lack of success of “building the sense of civic action” in Poland is the fact that for many young people Poland is a foreign country. “I wouldn’t call it resentment but rather a sense of alienation.” Prof. Świda-Ziemba has nothing against the myths of Solidarity or the legend of the Warsaw Uprising. In her opinion, however, they must not become “the core of the new identity”. “We must banish the ethos of martyrdom from our official discourse; we should emphasize our accomplishments instead of our failures and defeats. Unfortunately, we have wasted the wealth of social confidence that was there in the early ’90s. Let us finally begin to stress that nowadays shedding your blood for the fatherland is unnecessary. Today volunteering in a hospice and local initiatives are the ways to show patriotism and serve your country.” “Let Polishness mean civic spirit”, Professor Świda-Ziemba concludes.
  4. This is the last Polish uprising against the Russian Empire in 1863, which ended in total defeat on the side of the Polish insurrectionists.
  5. “Co zrobić z Samoobroną”? [What to do with the self-defense party?], Gazeta Wyborcza, 2004-04-08. W. Załuska interviews Aleksander Smolar.
  6. “Ordon’s Redoubt” (”Reduta Ordona” in Polish) is the title of the poem by the Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798—1855) about Juliusz Konstanty Ordon, who distinguished himself as a commander of the final redoubts when the Tsarist army was storming Warsaw during the Polish uprising against the Russian Empire in 1830—1831 (called the November Uprising).
  7. “My, do Europy” [We, to Europe].
  8. Bronisław Łagowski, “Władza kultury” [The rule of culture], Przegląd [Review], 2004-06-27.
  9. Imre Kertész, Ja, inny: Kronika przemiany [Someone else: a chronicle of the change]. Translated into Polish by A. Górecka. Warsaw 2004, p. 71 (my emphasis — M. J.).
  10. S. Cessou, epok, No. 42 (Dec. 2003 — Jan. 2004).
  11. Gazeta Wyborcza, 2004-02-25.
  12. Dorota Masłowska (b. 1983) is a young Polish writer and a journalist. Her debut book, Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą biało-czerwoną (translated into English as “White and Red” in the UK and “Snow White and Russian Red” in the US; literally “The Polish-Russian War under the White-Red Flag”), was generally considered controversial, mostly due to the language, which was regarded by many as vulgar, cynical, and simple.
  13. “To ja, dyletantka” [This is me, a dilettante], Magdalena Michalska interviews Dorota Masłowska, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2003-09-25.
  14. Compare the reflections on Masłowska in the text “Ruskie i polskie” [Things Russian and Polish] in Maria Janion, Niesamowita słowiańszczyzna [Uncanny Slavdom], Krakow 2006.
  15. Dorota Masłowska, Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą biało-czerwoną, 2nd ed., Warsaw 2002 p. 40. Subsequent quotations are localized in the running text.
  16. Kinga Dunin, Czytając Polskę [Reading Poland], p. 237.
  17. Mariusz Sieniewicz, Czwarte niebo [The fourth heaven], Warsaw 2003. Quotations are localized in the text.
  18. Wojciech Kuczok, Gnój [Muck], Warsaw 2003. Quotations are localized in the text.
  19. Czytelnik [Reader] 00, 2003. Trial issue.
  20. “Moją magdalenką jest nahaj” [My madeleine is a horsewhip], Wojciech Kuczok interviewed by Krzysztof Masłoń. Rzeczpospolita [The republic], 2003-06-21 — 2003-06-22.
  21. “Polska skołtuniała” (Priggish Poland), Wojciech Kuczok interviewed by Ewa Likowska. Przegląd, 2004-06-20.
  22. “Moją magdalenką jest nahaj” [My madeleine is a horsewhip].
  23. “Cierpienie mężczyzny” [The suffering of a man], Wojciech Kuczok interviewed by Katarzyna Kubisiowska, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2003-06-03.
  24. See the study “Polonia powielona” [Polonia duplicated] in Maria Janion, Niesamowita słowiańszczyzna.
  25. Stanisław Wyspiański (1869—1907) was a patriotic writer who created a series of symbolic, national dramas within the artistic philosophy of the Young Poland Movement.
