Jerzy Giedroyc i Leopold Unger. Konferencja w Instytucie Polskim, Paryż, 18 XII 1999 r. / Sygn. FIL00023

R.Habielski Przesłanie i lekcja Kultury


Jerzy Giedroyc became politically active in the early 1930s, when he took over the editorship of the largely unknown magazine Bunt Młodych [Revolt of the Young], published by the neo-conservative Myśl Mocarstwowa [Imperial Thought]. Under his auspices, Bunt quickly became one of the most interesting journals devoted to political issues, which was reflected in the change of title (rechristened Polityka [Politics] in 1937). Not wishing to participate in political life in the conventional manner, Giedroyc’s aim was to influence the situation in Poland through his magazine. Bunt, and later Polityka, both of them with a pro-government and pro-Piłsudski orientation, but not uncritical of the ruling camp (in retrospect, Giedroyc saw his group as "adjacent" to Marshal Piłsudski's camp[1]), organised debates aimed at improving the state's political and economic model, and at tackling the problems that were responsible for its economic and social weaknesses. Geopolitics, however, was the issue he considered a priority. The Bunt Młodych/Polityka group leaned towards a solution contesting the official Polish foreign policy doctrine of maintaining equally correct relations with Berlin and Moscow. This strategy, based on non-aggression pacts concluded with both powerful neighbours (with the USSR in 1932, and with Germany in 1934), did not, in the opinion of the Bunt/Polityka group, rule out the possibility of a German-Soviet alliance, which, if taken into account[2], predetermined the need to seek a different solution.  

 Based on the assumption of a particular danger threatening Poland from the Soviet Union, the group assumed that it was in Poland's interest to take advantage of the intensifying conflict between Berlin and Moscow. This project, dictated by purely geopolitical considerations, was independent of any ideological factor. In this, the group’s anti-communism was as innate as its indifference to the systemic solutions of the Third Reich.

The argument for adopting such a geopolitical view was, apart from German-Soviet relations and the Soviet Union’s vulnerability to a crisis resulting from the independence aspirations of the peoples within in, a scepticism regarding the likelihood of Poland receiving assistance from the Western powers, mainly France, its most important ally. The culmination of the group's vision was to be the creation of an independent Ukrainian state, synonymous with a weakening of Russia. At the same time, an agreement with Ukraine, perceived as a partner of strategic importance, was not understood as a condition for a firm and permanent guarantee of independence, but rather as a political fact allowing for greater manoeuvrability in eastern foreign policy.


The political conclusion of World War II, which Giedroyc had spent outside the country serving in the army, with Poland finding itself in the Soviet sphere of influence and under communist rule devoid of social support and legitimacy, determined his decision to remain in exile and undertake activities similar to those he was involved in before the war. At the beginning of 1946, he founded Institut Literacki (Literary Institute) in Rome, a publishing house originally intended to serve Polish soldiers residing in Italy. The Institute published the first issue of Kultura, a periodical prepared together with Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, in mid-1947. Soon afterwards, the magazine, with Giedroyc remaining as the sole editor, moved to Maisons-Laffitte outside of Paris, changing its profile and purpose. It was no longer intended to be, as initially envisaged, an exclusive cultural quarterly supplementing the repertoire of books published by the Institute, but something resembling – not in its programme but in the functions it served – the weeklies edited by Giedroyc prior to the war. In assuming – somewhat contrary to its title – the traits of a political periodical, Kultura was transformed into an ideological hub, a platform for formulating a programme addressed both to émigrés and readers in Poland.

World War II and its aftermath were not inconsequential to Giedroyc's views, affecting his understanding of the principles and importance of action outside the country. While before the war he was a neo-conservative full of admiration for the policies of Marshal Piłsudski, after it ended, he shifted to the left, though still remaining a supporter of Piłsudski. This did not mean that he had become a leftist, even though such was the impression given by Kultura. It was the result of the certainty, strengthened over time, that the fight against the Soviet version of communism, as practised in Poland as well, could be waged more effectively with views and values characteristic of the anti-communist and anti-totalitarian left. For this reason, he liked to see disillusioned Marxists, disaffected Stalinists or left-wing anti-totalitarians among his authors (Alexander Weissberg-Cybulski; Milovan Djilas; Arthur Koestler; George Orwell).

The pragmatism-laced tactic, which Giedroyc himself admitted he had had enough of, turned out to be the method he deemed most effective. His choice of approach was influenced not only by intuition and predisposition, but above all by the reality in which he had to operate. Immediately after the defeat suffered by Poland in 1939, moved into exile were the most important state institutions (President, Government, a semblance of a Parliament, political parties) whose activity was not suspended by the end of the war. Although the extraterritorial state in exile, inhabited by nearly 600,000 Poles and perceived as a legitimate continuation of pre-war statehood, turned out to be an unprecedented phenomenon, it was at the same time a politically ineffective construct, quite susceptible to internal conflicts. The first manifestations of internal crisis became apparent rather quickly, at the time when the first issue of Kultura came out. The émigré community’s aims were thwarted not only by the unbreakable stability of the post-Stalinist system but also by a lack of tools appropriate to the situation in which it found itself.  Giedroyc was not particularly surprised by these difficulties, having observed the erosion of the post-Revolutionary Russian émigré milieu settled in pre-war Warsaw. Giedroyc's doubts as to the efficacy and durability of political organs operating in conditions of exile were all the more justified in view of the fact that, just a few years after the war, the intensity of the disputes and the ensuing process of institutional disintegration led to rifts and the emergence of several separate blocs with similarly meagre results.

