An interview with Professor Andrzej Nowak
Prof. Andrzej Nowak, a historian, sovietologist, publicist, lecturer at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, member of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) College, talks about neo-Marxist pressure on Poland, the falsification of history, virulence of left-wing elites against Catholicism and their vision of the world and the image of our country in the West, with Jakub Maciejewski.
Jakub Maciejewski: Poles often comment on the bad image of Poland abroad, the term “Polish concentration camps” or accusations of alleged anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, the opinion of the West about Poland is probably even worse?
Prof. Andrzej Nowak: In the historiography of “progressive” universities (according to Minister Gowin’s reform, we must imitate it) the dominant thinking repeats the Marxist pattern. This also brings results that effect the perception of our country. The repetition of slogans about oppressed classes must arouse admiration for the “modernization project” of the former Polish People’s Republic. We are talking about the same school of historical interpretation, which “at this stage” makes us proclaim the need to liberate the class of women from the yoke of male exploiters, which has recently been stressed by e.g., Agnieszka Holland. The film director said that due to centuries of oppression of the female sex, the right to vote should be taken away from men for three generations.
Mrs. Holland repeats ideological ideas completely detached from historical Polish reality. After all, it was in the Second Republic of Poland that women gained voting rights as one of the first in the world, confirming their key role in the struggle and work on regaining independence.
Therefore, the West wants to attack us on those levels in which we can hardly be accused.
The issues centered around the idea of modernizing Poland are based on the theory of the class struggle, which leads some historians to enthuse about Stalinism in Poland. According to such criteria, for example, by Brian Porter-Szücs, the author of the most popular synthesis of Poland’s history at American universities today, presents Bolesław Bierut not as a communist apparatchik, brutally managing the Sovietization of Poland on Stalin’s behalf, but as an efficient modernizer, liberating Poland from many “fatal burdens” of its tradition.
What is positive about this semi-illiterate that made decisions about the murder of thousands of Polish heroes?
A very important reason for this assessment is the fight against the Catholic Church. Thanks to Bierut, Catholic bishops have finally been crushed, according to the above-mentioned influential historian. Such a “blessed” period lasted, unfortunately – from the perspective of this progressive researcher – only in the years 1949-1956. In this vision of history, in which the Catholic Church is the greatest enemy, responsible for anti-Semitism and darkness, even the most severe repression can be justified. In addition, there is a hateful view of national tradition in general (and Polish tradition in particular), in which the academic and media elites setting the tone for the “discourse” of power over words, indicate the latter, besides the Catholic religion, as the main source of all evil: wars, hatred, the killing of neighbors.
This is difficult to understand. Authors who have access to archives, who know the facts, are able to get away with this view of reality in such a way? Quite good historians like Anne Applebaum, Timothy Snyder or Timothy Garton Ash come to mind, not to mention Norman Davies, know our history and are able to talk nonsense about the present day.
Ideology is blind. In the name of progress, the struggle against the “the deep and the dark”, one can close one’s eyes to historical reality in all its complexity and see only “colonizers”, “torturers”, “perpetrators” on the Polish side, but no victims or – even more so – heroes on the other. Anne Applebaum in her excellent books, e.g. about the Gulag, sees the victims of the communist system, but – let’s recall – is unlikely to belong to the academic mainstream. She is often treated by her left-wing university critics as a “controversial publicist”. Timothy Snyder, undoubtedly one of the pillars of our region’s research, is trying to completely “internationalize” his story of the enormous number of victims, brought on here by the reign of Hitler and Stalin. Of course, he is doing so with the intention of escaping from national narratives in the name of a general perspective of compassion for the suffering. This still allows him somehow to function within the framework of this academic mainstream, although such a surely humanistic and beautiful perspective, falsifies historical reality, in which Stalin ordered to kill hundreds of thousands of Poles, not because they were people, only because they were Poles that he identified as national enemies. The same goes for Hitler, who killed Poles and Jews because he identified them as national enemies.
Norman Davies, who burned himself long ago in an attempt to remind the world of Polish victims of the Second World War and compare their scale to that of the Holocaust, has long been practicing safe stories about the transnational history of cities like Wrocław. In the modern academic world, however, they do not set the tone, but a neo-Marxist vision of fighting in the name of “progress” against the “relics” of the old: Catholicism, religion in general, the nation, the traditional family, as forms of enslavement. We need to be modernized, so the past is being modernized according to such a pattern.
But this is worse than the attitude towards African countries. Today no one would dare to appreciate the modernization of Black African tribes during the period of colonialism, even though the Western countries – although brutally and by shedding a river of blood – carried some higher form of civilization there. This cannot be said as being the case in discussing what happened in Poland after World War II!
