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Postsocialist Nationalism: Rediscovering the Past in Southeast Poland

  • Chris Hann (a1)

Since the collapse of socialist regimes in 1989 few subjects in eastern Europe have attracted as much attention as nationalism. Detailed academic studies have been carried out from many disciplinary perspectives, by scholars native to the region as well as many from outside it. This is also a field in which governmental and nongovernmental organizations have undertaken numerous policy-oriented initiatives. Eastern European developments have figured prominently in global discussions of "ethnicity" and "identity politics," while a few scholars have used materials from this region to articulate more general frameworks of comparative analysis.

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This article is based on research financed by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (No. R000236071, "The Politics of Religious Identity: the Greek Catholics of Central Europe"). I am gready indebted to my main partner in this research, Stanislaw Stepien, director of the Soudieast Scientific Institute in Przemysl, who in addition to local data collection and extensive interviewing among the Ukrainian minority in the city in 1996-97 has in coundess ways helped to inform and educate a puzzled outsider. Needless to say he is not responsible for any errors of fact or interpretation in this text, which is based primarily on my short field trips (maximum of one week) in each year between 1994 and 1998. The same disclaimer applies to others who have provided useful comments on earlier drafts: Klaus Bachmann, Janusz Mucha, George Schopflin, and Kai Struve. I am also grateful for the comments of participants at two conferences in November 1997: "Poland: Social and Cultural Paradigms," in Berlin, organized by Michal Buchowski and Edouard Conte, and "Structuring of Identities in Twentieth- Century Europe," in Warsaw, organized by Marian Kempny. In 1998, seminar members at the Free University of Berlin, at die Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and at Viadrina University Frankfurt (Oder), as well as the anonymous referees for this journal, also provided useful comments.

1. For a concise comparative survey in the context of debates over “civil society,” see Holmes Leslie, Post-Communism: An Introduction (Cambridge, Eng., 1997). For further useful references, see Augustinos Gerasimos, ed., The National Idea in Eastern Europe: The Politics of Ethnic and Civic Community (Lexington, 1996). A good specialist journal in this field is Nationalities Papers.

2. Among the many initiatives of recent years have been the establishment at Central European University of a Centre for the Study of Nationalism, financed by George Soros and led until his death in 1995 by Ernest Gellner, and the Project on Ethnic Relations, based in Princeton, New Jersey and funded primarily by the Carnegie Corporation.

3. See, for example, Ignatieff Michael, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism (London, 1993); Offe Claus, Varieties of Transition: The East European and East German Experience (Cambridge, Eng., 1996). Good comparativists, while proposing general analytic tools, insist at the same time on nuanced and differentiated accounts; an excellent example is Brubaker Rogers, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (Cambridge, Eng., 1996).

4. For recent examples, see Bringa Tone, Being Moslem the Bosnian Way: Identity and Community in a Central Bosnian Village (Princeton, 1995); Karakasidou Anastasia N., Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870–1990 (Chicago, 1997).

5. Verdery Katherine, National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu's Romania (Berkeley, 1991); Verdery , What Was Socialism and What Comes Next? (Princeton, 1996).

6. Niedermüller Peter, “Zeit, Geschichte, Vergangenheit: Zur kulturellen Logik des Nationalismus im Postsozializmus,” Historische Anthropologie: Kultur, Gesellschaft, Alltag 5 (1997): 246.

7. In Poland, as elsewhere, this terminology creates problems. Most Polish social scientists have assumed that an ethnic group is a “national” group if it possesses its own state. In practice, however, groups such as Roma and Lemkos have often been classified, like Ukrainians, as a national minority. The vocabulary is also confusing because the term nationality is often popularly used to describe another form of belonging, that of legal citizenship. The nationalism that I am concerned with in this article is of the sort commonly labeled “ethnic,” but this can also be misleading. The terms ethnic and ethnicity can be employed in more complex ways: for example, some citizens of contemporary Poland declare themselves to be of Lemko ethnicity (etnianość) and Ukrainian nationality (narodowość); see Hann Chris, “Ethnicity in the New Civil Society: Lemko-Ukrainians in Poland,” in Kürti László and Langman Juliet, eds., Beyond Borders: Remaking Cultural Identities in the New East and Central Europe (Boulder, Colo., 1997), 25 . I am not competent to pursue these issues in the Ukrainian language: all Ukrainians who are Polish citizens are fluent in Polish, and this was the medium I used in all my visits to Przemyśl.

8. Gellner Ernest, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford, 1983); Gellner , Nationalism (London, 1997). For recent appraisals of Gellner's work in this field, see Hall John A., ed., The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism (Cambridge, Eng., 1998).

