Archive for the ‘Lessia’ Category

David Ost, Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics.

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Lessia Shatalin
The book focuses of the development of the Solidarity, trade union organization in Poland and how this movement for free association of workers progressed from anti-political to political and in the end to solidify its place within the government of Poland. The author starts with discussing how the ideas of building a civil society were formed in Poland since 1968 and ends his book with the year 1989 when Solidarity gained control of the government. The first part of the book was the most interesting to me as there Ost discussed how the ideas of creating a civil society were developed and especially his take on politics of anti-politics, that is the belief that Solidarity leaders and organizations that preceded it had that their activities had to be social and not political and did not aim to challenge the Party’s control of the state. There aims were to organized citizens in civic activities thus creating a civil society and they borrowed their ideas from radical movements in the West. Instead of trying to reform the political they focused on the social that is the development of a civil society. Once citizens became more socially aware – organized into unions and began to organize strikes their demands seemed to be heard and Solidarity was legalized.
Once Solidarity was legalized and recognized by the state (the Party) its initial goals had been accomplished and now it had to move towards political which it was not prepared for. It could not ignore the question of state power anymore. After reading the book it seems that Solidarity’s leadership only focused on the immediate goals and once they had been achieved they had no idea as to how to proceed next. The same happened in the next stage of Solidarity’s development that is their strive to create a political system of neo-corporatism. And once again Ost explains this system and the debates over it within Solidarity in an impressive manner. Neo-corporatist approach entails the coming together of Solidarity, State and Church together in the task of governing the country. However, once neo-corporatism was achieved (Round Table Accords of 1989) the opposition leadership – Solidarity – was once again facing new challenges. It moved form a position of opposition to a position of power, something it was not prepared for and definitely did not envision at the beginning.

Jan T. Gross, Neighbors

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Lessia Shatalin
In Neighbors, Gross describes the massacre of 1600 Jews in a town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941 by their Polish neighbors. It is important to acknowledge the controversy of the book, that is – it for the first time assigned blame to the Poles for the murder of Jews during World War II in this specific town. However, the book is much more than the recollection of the events of that day, as it’s focus is on the relations between Jews and Poles before, during and after the war. Gross tries to understand how could the non-Jewish population of a small town turn on their Jewish neighbors with whom they lived side by side for centuries. Was it a collective effort and a collective hatred that led them to commit the massacre or was it an effort of a small group with a willing or un-wiling support of the others? According to Gross it was a small group who began the efforts to rid the town of Jews and he tries to answer why did this group found supporters. Why was there anti-Semitism among the Poles?
One of the reasons why Poles turned on their Jewish neighbors was their resentment of the Jews that was instituted by the totalitarian regimes, both the Nazis and the Soviets. As these regimes set different groups against each other. If the town was not occupied by the Nazis the massacre would not have happened; therefore one needs not to undermine the involvement of the Germans. However, it was not the Germans who did the killing, but the Poles, while Germans were photographing the event. The other motivation that Gross describes was purely materialistic, as those who organized the pogrom then robbed the houses of perished Jews. Moreover, Jews were believed to be sympathetic to the communists, who Poles resented for attempts of sovietization during the occupation. Hatred towards Jews found roots in “medieval prejudice about ritual murder”, as Jews were viewed by Catholic Poles, as those who killed the Christ. They were also blamed for the outbreak of the war.
Therefore, anti-Semitism was present in that town before, during and after the war. But it was not until the Nazi occupation that it materialized into a massacre of the town’s Jewish population, except for a few that managed to survive. Few Poles who helped Jews were afraid to admit that after the war, as anti-Semitism was still present in the community.

Who Voted Communist? Reconsidering the Social Bases of Radicalism in Interwar Poland, Jeffrey S. Kopstein and Jason Wittenberg. Slavic Review, Vol. 62, No. 1. (Spring, 2003), pp. 87-109.