And here’s the rub. In the West there is no awareness that Poland was a country subjected to imperial exploitation by Prussia, Tsarist Russia or Austria – material and symbolic (cultural) exploitation, which can and must be treated in colonial terms. In addition, which is already the summit of absurdity, the countries of our region deprived of independence in the 19th century and colonized in this way are burdened with the blame for the European colonization of other continents, which took place precisely in that century, when Poland was not even on the map. Bulgaria was under the colonial rule of the Ottoman Empire for six centuries, just like – for a little shorter period – half of Hungary, and yet Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria are treated in this “politically correct” vision of Europe’s faults towards the world in the same way, and even worse than, for example, Belgium, which was actually responsible for the murder of several million inhabitants of the Congo in the late 19th century.
Add to this France, which colonized exceptionally brutally all of North Africa or Indochina. But it is not Brussels, with its monuments in honor of the Belgian king responsible for the genocide of African inhabitants, but Poland and other countries of the “younger” Europe are accused most passionately of colonialism. Just like not Germany, but yes, Poland is now becoming almost the main perpetrator of the Holocaust.
So it is not only in the case of World War II that we’ve become the executioners, not the victims.
On the one hand, the elites of the First Republic are being pressed to have become the builders of a colonial empire, and on the other hand, the colonialism of the Russian Empire is being overlooked, not only the Soviet one, but also earlier tsarist Russia or the imperial-colonial attitude of the Prussian elites towards their Polish, Slavic peripheries (that is, the Wielkopolska, Pomeranian, and Silesian regions). In the eyes of the university-media establishment of the contemporary West, Poland is only a colonizer.
Why is the subject of “empire” subject to so much manipulation?
Imperialism as the key to the worst events in European history is deliberately forgotten for two reasons. Firstly, the reminder of German or Russian imperialism may raise dangerous questions about today’s reality and the temptations of imperial politics that are still present in it. Secondly, Brussels prefers to place the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Hungary, on the bench of the defendants. For today’s European powers, members of the former “concert of empires”, it is more convenient to present only national identity as the source of war and conflict. It is a simplified picture, omitting the main perpetrator of the greatest misfortunes in the world and Europe, that is, the actions of the great empires. The Third Reich or the Soviet Union were not national in character and had ambitions to conquer far beyond historical or cultural boundaries. Similarly gloomy is the exceptionally hideous and completely non-national empire of the Belgian king, whose vision of power cost the lives of several million inhabitants of Central Africa. It is easier to say: the source of evil lies elsewhere: in this “inferior”, Eastern Europe, in their nationalisms, that their traditions need to be uprooted.
It seems that the West unanimously despises the nations of our part of Europe.
The skewing of the image of Poland is not identical everywhere. The worst in this respect is France. Poland is associated there with anti-Semitism only in historical works and the media. When I recently visited one of the largest Parisian bookshops, six books about Polish history attracted my attention, next to a display with several hundred books about Russia’s history (mostly with a positive attitude towards its culture and political traditions, from Catherine the Great to Trotsky). Actually, all of them about bloodthirsty Polish anti-Semitism, including even such a miracle as working on the topicality of the problem of ritual murders in the Third Republic of Poland. There is no counterpoint here to the fact that there is anything in Polish history other than the criminal hatred of Jews.
If France is the worst, where is it somewhat better?
In this respect, it is best in Germany. There, historiography is extremely rich and varied, and some researchers do not yield to rigid political correctness. One of the current young German historians, Daniel Brewing, for example, recently published an excellent book about German crimes committed by the Wehrmacht on Polish peasants en masse. Although, of course, the images of our history are dominated by the pattern described above, there are also a lot of books written with scientific accuracy, without ideological blinders. The Anglo-Saxon world exists somewhere between these two poles. Apart from such phenomena, which are unfortunately prevalent in numbers, as I described on the example of Porter-Szücs’ works, there are excellent books by e.g., Robert Frost showing the traditions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Richard Butterwick, who thoroughly analyzed the reforming of the Republic of Poland in the 18th century or Timothy Snyder, who shows the scale of repressions on the lands of, among others, the Republic of Poland in the first half of the 20th century. I believe, however, that the greatest emphasis on straightening history should be placed on France.
Why has this black propaganda concerning Poles found its most vulnerable ground in France? We associate the French as allies, even if they behaved disloyally in 1939, but during World War I or the war with the Bolsheviks, and also in earlier centuries, they were closer to us politically than our immediate neighbors?