9. Jerzy Tomaszewski cites the case of a peasant in the middle of the nineteenth century who declared his identity and his language to be “Mazovian “: see “The National Question in Poland in the Twentieth Century,” in Teich Mikulás and Porter Roy, eds., The National Question in Europe in Historical Context (Cambridge, Eng., 1993), 298 . Another identity term that remained widespread in the eastern borders of presocialist Poland was the designation tutejszy (of this place). For classic ethnographic documentation, see Obrebski Józef, The Changing Peasantry of Eastern Europe (1936; reprint, Cambridge, Mass., 1976); Reinfuss Roman, Lemkowie jako grupa etnograficzna (1948; reprint, Sanok, 1998).

10. Elwert Georg, “Nationalismus und Ethnizität: Über the Bildung von Wir-Gruppen,” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziobgie und Sozialpsychologie 3 (1989): 440–64.

11. McNeill William H., Polyethnicity and National Unity in World History (Toronto, 1986).

12. The best introduction to the rise of Polish nationalism remains Brock Peter, “Polish Nationalism,” in Sugar Peter F. and Lederer Ivo J., eds., Nationalism in Eastern Europe (Seattle, 1969).

13. This concept is elaborated by Rogers Brubaker, who examines the interwar Polish case in some detail in Nationalism Reframed, chap. 4.

14. Tomaszewski Jerzy, Ojczyzna nie tylko Polaków: Mniejszości narodowe w Polsce w latach 1918–1939 (Warsaw, 1985), 52.

15. For a more detailed outline, see Hann Chris, “Ethnic Cleansing in Eastern Europe: Poles and Ukrainians beside the Curzon Line,” Nations and Nationalism 2 (1996): 389406.

16. Wiatr Jerzy J., “Polish Society,” in Poland: A Handbook (Warsaw, 1977), 137.

17. For example, there has been a surge of interest in Polish-Jewish relations past and present, much of it led by academics at the Research Center for Jewish History and Culture in Poland at Jagiellonian University in Kraków; for a contemporary assessment, see Krajewski Stanislaw, “Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Poland: The Difficult Road to Tolerance,” in Danchin Peter, ed., The Protection of Religious Minorities in Europe: Law, Theory and Practice (New York, forthcoming). On the Lemko-Ukrainian minority, see Hann, “Ethnicity in the New Civil Society “; see also Michna Ewa, Lemkowie: Grupa Etniczna czy Naród (Kraków, 1995); Jacek Nowak, “Dynamika tozsamości Lemków wobec przemiań w Europie Środkowschodniej” (Ph.D. diss., Jagiellonian University, Kraków, 1996).

18. See Babiński Grzegorz, Mucha Janusz, and Sadowski Andrzej, eds., Polskie badania nod mniejszościami kulturvwymi: Wybrane zagadnienie (Białystok, 1997).

19. No official statistics record the size of contemporary Poland's ethnic minorities. The total number of Ukrainians, including Lemkos, is thought to be between 250, 000 and 280, 000. Marek Hołuszko, “Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne w Polsce,” Społeczeństwo Otwarte 4 (April 1993), v. The minority associations, however, claim higher figures, perhaps approaching 400, 000. Ukrainians in Przemyśl give 2, 000 as the upper limit for their community there. The active memberships of the Ukrainian Sociocultural Society and the Greek Catholic parish is nearer to 1, 000. People sometimes give a figure of “400 families.” They often point out that the city has many more inhabitants of Ukrainian descent who no longer acknowledge this fact.

20. I use the name Greek Catholics, which took root in the Habsburg period, because this is still the designation preferred by the people themselves, as well as being the name most commonly used to describe them by the Polish Roman Catholic majority. For more definitions and a recent history of the Greek Catholic Church in this region, see Keleher Serge, Passion and Resurrection: The Greek-Catholic Church in Soviet Ukraine, 1939–1989 (L'viv, 1993); for historical background concerning its gestation, see Halecki Oskar, From Florence to Brest, 1439–1596 (Rome, 1958); for a comparative discussion of this Church's role in the Ukrainian and Romanian national movements, see Hann C. M., “Religion and Nationality in Central Europe: The Case of the Uniates,” Ethnic Studies 10 (1993): 201–13.

