moja polska zbrojna
Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Our Daily Independence

It is one of those values that have the power to unite people across divides. But how do we define independence today? Is it being proud of your country, or the freedom to exercise discretion, fostering national identity, or perhaps the memory of our ancestors’ merits?

Alina Dąbrowska, 97 years old: “The summer of 1939... I’ve just finished middle school and passed my secondary school entrance exams. In the summer, I went to Istebna to join a military training camp for women. We learned to shoot, we listened to lectures on providing first aid, but I don’t think that any of us felt we were actually preparing for war. At least I didn’t have that impression. Girls from all over Poland came to Istebna. We had bonfires, we danced, sang songs, joked together. In August, I came back home to Pabanice; only then did I actually feel that the atmosphere around us was getting thicker with each passing day. You ask me about independence... What it meant for us back then... I was 16. I was learning languages, I wanted to see the world, visit America. I was born in a free country and I couldn’t imagine my life being different. My parents told me about the past, but to a child in middle school it didn’t seem that important yet. Not yet....”

Michał, a second year student at a secondary school in Wielkopolska: “What’s independence? It’s the capacity to make autonomous decisions concerning myself and the world around me. The possibility to choose the authorities and the alliances we join. It is also one of the foundations of community, for me – not so much national, based on ethnic criteria, but rather civil community,” he enumerates. He immediately adds that answering a question asked in this way is not easy. “All the more so that I don’t think even the school feels the need to define independence in any way. Independence is usually mentioned in the context of its lack, so we have the brutal czarist policy, Germanization, Piłsudski and the fight for the shape of the borders. However, I guess to many it all seems like prehistory,” he admits.

Looking for Identity

According to LtCol Zbigniew Zielonka, PhD, of the Military Center for Civic Education, for the current generation independence has become an abstract concept. “I wouldn’t, however, read anything negative into it,” he assures. “Now, when the last witnesses of the fight to regain and maintain independence are passing away, when the living start forgetting about something that used to be an obvious obligation towards your homeland, in the times of peace and prosperity – we are, after all, a member of NATO and the EU – it seems only natural,” he adds. However, the events of the last few years have clearly shown this stability is in fact very fragile.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, unleashing civil war in eastern Ukraine, or the Kremlin’s aggressive policy towards the West have become another reason to verify the thesis of the end of history. “In my opinion, Europe is on the verge of a great reset. The upcoming years will determine its future,” thinks Col Juliusz Tym, PhD, of the War Studies University. He does not mean a classic military conflict which could shake the current status quo. “For a potential aggressor, a full-scale conflict in this part of the world would have to aim at achieving a political goal that would be worth it. Therefore, the so-called Fifth-Generation Warfare (5GW) is a much more likely scenario,” thinks the expert. It consists in spreading chaos, disinformation, provoking internal conflicts to cause social disintegration. Fighting an adversary operating in this way is hard, especially in a democratic system. “In order to defend itself against such an enemy, the society must have a lot of awareness, as well as strong, deeply-rooted values and feeling of national identity. Independence is also a state of mind,” emphasizes Col Juliusz Tym, PhD. It is worth adding here that independence is one of those things that can unite people across divides, at least that is what recently conducted studies indicate.

Common Holiday?

In the middle of November 2018, the employees of the company Kantar Public asked a representative group of 1,000 Poles aged over 15 about their thoughts on independence and the recently celebrated centenary of regaining it by Poland. The study was commissioned by the National Center for Culture (NCK) and TNS Polska. “72% of the respondents stated that it is a celebration that unites more than divides people, while 58% indicated they feel very emotional on November 11. The feelings were mainly positive: 26% talked about pride, 24% about joy, and 16% about feeling deeply emotional recalls Prof. Rafał Wiśniewski, the Director of NCK, adding that: “We have been conducting studies on Poland’s independence for four years now. On the basis of collected material we have concluded that this anniversary has enormous culture-forming potential.”

The anniversary celebrated two years ago bore fruit in the form of a book and an expert debate held several months ago. The attending scientists unanimously emphasized that the celebration connected with the centenary of regaining independence by Poland must be considered a success, as masses of citizens got involved in it. Official ceremonies – national and local – were accompanied by a considerable number of bottom-up initiatives. “As it turned out, independence is an idea that everyone can accept. The space for celebrating was extensive enough to enable a very wide variety of groups, which normally have hardly anything in common, to implement their plans,” emphasized at the time Prof. Małgorzata Bogunia-Borowska, sociologist, culture and media expert of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Thus, Independence Day was celebrated by nationalists, feminists, runners, young people, old people, and others. A uniting experience was, for example, singing the national anthem on Kraków’s main square. There were hardly any similar episodes in the modern history of Poland. Among them, we certainly have to mention big sporting events, during which the white and red colors and the feeling of national pride have successfully unified quite a significant number of people.