The problem came down not only to the effectiveness [or rather ineffectiveness] of the action, but also, perhaps above all, to the programme that determined the choice of method. The émigré community set for itself the goal of restoring the state to its pre-1939 systemic and territorial form. In Giedroyc's view, this was an unfeasible objective, leading not only to disappointing defeats but separating émigrés from the issues that defined the present, which it could not do without if it wanted to succeed. He was of the opinion that in the post-war reality, it was not institutions and their proper mode of operation but the word that proved to be the tool that fulfilled the hopes placed in it.    

In the opinion of Juliusz Mieroszewski, the first Kultura writer and Giedroyc's porte-parole, as the editor essentially did no writing himself, political emigration usually takes two forms. There are those who leave the country in fear of revolution, and those who use their stay abroad to prepare for it, seeing in themselves the seeds of change[3]. Kultura identified with the latter scenario. By directing his interests towards the future and reducing the meaning of emigration to influencing the situation at home, Giedroyc cast himself in the role of heir to Adam Czartoryski, the leader of Polish émigrés after the November Uprising (1831). He drew inspiration from Aleksander Herzen's periodical Kołokoł, published in the West in the mid-19th century and influencing opinion in Russia despite its difficulties in reaching there. The task he was attempting to tackle was not easy for someone publishing a magazine and books banned in the homeland, addressed to an increasingly divergent readership, expatriate and domestic, even assuming that the two groups were united by a shared dislike of communism, albeit sometimes of different origins. But it did not prove impossible.

Giedroyc earned the right to be present in the country by his attempts to understand the situation there and the resulting attitudes of those for whom he published Kultura. One measure of the problem was the case of Czesław Miłosz, a poet who in 1951 decided to choose the status of an emigrant. The matter boiled down not only to a specific case, providing a rather unexpected opportunity to discover the reasons for the fascination of some intellectuals with the "new faith" (Miłosz having collaborated with the regime after the war), but also to develop a stance towards those fleeing from communist Poland.[4] The approval of their decisions, the non-accountability for the choices they had made before breaking with the communist authorities, fell within the strategy of counteracting a schism between exile and homeland.

In trying to understand the politics of the regime, the editor paid attention to the reactions they elicited and their impact on social attitudes. With commendable thoroughness he studied the dull and schematic national press, read history and fiction, and took care to be in touch with newcomers to the West from communist Poland. The tightness of the Iron Curtain did not allow too much at first, but from the mid-1950s, as the 'thaw' initiated by Stalin's death progressed, things became easier. The challenge he tried to meet successfully was to move away from the role of reacting to the situation, a position he always disqualified, conscious of its shortcomings, and toward a proactive stance, taking initiatives and forcing the enemy to react.

The changes taking place in the communist bloc in 1956 were regarded by Kultura as an event of great importance due to the fact itself and to its not inconspicuous effects. Giedroyc understood the process of de-Stalinisation as foretelling of a more significant presence in the country than before. The starting point was the conviction that the communist system, in its ideological layer and practice of operation, was susceptible to change and, willingly or not, was forced to take public expectations into account. This certainty was accompanied by the assumption that de-Stalinisation in the international dimension would put off the possibility of a conflict between the superpowers, in which many Poles outside the country saw a chance of liberation from outside. The solution espoused by Kultura, dubbed "evolutionism"[5] by Mieroszewski, boiled down to the belief that balanced demands made by society "towards democratisation and increased national independence"[6] could be met by the regime.

This position was manifested in the magazine’s granting of ''credit'' to Władysław Gomułka, elected head of the Communist Party in October 1956. The decision was dictated by political and tactical considerations. Giedroyc hoped that recognition of the new First Secretary would open the door for the magazine to gain a legal presence in the country, making it a participant in local political life. The assumptions that Gomułka would follow a democratising course and loosen the ties of dependence on the Kremlin proved to be false and had no impact on Kultura's stance. Years later, Giedroyc would be reluctant to return to his support for Gomułka, which did not mean he had reason to be ashamed. Kultura was fairly quick to withdraw the "credit", but the editor did not revoke "evolutionism". He sought allies for the realisation of his concept also amongst 'revisionists', reform-minded Marxists who had not given up hope for a pro-democratic evolution of the system.