21. For detailed outlines of the history of Przemyśl, see August S. Fenczak and Stanisław Stepień, “Przemyśl jako regionalne centrum administracyne—zarys dziejów,” Studia Przemyskiel (1993): 9–48; see also Zabrowarnyj Stefan, ed., Peremyshl i peremyshka zemla protiachom wikiw (Peremyszl, 1996). Early monographs include Hauser Leopold, Monografia miasta Przemyśla (1883; reprint, Przemyśl, 1991); Lewicki Anatol, Obrazki najdawniejszych dziejów Przemyśla (1880; reprint, Przemysl, 1994). For further wide-ranging scholarship, see successive volumes of Polska-Ukraina, 1000 lat sasiedztwa, published in Przemyśl since 1990 by the Południowo-Wschodni Instytut Naukowy.

22. Comparable conditions prevailed elsewhere in eastern Europe; for an analysis of the Transylvanian case, see Verdery Katherine, Transylvanian Villagers: Three Centuries of Political, Economic and Ethnic Change, 1700–1980 (Berkeley, 1983).

23. The well-known novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz are sometimes singled out by Ukrainians in Przemyśl as promoting images of their nation as a land of “butchers and bandits.” On this point, see Danuta Sosnowska, “Narodziny rezuna,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 6 June 1997, 20–22. For further discussion of the creation of Polish national imagery, see Skurnowicz Joan S., Romantic Nationalism and Liberalism: Joachim Lelewel and the Polish National Idea (Boulder, Colo., 1981). For stimulating comparative discussion involving a number of east European examples, including Norman Davies on the Polish case, see Hosking Geoffrey and Schöpflin George, eds., Myths and Nationhood (London, 1997).

24. Himka John-Paul, “The Greek-Catholic Church and Nation-Building in Galicia, 1772–1918,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 8 (1984): 426–52.

25. For a pertinent example, see Magocsi Paul Robert, “Made or Re-Made in America? Nationality and Identity Formation among Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants and Their Descendants,” in Magocsi , ed., The Persistence of Regional Cultures: Rusyns and Ukrainians in Their Carpathian Homeland and Abroad (New York, 1993), 163–78.

26. The city library was formerly a synagogue and remains instantly recognizable as such; but the city's Jewish history is otherwise almost invisible today.

27. Jerzy Tomaszewski, “The National Question “; see also Korzec Pawel, “The Ukrainian Problem in Interwar Poland,” in Smith Paul, ed., Ethnic Groups in International Relations (Aldershot, 1991).

28. Although the Polish Senate went some way toward condemning Akcja Wisła in 1990, it has not yet been fully “delegalized” by the postsocialist state. This fact was often noted in 1997, the year of its fiftieth anniversary, when it was widely commemorated by Ukrainians, but not by any public authorities. In Przemyśl, plaques were mounted at the Ukrainian club and also at the Orthodox church. Disagreements between Polish and Ukrainian historians on the interpretation of Akcja Wisśa and other events central to popular memory are listed in “Komunikat historyków polskich i ukraińskich na temat najnowszych dziejów obu narodów,” Biuletyn Informacyjny Południowo-Wschodni Instytut Naukowy w Przemyślu 2 (1996): 75–80. See also Mokry Włodzimierz, ed., Problemy Ukrainców w Polsce po wysiedleńczej akcji “Wisła” 1947 roku (Kraków, 1997).

29. These and more recent identity changes in the opposite direction have been examined in a number of villages in the vicinity of Przemyśl by the sociologist Grzegorz Babiński, who emphasizes the close links between national identity and religious identity. See Babiński , Pogranicze polsko-ukraińskie: Etniczność, zróznicowanie religijne, tozsamość (Kraków, 1997).

30. See various contributions to Potichnyj Peter J., ed., Poland and Ukraine: Past and Present (Edmonton, 1980).

31. Cf. Verdery, National Ideology under Socialism.

32. For stimulating anthropological studies of symbols and rituals in socialist Poland, see Kubik Jan, The Power of Symbols against the Symbols of Power: The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland (University Park, Penn., 1994); Mach Zdzisław, Symbols, Conflict and Identity: Essays in Political Anthropology (Albany, 1993).

33. Keleher, Passion and Resurrection; see also Bociurkiw Bohdan, The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State, 1939–1950 (Edmonton, 1996).

34. The socialist state consistently supported an institution that might take followers away from the dominant Roman Catholic Church. For some people, this made the Orthodox Church highly suspect; they were also repelled by its often marked Russian features. Yet for many Greek Catholics, conversion to Orthodoxy was preferable to attending regular Roman Catholic services, because the form and content of the Orthodox rituals were so much closer to their own.

35. These rituals on 19 January correspond to the Latin Epiphany but are celebrated more prominently in the eastern Church. See Hann Chris, “Drama postkomunizmy,” Lyudina i Svit 38, no. 4 (1998): 914.