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Lessia Shatalin

The article discusses interwar Poland and precisely ethnic minorities within Poland. Kopstein and Wittenberg discuss the roles that ethnic minorities played in interwar politics in Poland and to what degree they voted communist. The authors explain whether or not the myth that Jews voted communist was true and in this process asses the political make-up of the country. They look into how various ethnic groups voted in interwar national elections. Their findings are interesting to look at on their own, but what is important are the broader implications of their findings. It was not the Jews who voted communist, but rather Belarusan and Ukrainian Orthodox in the western parts of the country. The authors discuss why they voted communist, but first it is important to look at why they did not vote pro-government or for a number of parties that represented the rights of ethnic minorities. They voted against the government because of the assimilation attempts, but in this case why would they not vote for ethnic minority parties? They did not because in the case of Belarusans they did not have a strong sense of national identity, but they did identified themselves as close to their brothers in the East – the Russians. That mixed together with Soviet propaganda led them to vote Communist and Communist party leaders promised an autonomy within the Soviet Union.
The case of Ukrainians was different as there were Orthodox and Uniate Ukrainians living within the territory of the new Polish state. Orthodox Ukrainians voted the same as Belarusans, but Uniate Ukrainians voted for minority parties, that is because there was a strong sense of national identity among them. In the research done on how Jews voted, the authors find that less than 10 per cent voted communist. Jews wanted to integrate into the Polish society and they provided greater support for the establishment than any other ethnic group. Than why is there are a myth that Jews voted communist? The answer is probably because there were a number of communist party leaders who were Jewish, but that did not translate into the mass support.
What is interesting about these findings is that it was the Jews, who supported the regime and wanted to assimilate and not the Poland’s Slavic brothers – Belarusans and Ukrainians. It is important to note that the study focuses on the national elections in the 1920’s before the rise of Stalin to power in the Soviet Union. Looking at the voting patterns of Ukrainians and Belarusans it is clear that religious affiliation played a key role in the way people voted, and in the case of Ukrainians it played a bigger role than nationality since Orthodox and Uniate Ukrainians voted differently.

Maria Bucur and Nancy M. Wingfield, Staging the Past.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Lessia Shatalin
The collection of essays focuses on the commemorative rituals around specific dates, places, individuals and events that play an important role in the understanding of a national past for Eastern and Central European people. Nationalism is analyzed from the perspective of collective memory and cultural practices this approach gives importance to commemorations in the process of building national identity.
In the essay The Nationalization of East Central Europe, Jeremy King looks at a statue of Shipmaster Vojtech/Adalbert Lanna and the man the statue represented. What is interesting about the statue is that it was meaningful at various times to both Germans and Czechs. Why was it meaningful to both ethnic groups is because the town it was in was populated by both and also the answer lies in the persona of Lanna himself. Lanna was a wealthy resident of Budejovice/Budweis who was loved by the people for his charity work. He perceived himself in non-national terms and thought of himself as a person from that specific town and not belonging to a specific nation.
The second part of King’s essay focuses on “ethnicism”. He examines historiography on the subject of nationalism in East Central Europe and writings on this subject by non-historians and in analyzing works from both groups he finds a common thread of “ethnicism”. He defines “ethnicism” as a “vague, largely implicit framework that holds the nations of East Central Europe to have sprung primarily from a specific set of mass, mutually exclusive ethnic groups defined by inherited cultural and linguistic patterns” (p. 123). King when describing the history of the statue does not however, explain why people needed a certain statue to represent them in a certain way? Why ethnic groups look to the past to find defining moments, places, people, and myths that unite them into nations? This question is answered by Keely Stauter-Hualsted in Rural Myth and the Modern Nation.
The author focuses on Polish peasants and their desire to participate in various commemorations. By participating in these events peasants and their leaders were looking to advance their political rights and their rights to be included in the nation. The vision of the nation that peasants constructed conflicted with the vision constructed by gentry and intelligentsia. Both King and Stauter-Halsted recognize that nationalism and nation-building are both modern phenomena; however, in both cases ethnic groups looked to the past to find their heroes and myths, though not exclusively.

Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the national question in the New Europe.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Lessia Shatalin

In Nationalism Reframed, Brubaker focuses on the ‘existing nationalisms’ of the Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, a region that was occupied by the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov Empires before the end of World War I. He draws comparisons between nationalisms of the interwar years and post-Communism nationalisms. The book consists of two parts, in the first part Brubaker develops an analytical framework for the discussion of nationalism in the post-Communist Europe and Eurasia and in the second part the author discusses the parallels between the inter-war and the nationalisms of the present. He argues that “we should focus on nation as a category of practice, nationhood as an institutionalized cultural and political form, and nationness as a contingent event or happening” (p. 21).

Brubaker develops a theory of a triadic nexus that defines three distinct nationalisms: nationalizing nationalisms of the newly independent states, transborder nationalisms of external national homeland and caught in between the two are the national minorities. He explains his theory on the example of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Apart from introducing the triadic nexus, Brubaker develops an interesting argument as to the nature of the break up of the Soviet Union. He argues that Soviet Union was a multinational state, that not only “tolerated but actively institutionalized the existence of multiple nations and nationalities” (p.23). In doing so the Soviet leadership prepared the way for its own demise. This is a rather controversial argument as in order to explain the break up of the Soviet Union one needs to examine the declining economic system of the Soviet Union and look at the political factors as well as the military decline. And of course at perestroika and glasnost. Nationalist movements and nationalisms existed in Soviet republics before 1991, but the Soviet Union seemed to stand strong. The fact that the Soviet Union broke up into republics that were established by it and the fact that the borders of the republics were left practically undisputed should be attributed to the fact that the Soviet leadership institutionalized nations within the borders of the republics.