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History of History

History of History
History of Defeat

This eminent British historian wrote this text in the early eighties, when the oppressive political system in Poland was going through its particularly virulent phase: martial-law communist regime. Although later events show that these have been totalitarianism's death throes, and, as a result, some of Davies's statements have dated, his text is an interesting (and complete) view of Polish history. Especially important are his remarks on the Romantic visions of Poland in the writings of Mickiewicz and Lelewel, and the appropriation of various historical symbols and events by the two forces that shaped Poland's most recent past, the communists and the Roman Catholic Church...

Norman Davies: A Thousand Years of History

The earliest documentary record from that part of Europe which is now called Poland, dates from AD 965 to 966. In those years, Ibrahim-Ibn-Jakub, a Moorish Jew from Tortosa in Spain, accompanied the Khalif of Cordoba on an embassy to central Europe. He visited Prague, and possibly Krakow, which lay at the time within the kingdom of the Czechs. Fragments of his report were known to later Arab geographers:

The lands of the Slavs stretch from the Syrian Sea to the Ocean in the north . . . They comprise numerous tribes, each different from the other . . . At present, there are four kings: the king of the Bulgars; Boleslav, King of Faraga, Bohemia and Karako; Mesko, King of the North; and Nakon on the border of the West . . . As far as the realm of Mesko is concerned, this is the most extensive of their lands. It produces an abundance of food, meat, honey, and fish. The taxes collected by the King from commercial goods are used for the support of his retainers. He keeps three thousand armed men divided into detachments . . . and provides them with everything they need, clothing, horses, and weapons . . . The dowry system is very important to the Slavs, and is similar to the customs of the Berbers. When a man possesses several daughters or a couple of sons, the former become a source of wealth, the latter a source of great prestige. In general, the Slavs are violent, and inclined to aggression. If not for the disharmony amongst them, caused by the multiplication of factions and by their fragmentation into clans, no people could match their strength. They inhabit the richest limits of the lands suitable for settlement, and most plentiful in means of support. They are specially energetic in agriculture . . . Their trade on land and sea reaches to the Ruthenians and to Constantinople . . . Their women, when married, do not commit adultery. But a girl, when she falls in love with some man or other, will go to him and quench her lust. If a husband marries a girl and finds her to be a virgin, he says to her, `If there were something good in you, men would have desired you, and you would certainly have found someone to take your virginity'. Then he sends her back, and frees himself from her. The lands of the Slavs are the coldest of all. When the nights are moonlit and the days clear, the most severe frosts occur . . . The wells and ponds are covered with a hard shell of ice, as if made of stone. When people breathe, icicles form on their beards, as if made of glass . . . They have no bath-houses as such, but they do make use of wooden huts (for bathing). They build a stone stove, on which, when it is heated, they pour water . . . They hold a bunch of grass in their hands, and waft the steam around. Then their pores open, and all excess matter escapes from their bodies. This hut is called al-istba. Their kings travel in great carriages, on four wheels. From the corners of the carriage a cradle is slung on chains, so that the passenger is not shaken by the motion. They prepare similar carriages for the sick and injured . . . The Slavs wage war with the Byzantines, with the Franks and Langobards, and with other peoples, conducting themselves in battle with varying success.

Mieszko I, King of the North, or `Mesko' as Ibrahim's Czech hosts called him, was understandably of special interest to the visitor from Spain. In that same year, when the Cordoban embassy arrived in Prague, Mieszko betrothed the Czech king's daughter, Dubravka, and took her to his Polish home in Poznan. In the following year, as part of the marriage agreement, he renounced the pagan religion of his ancestors, and was baptized into the Christian faith. Mieszko was in no sense a national monarch of the sort imagined by nineteenth-century romantics. He was chief of the Polanie or Polanians, one of the numerous Slav tribes of the period. He was a warlord, whose fluctuating territory reflected little else but the ebb and flow of military success. He was as ready to plunder his various Slav neighbors as he was, on occasion, to make common cause with Germans or Czechs alike. Of all his feats, like those of his grandson Canute in Denmark and England, none but his baptism was permanent. By this one act, he brought his people into the world of western culture and Latin literacy. He prepared the way for the creation in the succeeding reign of the ecclesiastical province of Poland with its see at Gniezno. He started the recorded history of the Poles which has continued without a break from that day to this.

