From the Editor

The unresolved problem of the relationship between official "American" culture and white American ethnics looms in the background of this issue.

Professor Harold B. Segel's incisive article shows how a leading Slavic Department in the United States crumbled under the weight of what to us appears to be Cold War conventional wisdom, which said that only Russian language and literature matter. This view belongs with the discredited "Sonnenfeldt proposal," or the idea that Central and Eastern Europe merge with Russia and eventually disappear as distinct political and cultural entities. As Professor Joseph Rothschild said in a recent book, East Central Europe's "return to diversity" after 1989 mirrors similar earlier developments in Western Europe. This diversity should be properly acknowledged by Slavic and History Departments at American universities. It is not. At present at these universities, the peoples of East Central Europe, and their descendants in America, have very little say. At universities, lectures and discussions about East Central European problems routinely feature people who speak no East Central European language and who acquired their knowledge from English or Russian sources. Such persons pontificate on Eastern and Central European past, present and future, thus denying the peoples of the region the privilege of self-definition commonly accorded to, say, American blacks. Without articulating their own case, East Central Europeans can hardly hope to reintegrate with Western Europe as their natural cultural home. At leading northeastern universities, the achievements of Oskar Halecki, Ludwik Krzycanowski, Manfred Kridl, Wiktor Weintraub and other pioneers of East Central European studies are quietly being consigned to oblivion, with not a squeak from the intellectuals of Central and Eastern European background, or the organizations whose headquarters are located in the area. Our American culture has become lobby-ridden, a fact which Polish American intellectuals have chosen to ignore, perhaps out of fear that noticing it might interfere with their good opinion of themselves and with their place as "politically correct" academics. As this editor sees it, one should work in two directions: toward restoring a sense of fairness in social life, and toward regaining representation at American universities.

What are the one, two, three, five, ten-year plans of Polish American intellectuals and leaders? Maintaining the status quo, i.e., regular meetings, balls, lectures, "spotkania" and other occasions to socialize, the dispatching of self-congratulatory newsletters and ephemeral publications—all this amounts to dreptanie w miejscu. If a post-Soviet commissar were trying to stop Polonia from achieving anything, promoting this sort of thing would be the way to go.

This dreptanie also resembles what G.B. Shaw, once a member of the Fabian Society, self-mockingly wrote about one of its conferences: "It achieved the great success of obtaining a notice in the Times... it made us known to the Radical clubs, and proved that we were able to manage a conference in a business-like way. It also showed off our pretty prospectus, with the design by Crane at the top, our stylish-looking blood-red invitation cards, and the other little smartnesses on which we then prided ourselves."

We warmly recommend Professor John J. Bukowczyk's essay on Polish American activist Clara Swieczkowska. Bukowczyk is perhaps the finest living historian of the Polish-American experience. He rightly says that while the leadership of Polish organizations has invariably rested in the hands of men, the daily work of maintaining ethnic identity in the American setting has been performed by Polish American women. As is often the case in endangered communities, women rather than men have been the means of last resort in maintaining cultural institutions, imparting the rudiments of ancestral languages, helping needy co-ethnics, buying books by East Central European authors.

In a timely article, Yale graduate student Paul Saydak speaks of his encounters with Polish-American problems. Since the people of his generation will eventually take over the leadership of Polish organizations, what he says deserves careful reflection.

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The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 12/20/96