Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic

By Peter D. Stachura | Go to book overview

6

CULTURE AND EDUCATION

It might have been reasonably thought that, in view of the enormous problems the Second Republic had to confront at home and abroad, the development of its cultural and educational spheres would have been extremely limited, even rudimentary and well outside the mainstream of trends in Europe as a whole. However, one of the most striking paradoxes of the interwar years in Poland was the remarkable and often brilliant recrudescence in many fields of the arts and sciences, and the determined and relatively successful efforts made to rejuvenate the schools and universities following the manifold constraints of the partitionist era.

A fully satisfactory explanation of this paradox is difficult for an historian to adduce, for a whole team of sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and other specialists would probably have to be consulted before an acceptable conclusion could be reached. But it perhaps seems reasonable to stress the importance Poles traditionally attached to education, especially when opportunities were restricted, as under the Partitions, and also that the regaining of an independent state in 1918 triggered a new sense of national optimism and patriotic pride, at least among the ethnic Polish part of the population, which was channelled into a prolonged burst of creativity. Moreover, it could have been the case that there was a generational dynamic at work, that is, that the generation which had contributed most recently to reclaiming independence was determined after 1918 to make it a worthwhile reality. There was a broad consensus among ethnic Poles that the Polish State had to be built up and made as strong as possible in all aspects of its existence. The resulting momentum did not suddenly appear and then function in a vacuum, of course, but rather emanated from those elements of 'Polishness' that had survived the otherwise stultifying partitionist experience, particularly the language, literature, respect for education and, above all, what many Poles regarded as the perfect combination, an effervescent patriotism and a rejuvenated Catholicism.

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