From the Editor

This issue attempts to sketch out some points of reference concerning Polish identity in the last two hundred years. A tall order. The figures on literary life before and during the partition period indicate vigorous intellectual activity at that time. The indices show the economic condition of writers, a factor all too often ignored in literary disputations. That broad intellectual activity several generations ago translates into a respectable number of institutions of higher education today. Polish demography today looks attractive by comparison to western Europe's. Poland still enjoys a small population growth and a favorable ratio of young to old people; it is also a country perhaps more unified in language and nationality than any other country in Europe, with the exception of the Scandinavian countries. In those days when Poland stretched farther to the east, its ethnic diversity arguably contributed to its political demise in 1795 and the ensuing disaster of political nonexistence in the nineteenth century.

Professor James R. Thompson contends that the people who made the fall of communism possible, the Polish industrial class, also bear the heaviest burden of restructuring. He argues that the model of restructuring advocated by Professor Jeffrey Sachs does not take into account the long-term interests of the nations which it ultimately impoverishes. Professor Jacek Koronacki states that the legacy of communist destruction is much heavier than we in the West are prepared to acknowledge, and that this is a burden the Poles will have to bear for years to come, while the West yawns. This burden is reflected in the tragic tone of Bronislaw Maj's poems. Danuta Z. Hutchins' review reflects another segment of "crowded-out" Polish history.

The Polish sense of humor helped to deal with the grimmest of times. Tomasz Bogus' "Humoreaters" is a delightful tale that reflects a willingness to laugh at oneself which typically develops in Catholic countries. This humoresque and Maj's poems have been most sensitively translated by Professors David Malcolm and Katarzyna Kietlinska.

Polish identity in the United States involves developing an attitude toward Polish Studies at American schools and universities. As the figures from the University of Illinois-Chicago indicate, these studies tend to be underfunded and understaffed. While Poles do not demand the treatment which Black Studies receive at American universities, they can and should demand a recognition of their social and cultural presence in America. One problem is that due to a variety of factors, many persons of Polish background do not act out their Polish identity. The statistics quoted by Dean Pula, to the effect that only one in twenty Polish Americans belongs to a Polish American organization, are surely alarming.

Unless a proclamation of one's ethnic identity is made, no gains for the community, hence the individuals, can be expected. Concentrating on ghetto-like celebrations, anniversaries, parties and other forms of zycie towarzyskie is deadly to Polish cultural interests. The ten or so million-strong Polish community in the United States has a lot of consciousness-raising to do.

The matter is complicated by the fact that confining Polish Studies to some exotic corner of the university does not solve the problem. They have to be incorporated into a university-wide study of history and literature. It is particularly important that matters of interest to Poles are afforded a variety of interpretations, rather than just the prevailing one. George Vernadsky's History of Russia (and similar works which have been major sources of views on eastern Europe for hundreds of thousands of American college students) describes the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939 as a "rectification of the western frontier."

University ways of doing things are often unfamiliar to persons outside academia, and thus Polish Americans generally live in blissful disregard of these larger issues that affect how they are viewed in American society and how prejudice against them may build up. They are easily persuaded that everything is dandy if university administrators pay lip service to Polish Studies while complaining of budgetary restrictions.

It must also be remembered that Polish identity plays out differently in Poland and in America. Here, it is American Polish, with American in the first place. But while this is non-negotiable, there is plenty of room in that second place to allow for soul-searching.

With these problems in mind we have begun an ongoing study of opinion concerning Polish Studies. Three comments by academics involved in the teaching of Polish subjects: Professors Blejwas, Pula and Wrobel, are published in this issue.

We thank Mr. Zbigniew Herbert for permission to reproduce the cover of Hermes, pies i gwiazda on our title page.

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The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 10/20/97