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 Lvóv“It was with great pride that Leon Gruca proclaimed that morning to Martyniak that following a long night of reflection, he had decided that the two of them would go and sign a loan for twenty five Polish zloties a piece towards the Polish State…”

[Mietek:] “You see, they’re doing a good job at this…Good Lord! I’m speaking Austrian!..We’re still becoming a State—slowly. They’ve painted up our white eagles and built government buildings, but we are hardly citizens. We’re too old to become the children of our fatherland…Just look: There’s the crowd of old people heading to the bank to donate money for a Polish state that is not really their state, but will presumably be their children’s state…I’m just a regular person. Who’s going to give me a job? The State? What if the people I earn my bread from don’t like the State? …They know more than you do without books, Leon! What if they just want Poland for themselves, and not for all of us? Maybe there’s no place in Poland for all of us? You see how poor our country is! Maybe that’s why the country is only for the rich. I’m careful in my thinking. Better not to put your lot behind a State without meat on its bones…”

[Leon]: “…There you go sounding like an uneducated man again, Mietek! These are Roman things we are talking about: res publica! The Republic is about things held in common!”

Mietek: “But they are not our things! ‘Republic’ is just a word, Leon! All you do is live for words! Where do you see anything common in our Republic? Where do you see the common man? Our country is not things held in common, only held by the few! And these few are not happy that the many suddenly want a share in the business of the State! I actually think that if we sign this loan, then it’ll be hubris on our part. Just who do we think we are? Do we think we’re as important as the rich in our State? You’ll see that no good will come of it![1]

Anna Kowalska’s Gruce: Tales of a Lvóv Family, is a masterpiece lost in the historical memories of contemporary Poles, who do not read it. This is partially a function of the times we live in. Scanning the journals of culture and politics, one discovers almost nothing about Anna Kowalska, let alone her admirer, the father of post-war Polish conservatism, Henryk Krzeczkowski. What is said of them tells us more about the closing of the modern Polish mind than about Kowalska and Krzeczkowski.

Anna Kowalska’s memiores were indeed published recently, but they are principally marketed on the basis of her relationship with her friend, Maria Dąbrowska, who enjoys a good reputation because unlike Mr. Krzeczkowski whose Catholicism overshadowed his homosexuality, Ms. Dąbrowska was both lesbian and atheist, thus making her acceptable to the establishment intelligentsia. The excessive praise Anna Kowalska lavishes on Henryk Krzeczkowski in her diary is unremarkable, because nobody in Poland knows who Henryk Krzeczkowski is. Kowalska’s books, amongst them her phenomenal work Gruce, because it is a work of great literature and political philosophy, is not so easy to market since it would require finding thoughtful readers. The modern Western European mind considers the idea that talking about a writer’s books is passé. Nowadays, the progressive intellectual talks about the writer’s sexual habits. Thus, the one and only mention of Henryk Krzeczkowski available in the most progressive of Polish intellectual journals is a mere few sentences about how Mr. Krzeczkowski was a well-known participant of night life in Warsaw whose experiences were over and above those related in the wildly popular account of homosexual nightlife of Poland’s contemporary gay star writer, Mr. Witkowski. Of course, nary a word is to be found on the subject of what Mr. Krzeczkowski wrote. This is likely not due to the fears of the gay liberation lobby that expounding upon the thought of Poland’s principle homosexual thinker of the twentieth century would reveal thoughts staunchly opposed to the modern gay agenda and an apologia for Catholic dogma, but rather is likely due to a more prosaic reason: Modern Polish intellectuals, seeking to keep up with the latest trends in the West, have stopped inquiring into the written work of their subjects, preferring to seek out gossip about their sex lives.

Under such circumstances, intellectual debate remains static, which is to say it remains where it was the last time people actually thought seriously about things. Unfortunately for Poland, a mighty component of its serious intellectual heritage which now remains frozen in time and has avoided critical revisionism from the perspective of the national interest is the thought of Mr. Jerzy Giedroyc, who is considered a principle intellectual authority on the subject of Ukrainian-Polish relations. In 1934, when Anna Kowalska was still working on Gruce, with its scandalously realistic assessment of Polish-Ukrainian relations, Mr. Jerzy Giedroyc was the assistant to the deputy minister of Agriculture in the Polish government and an enthusiast of the political idealism of Poland’s dictator, Marshal Józef Piłsudzki, whose life time ambition had been the restoration of an intermariam Polish state in Europe stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and encompassing Ukraine and Lithuania, which did not—in Piłsudzki’s mind—exist for reasons beyond being a part of a Polish federation aimed against Moscow.