The events of a thousand years are as daunting to the historian who has to expound them, as to the reader who wants to learn about them. They are too complex to be comprehended in bulk; and served in one lump, are entirely indigestible. As a result, they are customarily divided into chronological groups, or periods. For some historians, this 'periodization' is no more than an empirical exercise, like the work of a chef who divides the meal into separate dishes, arranging the ingredients according to his individual art and lie dictates of digestion. For others, it is a matter of high seriousness, guided by the laws of philosophy and science. It is one of the unavoidable tasks of the trade. The manner in which it is undertaken reveals much, not only about History but also about the historian.

The earliest writers on historical matters did not attempt to periodize their subject. As chroniclers they are often dismissed as men whose fragments, fables, and ecclesiastical tales `abused the privilege of fiction'. In Poland, as elsewhere in Europe, they were mainly learned clerics, writing in Latin about the heroes of the Faith or the glories of the ruling house. Gallus Anonimus, `the Anonymous Gaul' (d. 1118), was a Benedictine monk from France who related the reign of Boleslav the Wry-mouthed. Wincenty Kadlubek, also known as Master Vincent (d. 1223), sometime student of the Sorbonne and Bishop of Krakow, composed a chronicle on the model of Livy, filling the considerable gaps in his knowledge with moral homilies or with recherché and entirely inappropriate classical digressions. His terms of reference as laid down by his patron, Casimir the Just, were `to endow posterity with the honesty of their ancestors'. Janko of Czarnków, (d. 1387) was more political, detailing the events of his own lifetime, and, as he saw it, the misdemeanors of Louis of Anjou.

Jan Dlugosz (Longinus, 1415-80), Canon of Krakow and royal tutor, is often regarded as Poland's first historian. He has also been described as the `greatest medieval publicist', using his vast literary output to defend the position and privileges of the Church and clergy. He was one of the pioneers in collecting and recording historical sources, both documentary and oral. He spent many years of his life touring the monastic libraries and cathedral chapters of the country, copying manuscripts, and interviewing eyewitnesses of prominent events. He was certainly one of the most endearing of chroniclers, and laced his learned panegyrics to the Polish kings with intimate, personal anecdotes. Of the twelfth-century monarch, Wladyslaw II, for example, he tells how the Prince, preparing to bivouac in the forest, turned to his hunting companion with the words: `It's as soft as for your lady with her knight', and received the reply: `or for your queen with her bishop'. The twelve books of his Historia Polonica (Polish History) contain little sense of analysis. His aim, as he said, was simply `to recover the memory of great men from their ashes'. He lived in a world where Causality was still ruled by Providence: where the concept of Progress had not been invented: and where History, as the science of the development of human affairs, would have been thought quite pointless. In the medieval view, mankind does not advance. Rather, with every year that passes, it retreats ever further from that original state of grace whose recovery is the only conceivable goal of our existence. Even so, Dlugosz was well aware that historical study has moral and didactic value. `Unlike philosophy', he wrote, `which merely arouses people and excites them, History . . . permits us to look, as through a mirror, on everything relating to heroism, wisdom, modesty, piety, and human folly.'