At the end of the 1960s, Kultura began to popularise the idea of collaboration between the intelligentsia and workers' circles. At the time, the editor felt that evolutionism should give way to 'revolutionism'. Influenced by the student demonstrations known as the March events (1968), Kultura began to unequivocally support oppositional attitudes, considering them potentially more effective than 'evolutionism'. Kultura published studies devoted to this issue by domestic authors.[7]

Giedroyc's diagnoses of the situation in the homeland, and the positions resulting from them, were invariably in keeping with reality. In the editor's opinion, the starting point of the policy he pursued was to combine independence with "the utmost sobriety in assessing facts and the situation".[8]

Giedroyc was thus not overly concerned with the consistency of the Kultura programme line, believing that policies and programmes were not etched in stone and needed to be adapted to changes in the country and the world.[9] In no way did this mean abandoning the idea to question the magazine's general premise, which was anti-communist and independence-oriented. The phenomenon of Kultura's stance boiled down to questioning (or situating itself above) the uncompromising political "romanticism" or the "positivism" identified with realism that had been characteristic of Polish political attitudes in the past. The programme of Kultura could not, in the long run, be attributed to either of these positions. One replaced the other according to the requirement of the situation, i.e., what was happening in the country. According to some, the realism of Kultura was the realism of hopeless situations, consisting in renouncing illusions but not dreams, platitudes but not values, demagogy but not principles.[10] According to others, the position adopted by Giedroyc (and Mieroszewski) was something new and unprecedented in the Polish political tradition, formulated with a distance from the successive projects and doctrines adopted by the Western world, mainly the United States, which were supposed to guarantee victory in the Cold War without the need for military force.  

In Giedroyc's view, the reality, or in other words, the attainability of the programme being fought for, was determined not by its content but by the possibility of putting it into practice.[11] The possible should therefore take precedence over the desirable. It is difficult to determine whether these opinions were remnants of the pre-war era, when he defined politics as the art of making the necessary possible. There is no doubt, however, that the principle of adapting to the circumstances in which one had to act, without losing sight of priorities, was the basis of the position taken by Giedroyc. Only then could he see politics as the ability to select means to "meet the requirements of the situation".[12]

Kultura supported any action, of whatever complexion, taken in Poland that might have had the effect of weakening the regime and speeding up the process of social empowerment. It is fair to presume that he might not have stood behind some of the opinions he publicised, and if he agreed with the assumptions espoused by their authors, he may have been critical of the ways in which they were implemented. This was the case, for example, with Letter 34 (1964), a protest by intellectuals against the omnipotence of censorship. Having read the memorandum by Karol Modzelewski and Jacek Kuroń (1965), which was a criticism of the practice of governing the People's Republic of Poland from a Marxist (or Trotskyist) position, in private correspondence he did not hide his disapproval, claiming that the system model proposed by the authors carried the likelihood of greater enslavement than the reality of Gomułka's rule. However, he published the Letter, recognising that it could provoke ideological ferment within the party[13]. He proposed Yugoslav solutions, realising that they were attractive to at least part of the party apparatus.

Although, having too few resources at his disposal, he did not aspire to take on the role of organising the process of the communist authorities’ political and ideological delegitimisation, he nevertheless did what he could to achieve this. He made suggestions, gave advice, tried to conquer doubts and apathy. He expressed his conviction that political action need not feed on grand slogans. Goals, he argued, are achieved gradually, starting with the things easiest to carry out. He knew that both 'evolution' and 'revolution' could not be the result of dilemmas, a tired sense of one's own weaknesses and a lack of faith in success. From the mid-1950s onwards, he remained a critic of the policies of the Catholic Church and its recognised leaders, acknowledging that they were denying their own vocation by remaining too soft and docile towards the regime.

The programme of Kultura invited a critical, and in fact deprecating, stance towards the magazine, both on the part of the regime and émigrés. In the opinion of the communist authorities, the editor was an imperialist agent, engaged in nothing more than ideological "diversion". In the opinion of the émigré orthodoxy, who generally did not take the trouble to think through the programme of Kultura, he was an embodiment of crypto-communism or Titoism; someone betraying the values of independence in the name of unclear and unapproved aims.

Without making much of a fuss about accusations of this kind, and even offering critics of Kultura space in the magazine to express their views about the publication,[14] he welcomed the emergence of the democratic opposition (1976), putting the magazine at the disposal of the various initiatives that contributed to it. He was aware of the significance of the workers' strikes of August 1980 and the Solidarity movement, reserving for himself, as always, the privilege of criticism, which he did not spare. From the second half of the 1970s onwards, he was entitled to believe that the changes taking place in the country, at least to some extent, were the result of projects patiently and consistently submitted for consideration by Kultura. If this was indeed the case, the magazine owed its influence to the determination, not to mention intuition, of the editor, not so much equipped with prophetic abilities, as he was suspected to be, but able to draw conclusions for the future from a thorough analysis of reality. This was confirmed in the tasks set for Kultura, a magazine not afraid to overstep the bounds of hope derived from judgments whose accuracy would be confirmed by the future.


Literature occupied an important place in the Kultura programme and in the policy pursued by its editor. The Literary Institute began its activities by publishing books, and Kultura printed literary texts of various kinds. In 1953, Giedroyc launched Biblioteka Kultury [The Kultura Library], under which he would initially publish several, and later even a dozen or so, titles of various nature annually.

The dominance of political material meant that the name of the magazine was not fully adequate to its content. The editor was aware of this, lamenting the unsatisfactory amount of cultural and critical-literary content, blaming himself for it.

At the same time, the most outstanding émigré prose writers, poets, essayists and critics became associated with Kultura. Given the magazine's reputation and reach, they had to collaborate, but were also encouraged to do so. Giedroyc's correspondence, quite a phenomenon in itself, is proof of his persistent efforts to persuade people of letters scattered all over the world to write and to publish in spite of the often justified despair caused by their living conditions and distance from their home country.