  26. This is brilliantly demonstrated by Maciej Forycki in his book Anarchia polska w myśli oświecenia: Francuski obraz Rzeczypospolitej szlacheckiej u progu czasów stalinowskich [Polish anarchy in Enlightenment thought: French vision of the Republic of the Nobles at the dawn of the Stalin era], Poznań 2004. He quotes, from the famous Encyclopédie by Diderot and d’Alambert, a description of the Polish tangle (plica polonica): “tangled mass of hairs resulting from lack of washing and combing of the hair”, which is also a sign of sickness in the head — “the evil that is the source of Polish anarchy has its origin in the sick Polish heads” (pp. 52—60).
  27. Michał Olszewski, “Kraj sportów ekstremalnych” [The country of extreme sports], Gazeta Wyborcza, 2004-01-24 — 2004-01-25. The list of young authors of novels, poems, and works of drama, who express similar moods, is long.
  28. Gazeta Wyborcza, 2004-02-02.
  29. Przemysław Czapliński, “Mity z gazet”[Myths from newspapers], FA-art, No. 3—4 (2003).
  30. Gazeta Wyborcza, 2004-06-03.
  31. Clare Cavanagh, “Postkolonialna Polska: Biała plama na mapie współczesnych teorii” [Postcolonial Poland: A blank spot on the map of contemporary theories], translated by T. Kunz, Teksty Drugie [Second texts] No. 2/3 (2003).
  32. Janusz Tazbir, Polska przedmurzem Europy [Poland, the bulwark of Europe], Warsaw 2004, p. 196. Józef Czapski (1896—1993) was a Polish artist, author, and critic, as well as an officer in the Polish Army (Armia Krajowa) during the Second World War and a survivor of the Katyn Massacre.
  33. See Fred Halliday, Islam i mit konfrontacji: Religia i polityka na Bliskim Wschodzie [Islam and the myth of confrontation: religion and politics in the Middle East], translated by R. Piotrowski, Warsaw 2002 (the original appeared in 1995), p. 199.
  34. Imre Kértesz, Ja, inny, pp. 83—84.
  35. Jerzy Pilch, Rozpacz z powodu utraty furmanki [Despair caused by the loss of a wagon], Krakow 2002, p. 14.
  36. George L. Mosse, L’image de l’homme: L’invention de la virilité moderne [The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity], translated from English by H. Hechter, Paris 1996.
  37. Unifikacja za wszelką cenę: Sprawy polskie w polityce rosyjskiej na przełomie XIX i XX wieku [Unification at any price: Polish issues in Russian policy at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries], studies and materials edited by A. Szwarc & P. Wieczorkiewicz, Warsaw 2002, pp. 204—205.
  38. Daniel Beauvois, Trójkąt ukraiński: Szlachta, carat i lud na Wołyniu, Podolu i Kijowszczyźnie 1713—1914 [The Ukrainian triangle: The nobility, the tsarism and the peasants in the Volhynia, Podolia and Kiev region 1713—1914], translated by K. Rutkowski, Lublin 2005. Here we read: “Until the present day Ukraine has been an awkward topic. Emotions replace the truth. Polish presence in Ukraine, which is entirely history now, resembles Polish presence in Lithuania. Every reference to it means entering the realm of myth, evokes the enchantment of a lost world, in which one used to live so happily.” (p. 11) Beauvois believes that the Romantics played an immense role in the creation of the myths of Polish hegemony in Ukraine, along with Sienkiewicz and his “beautiful historical romances of adventure, which have little in common with history” (p. 423). In another statement, Beauvois admits that the works by Sienkiewicz “contain toxic seeds. They imbue the youth with the false pretense of an alleged superiority of Poles.” (“Demokracji szlacheckiej nie było” [There was no noblemen’s democracy], Daniel Beauvais interviewed by Jarosław Kurski, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2006-01-28/29.)
  39. Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846—1916) was a Polish novelist and a 1905 Nobel laureate. He is best known for his epic historical novels The Trilogy and Quo Vadis.
