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    Paradoksy paryskiej "Kultury" Styl i tradycje myślenia poliycznego

Maciej Urbanowski

By Janusz Korek. 3rd revised edition. Katowice: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Âlàskiego (, 2008. 550 pages. Index, bibliography. ISBN 978-83-226-2667-3. Hardcover. In Polish. Zl. 75

The Polish émigré monthly Kultura (1947-2000)
has already been discussed in many valuable studies, such as those by Andrzej Mencwel, Rafal Habielski, Krzysztof Pomian, Iwona Hoffman, Leszek Szaruga, and Andrzej Stanisław Kowalczyk. Korek’s book stands out against this background as a remarkably original work. In the present-day cultural life of Poland, Kultura has cultivated a legendary reputation that is conducive to uncritical affirmation and simplification of its varied content. Virtually everyone invokes Kultura and draws on its authority, including the former communists. Yet in Soviet-occupied Poland, Kultura was forbidden fare and its distribution was criminally prosecuted. The reduction of Kultura’s contribution to a few banal truths is particularly painful in view of the fact that this monthly battled intellectual banalities and tried to teach its readers critical attitudes toward the world. A few months ago publicist Rafał Ziemkiewicz wrote that Kultura’s editor, Jerzy Giedroyç, has recently stretched out on the Procrustean bed of political correctness to fit the current Polish pantheon, and that this process squeezed originality out of him (Rzeczpospolita, Plus Minus, no. 16, 2009). This is true of his periodical as well: Kultura is usually invoked for a political purpose. A similar comment was made by historian Andrzej Nowak, who observed in his essay on Giedroyç that “Giedroyç’s legacy is by no means as one-dimensional as some of his admirers and adversaries maintain.”

Korek’s book shows an awareness of these issues. It stresses the fact that Kultura created “a new school of political thinking and a new kind of Polishness, free of complexes and provincial blindness, and open to Europe and the world” (13). In Korek’s view, the journal also provided “a rare example of an enterprise that has achieved its goals.” That does not mean that Korek engages in some sort of hagiography. He convincingly abolishes the myth that Kultura was a leftist periodical or that it “officially renounced” Polish claims to Vilnius or Lviv. Korek also reminds us of Juliusz Mieroszewski’s 1954 opinion about the possible curbing down of democracy in Western Europe (114).

Jan Ulatowski wrote that distancing oneself from politics is a sign of the country’s decadence.

Korek is interested in the style and traditions of the “political thinking” developed by the periodical. He rightly reminds us that Kultura was primarily a political enterprise. Giedroyç and some of his collaborators wanted it to be so; others would have preferred that the monthly become a literary journal. Among the latter was Czesław Młosz, who in his letters repeatedly tried to persuade Giedroyç to change the periodical’s profile: “The publicity and successes of various political scoops are secondary, they are like foam that resolves into nothing.” He failed to persuade Giedroyç, for whom politics was raison d’être and who saw in the periodical “the best available form of political activity [on Poland’s behalf]” (from a 1953 letter to Juliusz Mieroszewski). Giedroyç did not see Kultura as a literary magazine even though he published some of the best Polish writers of the twentieth century: Witold Gombrowicz, Czesław Młosz,ławomir MroÏek, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Andrzej Bobkowski, and Kazimierz Wierzyński. He treated the literary aspect of his magazine as marginal. It did attract readers among the Polish intelligentsia who were deemed to be a major political force and whose thinking he wanted to reform. As Jan Ulatowski wrote, distancing oneself from politics is a sign of the country’s decadence, and Giedroyç was certainly of that opinion.

In practice, it is hard to separate politics from literature in Kultura. Writers such as Miłosz, Bobkowski, or MroÏek published their political texts in the magazine, while Mieroszewski’s or Leszek Kołakowski’s political writings were often literary masterpieces. One of Kultura’s paradoxes was the fact that while preaching realism in politics, it succeeded in practicing imaginative politics, and its speculations created various scenarios for the future. Some people criticized Kultura for the range of its vision, claiming that it created a “literary” version of politics. In 1970 Wojciech Wasiutyński dubbed Mieroszewski’s speculations “fantasiology” because Mieroszewski’s theories of what Poland could become largely ignored the Catholic Church and the Polish countryside.

Trivializing the role of the Church and the presence of the Polish village in history indeed weakened the realism of Kultura’s political debates. Korek points out other mistakes the journal has made: it offered support to Władyław Gołka’s policies in the 1950s, it erroneously assessed Moscow’s and Washington’s positions in the early 1950s (134-35), and in 1955 it advanced the utopian idea that Germany could become a neutral and nonaligned country. But Kultura’s numerous successes balanced these mistakes. Kultura wished to be a think tank, a place where ideas were put into circulation and where politics was as important as theories about politics. Its mosaic-like character accounts for both its occasional inconsistencies and for its originality.