At this point, one would be within their rights to assert that my introduction of Mr. Giedroyc is unfair. To Poles, Mr. Giedroyc is without a doubt one of the most important intellectual figures of the twentieth century and introducing him as a petty agricultural official in the government of the Polish sanation dictatorship is rather unchivalrous. Indeed: Jerzy Giedroyc deserves a far better introduction, but given that those who are Mr. Giedroyc’s political opposites, such as Major Krzeczkowski, are ignored or refered to as homosexual communist soldiers rather than taken seriously, this uncharitable introduction of Mr. Giedroyc serves as a stark example of how ignoring the complexity of human characters in favor of simplistic political attacks diminishes all. Mr. Giedroyc was, of course, a principle force in Poland’s post-war émigré community, whose efforts in favor of Polish liberty are deeply honored by all. Yet Mr. Giedroyc was a very particular species of patriot, one who was a mirror image of the intermariam idealism of those surrounding him in pre-war Warsaw plotting the revival of the sixteenth century Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. So strong was Mr. Giedroyc’s attachment to the ideal of wrenching Ukraine, Bielorus, and Lithuania from the Russian world into the Polish world that even after World War II, Mr. Giedroyc penned the following thoughts in 1949:

“I simply wish to put forth a concrete problem that everyone seems to fear talking about, namely: a federation with Lithuania, and what of Vilnus, what of Ukraine? How to rectify this in light of the Treaty of Riga? Is the Treaty of Riga to be treated as a sacrament, or might we be able to have a calm discussion about the sensibility of the borders outlined in that treaty? Just asking this question is enough to be hated by my countrymen – and not only by émigrés I fear. But someone has got to do it.” [2]

This question typifies not only the severe extent of disattachment between Polish émigrés from their countrymen in 1949, but a broader disattachment from reality on the part of Mr. Giedroyc’s political allies in the II Republic who spent their time wondering how to broaden their rule over Ukrainians and Lithuanians without bothering to ask the Ukrainians or Lithuanians whether or not they would like to partake in the grand restoration of a sixteenth century commonwealth. While Mr. Giedroyc was busy in Paris wondering whether or not a treaty from 1921 was relevent to post-World War II Poland and whether Poland should form a federation with Ukraine, Poles like Major Krzeczkowski and Anna Kowalska who still lived in Poland were busy reeling from the Polish-Ukrainian war. That war, in which Polish forces fought remnants of Hitler’s Ukrainian allies to secure the eastern border agreed in Potsdam, happened to be fought with the help of Soviet Russia which, having compelled Poland to accept its new post-war borders, found itself forced to ally with Poland against those Ukrainians who still questioned it. In the years that followed, as Mr. Giedroyc continued, from the comforts of maisons laffitte to think about how to reconstruct a sixteenth century Polish-Lithuanian union encompassing the Ukraine, Henryk Krzeczkowski, having survived the horrors of the Eastern front, found himself working at the side of General Komar, famous for resisting Soviet threats to march against the anti-Stalinist Polish government of Gomułka. The General organized a defense of Warsaw against eventual Soviet attack, but Soviet Russia thankfully accepted the Gomułka government. Even the New York Herald Tribune commemorated the dramatic event with the over-optimistic headline “Poles sweep Stalinists from power, Gomułka heads freedom setup.” Poles in Poland, in contradistinction to émigrés, were somewhat preoccupied.

Naturally, Gomułka’s “freedom setup” was a long way from freedom, but to those Poles engaged in real politics and without the luxury of sitting around France dreaming up unions with Ukraine, Gomułka’s act of defiance was a political victory for those national patriots allied of necessity to Soviet Russia in order to secure a Polish state and determined to work within the geopolitical framework of the Yalta order in favor of Polish sovereignty. A precondition for the success of this political venture was the acceptance of the fact that the millions of Ukrainians and Lithuanians populating the Soviet republics of Ukraine and Lithuania had their own destinies to tend to and that Poland could no longer be identified by the romantic sentiments of Mickiewicz, whose famous ode to his beloved Poland begins “Lithuania: my fatherland!”, which in Lithuanian eyes no doubt reads somewhat like an imaginary German national ode along the lines of “Posen, mein Posen!” As Henryk Krzeczkowski wrote in 1975, in contrast to Mr. Giedroyc and his emigre endeavors in Paris:

