On March 12, 1999, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary were admitted to NATO. After two hundred years of partitions, uprisings, wars, destruction, colonialism, foreign occupation, fear, brief independence - a period of peace and political security is finally in sight. Poles, Czechs and Hungarians think of themselves as returning to the Western fold. For them, March 12, 1999 symbolizes a return to normalcy. They can now engage in domesticity and bickering in their parliaments over issues of policy, economy and the ways to fix things.
Barring unforeseen circumstances such as a major economic crash in Europe, the anchoring of East Central European security in NATO foretells a happy period for the countries involved. Fifty years after NATO had been created, the three Central European nations finally have a cause to celebrate.
Maria Dabrowska's novel Nights and Days (Noce i dnie, 1932-34) is in many ways an icon of Polish traditions. The Niechcices and the Ostrzenskis are ordinary and imperfect people who tried to carve out for themselves a semblance of normalcy in an area of the world coveted by colonialist powers. Owing to these circumstances, the Polish petty nobility failed: the novel ends with the outbreak of World War I and the loss of all property by the already-impoverished Mrs. Barbara Niechcic. The loss of property to fire and sword has been monotonously common in Polish history, and its effects on the fabric of society have not been studied. In 1939, people like the Niechcices and the Ostrzenskis became for the Soviets the symbols of 'gentlemen's Poland' (panskaia Polsha, an expression routinely used in the Soviet press of 1939-1941) that had to be destroyed at any price. Why? Obviously there is more here than meets the eye.
We are pleased to offer the first-ever translation into English of the beginning of this family saga. It would make us even happier if this fragment led one of our readers to translate the entire novel. Dabrowska's text conveys a part of the repressed history of Central Europe American academia is unfamiliar with. It is also a wonderful read, comparable to the Victorian texts which likewise envelop the world in comforting categories and explanations. But unlike the Victorian novelists, Dabrowska presents a world that is well ordered in spite of attempts to introduce chaos and disorder into it. Perhaps the crux of the matter lies here: the Soviets and the Nazis tried to destroy this kind of ordering of society. It was not just a matter of killing off the Poles and Jews physically. They had to be killed spiritually and intellectually, so to speak.
This issue's ride across Polish literature takes us to a period of Polish history innocent of reflections such as those occasioned by Dabrowska's epic. Professor Piotr Wilczek's essay on religious debates in Jagiellonian and post-Jagiellonian Poland demonstrates not only the forms which the pre-modern religious tolerance took in Poland, but also is a contribution to Reformation studies in Europe. Wilczek's essay cautions us not to employ categories of thinking appropriate for our own time in assessing a history of another period.
These relatively serene horizons are crossed by a book that seems to belong to the fin-de-siecle decadence rather than to the world of Maria Dabrowska's heroes. Yet its heroine lived at approximately the same period of time as Dabrowska herself. She was Stanislaw Przybyszewski's daughter, a person of considerable talent (she wrote the play Danton on which Andrzej Wajda based his famous movie), a drug addict and a near-suicide, and her story is also a part of Polish reality. Last but not least, the best history of interwar Poland by Richard M. Watt is here ably reviewed by Professor John J. Kulczycki.
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The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 4/23/99