Confident in the power of the word, Giedroyc knew that literature conveyed an important message, even when it was actually or seemingly devoid of political content. The epitome of this conviction was the work of Witold Gombrowicz, featured in Kultura since 1951. He was a writer regarded with suspicion outside of Poland but enthusiastically received by readers at home. Gombrowicz's works printed in Kultura and the Literary Institute, above all his Dziennik [Diary], a paean of freedom and the right to independence and individuality, won plaudits in the social-realist country, proving to be a phenomenon which influenced people's thinking and attitudes.

Apart from the values of which it was an expression, Giedroyc saw literature as a meeting ground for the émigré community and the mother country. He reluctantly reacted to the decisions of the émigré Writers' Union in to not print at home, taken twice – in 1947 and 1956. Aware that not all books published abroad would gain the right to enter the homeland – a decided not of authors and publishers but of the authorities – he believed that contact had to be maintained at all costs.

Kultura was a magazine that was programmatically open to Polish writers: those who decided to break with the regime and choose freedom – Miłosz, Marek Hłasko, Aleksander Wat – and those who left in the late 1960s as a result of the regime's antisemitic campaign. No less important were those who, while remaining in the country, sought to bypass the omnipresent censorship. Not surprisingly, almost everyone who chose the status of an émigré, as well as those who dared, under pseudonyms or without concealing their identity, to oppose the omnipotence of the regime by publishing literary texts, analyses of the situation in Poland or works relating to the present and to history, printed in Kultura and in Biblioteka Kultury.

The reasons for Giedroyc's turn to the past are not obscure. His awareness of the effects of ideologisation and censorship of historical writing at home and of the reactions this practice provoked among Poles abroad was accompanied by the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge and experience of those who took part in the events. The editor was aware of the need to record what constituted the internal and foreign policy of the Second Republic, the essence of the Polish cause during World War II, and to inquire into the reasons why Poland suffered the fate that it did in its finale. The émigré milieu’s view of the inter-war period (1918-1939) and World War II, known from their own experience and starkly different from the factual and interpretative formula imposed by the communists at home, was not founded on assumptions conducive to objectivity. Giedroyc did not accept the views held by domestic historiography, which since the end of the 1940s had been crammed into a corset of historical materialism, vulgarly politicised and ideologised, and he did not want to remain indifferent to the qualities of historical writing outside Poland – reflection burdened with a tendency to idealise, selectivity in subject matter and uncritical presentation of its own merits.

The editor's commitment to a past that was not indifferent to the present and future can be summed up as a mission of persistent care for the "culture of the will for Independence" that Poland had manifested since the end of the 18th century. Giedroyc reduced the duty of documenting the past to trying to explain "how things were and why they happened the way they did", even when the results of such efforts did not do justice to the cause or its participants, and the accounts did not form a coherent whole.



In Poland after World War II, every reflection on internal and international affairs began with the problem of Soviet Russia, or, to put it another way, with the question of how to free oneself from dependence on it. The situation was no different in the case of Kultura, but this was not the only challenge faced by a magazine that was trying to work out the foundations of a new order. In Giedroyc's view, after 1945 the Polish issue could not be seen as self-contained, i.e., removed from its regional and European context. It should be part of the process of "freeing and uniting Europe".[15] Such a postulate required a reorientation of the political consciousness of Poles, a change of mentality, an openness to modernity, a departure from what Mieroszewski referred to as the "mausoleum of ossified doctrines".[16] The idea was to move away from thinking about the condition of Poland and its place in Europe from a partisan perspective to thinking about Poland as an element of a larger whole, underpinned by the principle of reconciling regional interests with universal ones.[17] This position culminated in the conviction that post-war Europe was not the place to pursue a "nationalist-independence" policy,[18] and it questioned the reactivation of doctrines or concepts developed before 1939.[19]

The coming out of the mausoleum was manifested by questioning the understanding of the old geopolitical projects, understood by their contemporary adherents as solutions which were so structurally sound that they could be applied in political conditions far different from those in which they were established. According to Giedroyc, entertaining the Polish geopolitical schools developed at the beginning of the 20th century for the purpose of regaining independence and then practised in a modified form in the inter-war period, i.e., as "towards Russia", "towards Germany" or "towards Western democracies" orientations, was an anachronism. This did not deserve to be called politics, as politics should always remain in touch with reality. The use of outdated ideas, or, to put it another way, the donning of historical costumes, was a practice that found application and justification in exile rituals but which could not yield results in the practical sphere. The traditional schools of geopolitical thought had to be parted with. They were of no use in the post-war environment and therefore could not produce the intended effects, something their advocates seemed not to notice.