The sixteenth-century chroniclers did not question earlier assumptions. Maciej Miechowita's Chronica Polonorum (Chronicle of the Poles) of 1519 continued Dlugosz's narrative up to his own day. The Kronika wszystkiego swiata (Chronicle of the Whole World, 1551) of Marcin Bielski (1495-1575) was the earliest historical work composed in the Polish vernacular. The Chronica Polonica (Polish Chronicle, 1555) of Marcin Kromer (1512-89), Bishop of Warmia, was full of fables and fine illustrations, and was a best-seller.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the art of the chronicler adorned with extravagant poetic flourishes and with increasing social interest. A justly renowned Polish translation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata, published in 1618 by Piotr Kochanowski, nephew of the poet, set the style for numerous works of contemporary history. Samuel Twardowski (1600-60) recorded outstanding events in the reigns of the Vasa kings in 35,000 tredecimosyllabic verses. The Arian, Waclaw Potocki (1621-96), composed a lesser quantity of epic verse of still greater literary and historical value, notably in his Wojna chocimska (The War of Chocim, 1670). Wespazjan Kochowski (1633-1700) combined Polish psalmody with important work in Latin on current affairs. His Annalium Poloniae . . . Climacter Primus (1683), Secundus (1688), and Tertius (1698) contain a mine of detailed information on the political and international crises of his lifetime. The earlier Renaissance tradition of social comment and satire was developed by Szymon Starowólski (1588-1656), and by the two Opalinski brothers, Krzysztof (1610-56) and Lukasz (1612-84). Personal memoirs, rich in social and political observation, were written by Jan Pasek (1636-1701), Marcin Matuszewicz (d. 1784), and Jedrzej Kitowicz (1728-1804).

The first historians in the modern sense appeared during the Enlightenment, among them Adam Naruszewicz (1733-96), Bishop of Smolensk. Despite his episcopal dignity, he subjected the workings of Providence to critical examination and launched a campaign for the collection and publication of historical documents. Although he was preparing the ground for work on the whole of Polish History, his own six volumes of Historia narodu polskiego (A History of the Polish Nation), which began to appear in 1780, did not reach beyond the fourteenth century. As with other monarchists of he pre-nationalist era, he divided the past along dynastic lines. Naruszewicz identified the Piast Period from earliest times to 1386, the Jagiellonian Period from 1387 to 1572, and the period of Elective Monarchy from 1572 to his own day.

Naruszewicz died at the time when the Polish monarchy had just been destroyed, and his simple, monarchist outlook could not long satisfy his successors. His mantle was assumed n due course by a man of a completely different stamp. Joachim Lelewel (1786-1861) was an active republican, who in 1824 was removed by the Tsarist authorities from the Chair of History at Wilno. In 1830-1, he was a Minister in Warsaw in the insurrectionary government. Thereafter, he lived in exile in Brussels. In 1847, he was elected vice-president of an International Democratic Society, relinquishing his office in the following year to Karl Marx. Like Marx, Lelewel's view of history contained a strong messianic streak, but with time assumed a much more bizarre and speculative character. He elaborated a theory of Slavic 'Gminowladstwo' (communal self-government) whereby the Poles were seen to possess a natural predilection for democracy, and the whole of their history was interpreted as a struggle for freedom. Hence he divided Polish History into alternating periods of Liberty and of Servitude. The first period, from earliest times to the Testament of Boleslav the Wry-mouthed in 1138, was one of primitive self-government where the immemorial customs of the race were preserved by the rule of benevolent princes. In the second period from 1139 to the Statute of Kosice of 1374, the Polish nation fell beneath the tyranny of baronial rule, thereby losing control of its destiny. From 1374 to the Third Partition of 1795, Liberty reasserted itself in the form of the Noble Democracy of the old Kingdom and Republic. The final period of Servitude was initiated by the Partitions, and lasted until the time when Lelewel was writing. Needless to say, Lelewel's historical scheme was closely allied to his political program. His Dzieje Polski potocznym sposobem opowiedziane (Poland's Past Recounted in a Familiar Way, 1829) became a bible for the thousands of insurrectionaries and émigrés of his generation. In it, he described the role of the Polish nation as that of an `ambassador to humanity', whose sufferings were meant to inspire the world and whose special mission demanded the rejection of worldly trappings and success. In short, he invented a historiosophical variant of Mickiewicz's allegory of Poland as the `Christ among Nations'.

Lelewel's theories proved particularly seductive for his contemporaries, and the disasters of two abortive Risings, in 1830 and in 1863, were needed before Polish historians were weaned away from them. In the interval, much of the pioneering work on Polish History was undertaken in Germany. Among the Poles, it was left to the Krakow School forming round the `Stanczyk Group' of Józef Szujski (1835-83), Walerian Kalinka (1826-86), and Michal Bobrzynski (1849-1935) to bring the subject back to earth.

