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“Kultura” and a united Europe


The idea of a united Europe, discussed in the pages of the monthly “Kultura” practically from the outset, was not the only “utopian” counter to the plans of the London government-in-exile after 1945 – for they anticipated a new war, which would restore order to eastern Europe and the return of Wilno and Lwów to the motherland. In such an atmosphere, any dreams of a united Europe must have seemed totally unreal. 

However, the issue of uniting the continent kept recurring, and its attendant terminology of “unifying Europe” and “integration” reflected the progress of the European project, its multifaceted nature, and its evolution through the process of intellectual and political debate. 

The pages of “Kultura” contain a rich collection of articles deriving the beginning of the idea of integration from theories of cultural and civilisational crisis in the West after 1945. A separate group of articles is made up of journalism documenting facts and historical events making up the processes of integration. Pragmatic and regional aspects of unification elicit sociological, economic and political analyses. Notable too are discussions about federation, neutrality, proposals for world government, the place in Europe to be taken by a divided Germany – here, in his article “A New Year Reverie” Juliusz Mieroszewski coined the so apposite and timely phrase “A divided Germany in a divided Europe, a unified Germany in a unified Europe” (“Kultura” 1962 1/171 – 2/172). Articles on Poland’s European aspirations were enriched by discussions of her role in the east (variously defined as a “keystone” or a “clutch”) and conceptions of good neighbourly relations with the Ukraine, Lithuania and Byelorussia after the inevitable collapse of the USSR, (the ULB concept having been worked out by Mieroszewski in strict cooperation with and drawing inspiration from Jerzy Giedroyc, as is evidenced in the correspondence between writer and editor). 

Gustaw Herling Grudziński summed up this last issue: “in the unwritten gospel of ‘Kultura’s’ programme there was also an exceptionally timely element, i.e. the place of Poland in the world, and above all at the heart of Europe. This was the vision of Giedroyc, Mieroszewski and ‘Kultura’ – a free Poland in alliance with a free Lithuania, Byelorussia and Ukraine, maintaining friendly relations with a free Russia”. Bohdan Osadczuk, a scrupulous chronicler of Polish-Ukrainian relations post 1990, wrote of the ULB doctrine: “a project which viewed against the measure of bygone days and attitudes seemed an unattainable utopia, led our geopolitics out of a cul-de-sac and onto our contemporary road of reconciliation”. 

The issue of a united Europe often appeared in “Kultura” under different headings and within different series of articles, e.g. “Political Archives”, “Neighbours”, Economic Affairs”, “The Event of the Month”. Among the columnists were both “Kultura’s” permanent stable of collaborators who wrote both scheduled articles and occasional political analyses of current affairs (Juliusz Mieroszewski, Wacław Zbyszewski, Bohdan Osadczuk, Leopold Unger, Andrzej Koraszewski), as also invited politicians (Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzeziński, Richard Pipes). This dual flow of comment was important, for example in discussion of the formation of the Coal and Steel Community, the Common Market, the possibilities of federation for the Baltic states, the whole concept of Mitteleuropa. Consonant with the values of openness espoused by „Kultura” and the „Historical Notebooks” there were often differing points of view on these issues. There were also external contributions in the form of reviews, letters to the editor, announcements, reports and surveys (e.g. “What should 21st century Poland be like?”). In parallel with articles which chronicled the development of the idea of a European community and the means to attain it, the cultural differences between East and West were given attention (specifically in reviews of the press, news and current affairs, and letters drawing attention to the aspirations of Poland’s neighbours). 

Because of the singular role that Mieroszewski – often described as Giedroyc’s spokesman – played in “Kultura”, and the stature of his prophetic articles, it would be worthwhile to offer a brief résumé of his opinions. He “lived constantly with the thought of Poland’s place in the world as a free and democratic country”, thus he linked ideas for the ULB with Poland’s possible western policy towards Germany and Europe, as also with the policies of the free democratic world towards Poland. He believed that Poland’s position could be strengthened only through gaining influence in the east. He diagnosed the necessity of alliance with the countries of the ULB, and of a “Europeanised” Russia, as the road to the European community and to a guarantee of security. He saw for Poland the role of Europe’s “keystone”, taking account of all the contingencies arising out of its geopolitical position. He opted for the integration of Europe, with the unification of Germany as part of this process. He constantly strove to convince public opinion both in Poland and in exile of the necessity of recognising the post-war borders as final. He took account of political realities in his articles, among them the changing doctrines espoused by the superpowers. 

When analyzing “Kultura’s” journalistic output, one can distinguish four basic thematic building blocks concerning the history and current state of attempts at unification. These are: the earliest regular articles arising out of the first evaluations of the political situation post 1945; next, outlines of the birth and realisation of the idea of unification, together with discussions of the concepts of federation and the neutrality of East-Central Europe; the recording of global and local obstacles in carrying out unification plans; and the consideration of Poland’s place in an integrated Europe.

Supplementing this group of topics is journalism with high educative merit, encouraging curiosity, openness and an acceptance of the “other”.

The key questions to which contributors to “Kultura” sought to find answers were, inter alia: what do we mean by integration? what does this process signify for Europe? what is the nature of the threats which lie in wait on the road to integration? what phobias and past events must Europeans overcome? In the years 1990–2000, when the process of uniting Europe gained the dimension of “developing” the belt of sovereign states now no longer under Russian influence, finding answers to these questions became timely and necessary. Simultaneously, the social and political costs of widening the European Union were being weighed up, and there was renewed apprehension of the economic power and consequent primacy of a united German state. “Kultura” columnists then held to the judgment that the one safeguard of a democratic Poland’s interests would be speedy affiliation to the Union, and understanding that from the point of view of the west, in Jerzy Giedroyc’s words “the stronger our position will be in the east, the more we shall count in Western Europe”. 

This point of view rested on penetrating political observations made during the half-century from the founding of “Kultura”. Already in 1979, Leopold Unger had written: “True European union, despite the utterances of various stripes of demagogues, does not depend on the liquidation of sovereignty and democracy, but only a way of truly valuing them ( … ) Europe should show the world the practical application of the ideals of unity and cooperation. In the savage world of global challenges, only a united Europe will count for anything. Otherwise there remain Finlandisation, nationalist suicide, or worse” (“As seen from Brussels. Eppur si muove…”, “Kultura” 1979 no. 5/380). 

After the Autumn of Nations in 1989 these words rang out eloquently. In “Kultura” they were developed in the following way: the unity of Europe is possible on condition that cultural differences are respected and that there is far-reaching understanding of the fears running through these new sovereign states, now cutting themselves off from the Russian sphere of influence. It was stressed that for Poland, the joining of an integrated Europe creates an unrepeatable opportunity to establish good relations with a united Germany, and also friendly communication with its eastern neighbours and with Russia.

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