Such is Korek’s conclusion. He painstakingly analyzes political texts published in the journal between 1947-1980, i.e., since the journal’s creation until the year when its chief political publicist, Mieroszewski, died. Starting with that date, Korek contends, the periodical began to lose steam and resorted to repetition of previously-advanced ideas. He also pays attention to the more ephemeral contributors, such as Melchior Wańkowicz, Ryszard Wraga, Jan Ulatowski, Klaudiusz Hrabyk, James Burnham, and Alfred Fabre-Luce. In Korek’s view, they collectively created the journal’s discourse. This discourse consisted of various “ideologems” (ideologemy) derived from a range of discourses: anticommunist, catastrophic, leftist, rationalist, liberal, paneuropean, libertarian. Such a syncretic and poliphonic mosaic was of necessity dynamic and open; it was not an acculumation of ideologems or a way of reducing them to trivialities. One was free to return to the positions previously declared to be obsolete. The Kultura mosaic was like a crossworld puzzle whose goal, upon completion, was to create a map of political thinking that would lead to the freeing of Poland from Soviet domination.

Korek distinguishes three periods in Kultura’s political discourse based on the prevalence of pro-Western or pro-Eastern orientation and the favoring of pro-American, pro-European, or pro-German option. The first (1947-50) was characterized by a search for new ideologies, a catastrophic and anticommunist tone, and pro-Western and pro-American orientation. The second (1950-1975) was dominated by Juliusz Mieroszewski’s political vision: the dominant discourse is oriented toward liberty, federalism, and the left, at the expense of anticommunist discourse that dominated in the first period. It was then that Kultura became “a piece of music for two pianos”; depending on the political situation it reoriented itself now toward the West, now toward the East. The third and final period which lasted until Mieroszewski’s death reinforced the political program Kultura had worked out earlier. At that time Kultura also became a tribune for the Polish opposition and a receptacle for political documentation of the Polish struggle for freedom.

Thus Giedroyç’s journal was dynamic, nonideological, and antidogmatic. Giedroyç’s leading idea was that in politics, the most important thing is to remain close to reality and try to correct what needs to be corrected while not disturbing the reality’s rhythms. Giedroyç believed that the traditional Polish political ideologies had outlived their time. This kind of thinking was not unique to Giedroyç: many Poles born around 1910 shared it. They sought “the third way” and rejected both the traditional Right and the traditional Left. Thus Kultura writers regarded themselves not as rightist or leftist, conservative or progressive, but rather as liberal or libertarian.

While trying to update Polish political thinking, the journal did not cut itself off from the past. While declaring its dislike of Polonocentrism, nationalism, and National Democracy, it availed itself of the insights of National Democracy’s Realpolitik, especially of its critical attitude toward Polish political romanticism. The critiques of political moralism sometimes appeared side by side with what can be called paramessianism, or the belief that Poland has a role to fulfill in Central and Eastern Europe, and that Polish political emigration is tasked with reminding the West about the idea of liberty (192). One of the key concepts of Giedroyc’s journal was federalism, or the idea that there can be no independent Poland without independent Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus. This somewhat resembled Józef Piłsudski’s idea of federalism and it carried echoes of the First Republic (1569-1795), albeit modernized and adjusted to twentieth-century realities.

Thus Kultura has many roots, and it was a melting pot of many ideologems. In the 1960s Kultura began to participate in anticolonial discourse, using the intellectual tools created to liberate Africa and Asia to argue for liberation of Central and Eastern Europe. Korek soberly notes that Giedroyc’s colleagues were well aware of the fact that not only the USSR but also the West looked at the countries between Germany and Russia as areas ripe for ideological colonization. In both cases the goal was to homogenize Europe ideologically. This idea was alien to Kultura’s writers. They knew full well what any homogenization recipe would mean.

Giedroyç and his small team of intellectuals had one ultimate goal: Polish sovereignty and democracy. This was the political absolute of the entire team. Another constant was a vision of geopolitics partly derived from Halford Mackinder’s view about the key role of Central Europe in world politics, and partly oscillating around the idea that the fate of Poland would be determined by her relations with the two neighboring megapowers, Germany and Russia. The Kultura people imagined that Poland was a country that belonged to the the West and to the East, and that it was not so much the rampart of the West as a bridge between East and West. Giedroyç and his team also believed that the West was in a state of crisis. Finally, Giedroyç’s team believed that Polishness needed updating, and that a new “status of being Polish in the world” needed to be achieved.

It is too bad that Korek’s analyses stop with 1980. It would be most interesting to trace the changes in Kultura’s political thinking over the subsequent twenty years. It should be remembered, if only as a warning to politicians, that Giedroyç condemned the Round Table, criticized Lech Wałęsa, supported Aleksander Kwaśniewski, and after quarreling with Herling-Grudziński permitted people like Krzysztof Wolicki and Tomasz Jastrun to write for his iconic journal. Was this an example of “following in the footsteps of reality” or lagging hopelessly in the past?

Korek’s book invites readers to reflect on Kultura’s political legacy. How much of it has remained with us? Probably quite a bit, for instance, attempts to see Polish problems in geopolitical and global perspective, taking all options into account, and most of all, remembering that politics involves thinking. As the recently-deceased Leszek Kołakowski once wrote in Kultura, it is better to make mistakes in one’s political thinking than not to think at all. Δ

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