East Alterity: West Alterity. The Building of Polishness in Democratic Opposition Inteligencja’s Historical Narratives (1976-1991)

  • Abstract:

    This paper explores Polish opposition intelligentsia’s reflections on the relationships of Poland with Russia and the West, understood as the geographic and imaginary poles between which this country’s ethos, fate and debates oscillated for the last three centuries. Conceived as an intersection between intellectual, cultural and political history of opposition to Communism, my proposal approaches the issue through the analysis of legal and underground oppositional publications written by a selection of intellectuals of the time (1976-1991). The article focuses firstly on inteligencja’s views of its eastern neighbour. These include the parallels drawn between Poland’s past and present situation in terms of dominion and submission, the complexity of distinguishing Russianness from tsarist and Bolshevik regimes in order to avoid nationalist hatred and promote understanding among peoples, or the historical and philosophical dilemma about whether things could have turned out otherwise for Poland regarding its current political situation in the Eastern Bloc, and the Soviet Union’s moral accountability for it. Secondly, the paper deals with “the West”, frequently considered an abstract whole in Polish discourses. Despite many intellectuals perceived Western European countries as the antithesis of what the USSR or Communism represented to them with respect to values, Polish views about the West were not always as positive as one might have expected. This phenomenon had to do with the differences between Polish and Western European historical experiences concerning freedom and suffering, as well as with Polish unfulfilled expectations. In sum, oppositional narratives on Polishness through East and/or West alterity re-enacted old debates and undertook the question of (co-)responsibility. They could tend to reinforce history-based stereotypes, reinterpret them unfavourably or simply remain ambiguous. In any event, critical inteligencja wished that its message contributed to the redefinition of Poland’s ethos and to the recovery of society’s political agency from then on.