Poland, which derived its hopes for maintaining independence from a belief in the value of alliances with Western democracies, suffered defeat in 1939; once again alone, albeit embedded in a coalition structure as in 1939, it lost out in the finale of World War II. No less unreliable, according to Kultura, was the principle of trusting in the success of close relations with Germany or Russia. Poland suffered defeat in 1939 in spite of the treaties it had concluded with its mighty courts, and its independent twenty-year existence turned out to be the product of circumstance, a function of relations between Berlin and Moscow.[20]

As indispensable as the abandonment of old concepts was the need to revise the content of the terms through which Polish political doctrine was formulated. One of these, the most important for eastern policy, was the term 'Jagiellonianism'. In Giedroyc's view, the most serious error committed regarding the eastern question was the unjustified belief in Poland's importance in Europe and its exceptional regional role. Mieroszewski was fond of mocking the "pathetic elephantiasis" of the regional sentiment, pathetic because it was unsubstantiated,[21] and was in fact – in the absence of real power – taking dreams for reality.

Polish geopolitics should be inspired by what the requirements of the present day dictated, which was certainly not "Jagiellonianism" conceived as a mission to give Eastern Europe a form in line with Polish expectations. Kultura therefore proposed a move away from a paternalistic attitude towards the peoples of the ULB (Ukraine, Lithuania, Byelorussia), and the pursuit of a policy of partnership, being an expression of common reasons and interests. This stemmed from Poland's needs, irreconcilable with those of the ULB, and from Giedroyc's goal of uncompromisingly combating "communist imperialism",[22] which was to culminate in the creation of an independent Ukraine and Belarus.

The assumptions mentioned above formed the basis of Kultura's policy, though they did not imply that the year 1945 was point zero, the one from which politics began anew. The issues that the Bunt Młodych/Polityka team had looked at before the outbreak of war had not lost their relevance. Post-war Poland differed from pre-war Poland in that, among other things, it was devoid of national minorities, but, by right of inheritance, it took over the geopolitical challenges facing the country before 1939. These included the eastern question, which included above all Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Russian relations. At the same time, Giedroyc's convictions on matters of nationality did not change. He harboured an aversion to nationalism and political concepts derived from it, not so much for ethical reasons as for primarily rational ones.

The logic of Kultura's eastern policy stemmed from Giedroyc's understanding of the meaning of political action. The Bunt/Polityka team, declaring their will to reach an agreement with the Ukrainians, regarded the eastern border to be fixed and non-negotiable.[23] After the war, in the 1950s, the editor saw the matter differently, but the idea of a "great act" towards the Ukrainians was still close to his heart, leaving no doubt as to the intentions of the Polish side. He did not conceive of the pre-war border as the result of any "political concept", understanding it rather as the effect of "makeshift and chance".[24] This interpretation, together with the accompanying conviction that there should be no room in politics for irrational taboos,[25] was the starting point for putting the issue back on the table and resolving the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. This position took the form of acceptance of the post-Yalta territorial order; coming to terms with the loss of the Eastern Territories and two cities regarded as constitutive to Polish identity – Lwów and Wilno [Lviv and Vilnius]. In the editor's opinion, Poles should do this in the name of a lasting agreement with Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Byelorussians, serving their own interests as much as those of their eastern neighbours. Failure to settle territorial issues could have led to fatal consequences, i.e., a Polish-Ukrainian conflict, which would only benefit Russia.[26]

In the 1950s and later, Kultura did not address eastern policy exclusively to émigrés, many of whom were connected to the borderlands. Even during the war, dissent over territorial changes in the east was treated by Poles outside the country as one of the most important points of the independence programme. During a 1942 discussion on the significance of the Eastern Territories, prompted by an article by Ksawery Pruszyński (a Bunt/Polityka columnist), it was emphasised that the borderlands were where the attribute of independence and autonomy from Russia rested.[27]

The eastern project was addressed not only to émigrés but also to Poles at home, whom Kultura reminded of the fact – as obvious as it was underappreciated – that the People's Republic of Poland did not border the Soviet Union, but Ukraine, Lithuania and Byelorussia, lands annexed by Moscow. The recipients of the Kultura project were also Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Byelorussians, to whom Giedroyc was offering a type of mutual contact different from that rooted in the negative past. The replacement of the policy of antagonism and sometimes criminal feuding with a policy of sympathy – bringing positions closer together, building the foundations of consensual coexistence stemming from the interests of all those potentially involved. 

From the time Giedroyc began to raise the Polish-Ukrainian issue in Kultura[28], and later too, he was accused of illegitimately undermining the Polish state and national interest. He was criticised for being out of touch with reality, a peculiarity particularly in the case of those who believed that relations prior to 1939 could be restored in the second half of the 20th century.  Adversaries did not hesitate to call the Kultura programme a "policy from the moon", i.e., one that would never, or in the foreseeable time horizon, have any chance of being realised." Kultura, on the other hand, took the view that “utopian” ideas would sooner or later find a footing in reality and win the acceptance that followed. Giedroyc (following Mieroszewski) did not equate political vision with utopia in the negative sense of the term. On the contrary, he saw utopia, or what was perceived as utopia, as "the first and indispensable step on the road to realism". Both were of the opinion that it was the future of those who were deprived of a future[29]. These suppositions came true, though that is not to say it happened quickly or that Giedroyc managed to convince everyone. Nostalgia for the borderlands and distrust of the Ukrainians accompanied the émigré community until the end, that is, until the collapse of the communist system in 1989. Things were no better at home.