36. Nowicka Ewa, “Przyczynek do teorii etnicznich mniejszości,” in Kubiak Hieronim and Paluch Andrzej K., eds., Załozenia teorii asymilacji, (Wrocław 1981); Kwilecki Andrzej, Lemkowie: Zagadnienie migracji i asymilacji (Warsaw, 1974).

37. The account that follows is based on later oral accounts and a considerable volume of local and national journalism. The most detailed narrative of events is that published by Stanisław Zółkiewicz, one of the leading protagonists, in the regional newspaper Pogranicze between 22 October and 10 December 1991.

38. The Citizens’ Committee list included a Ukrainian, a widely respected doctor. National identity issues seem to have played no role in the 1990 elections. This Ukrainian councillor was not reelected when he sought a second term in 1994, however, and since that time there has been no Ukrainian member. Right-wing parties (mainly Porozumienie Centrum and Konfederacja Polski Niepodległej) have been the strongest forces in both local and national elections in Przemyśl since 1993.

39. Poliszczuk's best-known work is Gorzka Prawda: Zbrodniczość OUN-UPA (Warsaw, 1993). This and other books by Poliszczuk and by Polish authors holding similar views were widely available in Przemyśl bookshops, which do not stock any materials in Ukrainian. Poliszczuk himself apparendy lives in Canada, yet publishes principally in Polish.

40. Niedermüller, “Zeit, Geschichte, Vergangenheit. “

41. The association had a total of thirty-three members, including four city councillors and six Solidarity activists. Fourteen members held a degree, most in the fields of engineering and economics.

42. Some say that many of these activists were members of the Communist Party before 1990, but I have not been able to verify this.

43. The expression of national memory in this cemetery has remained a source of concern on both sides; Ukrainians have recently reacted strongly to a Polish attempt to commemorate the Polish heroes who gave their lives “in defense of the Fatherland.” For the interview with Zółkiewicz, see Zycie Przemyskie, 1 May 1996.

44. Some Poles argue that a church known as the Ukrainian Catholic Church can have no valid claim to property built and held by a Church with a quite different name when the region was under Austrian rule. The Association for the Defense of Polish Property specializes in property issues and is opposed to any form of foreign ownership. Its deputy head is a lawyer who also serves as a vice president of the city.

45. Another issue on which central and local governments have clashed concerns the Carpathian Euroregion, membership in which was strongly encouraged by the authorities in Warsaw. Nevertheless, the city council in Przemyśl decided in 1995 that it was not in their interests to seek closer cultural or economic links with neighboring states. See C. M. Hann, “Nationalism and Civil Society in Central Europe,” in Hall, ed., The State of the Nation.

46. “Dłuzej milczeć nie wolno,” Zycie Przemyskie, 17 June 1995 (emphasis in original).

47. Przemyśl Ukrainians believe that anti-Ukrainian graffiti writing and the more serious outbursts of violence in recent years, such as arson attacks at their UkrainianSociocultural Society and at the Southeast Scientific Institute, are the work of “hooligan youth” but that these eruptions are encouraged and funded by their elders. Anti-Ukrainian prejudice among Przemyśl schoolchildren has been noted by the Rzeszów sociologist Jestal Jerzy, “Stereotyp Ukraińca w świadomości mtodziezy Polski południowowschodniej,” From 4 (1995): 8997.

48. Comparisons can be drawn with long-running conflicts over the Transfiguration Church in Cluj, Transylvania, where a different constellation of forces led to a different solution. After lengthy legal processes, this church was finally returned to the Greek Cadiolics in March 1998, but here too direct action played a role in finally forcing the Orthodox to concede the building. Religious buildings have of course been recognized as vital cultural property elsewhere in postsocialist eastern Europe, notably in the targeting of mosques during the fighting in Bosnia. See Donia Robert and Fine John V. A. Jr., Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed (London, 1994).

49. This account of the last phase in the recent transformation of the Carmelite church is based largely on the article by Jagieńka Wilczak, “Spór w rozbiórce,” Polityka, 7 December 1996, 30–32.

50. For details, see the somewhat one-sided presentation by Agnieszka Niemiec, “Akt adaptacji czy wyrok zniszczenia? Spory o przebudowe przemyskiej katedry,” Architektura, 1998, no. 2: 68–69. The journalist cites three Polish “experts” who all agree that Ukrainian proposals to alter the exterior of the former Jesuit church are contrary to conservation codes. One adds that such alteration would be contrary to ecumenical aspirations. Whereas some Poles justify the demolition at the Carmelite church on the grounds that the addition of the dome in the nineteenth century was an alteration of the original building, Greek Catholics point out that the Latin inscription they now wish to remove from the Jesuit church was added at the time of major renovation in 1900. The Polish reply to this, as reported by Niemiec, is that this inscription is not merely a name on the church but a religious invocation to God that bears witness both to the Roman Catholic origin of the building and to the sacrifices made by the people of Przemyśl in renovating it at the turn of the century. She adds an unsupported assertion: “Among the inhabitants of Przemyśl the memory of that social action is still living” (69).