Of all the Stanczyks, Bobrzynski perhaps did most to their point of view. As Professor at the Jagiellonian University he was a leading specialist in medieval law; and as Governor of Galicia, he was one of the highest placed Poles in the public life of his day. As author of Dzieje Polski w zarysie (Poland's Past in Outline), which between 1877 in Krakow and 1944 in Jerusalem ran through at least five editions, he exercised considerable influence over the Polish reading public. Among his many contributions, he realized that periodization was an important and neglected subject, and discussed it in a number of methodological articles. In his own work, he adopted a common-sense scheme based mainly on political considerations, and proposed three simple periods - Primitive, Medieval, and Modern. He placed his dividing lines at 1241, the date of the Mongol invasion; at 1505 with the constitution of Nihil Novi; and finally at 1795 at the Third Partition. The Primitive Period was characterized by the patriarchal governments of tribal lords and early Piast dynasts; the Medieval Period by the independent development of society; and the Modern Period by the indefatigable struggle between the adherents and the opponents of noble privilege.

Bobrzynski's scheme led to a wave of polemics. `Subperiods' and `transitional periods' were proposed by those who could not bear the arbitrariness of simple divisions. The nature and the relevance of the `turning-point' and the `dividing line' were thoroughly examined. Szujski confined his criticisms to the ineptness of Bobrzynski's scheme in the realm of foreign affairs; whilst Tadeusz Wojciechowski (1838-1919), Professor at Lemberg (Lwów) and the founding President of the Polish Historical Society (PTH), argued that the Modern Period of Polish History should begin with the outbreak of Chmielnicki's Rebellion in the Ukraine in 1648. In effect the most far-reaching revisions were proposed by constitutional historians. Restricting their arguments to the documents of Polish legal history, they were able to argue their case more precisely than any of their rivals. The scheme proposed by Stanislaw Kutrzeba (1876-1946), Bobrzynski's younger colleague at Krakow, as elaborated in his Historia ustroju Polski w zarysie (History of Polish Government in Outline, 1905), was one of the more cogent:

Up to AD 965 The Period of Tribal Organization
965-1200 The Period of Princely Law
1200-1374 The Period of Independent Jurisdictions
1374-1569 The Period of the Estates
1569-1763 The Period of Noble Supremacy
1764-1795 The Period of Reform.

Methodological debates of this sort were taking place all over Europe at that time, and show that Polish scholars played their part in the establishment of History as a coherent academic discipline.

However, the work of the Stanczyk Group - who took their name from that of the mordant jester of King Zygmunt I - also provoked discussions of more specific relevance to Polish affairs. The Group had come together in the years following the failure of the January Rising of 1863, and had made its initial impact by denouncing what appeared to them as the ridiculously romantic pretensions of the insurrectionaries. In particular, they attacked the notion that Poland's ills were exclusively due to foreign oppression, and urged their colleagues to examine the causes of Poland's own internal weakness. As Bobrzynski himself declared, `We had no proper government, and that is the one and only cause of our collapse'. Szujski attacked the motives of his contemporaries more directly. `History is a surgeon for the fallen warrior', he wrote, `not a nurse for the spoiled child'. In this way, the Stanczyks reserved their special brand of caustic wit for all who sought to romanticize Poland's last for the sake of modern insurrectionary politics. They compared the irresponsible Golden Freedom of the eighteenth-century nobility with the frivolous intrigues and self-righteous rhetoric of contemporary patriots. In their view, the Liberum Veto (the right of the individual to obstruct the will of the community as a whole), the Liberum Conspiro (the freedom to conspire against authority), and the Liberum Defaecatio (the right to vilify one's opponents) were all Polish traits in the same, unfortunate tradition. They held that the destruction of the old republic had occurred in the Natural course of events, and that all attempts to revive it were pointless. In this sense, in their critical stance towards Poland's viability as an independent state, they were dubbed 'Pessimists'. The reaction against them gained ground in the 1880s, and continued to develop until the First World War. Under the leadership of Tadeusz Korzon (1839-1918) and Wladyslaw Smolenski (1851-1926), the Warsaw Positivists subjected the findings of the Cracovian School to detailed examination, and produced some strikingly different conclusions. Korzon's Dzieje wewnetrzne Polski za Stanislawa Augusta (Poland's Internal History under Stanislaw-August, 1880-6) and Smolenski's writings on the Polish Enlightenment contrived to stress Poland's economic and cultural achievements in the era of political failure. In Krakow, Kalinka diverged from his Stanczyk colleagues, believing like De Tocqueville in France that the destruction of the Ancien Régime was provoked by the very success of Reform. In their separate ways, they all stressed that Poland's tragedies had not been caused exclusively by her own failings. To that extent, they gave encouragement to people who were working for a national, political revival, and deserved their label of `Optimists'. Korzon's Historiya nowozytna (Modern History, 1889) treated Polish affairs as an integral part of European developments, contrasting sharply with Bobrzynski's both in tone and in substance. These rivalries, between the Pessimists and the Optimists, have continued to dominate Polish historiography from that day to this. The same positivist era laid the foundations of Polish History as a modern science.