This extremely ideologized form of enlightenment was born on the Seine, which invented the concept of Eastern Europe as an inferior, backward part of the continent that needs to be mentally conquered, brought up, cured. This stems back to the times of Voltaire, with a set of stereotypes, in which all reluctance has been placed somewhere with the “unenlightened crowds of Jasna Góra” and the greatest threats to the light of reason are seen as emanating from it. The Great Orient of Freemasonry, indicating its worst enemy in Catholicism, undoubtedly played its role at that time. This is the cry of Voltaire: “Écrasez l’infâme!” – Let us “Erase this shame!”, that is, the Catholic Church, was a call to attack Polish historical identity rooted in connection with the Church, with Catholicism, with Christianity. It was then that the image of the Polish nobility, the Bar Confederates, fanatics and idiots who blessed their swords in front of their “black goddess” of Jasna Góra was created.
Despite the passage of over 250 years, this image of Poles, as mostly dark primitives, is still similar in the eyes of “progressive elites” under the banner of “Le Monde” or other media stars enlightening Europe. In this context, it is only possible to understand the extremely anti-Polish speeches of President Macron. Let us also remember that France heals its complex of World War II, of its then, extremely scathing attitude towards Jews, pointing out the guilty somewhere else, i.e. precisely on the Vistula River banks.
Our native elites portray a similar image of Poland from the left-liberal media and universities. Is their perception only a copy of Western stereotypes, or does it have other roots as well?
I think that this is, above all, an echo of the “parrot complex” about which Juliusz Słowacki wrote, i.e., repeating what others have already invented for us – those better and wiser teachers from Paris, Brussels or Berlin. This was also influenced by the specificity of the Polish experience of one of the branches of the Enlightenment, which came to us no longer from the West, but from the East, from Moscow. Communism influenced several generations of our country’s inhabitants, especially during the 45 years of the Polish People’s Republic. There grew up a peculiar elite, associated with the reign of this ideology, a Moscow variant of the Enlightenment, which had to fight sometimes literally, with Soviet rifle butts, the batons of Soviet executioners, the pen of the “People’s Tribune” writers and, in the words of journalists such as Urban, for the preservation of their privileged status, the status of symbolic lords of “this country”. The latter term has entered the language resources of many Poles who believe in some inferiority of Poland, whose progress must come from the “outside”. “This country” has only bad traditions, and these have to be knocked out of the “other Poles’ ” heads with rifle butts or at least with the pedagogy of shame.
Criticizing one’s own community and looking for weakness in one’s own identity is nothing bad.
The problem is that the extollers of critical history, which questions the merits of our community, do not see themselves as the ones being criticized. Some of them show contempt for the complexity of Polish national identity, for the Republic of Poland – either by not understanding it or by not trying to know it. They associate “Polishness” only with the killing of their neighbors, with something worse, so as not to use words about “abnormality”, promoted by one of our contemporary politicians. They consider themselves “healthy”, even therapists, as they want to “cure” us from “Polishness”, not only as part of the Enlightenment project, to which the nation stands in the way of, but also as a result of internal conditions in which the once imposed (in 1945) elites, including now their children and grandchildren, hold on to their position in society at all costs.
The heirs of the members of the PZPR (Polish United Workers’ Party- political office members), the residents of Aleja Róż, creators of a peculiar culture built by Bolesław Bierut, Jerzy Borejsza, Włodzimierz Sokorski and their successors still want to cure and raise us.
We are talking about the destructive currents that were created 300 years ago, as in the case of the Enlightenment, or 150 years ago, as in the case of Communism. But modernity brings us a new madness…
It is worth quoting a notion that Jarosław Kaczyński recently popularized in the Polish language. Oikophobia, because it is the term that I’m referring to, is an aversion for one’s own home, community, and surroundings. Nowadays, this phenomenon extends this hatred further than to the nation – to all humanity. In the forum of the contemporary tribunal of left-wing intellectuals there is not only the Pole, not only men oppressing women, but man in general, who has to listen to the songs of crying cows in rebellion in cowsheds, accusations of carbon dioxide emissions, or even a reproach for leaving a poisonous “carbon footprint” in one’s own life. I am able to understand the declaration not to eat meat for the sake of nature and to spare the suffering of creatures, but to move on, this leads to an appeal for the collective suicide of humanity. Everything becomes suspicious, harmful to nature brought to the rank of a new, most important idol, whereby even having children becomes a terrible evil. If an infant’s smile, the greatest blessing that is parenting, becomes the target of attacks, because it is supposed to be connected with the execution of plants or the suffering of animals, it means that we are entering the suicide phase of humanity, that we are coming to an end.
And what is beyond this end?
We have perhaps already gone past this critical point, after which one’s survival instinct is awakened. More and more groups of people or social movements, having recalled such obvious issues as the need for family and parenthood as a condition for the survival of all of us, are beginning to resist the deadly threat of increasingly extreme left-wing ideologies. We too must join in this defensive reaction, preferably starting from our own backyards, from the community of Poles, from our family, our children, from ourselves.
Interview by Jakub Maciejewski
This interview was published in the 45th issue of the weekly “Sieci” and wPolityce.pl