“Following over half a century since Poland regained independence, it is not easy for newer generations who were growing up at the time or just born (the vast majority of our people fall into this category) to understand the consequences of the year 1918. Until 1918, ‘Poland’ existed in the minds of Poles within its pre-partition borders…The restoration of the Polish state after World War I did not only change geographic conscience…the borders established by the treaty of Riga made the Polish state into a nation-state, with a Polish majority—a state which, insofar as it has not yet become ethnographically Polish must become so through intelligent politics…This meant that it was necessary to bid farewell to a certain aspect of our emotional heritage while preserving its essence…”[3]

These are not the words of an armchair philosopher or a man whose knowledge of the Galicia region came from books. These are the thoughts of a child of the very region which was at the center of the Polish-Soviet war of 1918-1921. It is noteworthy that this war, made famous by the Polish repulsion of Bolshevik forces invading Warsaw in 1920, was started by Poland’s Józef Piłsudzki who, not content to have received a reborn Poland at Versailles because it did not correspond to XVI century Poland, set out to storm Kiev at the very moment when the Bolshevik Revolution had weakened the Russian state. Piłsudzki is often praised as an anti-Communist, but it is more accurate to describe him as anti-Russian. Were he an anti-Communist yearning to march against Bolshevism only, he would have done so as an ally of the Russian White Army. Naturally, Piłsudzki—Socialist Revolutionary—was not about to fight on the side of the Tsar. His contempt for Russia, including the Russian Orthodox faith, is well documented. It is not an accident that the last time Adolf Hitler attended Catholic mass in public was to pay homage to the deceased Józef Piłsudzki with whom he had hoped one day to march on Communist Moscow.

The insanity of the twentieth century is predicated on the combination of the political mentality of the various national-romantic-revolutionary strands popular on the Continent in the nineteenth century with the emergence of modern technological warfare, mass politics and the application of scientific positivism to murder thus bringing forth genocide. When we observe the genesis of the political philosophies of Hitler, Piłsudzki and Lenin we recognize a naive belief in the capacity of a scientific politics to effect the mythologies and fancies of bygone ages. In this equation, as Henryk Krzeczkowski wrote, “there is no room for Satan, and God exists as mere national mythology.” [4]

The Polish variant of twentieth century madness, minor on the world stage in comparison with Nazism and Communism, yet nevertheless lethal to Polish republicanism, was Piłsudzki’s Promethism. Mr. Gierdoyc is considered the principal post-war exponent of this ideology which has, in modern times, become the Giedroyc doctrine: the official foreign policy of the Polish state. In its mildest form, Promethianism is “merely” an endeavor to bring Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine into political federation on the basis of a historical claim by Warsaw to the lands stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In theory, insofar as it is the inalienable right of the people in a given territory to organize their own political affairs as the people see fit, there is nothing harmful about this doctrine provided that it remains a proposal—not a necessity fanatically pursued.

Proposals are, by nature, apt to be refused. It is therefore possible that the people of Ukraine and Lithuania may not desire a federation, and may even elect governments which pursue political courses contrary to Polisn foreign policy. It may happen that instead of federation with Poland, the Ukraine chooses closer ties with Moscow or to remain committed to neutrality. This was the general policy of the Yanukovich government, overthrown in last year’s coup. It was not the policy of Mr. Yanukovich’s predecessor, who favored greater integration with the European Union and thus by definition with Poland. It might not have been the policy of his successor were he removed from office by elections and not by revolution. Unfortunately, Promethism as an ideology presumes that those in the East who do not desire union with Poland or with the European Union are simply manipulated by Moscow. The entire ideology functions on a myth predicated upon the enduring yearning amongst generations of Poles for the restoration of a territorially broader kingdom in conjunction with real suffering on the part of those Poles left behind in Ukraine and Bielorus, as well as those who lost their homes and livelihoods due to resettlement. Yet to the people of Lvóv and the Galicia region, this yearning was rather foreign as they generally supported the political line of the Austro-Hungarian order which eventually led to their liberation from said order. As Henryk Krzeczkowski recalls of his birthplace:

“…those who became the adult population of Lvóv in the 1930s entered the age of Polish independence with a heritage quite different from that of the inhabitants of the other former partitions. In fact, the previous century in Galicia had been favorable to loyalism, although it was a loyalism quite distinct from the type peddled in the royal courts of Berlin or St. Petersburg. The basis of Galician loyalism was the regional autonomy enjoyed by its people which was a condition favorable to the development of national culture; there was a parliamentary system which made up an important portion of Polish political life. Finally, there was also a belief in Galicia that the new Polish state could be built upon the basis of rational and humanitarian principles. The people who were brought up in this kind of environment felt alienated whenever someone attempted to place them into the glass palaces of social utopias or the soft sentimentalism of national solidarity.” [5]