None of the historians writing before the First World War knew what to make of the nineteenth century. For them, it was contemporary history, and for the censors of the ruling Empires, current affairs. It was at once, dangerously political and scientifically problematical. Without knowing the outcome of the national struggle which was still in progress, it was impossible to know whether the Partitions had spelt the end of Polish History as a separate subject or not. In the absence of a Polish state, it was difficult to give Polish History any organic structure. Not until the reappearance of the Polish Republic in 1918 could historians regard the period of Partition as a temporary, if somewhat extended, interruption of the thousand-year continuum of the Polish state. In the era of Nationalism, which in Eastern Europe persists to the present day, the permanent existence of the nation, irrespective of political institutions, has never been seriously challenged.

In the interwar period from 1918 to 1939, the surviving mandarins of the Cracovian and Varsovian Schools were joined by a variety of scholars who defy simple classification. Szymon Askenazy (1866-1935) at Lwów, and his younger disciple in diplomatic history at Warsaw, Marceli Handelsman (1882-1945), together with Jan Rutkowski (1886-1949) at Poznan in economic history, commanded influential followings in the profession. But the over-all picture was essentially pluralistic, and by the outbreak of the Second World War no general consensus concerning the interpretation of Polish history had been established, nor indeed attempted. After the a war, prominent scholars such as Oscar Halecki (1890-1976), Marian Kukiel (1885-1970) and Wladyslaw Pobóg-Malinowski (1899-1962) continued their studies in emigration. Halecki's History of Poland, written in 1942 from a Catholic and nationalist standpoint, was one of the very few surveys of the subject to be addressed to a foreign readership. Kukiel's Dzieje Polski porozbiorowej (History of Postpartition Poland), covers the period from 1795 to 1864. Pobóg-Malinowski's Najnowsza historia polityczna Polski (Contemporary Polish Political History, 3 vols. 1959-60), written from a political position close to that of Józef Pilsudski, covers the period since 1864.

With the advent of the People's Republic, historiography in Poland was transformed. In the words of Lenin on a previous occasion, `Chaos and arbitrariness, which had heretofore dominated people's views on history and politics gave way to an astonishingly uniform and harmonious scientific theory.' The theory in both cases was Lenin's own version of Marx's historical materialism. In 1948, at the First General Congress of Polish Historians, Marxism-Leninism was installed as the sole ideological guide to all investigations into Poland's past. Henceforth, Polish society was to be seen as the object of a dialectical process, which, by the inherent tensions of its contrary elements, propelled itself forward inexorably from one stage of development to the next. At any particular moment, the involuntary struggle of `progressive' and `reactionary' forces advanced from crisis to crisis, as the old order was undermined, and replaced by the new: and thus ever upward in the dizzy spiral of progress towards the last blissful Rose of Communism.