51. For further details of minority viewpoints in Przemyśl, see Stepień Stanisław and Hann Christopher, eds., Tradycja i Tozsamość: Wywiady wśród ukraińskiej mniejszości etnicznej w Przemyślu (Przemysl, 1998).

52. Niedermüller, “Zeit, Geschichte, Vergangenheit. “

53. For an example of this viewpoint, see the interview with Andrzej Matusiewicz, president of the city, in Zycie Przemyskie, 18 November 1992. He spoke as follows: “We must answer the question: is Przemyśl to be a town of both nations, that means of the Poles and the Ukrainians who live here, or is Przemyśl to be a Polish town that observes minority rights… . I am an advocate of the Polish character of this town—of course not in a nationalistic sense. There is in Przemyśl a Ukrainian minority, it was here in the past, and it has a right to be here. Above all else, however, it must respect the law of the state in which it is living. It cannot be privileged just because it is a minority.” Matusiewicz is a lawyer who acted on behalf of the Carmelites in the church controversy described above; he explains in this interview that his professional involvement in this case had no bearing on his position as president of the city.

54. This view is confirmed by the Przemyśl Ukrainians themselves, almost all of whom have relatives setded in other places, including some who now speak only Polish and have been assimilated into the mainstream of Polish society.

55. Mucha Janusz, “Cultural Minorities and the Dominant Group in Poland: A General Overview,” in Szczepański Marek S., ed., Ethnic Minorities and Ethnic Majority (Katowice, 1997); Mucha , “Mniejszości kulturowe a grupa dominujaca w Polsce: Badania kulturowe z perspektywy zbiorowości mniejszościowych,” in Dziewierski Marek and Nawrocki Tomasz, eds., Grupa etniczna, region, tozsamość kulturowa (Katowice, 1997).

56. When I presented an earlier version of this article at a conference in Poland, some participants were politely dismissive. In the context of the present Polish state, they asserted, the problems affecting Greek Catholic Ukrainians in Przemyśl were quite exceptional, a marginal phenomenon in the wider society.

57. Formerly this role was played more conspicuously by Jews. Although, as has often been noted, it is perfectly possible for anti-Semitism to linger and even to flourish without any significant presence of Jews, the virtually complete disappearance of Jews from cities such as Przemyśl has perhaps been a further factor in the canalization of hatred toward Ukrainians.

58. See the data analyzed by Aleksandra Jasińska-Kania, “Zmiany postaw Polaków wobec róznych narodów i państw,” in Jasińska-Kania, ed., Bliscy i dalecy: Studia nad postawami wobec innych ras i group etnicznych, vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1992), 219–46. It is true, however, that in recent years unwelcome immigration from the Balkans has caused Romanians and Gypsies to be viewed even more negatively than Ukrainians, while attitudes toward Jews/Israelis have somewhat softened. See “Stosunek naszego społeczeństwa do innych nacji: Kommunikat z badań,” Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej (November 1997). Many Poles excuse negative views toward Ukrainians with the claim that Ukrainians categorize Poles in precisely the same way. With the exception of a small group of extreme nationalists in western Ukraine, this is not the case: see Klaus Bachmann, “Na czym polega problem polsko-ukraiński,” Rzeczpospolita, 27–28 September 1997, and further correspondence in the issue of 8–9 November. One positive way to address the negative images held by Poles would be to follow the model set by the Polish-German Schoolbook Commission, which has, since the 1970s, helped both sides come to terms with a history of mutual mistrust and prejudice. See various contributions to Zwanzig Jahre gemeinsame deutsch-polnische Schulbuchkomission: Reden aus Anlass der Festveranstaltung in Braunschweig am 10 Juni 1992 (Braunschweig, 1993). The recent “Komunikat historyków polskich i ukraińskich” issued jointly by Polish and Ukrainian historians seems to represent a useful beginning in this direction.

59. The history of Poland's domination of western Ukraine is too intricate to enter into here (for a recent balanced assessment, see Magocsi Paul Robert, A History of Ukraine [Toronto, 1996]). In very general terms, this can be viewed as a problem of postcolonial recognition analogous to the problems faced by France in Algeria or by England in Ireland.

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