From the Editor
This issue is devoted to the place of Poles and other central and east European minorities in the American mainstream. Briefly put, it seems that in the present cultural climate at American schools and universities, in order to enter mainstream America it is necessary for these minorities to change their names - say from Kowalski to Smith - to carefully erase from memory any awareness of their beliefs, memories, customs and interests; and to go wherever the leaders of their respective professions tell them to go. The trouble is, the leaders all too often have been wrong, and it can be argued that they have sometimes advocated policies that are neither in America’s interest nor in the interest of the east European ethnics.
East Europeans are sometimes enjoined to forget about the word "interest." It is supposed to be taboo; the only thing that matters is "the new world order" in which everybody will be treated in a nondiscriminatory manner. But the east Europeans cannot help noticing that noble slogans seem not to apply to them, that they keep being discriminated against by the very people who shout loudest about "equal rights." As Mr. Artur Zygmont recently pointed out, in October 1990 there was only one high-ranking policeman of Polish descent on the entire Chicago police force of 12,000. This in a city where 1 million Americans of Polish descent reside! Those who tell us that we as scholars should not be concerned with such matters are leading us astray. Both the minority and majority intellectuals in this country are vitally concerned with such matters, and they express these concerns in scholarly periodicals and in journals of opinion. To promote "group interest" is legitimate as long as it is not done at the expense of any other legitimate group in society.
When Americans of Polish background begin to notice their own "group interest," they are told by some that such realization is un-American. Yet Polish Americans have amply paid their dues to America. They may not have produced their share of lawyers and their furniture may be of the Montgomery Ward variety, but it is generally paid for, and they are not waiting for the government to pick up the bill. Not to speak of the fact that the United States support for Poland is virtually nil, financially speaking (see Henry Kissinger's remarks to that effect in the September 1992 issue of the SR).
Let us illustrate this problem of group interest by discussing Professor Robert V. Daniels' presidential address given November 20, 1992 at the AAASS Convention in Phoenix, Arizona (The AAASS Newsletter, January 1993, published it in an abridged form). Professor Daniels acknowledges "shrinking enrollments" in Slavics, but does not propose to change the AAASS strategy from concentrating on Soviet/Russian subjects to a new emphasis on the diversity of Slavic cultures. The central and east European countries have indirectly provided a large chunk of present AAASS membership (in particular, the descendants of immigrants from Poland form a substantial percentage of AAASS members), yet they have been reduced to a token presence in the Association. Professor Daniels bemoans the fact that in the United States Information Agency, "Eastern Europe has been separated from the Soviet realm and amalgamated with Western Europe for research purposes." Since eastern Europe has received scant attention from the AAASS, why be disturbed by the prospect of east European studies being picked up by those institutions which are willing to do so?
Another paragraph attracted our attention. Let us quote it at length before commenting upon it:
The new intellectual fashion, as I see it, assumes that the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union can solve all their current difficulties by transforming themselves into clones of the USA. There is a note of irony in this, when the West is agonizing everywhere over the effectiveness of its own political and economic institutions. Eastern reform substitutes a Western ideology that a hundred years ago Friedrich Engels called "false consciousness," for the Marxism that has been the false consciousness of the East.
This statement breathes a less-than-friendly attitude toward Western "political and economic institutions." Unhappiness with Western institutions is evident primarily in the American academy rather than among millions of ordinary Americans, including Americans of Polish background. It is disappointing that the president of the foremost Slavic scholarly association in this country equates "Western ideology" (his choice of term) with the Marxist concept of "false consciousness." No wonder the entire speech is imbued with melancholy. Professor Daniels seems to be unhappy with the fact that the Marxist empire has imploded and "Western ideology" has won.
Also, it is disappointing that the president of an Association which is supposed to promote Slavic studies in this country is so little acquainted with the national traditions and history of the east European countries (as well as those of the former USSR) to impute to them the desire of becoming "clones of the USA."
The vision of America presented in Professor Daniels' speech is not in the "interest" of Americans of Polish background, or of any other background. As a group, Americans of Polish descent do not question American values and what America stands for. They do not agonize over "Western ideology," and they do not equate it with "false consciousness." Most Polish Americans, it seems to us, abhor this post-Marxist lingo and wish to dissociate themselves from it. Need we remind ourselves that Poland was in the forefront of the fight against the ideology of which the concept of "false consciousness" is part?
Professor Thomas Gladsky's article is an important contribution to the soul-searching of Americans of Polish background. Gladsky points out that Poles in America have been defined largely by non-Poles, and that their agenda has been suggested to them from the outside. This is partly due to a failure of Polish Americans to produce and support a sufficient number of writers to tell the world about their experience and their agenda. While one cannot but agree with this assessment, it begs the question of what makes Poles Polish, in America and elsewhere (it goes without saying that the Polish Americans' political allegiance is to the USA and not to Poland). It is not the language or the kielbasa that makes Poles Polish; most Polish Americans do not speak Polish, nor do they have to, in our opinion. What defines them as Polish is MEMORY. Just as Americans of English origin feel that Shakespeare and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 are part of their heritage, so do the Polish Americans incorporate the defining cultural memories of Poland into their repertoire of Americanism. What are these memories? They include the three great uprisings, of 1830, 1863, and 1944, which provide the model (however hotly debated) for the Polish struggle against tyranny in the name of the same ideals which define Western civilization. To these memories belongs the seventeenth-century Sarmatism, so brilliantly beautified by Henryk Sienkiewicz in his Trilogy, and the uniquely Polish experience conveyed by sixteenth-century poets Jan Kochanowski and Mikolaj Sep-Szarzynski who combined Renaissance gracefulness with the deep piety of the Middle Ages. To these memories belong the exhortations of the sixteenth-century Jesuit Piotr Skarga who in his Sermons chastised Poles for their shortcomings; the 3 May 1791 Constitution, Pilsudski's Legion and the building of the port of Gdynia under the Second Polish Republic. The canon of Jewish memories to be incorporated into the memory of nonJewish Poles is still very much open to debate. The failure of Americans of Polish background consists in not transforming their Americanism with the help of these defining memories. Few of the writers Gladsky deals with in his article show any significant awareness of these historical memories, and that is partly why the bonding between them and the Polish American rank-and-file did not occur.
An awareness of these problems has motivated Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski's efforts to bring the cultural memories of Poland to Americans of Polish background. Hence the Atlas, reviewed in this issue by Professor Alexander Gella. This review can be called, after Jean-Paul Sartre, a revue engagee. Gella is interested in the book's context, and its usefulness to Americans of Polish and nonPolish extraction. What is the place of this book among the hundreds of books about eastern Europe published each year, he asks. We welcome his concerns.
While such problems occupy the American Polish academic community, in Poland the legislature travels the bumpy road to a new constitution. Professor Rett Ludwikowski's article details this journey.
Professor Peter Mieszkowski's review outlines the steps toward the market economy taken by Poland so far. Poland's successes and failures in that regard are presented here with exceptional lucidity.
In LETTERS, Martin Lawera cogently points out that in politics, it is not enough to believe that you are in the right; you still have to convince the electorate that you are in the right, one person at a time. He rightly says that Polish conservatives do not have a strategy to do so, nor do they think in terms of strategy.