Anna Kowalska was politically closer to those advocates of rational and humanitarian principles who wished to attempt to construct socialist utopias than Mr. Krzeczkowski. Both of them, however, as former Galicians, shared a common heritage, religious inclination and commitment to realism which seemed to make for a good acquaintance. Henryk Krzeczkowski clearly admired Anna Kowalska’s work, while Mrs. Kowalska, though she considered Krzeczkowski a “puzzling fellow”, nevertheless underscored that compared to the creme de la creme of Polish intellectual life who passed through her home in post-war Warsaw, Henryk Krzeczkowski was the most interesting conversationalist and a gentleman. Anna Kowalska’s assessment of political affairs in Gruce likewise differed from Krzeczkowski’s view of the Galicia region in subtlety. As an essayist, Henryk Krzeczkowski believed that Polish comportment to the seventeenth century tribulations in the intermarium regions was key to modern Polish statecraft, that coming to terms with the irretrievable passing of the Commonwealth in favor of the modern Polish nation-state was a prerequisite to the capacity for conducting a sane eastern foreign policy. In contrast, Anna Kowalska’s book does not look quite so far ahead because it was written prior to the catastrophe of World War II which it presaged. The book’s scope and tenor is rather less directly partisan and more focused on presenting the life of Lvóv’s residents as they struggle to find themselves in the new reality of a sovereign Polish state as citizens, not subjects.

Chillingly, the very fact that Ukrainians are hovering in the background of the story, never really visible as Ukrainians, is a prelude to the awful reality to come. While Anna Kowalska’s diary records several Bolshevik atrocities in the city following Soviet occupation, it is her observation of Ukrainians that stands out as the most Cassandric passage in her diaries: “The Ukrainians—every last one of them—are yearning for Hitler to come. The Russians don’t seem to notice.” [6] The enthusiasm of the Ukrainians for Nazism is one of the most underrated aspects of the history of World War II. It is not visible in Gruce, but neither are the Ukrainians. The book, fittingly, is not about Polish-Ukrainian relations, but about the trials and tribulations of the citizens of Galicean Lvóv who have become members of a new Polish republic and are now left to govern themselves. In a way, the book is an examination of the effects of the application of Wilsonian ideals of the right of nations to self-determination. Its story is likely ignored because these details tend to blur the ideal, perhaps even introduce doubt as to whether or not it is worth blood and treasure. For when the reigns of government are grappled away from the strong who have become weak through hubris, they do not pass into the hands of the omniscient, but the imperfect, who will face the exact same problems as their predecessors. To eliminate a government is easy, to eliminate the problems governments face is not. This requires political thought. Anna Kowalska brilliantly summarizes the problem in Leon Gruca’s confession:

“The greatest regret of all my years as a man is this: That for a quarter of a century I lived thinking only of Poland, and all for what? To see a Poland reborn in which there is no thinking about her fate? We have created a state with no tongue. I fear our nation’s silence might be cruel. No, I have no ambition to govern: I wish merely to walk a path that ought to be wide enough to fit men like me between the swine and the sycophants of politics. I do not want a Polish people who, in the name of the Polish people, become sadists; dogs who would follow the tune of any Polish government. Such a people are trained to want Poland to exist and would not want Poland to exist if so ordered. They will bow before any government; Polish or not…if only there were no social inequality! But inequality is a fact, and if our state blesses inequality then how can we be equal citizens?”[7]

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. The first part of this series may be found here.

Notes:

[1] Kowalska, Anna Gruce: A Tale of a Lvov Family, pp.217-220

[2] Jerzy Giedroyc – Andrzej Bobkowski. Listy 1946-1961. Wybrał, opracował i wstępem opatrzył Jan Zieliński, Warszawa 1997, p. 76.

[3] Krzeczkowski, Henryk The Meaning of Survival (Sens Przetrwania)

[4] Krzeczkowski, Henryk Without Pathos (Bez Patosu)

[5] Krzeczkowski, Henryk Ominous Presentiments (Złe Przeczucia)

[6] Kowalska, Anna, Diaries

[7] Kowalska, Anna, Gruce, p.369

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2 replies to this post
  1. Poland, with its unique history and self-awareness, is a mirror in which we can see many things. Thank you for the information and insights. I especially was taken with the quotation at the end of the article.

  2. Madame,
    thank you. It has been my hope to illustrate Poland as something through which people might see more than Poles. Just as we reach for the ancient Greeks and Romans to learn something about ourselves, so too I think Poland can teach us something about the human condition if written about properly.

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