BOOKS Books and Periodicals Received
Vol. XX, No. 3
Adversities of Autonomy: Bank Krajowy Królestwa Galicyi i Lodomeryi and the Politics of Credit in Galicia, 1870-1913, by Marc Ben-Joseph. Kraków. Jagiellonian University Press (ul. Grodzka 26, II p., 31-044 Kraków, email: firstname.lastname@example.org). 1999. 131 pages. Maps, tables, index. Paper.
The book details the genesis and fate of a bank in Kraków founded by the anti-Romantic activists of Polish positivism who, as the author rightly points out, owed more to Herbert Spencer than to Auguste Comte. In nineteenth-century Galicia (which consisted of today's western Ukraine and southern Poland), Poles comprised 40-50 percent of the population, Jews ten percent, and Ruthenians 40-50 percent. The area was largely rural and, by rural standards, overpopulated. The 1773 census indicated that it had 2.3 million inhabitants, whereas in 1836 the population grew to 4.4 million. Galicia's inhabitants produced several times less per head than the remainder of the Austrian empire. Industry consisted of linen, wool, iron and glass factories. Of the one million farms, 42 percent had less than five acres of land. Only 20 percent were economically viable. Subsistence farming was the rule. Emigration to America was one way out: 67 percent of total emigration from the Austrian Empire came from Galicia. Among the emigrants, 60 percent were Poles, 25 percent Ruthenians, and 15 percent Jews. Later, 25 percent of Galicia's population came to depend on income sent from abroad by relatives who had emigrated.
Before the Charter of Bank Krajowy was confirmed by the Land Parliament in 1882, there had been no public credit system in Galicia. Loans could be obtained from rich landowners, from individual Jews or from the Kahal, or administrative organ of the local Jewish community. The interest sometimes amounted to 500 percent per year. As late as the second half of the nineteenth century, interest ranged from 43 percent to 160 percent. The illiterate peasants did not know what they were signing, and often lost all their possessions when taking up a loan meant to fend off starvation until the next harvest. Usury court cases were common: from 1880 to 1889, 506 individuals were convicted of usury in Galicia, among them 75 landowners, with the remainder predominantly Jewish.
The Bank came to existence largely because of the efforts of Mikolaj Zyblikiewicz, the mayor of Kraków. It was initially capitalized by a Land Loan. Its stated goal was to lend to municipalities and villages, rather than to individual farmers who were too impecunious to be able to repay a substantial loan. As time went on, loans to municipalities far surpassed the loans made to rural communities. Interest ranged between five and 12 percent. The staff consisted of 159 employees, not counting janitors and porters. The number of loans grew rapidly, and the Bank began to make a profit. In addition to helping the impecunious and promoting Galicia's economic development, the Bank was instrumental in creating a middle class in Galicia. But try as it might, Bank Krajowy did not solve all the problems. The issue of cheap credit remained largely unsolved, the number of loans made to small farmers was insufficient, and peasant hunger for land was not satisfied.
The book abounds in little revisionist pearls: Maria-Theresa's tears allegedly shed during the partitions of Poland might have had more to do with her apprehension about taking over a poor area of Europe than with sympathy for the Polish cause.
Poles need more such books. While books dealing with ideas and social happenings in Polish lands are relatively plentiful, the figures- and statistics-oriented works about Polish history are rare. Poles know next to nothing about the European banking system in the eighteenth century and about the financial deals related to the partitions of Poland. Nineteenth-century financial developments are likewise a closed book to persons otherwise literate in Polish affairs. While reading this book--and I am not a specialist in the subject--I noted with melancholy that among hundreds of books on Polish history I have read or perused, none has given me an inkling of the problems which Mr. Marc Ben-Joseph's book addresses. The author deserves much praise for directing Polish eyes into areas where they seldom gaze. (sb)
Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 215. Twentieth-Century Eastern European Writers, First Series. Series Editor: Steven Serafin.Detroit. The Gale Group. 1999. 479 pages. Hardcover.
The 215th volume of the Dictionary is devoted to twentieth-century Czech, Hungarian (including Transylvanian), Polish and Slovak writers. It is only the fifth volume (out of over two hundred) that deals with the literatures of Slavic and other East and Central European peoples (the other four were devoted to the South Slavic and Russian writers). The Polish section (edited by Bogdan Czaykowski) contains critical and biographical entries on fourteen twentieth-century Polish writers: Jerzy Andrzejewski (written by Stanislaw Eile), Waclaw Berent (Joachim Baer), Tadeusz Borowski (John R. Carpenter), Maria Dabrowska (Bozena Karwowska), Witold Gombrowicz (Stanislaw Baranczak) Waclaw Iwaniuk (Elwira M. Grossman), Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (Wladimir Krysinski), Maria Kuncewicz (Magdalena J. Zaborowska), Boleslaw Lesmian (Andrzej Busza and Bogdan Czaykowski), Czeslaw Milosz (Bogdan Czaykowski), Zofia Nalkowska (Hanna Kirchner), Teodor Parnicki (Wojciech Skalmowski), Bruno Schulz (Bozena Shallcross), and Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Daniel Gerould). Altogether, Polish entries comprise 121 pages. In his general introduction, Steven Serafin describes the literary tradition of Poland as representing "a diversified history of extraordinary importance within Eastern European literature." In addition to biographical information, critical presentation and synthesis of a given writer's work, each entry contains primary and secondary bibliographies, as well as illustrations.
