Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Polish Culture as the Nation's Own Culture and as a Foreign Culture

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Polish Culture as the Nation's Own Culture and as a Foreign Culture

Article excerpt

"... the longer I study the history of Poland, the longer I live among ... Poles, the more difficult it is to me to answer a simple and common question: what is Polishness?"

Lepkowski (1989:21)


This article presents conclusions of a research project, financed by the (Polish) State Committee on Scientific Research, on "Polish Culture as a Foreign Culture. Polish Culture in the Eyes of Cultural Minorities." In the project, cultural minorities were opposed to a dominant group (see Mucha 1999a). A broad concept of cultural minority status was accepted. We studied the Polish national culture as viewed from the perspectives of three ethnic minorities: Silesians (Opole Silesians and Upper Silesians from Katowice, both of the so-called German national option), Polish Ukrainians, Polish Belorussians, a subculture of Polish teenagers, an ethnic Polish "alternative culture" community and a Polish community characterized by a "culture of poverty"(1) In each case, we conducted in-depth interviews with 20-25 informants. The findings will be published shortly in Poland in Polish (see Mucha 1999b).

In this text, of necessity briefly and without ambition to cover the whole area, I will discuss only some issues. I will begin with the background, against which it is worth analyzing the conclusions of our research findings. We will first look at the Polish culture as the culture of the Polish nation in the process of its historical transformations. In order to carry out this task, I would like: (a) to present what are, in the opinion of some recognized Polish historians, Polish theoreticians of culture and sociologists, the particular features of dynamic Polish national culture (or, a particular synthesis of these features); and (b) to show the opinions which, according to the surveys of various periods, Polish society has of itself and its own culture. Secondly, I would like to present conceptualizations of Polish culture as a foreign culture. Therefore, I will discuss, based on the literature of the subject, foreign stereotypes of Poland and Poles. Against this background, I would like to summarize the conclusions of our own research project. In particular, I intend to present: (1) categories in which our interviewees conceptualized Polish national culture; (2) categories, in which they conceptualized cultural domination; and (3) categories in which the reactions toward this domination have been conceptualized.

When relying on other findings, I will try to show, to the extent it is possible, the empirical background of generalizations and their methodology. Synthesis of Polish national culture (as of any dynamic national culture) is very difficult. There are various reasons and manifestations of this difficulty. Dramatic in their form and content, declarations of Tadeusz Lepkowski, Polish historian, like the one quoted in the motto to this article or others, to be found in his writings (see, e.g., 1990: 99) are one of the manifestations. Another manifestation of the difficulty is, in my opinion, the fact that in many books and articles published in Poland and devoted exactly to the issue of the meaning of the Polish culture, we find only interesting details and not significant generalizations (see, e.g., "Kultura polska a kultura europejska" 1987; "Kultura polska. Wspolczesnosc wobec tradycji" 1992; Bartnik 1996).

Problems with the synthetic presentation of any national culture are not very difficult to understand, but are intriguing to the student of a nation convinced of its own uniqueness, of the universal values of its own ethos (see, e.g., Skolimowski 1990), and of its greatness (see, e.g., Bystron 1935). Polish historical and sociological thought has devoted much attention to the concepts of the nation and of national culture.

About half a century ago, Florian Znaniecki presented some explanations of the difficulties scholars have when describing and analyzing national cultures. …

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