Marxism-Leninism offered several substantive attractions to Polish historians. Quite apart from its political convenience, it promised to supply that sense of organic continuity which had hitherto been signally lacking. It promised to interpret the history of the Poles on the same basis as that of neighboring nations, and thus to soothe their wounded pride. It promised to justify the emergence of the People's Republic as a natural stage on Poland's bumpy road to Communism, and thus to calm the chronic insecurity of the new authorities. It promised to banish the concepts of guilt and of individual responsibility, and to explain the horrors of the recent past as the necessary trials of the nation's progress towards a better future. Above all, it accepted the nation as a permanent and objective reality. In its own special way it combined the Messianism of the Romantics, the Realism of the Stanczyks, the Positivism of the Varsovians, and the Nationalism of them all. For these reasons, it stood to heal and anaesthetize and was readily adopted by a whole generation of scholars who had little ultimate faith in the validity of its precepts.

Yet the Marxification of History in Poland was no easy matter. For one thing, apart from the tiny Association of Marxist Historians founded in 1948 by Arnold, Jablonski, and Bobinska, there were virtually no native Marxists. A whole generation had to be schooled from scratch by foreign Soviet mentors. For another, the schooling had to proceed in the context of Stalinism, where genuine ideological concern was shamelessly subordinated to immediate political considerations. History was to be used as a blunt political instrument with which the enemies of the regime could be bludgeoned. As Professor Arnold explained at the First Methodological Conference of Polish Historians at Otwock in December 1951, `the only scientific approach to historical problems is . . . to treat them as a most terrible ideological weapon directed against the rulers of Wall Street.' Worst of all, the specific characteristics of Polish History did not lend themselves easily to existing models of Marxist or Soviet historiography. The weakness of slavery in early Polish society, for example, made it extremely difficult to adopt Engels's scheme of prefeudal developments. The scarcity of revolutions prior to the seventeenth century made it difficult to be precise about the emergence of Feudalism; whilst the superabundance of violent eruptions in the subsequent period presented an entirely baffling proliferation of socio-economic diversions during the emergence of Capitalism. The absence of a sovereign Polish state between 1795 and 1918 prevented any simple adoption of Russian models, where the role of the state had always received special prominence. From the Marxist point of view it would have been entirely respectable to attribute the Partitions to `unhistoric forces'. But from the reigning political point of view this was unthinkable, since the expanded territorial base of the Russian Empire, as established by the USSR, was the principal `socialist achievement' which the People's Republic and the new Polish History were now required to defend. In consequence, it is not surprising that the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was able to complete a `History of Poland' long before Polish historians could agree on a synthesis of their own. The Soviet Istoriya Pol'shi, published between 1954 and 1965, is in many ways a remarkable achievement, not least since it confirms that Poland has a continuous historic existence. (Had it been commissioned a few years earlier, there is little doubt it would have proved the opposite.)

(. . .)

The genuine Marxists, as distinct from the Stalinist hacks, did not really mind their feet until the late 1950s. At the Historical Congress of 1958, a new generation of historians launched a determined attack against the spurious practices of the recent past. By a decision of the Congress, the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences was authorized to accelerate publication of its own definitive, multi-volume `History of Poland'. The mainlines of the Academy's Historia Polski were drawn by an editorial committee council under the late Tadeusz Manteuffel (1902-70). In this version, the `Epoch of Feudalism' takes over from `Pre-feudal Society' in AD 965, and lasts to 1864, occupying nine-tenths of recorded history. It is divided into four periods - `Early Feudalism' to 1200; `The full bloom of Feudalism' to 1550; `The entrenchment of the Manorial-Serfdom system' from the mid-fifteenth century to 1764; and `The Liquidation of the Feudal system' to 1864. `The Capitalist Epoch' runs for eighty years from 1864 to 1944. This again seems destined for a fourfold division. In the volumes which have so far appeared, `The Time of Laissez-Faire Capitalism 1850/64-1900' and `The Stage of Imperialism, 1900-18' have been identified. It is obvious, however, that an agonizing debate is still in progress behind the scenes. In Marxist usage, terms such as `ugruntowanie' (entrenchment) or `rozkwit' (burgeoning) may aptly convey a correct sense of delight for states of impermanence. At the same time they disclose a definite reluctance to make clear-cut, interpretative decisions. Omissions speak loudest of all. Although twenty years and more have passed since the series was announced, the long-awaited volumes on the contemporary period are constantly delayed. Little has appeared in relation to events in the last forty years. The Polish student has still no authoritative guide to the decades which interest him most. The gestation of just one section of one volume has lasted three times longer than the historical period under discussion. The first editorial meeting to prepare the first section of Volume IV, covering 1918-21, was held on 7 February 1957. This led to the publication in 1966 of an unbound `dummy' which was later withdrawn. The section was finally brought forth in 1970, after a mountain of revision. At this rate, the chapters dealing with the Second World War can be expected as from AD 2024. Undoubtedly, the labor pains are partly caused by continuing ideological qualms. But they are compounded by extraneous political interference.