Critical reviewers of Giedroyc's programme included opponents who were fundamentally averse to the magazine but also people from his close circle. Czesław Miłosz spared no effort in urging the editor to devote more attention to matters of culture and literature than to politics, suggesting persistently, though in vain, that he should move away from political issues, and doubting the results of his handling of the eastern question. Giedroyc remained indifferent to such suggestions, believing that the views presented by Kultura were the optimum ones, even having no alternative, with their constancy or evolution determined not by judgments but by political circumstances.

According to the editor, Poland's post-war position was determined not only by its dependence on the Soviet Union. It was also determined by the status of post-war Europe. It had ceased to be a political world stage, and, more importantly, it was condemned to consolidation within federal blocs. Questioning the Polish geopolitical tradition, which in the past had been based primarily on the West, did not imply anti-Westernism. The West, Mieroszewski noted, had coped admirably without Poland when it was absent from the map of Europe, which seemed quite sufficient reason to part with the myth of Poland as the forefront of Christianity (Europe) and, at the same time, to realise that it was Poland that was part of Europe, and not the other way round.[30] Yes, Poland could not do without the West, but political ties with it should look different than before. The point was not to seek coalition partners in Western European states as a guarantee of security but rather to find oneself in a geopolitical area established on the initiative of the West. Such a situation boiled down to achieving the most important Polish objective, namely the prevention of isolation and the permanent annulment of possible German-Russian agreements at Poland's expense.[31]

In the circumstances of the future, the issue of Poland could not be treated as "separate" from the situation in Western Europe.[32] Giedroyc conceived the result of the victory of the West over the Soviet Union not in terms of regaining independence in the pre-war sense; he was aware that there was no return to those times, but rather of finding oneself in a "federal system";[33] even if a European federation would be made "by the Americans"[34]. The federal structure seemed to be the best one, as it was equipped with features that freed Poland from most of the dangers threatening it. It took on the guise of a remedy against the possessiveness of Russia and Germany (to be reunited in the future), protected against the German-Russian alliance that had always threatened Poland, and created the premises for a partnership with Western Europe organised on shared principles.[35]

One of the main arguments for condemning the pre-war world to a final end was the conviction that the meaning of the concept of sovereignty had evolved. After the conclusion of World War II, it needed to be understood differently from before, and the difference boiled down to the thesis that in a world governed by group interests, i.e., one that rejects bilateral politics in favour of collective ones, all participants must give up some of their independence for the sake of the community. Mieroszewski saw this process happening then in Western Europe, which was integrating economically within the Common Market (EEC) and militarily and politically within the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). He saw "no disadvantage" in limiting sovereignty, provided it was not coerced and did not conflict with the natural right of each nation to organise its life in its own way.[36]

If Giedroyc saw Central Europe in a federal formula, this prompted him to abandon thinking in terms of individual state interests. The boon of the new order, a product of post-Yalta conditions, was to be the guarantee of independence in a world stable and free of conflict. If this was what the future was to look like, there was nothing left to do but to lend a hand in laying its foundations. Ten years after Yalta, Mieroszewski was of the opinion that it was naïve to believe that in an integrating Europe it would be possible to create territorial faits accomplis by means of "private wars" between states, and "to shift borders and seize cities".[37] He was not far from the truth.

Any threats were to be avoided by the assumption that Poland, like other European countries, would be subject to the mechanisms and rules of a world arranged according to new principles. One of these was the invalidation of the meaning of "historical-legal" pretensions.[38] This applied to Polish-Ukrainian issues as much as to Polish-German relations. The regulation of the latter, through Germany's recognition of the Oder-Neisse border and the anxiety-suppressing certainty that a united, democratic Germany would not be a threat to Poland if it became part of a wider European construction, was a necessary objective for success in the West and in the East.[39]

The above claims and predictions, evolving in line with the conviction that history is a one-way street ("forward only")[40] were nevertheless constants in terms of the goal to be achieved by the project of Poland's presence in Europe and its geopolitics, including its eastern policy. With time, this programme underwent modifications vis-à-vis the prototype defined in the early 1950s while remaining related to the pre-war plans. It can, therefore, be regarded as a modified version of the Bunt/Polityka programme. Its message was to promote the creation of such conditions in the area of Central and Eastern Europe, between Germany and Russia, that would eliminate resentments and conflicts, and work towards the permanent sovereignty of the region. The Polish-Ukrainian question played a prominent role here due to the importance of the two countries and the nature and intricacy of the relations between them.  




According to Giedroyc, the basic challenge facing Polish political thought boiled down to finding an effective solution to issues that had been faced for decades. In particular, it seemed useful to analyse processes that, while in their infancy or even in embryonic stages, could develop into phenomena leading to far-reaching transformations in international relations and the balance of power, upsetting the status quo. For Giedroyc, one such occurrence was the erosion of colonial empires. On the surface, it appeared to be a natural process, caused by the weakening of Western European metropolises on the one hand, and increasingly strong separatist aspirations on the other. At the same time, decolonisation was something unusual, going against the assumptions of the post-war world. Logic dictated that the political and military blocs remaining in the Cold War should undergo internal consolidation rather than disintegration. However, Western empires were falling apart, thereby strengthening the position of the Soviet Union and its satellites, built on colonial foundations. In the opinion of Giedroyc, who believed that the processes of emancipation were irreversible and universal, and therefore applicable not only to the Western world, the Soviet empire was also doomed to disintegration, in an admittedly indefinite but not at all distant horizon. If this prognosis, albeit prophetic but derived from the observation of current processes, is supplemented with the principle, one originating not solely from desires, that the erosion of empires begins from the periphery, the course of action was a logical one. In one of his letters to Mieroszewski (1953), responding to Mieroszewski's objections concerning the line of Kultura, Giedroyc assured him that "all plans and projects were conceived long ago” and that all that needs to be done is to wait for a favourable climate, or for "the possibility of realisation".[41]

