Don’t judge Poland by what has happened here since 2015 (The Guardian)

Photograph: Konrad Lembcke via Creative Commons

On 11 November, as much of Europe marks the centenary of the armistice that brought the first world war to an end, Poland will celebrate 100 years since the re-establishment of an independent Polish state after more than a century of partition by foreign powers. In theory, at least, the commemorations should be a time to unify the nation in a way that next year’s 30th anniversary of the negotiated fall of communism in 1989 – the nature of which continues to divide Polish society – cannot.

But Poles are not so easily reconciled. Behind the flag-waving and patriotic banalities stands a divided and unhappy country. Throughout the 19th century and again throughout the communist period, many Poles yearned not just for their own independent state but for that state to fulfil the nation’s imagined destiny as an integral part of the West. But what did “the West” mean?

In retrospect, it seems a miracle that liberal democracy took hold in Poland in recent decades in the way that it did. Contrary to national myth, which often confuses the long-held desire for national liberation with a genuine collective commitment to democratic values, the democratic tradition was never very deeply embedded in Polish society. Liberal democratic values in Poland have long had to contend not only with the legacy of communism but also with that of a peculiarly Polish brand of national Catholicism that shares with communism a commitment to hierarchy, dogma and ritual, and the associated authoritarian vices of ignorance, passivity and paranoia that have come to the fore in recent years.

You can read my opinion piece for the Guardian here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s