The least substantial of the other three literatures is the section devoted to Slovak literature, edited by Norma L. Rudinsky and Branislaw Hochel. It comprises entries for seven twentieth-century Slovak writers, including Jozef Ciger Hronsky i Laco Novomesky. The Czech section, edited by Jan Culik, comprises fourteen writers, including entries for Karel Capek, Jaroslaw Hasek, Vladimir Holan and Jaroslav Seifert. The section on Hungarian literature, edited by István Dobos, comprises entries for sixteen writers, including Endre Ady, Gyula Illyés, Attila József, Geörgy Lukács, and Miklós Radnóti. It is interesting to note that no woman writer is included in the Czech section, and only one woman writer each in the Hungarian and Slovak sections. Another contrast that may be noted is the fact that almost all the entries for Czech, Hungarian and Slovak writers were written by specialists in their respective countries, whereas the authors of thirteen of the fourteen Polish entries hold positions at Western universities.
The volume is highly recommended as an attempt to present the state-of-the-art knowledge of major twentieth-century Central and Eastern European authors to the English-speaking scholarly community and general readership. In preparation are further volumes of the Dictionary dealing with Central and Eastern European literatures; for example, as regards Polish literature, volume 217 will comprise entries on several prominent postwar writers, including Baranczak, Czerniawski, Herbert, Konwicki, Mrozek and Szymborska. (Bogdan Czaykowski)
Language of Mules, by John Guzlowski. Charleston, Illinois: DP Press. 1999. 31 pages. Paper.
A book of remarkable poems about experiences of Polish Displaced Persons in World War II. The author's parents came to America in 1951, having gone through the usual gamut of suffering and assaults on human dignity. The titles of poems conjure up the atmosphere of dispossession: Cattle Train to Magdeburg, A Cross of Polish Wood, Prayers of a Displaced Person, A Good Death, Unmarked Graves, Katyn. The author teaches English at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.
Yearbook of Polish Foreign Policy: 1999, edited by Barbara Wizimirska. Warsaw. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (al. Szucha 23, 00-580 Warsaw). 1999. 340 pages. ISSN 1233-9903. Paper.
Although the editorial note says that "the views expressed here are solely those of the authors," the official Polish horizons are amply represented. Several dozen authors sketch out Poland's relations with her neighbors, multilateral cooperation, NATO, and Polish foreign policy priorities. Predictably, the most interesting sections deal with Germany (by Urszula Pallasz) and Russia (by Artur Michalski). Zdzislaw Najder, one of Poland's foremost political analysts, presents Polish options in a separate article.
CNN's Cold War Documentary: Issues and Controversy,edited by Arnold Beichman. Foreword by John Raisian. Stanford, CA. Hoover Institution Press (Stanford, CA 94305). 2000. xiv + 173 pages. Paper.
A much-needed corrective to CNN's lengthy documentary on Cold War history. Critics have charged that the series was an attempt to find "equivalencies" on both sides of that war: the Soviets were dishonest, but so were we; they had their spies, but so did we; they suppressed free speech, but so did we (the McCarthy episode). Such equivalencies amount to saying that heaven and hell are similar in that neither of them is democratic. While life in Western democracies was not exactly heaven, life under communism was surely hell, as virtually all but the most privileged inhabitants of the formerly communist countries have testified countless times.
The book contains essays arguing against the CNN series (Commentary's Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote a compelling one), and self-defense essays by those who crafted and conducted the series: historian John Lewis Gaddis and Sir Jeremy Isaacs. Arnold Beichman's excellent essay on "Ted's Reds" rightly discredits the much-accepted view that the Stalin- Hitler Pact of 23 August 1939 was signed by the Soviets to gain time to prepare for a war with Germany. Beichman points out that "Stalin did everything he could to strengthen Hitler right up to the very June 1941 day of the Nazi invasion." (p. 101) Richard Pipes's "The Cold War: CNN's Version" points out that the CNN production did not even mention the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1920, and it barely mentioned the Stalin-Hitler Pact of August 1939, attributing it to "Stalin's alleged suspicion of France and Britain" (p. 47).
This reviewer would like to add that in accordance with the anti-Catholicism (and the ensuing anti-Polonism) so often apparent in Ted Turner's enterprises, the series minimized the role of the Polish labor union Solidarnosc. Yet Solidarnosc was the first--and the last--genuine mass movement opposing Soviet totalitarianism. Books such as Lawrence Goodwyn's Breaking the Barrier (Oxford, 1991) definitively demonstrated the Polish workers' role in defeating totalitarianism. Goodwyn's book was strangely "forgotten," while the CNN series, as well as the hundreds of books about the fall of communism that have since appeared, "elbow out" Solidarnosc as a crucial factor in the fall of communism.
We welcome Beichman's book as a notable contribution to keeping the record straight.
Opadanie czasu: modlitwy i przypowiesci [the descent of time: prayers and parables], by Wieslaw Janusz Mikulski. Ostroleka, Poland. Ostrolecki Osrodek Kultury. 2000. ISBN 83-85867-19-8.174 pages. Hardcover. In Polish.
Poems by a typically Polish poet of middlebrow horizons.
Eat Smart in Poland: How to Decipher the Menu, Know the Market Foods and Embark on a Tasting Adventure, by Joan and David Peterson. Madison, WI. Gingko Press (P.O. Box 5346, Madison, WI 53705). 2000. Index, bibliography. 142 pages. Paper. $12.95.
This is neither a travel book nor a cookbook but a clever combination of general and cooking history in Poland, with names of foods most Poles never heard about. We are taking restaurant food, of course: the book is a useful guide to Polish restaurants. A pleasant and pleasing paperback.