Giedroyc's hopes for the collapse of the Soviet Union, based on careful observation of the processes taking place there, can be seen as the core of Kultura's eastern policy. Comparisons of pre- and post-war concepts generally suggest that the programme of Kultura, unlike that of Bunt/Polityka, was devoid of anti-Russian bias. Among the evidence is Mieroszewski's writing advocating for an effort to normalise Polish-Russian relations. Kultura was free of the historically justified dislike of Russia and the Soviets that was widespread outside the country, and within it too. It was opposed to thinking in terms of resentment and accusation, which did not, however, preclude fighting to uncover the truth about Soviet crimes. In this respect Giedroyc did much more than publish twice Józef Czapski's account titled Inhuman Land.[42]

Kultura was wary of anti-Russian chauvinism, though its editor believed that "the Russian threat is colossal"[43]. He feared Soviet imperialism and was aware that the regime and ideology imposed on Poland were destroying its culture and threatening its identity. Coming from eastern Poland (the borderlands), he regarded Russia as a threat, both before and after the war. It is possible that this was compounded by Mieroszewski's conviction, which he shared at least to some extent, that no one really knows Russia, and there are only "varying degrees of ignorance about it".[44]

The difference in the approach to the Russian question between Bunt/Polityka and Kultura came down to tactics and methods of neutralising the threat. In the post-war conditions (after 1945), there could be no question of any projects to weaken or dismantle Russia by force, by using an external factor considered by the Bunt/Polityka milieu in the 1930s. On the other hand, there was no reason to abandon plans to liquidate it as an imperial power by supporting the emancipation aspirations of Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Byelorussians. Thus, Giedroyc made such efforts within his capabilities, being mindful of the assumptions of Piłsudski's eastern policy.[45] This message was accompanied by a conviction that the condition for Russia adopting a different attitude to the outside world than before would be to subject it to a democratic transformation, a task in which Poland could play a role.

Both challenges were synonymous with the certainty that the reckoning to negotiate Poland's independence from Soviet Russia by virtue of commitments, or agreements, was nonsense.[46] Kultura dismissed the principle of communicating with the authorities rather than with the people. It therefore rejected the idea of negotiating with the Kremlin over the heads of the communists, seeking a solution in the 'Finlandisation' of Poland's status.  Moscow's crushing of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, with the passive attitude of the free world, meant, in the view of Kultura, the collapse of the "political myth of the West".  It also meant that allies in the work of transforming, i.e., democratising, the Soviet Union, providing a chance for change in the parts of Europe dependent on it, had to be sought in the "other" Russia,[47] among those Russians capable of abandoning their imperial inclinations.[48]

The printing of books by Russian dissidents, culminating in the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago[49] and the establishment of friendly relations with the Russian émigrés of the 1970s, were an extension of this conviction. The result was a statement by Russian intellectuals declaring that "in the common struggle against totalitarian violence and lies, a completely new kind of mutual relations will be forged between us".[50] Giedroyc's not-so-distant success would be the Declaration regarding Ukraine, in which Russian émigrés recognised Ukraine's right to independence.[51]

Aware that a historic turn in Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Russian (ULB+R) relations was not an easy matter, Giedroyc pursued the two interrelated concepts. Asked by Konstanty A. Jeleński (1980) about the greatest achievements of Kultura, he gave first place to the "struggle for normalisation" with the peoples of the ULB, as a prelude to solving the Russia question. Grappling with this issue, which Poles had been trying to tackle since regaining independence in 1918, he was aware that it was, and would remain, a challenge of enduring importance and relevance.   






[1] Conversation with Jerzy Giedroyc, Res Publica 1980, no. 8, p. 161; ; see also, R. Habielski, “Dokąd nam iść wypada. Jerzy Giedroyc from Bunt Młodych to Kultura”, Warsaw 2006

[2] Cf. R. Wraga [J. Niezbrzycki], “Dwugłowy orzeł w leninowskim kąciku”, Bunt Młodych 1933, no. 47/48; ibid. “Sowiety grożą Europie”, Warsaw 1935

[3] J. Mieroszewski, “Literatura „oblężonego miasta”, Kultura 1952, no. 1/51.


[4] See “Oświadczenie”, Kultura 1951, no. 12/50.

[5] See J. Mieroszewski, “Evolutionism”, Paris 1964

[6] J. Mieroszewski, “Drama of Polish ‘clerks’” Kultura 1955, No. 11/97

[7] See, inter alia, [J. Kuroń] “Polityczna opozycja w Polsce”, Kultura 1974, no. 11/326; M. Kowalski [Z. Najder], “O potrzebie programu”, ibid. 1975, no. 5/332.