  40. Stefan Świeżawski, Lampa wiary: Rozważania na przełomie wieków [The lamp of faith: Reflections at the turn of the century], selection and foreword by A. Ziernicki, Krakow 2000, pp. 144—146. Świeżawski considered Sienkiewicz’s ideas to be archaic, “pre-Vatican Council”. A completely different opinion is expressed by Dariusz Gawin, who embarks on an argument in favor of the “progressiveness of Sienkiewicz”. In his polemic with the liberal, left-wing thinking and with the “black legend” of Sienkiewicz, which in his opinion originated “in the circles of the Polish radical left”, Gawin declares that “Sienkiewicz contributed decisively to the creation of modern national consciousness on a mass scale” (in Trilogy and Quo vadis). With reference to Rodzina Połanieckich [The Polaniecki family], we read: “The world of the collective imagination respects and fully accepts as the embodiment of the very essence of modernity all the virtues with which Sienkiewicz endowed Stach Połaniecki and which drove Brzozowski raving mad” (“Sienkiewicz — nasz współczesny” [Sienkiewicz — our contemporary], in Polska, wieczny romans: O związkach literatury i polityki w XX wieku, pp. 33—60).
  41. Krzysztof Koseła, Polak i katolik: Splątana tożsamość [Pole and Catholic: a tangled identity], Warsaw 2003.
  42. Janusz Tazbir, Polska przedmurzem Europy [Poland, the bulwark of Europe], p. 187.
  43. Witkacy is a pseudonym of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885—1939), a Polish playwright, novelist and avant-garde painter.
  44. Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Narkotyki: Niemyte dusze [Drugs: unwashed souls], Warsaw 1975, pp. 267—268.
  45. Jeremy Rifkin, Wiek dostępu [The Age of Access], translated by E. Kania, Wrocław 2003, pp. 259—260.
  46. “Although the unemployment rate for the young is higher than that for older people everywhere in the world, nowhere in the civilized world are these discrepancies as drastic as in our country. At the end of the year 2005, the difference between the unemployment rate among people below the age of 25 and the population in general in Poland was as high as 18 percent. In Ireland, this difference was only 4.6 percent; in Germany, 5.5 percent; and in the USA, 6.2 percent. In Poland, in the first quarter of 2006, with the overall unemployment rate of 16 percent, the unemployment rate among the youth was 34 percent!” (R. Antczak, P. Dobrowolski, R. Petru, “Najgorzej mają młodzi” [The young are the worst off], Gazeta Wyborcza, 2006-07-28).
    Gazeta Wyborcza published, in 2006, entire collections of statements by young émigrés, looking for a chance to breathe more freely abroad. I will, however, quote domestic statements here. Przystanek Woodstock [Woodstock station] in the year 2006, as in the previous years, stands for the station of freedom in Poland. One of the participants, hailing from Poznań, confesses: “Life is poor, but I am not taking offense against Poland. All I want from her is freedom. Let’s not exaggerate, president Kaczyński is not the tyrant Bush, although under Kaczyński we are gasping for air, it feels stifling here. These uniforms in schools, the obligatory patriotism, it’s a backwater here, it makes no sense. Woodstock is such a gulp of freedom, and I would like to have this every day.” Another one, from Grudziądz, says that he dreams not about being rich but about tolerance and friendly people, A. Łukasiewicz, P. Żytnicki, “Wkurzeni na Polskę” [Mad at Poland], Gazeta Wyborcza, 2006-07-28.
  47. Mirosława Marody, Sławomir Mandes, “Polak katolik: O związkach religijności z tożsamością narodową” [Pole the Catholic: On relations between religious creed and national identity], Europa (supplement to Dziennik [Journal]) no. 24, 2006-06-14. See also reflections of Pole the Catholic in the study “Polska w Europie” [Poland in Europe] in Maria Janion, Niesamowita słowiańszczyzna.
  48. “Ani hymn, ani Legia, ani Papież” [Neither the anthem, nor Legia, nor the Pope], Marta Dzido interviewed by Wojciech Staszewski, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2005-08-10.
  • by Maria Janion

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