Most recently, in 1976, another scholarly synthesis of Polish History has been produced by a team of authors. This `showpiece of Polish historiography' as one reviewer has called it, represents a very considerable achievement in view of the problems involved. But the high-powered, theoretical introduction of its editor stands in marked contrast to the feeble application of his theories in the body of the work, especially in relation to the contemporary period. Though not an official enterprise, it betrays all the traits and omissions of official ideology and of latter-day Polish Nationalism, and is likely to be viewed in the future as a competent but stereotyped product of its day.

In the early 1960s, History was again enjoying wide popularity in Poland. The country was still basking in the afterglow of Gomulka's October. The Stalinist nightmare had passed. The air of gloom and shame which Stalinism had injected into everything connected with Poland's independent past, was quickly dispelled. Pessimism gave way to Optimism, and distant events with the most specious relevance to the present were celebrated on the slightest pretext. Historical anniversaries came into vogue. Everyone knew that the biggest anniversary of all was due in 1966. It was awaited with fervent expectation.

The Roman Catholic Church was particularly well prepared, especially since Polish celebrations would coincide with a Roman Holy Year. Preparations had begun in 1957 with a Great Novena, the nine-year period of prayer and fasting. In 1966 itself, the Cardinal-Primate, Stefan Wyszynski, toured the entire country, province by province. Starting in Gniezno, the cradle of Polish Christianity, on 14 April, he proceeded to Czestochowa on 3 May, to Krakow on 8 May, to Warsaw on 26 June, to Katowice, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Lublin, Bialystok, Torun. Everywhere he was greeted by tens and hundreds of thousands of people, by delegations of miners in uniform, by processions of men, women and children, by girls in regional costume, by crowds upon crowds, standing in the rain or kneeling by the roadside. Never, before or since, has anyone in the People's Republic enjoyed such a massive display of devotion. Every church in Poland displayed the banner `SACRUM POLONIAE MILLENIUM, 966-1966' (Poland's Sacred Millennium) together with the traditional slogans of `DEO ET PATRIAE' (For God and Country); `POLONIA SEMPER FIDELIS' (Poland Always Faithful); or `NAROD Z KOSCIOLEM' (The Nation is with the Church). In St. Peter's at Rome on 15 May 1966, Pope Paul, assisted by the Cardinal-Primate's Delegate, Bishop Wladyslaw Rubin, celebrated pontifical mass in honor of the Polish Province. In Santa Maria Maggiore, in San Andrea al Quirinale, at Monte Cassino, in Glasgow Cathedral, at Lens in the Pas-de-Calais, in Detroit, anywhere and everywhere which has Polish connections, Polish Catholics gathered to make witness of their Faith. In his sermon at Gniezno, Cardinal Wyszynski made this appeal: `It is my earnest desire that you take a hard look at the Past and the Present, and, having learned to love the history of this Christian nation, that you will see the (present) reality of its Catholicity with open eyes.' The response was overwhelming.