[8] (ed.) “Dwadzieścia lat”, Kultura 1967, no. 5/235.

[9] “Rozmowa z Jerzym Giedroyciem”, Res Publica 1980, no. 8, p. 163.

[10] A. Michnik, response to a questionnaire, Res Publica 1980, no. 7, pp. 114-115.

[11]J. Mieroszewski, “Czy Niemcy wrócą na Wschód?”, Kultura 1959, no. 7/141-8/142.

[12] J. Mieroszewski, “Psychologia Przełomu”, Kultura 1951, no. 9/47.

[13] J. Kuroń, K. Modzelewski, “Open letter to the Party”, Paris 1966

[14] A. Pragier, “Moja opinia o ‘Kulturze’”, Kultura 1967, no.  5/235.

[15] Id., “Psychologia Przełomu”

[16] Ibid.

[17] J. Mieroszewski, “O reformę ‘zakonu polskości’”, Kultura 1952, no. 4/54.

[18] J. Mieroszewski, “Polityka narodów zdeklasowanych”, Kultura 1955, no. 6/92.

[19] J. Mieroszewski,  “ABC polityki ‘Kultury’”, Kultura 1966, no. 4/222.

[20] J. Mieroszewski, “Geoideologia”, [in:] id., Finał klasycznej Europy compiled, edited and with introduction by R. Habielski, Lublin 1997, p. 228.

[21] J. Mieroszewski, “O reformę ‘zakonu polskości’”, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, p. 99.

[22] Letter from J. Giedroyc to J. Mieroszewski dated 17 April 1951, [in:] J. Giedroyc, J. Mieroszewski, Listy 1949-1956, selected and with introduction by K. Pomian, compiled by J. Krawczyk, K. Pomian, part I, Warsaw 1999, p. 115.

[23] Cf., inter alia. Polska idea imperialna, Warsaw 1938, p. 40.

[24] Letter from J. Giedroyc to J. Mieroszewski dated 8 December 1952 [in:] Listy…, part. I, pp. 242-243.

[25] Ibid., p. 242.

[26] J. Mieroszewski, “List z Wyspy. Prywatne inicjatywy polityczne”, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, pp. 113-114.

[27]  Cf. comments made in response to Pruszyński's text (“Wobec Rosji”, Wiadomości Polskie 1942, no. 40/134 – W. Wielhorski, “O nienaruszalność granic wschodnich”, ibid., 1942, no. 43/137 and Z. Grabowski, “Wobec Rosji, wobec Europy”, ibid.

[28] J. Lobodowski, “Against the Ghosts of the Past”, Kultura 1952, no. 2/52-3/53, also wrote about the issue.

[29] J. Mieroszewski, “Utracone sprawy – Utopie- Wizje- Gigantomachia-Dewolucja”, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, pp. 365;369.

[30] J. Mieroszewski, “O reformę „zakonu” polskości”, Kultura 1952, no. 4/54, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy.

[31] J. Mieroszewski, “Stare wino w nowych beczkach”, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, p. 281.

[32]  J. Mieroszewski, “Psychologia Przełomu”.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Letter from J. Giedroyc to J. Mieroszewski dated 6 May 1952 [in:] Listy…, p. 200.

[35] The federal concept is described and analysed by J. Korek in id., Paradoksy paryskiej „Kultury”. Styl i tradycje myślenia politycznego, ed. III, Katowice, p. 140 and following.

[36] J. Mieroszewski, “My i oni”, Kultura 1961, no. 12/170.

[37] J. Mieroszewski, “Polityka narodów zdeklasowanych”, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, p. 160.

[38] Letter from J. Giedroyc to J. Mieroszewski dated 1 March 1955 [in:] Listy…, part II, p.59.

[39] On the subject, see, inter alia, J. Mieroszewski, “Niemcy…” [in:]  Finał klasycznej Europy, p. 137.

[40] J. Mieroszewski, “Psychologia Przełomu”

[41] Letter from J. Giedroyc to J. Mieroszewski dated 26 February 1953 [in:] Listy…, part I, p.270.

[42] Publ. Paris 1949; 1962.

[43] Conversation with Jerzy Giedroyc, Res Publica 1980, no. 8, p. 164.

[44] J. Mieroszewski, “O Żydach, Kosmopolakach i wschodniakach”, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, p.318.

[45] A. Nowak, “Polityka wschodnia Józefa Piłsudskiego (1918-1921). Koncepcja i realizacja”, Zeszyty Historyczne 1994, no. 107, pp.3-22.

[46] Such a thesis was put forward by Mieroszewski in a polemic with Adam Bromke, see “Księgi ugody i diaspory Adama Bromke”, [in:] Materiały do refleksji…, [in:] Finał klasycznej Europy, p. 208.

[47] (ed.) “Dwadzieścia lat”, Kultura 1967, no. 5/ 235.

[48] J. Czapski, “Dwadzieścia pięć lat”, Kultura 1972, no. 7/298-8/299.

[49] A. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, transl. from Russian by Thomas P. Whitney, London : Collins : Harvill Press, 1974.

[50] “Miara odpowiedzialności”, Kultura 1975, no.  9/336.

[51] “Deklaracja w sprawie ukraińskiej”, Kultura 1977, no.  5/356.

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