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political world

Poland--old and new

jan peczkis|Thursday, November 24, 2011

This book begins with a good description of Polish tales, such as the ones surrounding the Krak, Wanda, Popiel, etc. It affords a broad sweep of Polish history.

Consider the late 1700's. Although Poland's enemies were soon to erase her from the map of Europe, the Poles put belated major internal reforms into practice. Did you know, for instance, that the Poles virtually invented systematic public schooling? The author writes: "The first ministry of public education in the world was created in Poland in 1773." (p. 36)

Poland--old and new        

Statkowski assessed the famous 1791 Polish Constitution by the following statements of the long quote that constitutes the entire next paragraph:

(It)...was the first liberal constitution in Europe, preceding the French Constitution by several months. And while the latter came into being at the price of rivers of blood..., the Polish revolution...was purely a moral and constitutional change, a bloodless revolution which converted anarchy and impotence into strength and good government based on social justice...was not guided by hatred, revengefulness and passions, inciting one class of the population against another, but by the demands of the conscience of the nation. The voluntary renunciation of privileges, the creative spirit and political wisdom which animated the creators of the Constitution...was a proof of the inexhaustible vitality of the Polish nation. The Polish Constitution was a noble protest of a great nation against the hypocrisy of their enemies, who tried to justify their act of international banditry, the partition of Poland, by the false accusation that Poland was incapable of self-government. (pp. 37-38).

The author describes the reaction of the British towards the new Constitution, a reaction that unfortunately translated into only partial and tepid support for Poland against the partitioning powers: "...British public opinion was full of praise for the reforms brought about by Poland's new Constitution. The British Minister of Warsaw spoke eulogistically of Poland's Constitution at the celebration of its first anniversary in 1792...Many prominent Englishmen, including Burke and the Duke of Sussex, the son of King George III, retained their sympathies for Poland...in 1797, the Whigs offered him [Kosciuszko] a sword and the poet Campbell wrote verses in his honour. In 1803 Miss Jan Porter wrote her famous novel 'Thaddeus of Warsaw' based on Kosciuszko's fight for Poland's freedom." (pp. 84-85).

Statkowski touches on the Polish character. Ironically, the failings charged to Poles are commonly the opposite of the actual ones. "It is therefore a little surprising to us when we hear that some misinformed foreigners, totally ignorant of our history, think us to be intolerant, militaristic, and ruthless. It is just the total lack of the above characteristics which in times of adversity has done us great harm...our characteristics of humaneness and liberalism worked at certain times to our detriment..." (pp. 73-74).

Continuing this line of reasoning, the author spurns the common characterization of the 1926 Pilsudski "coup" as a dictatorial power grab. He instead defends the "coup": "...to safeguard the governmental machine from paralysis. The old liberal state with its principle of political, social and economic `laissez-faire' could no longer be maintained integrally in Poland. Neither could Poland imitate any of the forms of contemporary extremism, so alien to her psychology. It became necessary therefore to seek for a synthesis between these two world outlooks..." (p. 94).

As for the 1930's situation facing Poland's Jews, the statistics provided by Statkowski (p. 109) are telling. 72.9% of gentiles were engaged in agriculture against 5.8% of the Jews. The respective figures for commerce and industry were (11.3%, 33.8%), and for trade (5.3%, 44.4%).

The author elaborates: "In view of the fact that an inordinately high percentage of the Polish Jewry is engaged in commerce and trade, and that moreover a large proportion of the Jews are middlemen, they are hard hit by the present depression which causes stagnation in commerce. The natural increase of the Jews in Poland amounts to approximately 50,000 a year. The excess of the Jewish population finds it gradually more and more difficult to get a livelihood, as they are by nature town dwellers. " (pp. 109-110). In fact, at that time, only 14% of Jews lived in rural districts. (p. 109).

Poland was in the process of modernization throughout the 20th century. For instance, the number of Polish cities with 100,000 or more people had increased from 5 in 1900 to 11 by the mid-1930's. (p. 116).
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