Not to be outdone, the State-and-Party authorities made preparations of their own. The Sejm of the People's Republic proclaimed the period 1960-6 to be a `jubilee of Polish statehood and culture'. Archaeological digs were accelerated at Gniezno, Kalisz, Wislica, and elsewhere, to illuminate the shady state of knowledge on life in Mieszko's realm. Processions were staged to emphasize `the patriotic and progressive traditions of the Polish people across the ages'. Learned societies held open meetings to discuss the significance of dates and events. Youth organizations launched a huge, voluntary effort to build `a thousand schools for the thousand years'; and the target was surpassed. Anniversary celebrations proliferated. In 1960, the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald was celebrated (though not the fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw). In 1961, the 300th anniversary of the first Polish newspaper, Merkuriusz Polski, was acclaimed together with the birth of the Press. In 1962, the 350th anniversary of the Polish occupation of the Kremlin was given a miss. But in 1963, there was the centenary of the January Rising; in 1964 the sexcentenary of the Jagiellonian University, Poland's senior seat of learning, and the Twentieth Anniversary of the People's Republic; and in 1965 the Twentieth Anniversary of the Liberation. Finally on 1 May 1966 all the state-and-party organs participated in countrywide rallies, receiving the congratulations of fraternal parties and foreign well-wishers, whilst staging colossal processions, marches, reviews, and dancing in the streets.

Amidst the general rejoicing, it would have been churlish to question the exact object of the celebrations too closely. Yet, it was clear all along that no general agreement existed as to what the Millennium (or `Millenium', as the Poles will have it) really meant. The Church was celebrating a thousand years of Christianity. As the introduction to its anniversary album declared: `it all began with a christening.' For the Church, the baptism of Mieszko I was all-important. It was a religious, an ecclesiastical occasion. The state-and-party authorities, in contrast, were mounting a purely secular and political demonstration. For them, `Millenium', with its Romish overtones, was not acceptable. For official purposes the vernacular calque of Tysiaclecie was preferred. Whilst the banners on the churches read `SACRUM POLONIAE MILLENIUM', civic buildings and the streets were festooned with the slogan 'TYSIACLECIE PANSTWA POLSKIEGO' (A Thousand Years of the Polish State). `DEO ET PATRIAE' was matched by `SOCJALIZM I OJCZYZNA' (Socialism and Fatherland), `NAROD Z KOSCIOLEM' by `PARTIA Z NARODEM' (The Party is with the Nation), 'POLONIA SEMPER FIDELIS' by `SOCJALIZM GWARANCJA POKOJU I GRANIC' (The Communist Regime is the Guarantee of Peace and Frontiers). In the Western Territories gained from Germany in 1945, the banners proclaimed such messages as `A THOUSAND YEARS OF POLAND ON THE ODRA' or `A THOUSAND YEARS OF POLAND ON THE BALTIC' - both plain mis-statements of fact.

For the historian, the use to which his subject is put by politicians, both clerical and communist, is not without interest. To the impartial observer, the Roman Catholic identification of Church and Nation in the past is as specious as the communists' habit of identifying Party and People today. Both Church and Party live by dogmas of authority and infallibility, and both conceal the full nature of their complicated relationship with the population as a whole. Once the Millennium was in prospect, both were bound to launch rival, and mutually exclusive, interpretations of its significance.

In the decade since the Millennium, Polish historians have resolved few of their problems. According to the official jargon, the People's Republic is still building Communism in its own Polish way. It is still in the socialist stage of development, but unlike Czechoslovakia or Romania has not cared to raise its status to that of a `Socialist Republic'. The emphasis on Foreign Trade, the strong military establishment, and. arguably, the mores of Polish youth, are much as they were in the time of Ibrahim-Ibn-Jakub. (The dowry system and sauna baths have disappeared without trace.) The Academy's Historia Polski is still incomplete. The official Marxist-Leninist ideology is constantly eroded. A historiographical consensus lies teasingly out of reach. Extraneous interference continues unabated. In this situation, two alternative prospects arise. Either Polish historians will be overtaken by the arrival of Communism before their present task is complete, and, together with the State and the Party, will wither away; or else, more probably, like every other generation of scholars, they will soon be obliged to rewrite Polish History from the beginning, all over again.

From Norman Davies, God's Playground, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982 (Chapter One: Millenium).



©2000 Jan Rybicki
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