Scientists see the mass reaction to the round anniversary as a sign of social stabilization of sorts. “Maturity of a single person, as well as a nation, consists in the realization of own distinctiveness, autonomy, and accepting it,” said during the debate Prof. Antoni Sułek, a sociologist of the Jagiellonian University. “15–20 years ago, people were even more occupied with their own affairs. What we are witnessing today is a measure of some sort of social stabilization we have reached,” he emphasized then. The question remaining is: what now? “We should consider if we have at last become a more progressive society, capable of engaging in large-scale national projects,” said the Professor. Another, this time concept-related, question is: how are we inclined to define independence and national identity?

In the mentioned study by NCK and TNS Polska, 36% of respondents indicated “freedom” as their first association with the word “independence,” but only 3% mentioned the term “sovereignty.” According to experts, the first word is clearer to people. “Sovereignty is very much dependent on established alliances and internationalization of economy. Countries joining various alliances must have a natural self-limiting capability. This has been true for ages. However, although there will always be a certain group of people to protest against it, in powerful countries with a well-established position self-determination remains rather significant,” emphasizes Prof. Piotr T. Kwiatkowski, a sociologist of the SWPS University in Warszawa.

That is not all. “Some time ago, I conducted research on national identity among Portuguese students, which I later repeated in Poland,” recalled during the NCK debate Izabela Bukalska, PhD, a sociologist of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warszawa. “Young people from Portugal talked less about pride and shame, and instead made references to pop culture aspects. They were proud of their sport, culture, mentality. In the case of Polish students, the answers were rather stiff. I interpreted that as lack of pop culture elements to which those young people could refer to,” said the sociologist. Does this mean that talking about independence requires a brand new approach, a new language?
“Change of language? I don’t see the need for that in the sphere of values and meanings. These are fundamental and unchangeable,” thinks Prof. Kwiatkowski. “It doesn’t mean, however, that there is nothing more we can do,” he adds. According to the sociologist, Poland lacks great modern works telling the story of regaining independence. There is no movie that would have the power to shape our collective imagination, just like Potop (The Deluge) or Krzyżacy (Black Cross) did years ago. “I don’t know if it is at all possible to create such a movie, but I guess it is worth thinking about,” he underlines. Another idea he mentions is setting up a library of movies on the subject of Polish independence, both documentaries and feature films. “One of such full-length movies was made already in 1921. It was Cud nad Wisłą (Miracle on the Vistula) directed by Ryszard Bolesławski. Its significant fragments can still be found in the archives. The movie is truly unique, as only two films, I believe, were made at the time when the events included in the scenario were still taking place. The other movie was Człowiek z żelaza (Man of Iron) by Andrzej Wajda,” emphasizes Prof. Kwiatkowski.

Freedom in a Comic

Shaping the discourse on independence is a challenge for a whole spectrum of entities, among which school is of high importance. “The times of dark blue uniforms and school badges are long gone. Teenagers are growing up in a free world that offers a multitude of opportunities. Some students can’t even imagine the reality of the 1980s, when their parents were growing up, let alone the times when Poland was under occupation or partitions,” admits Mirosława Niemiarowska, uniformed classes’ tutor at the 125th Waldemar Milewicz High School in Warsaw. “That’s why we try to organize meetings with witnesses of the era – WWII or Solidarity period. Our students care about the insurgents’ graves. We try to help them realize that independence comes with a price, it should never be taken for granted, and that the young people who had to take part in those tragic events were not so different from today’s youth,” she adds.

When teaching about independence, schools do not have to limit themselves to talking about great historical events. “Two years ago, we launched a program called »100 Years of Polish Daily Life.« It assumed the students would learn about Polish history by analyzing photographs that present the most typical aspects of daily life,” explains Agata Łuczyńska of the “Szkoła z Klasą” Foundation. “The materials we have prepared include, i.a., a photo from the 1920s showing young people during potato-lifting. Another photo, from the 1970s, shows horse-drawn carts in the district of Praga in Warszawa, and in one taken almost two decades later a dark-skinned employee is standing behind the counter in MacDonald’s,” she enumerates. The students have also sent postcards to randomly chosen addresses. They shared their thoughts on the changes taking place around them and asked the recipients to do the same. Some people responded. “This way, we wanted to show them that independence is built every day. It is made up of not only great, heroic deeds, but also seemingly unimportant events taking place around us. It is worth talking about it in the context of everyday choices, responsibility for our neighbors, neighborhoods, fellow citizens. However, it is also worth putting independence and the choices related to it in the global context. Showing, for example, the huge importance of where we do our shopping or our attitude to natural resources,” emphasizes Łuczyńska.

Andrzej Dusiewicz of WSiP (School and Pedagogical Publications) also mentions new ways of talking about independence. To commemorate the centenary of regaining independence, the company prepared a comic anthology. “It includes 17 stories created by 30 graphic artists and screenwriters – world-renowned artists, such as Papcio Chmiel, Bogusław Polch, Zbigniew Kasprzak or Marek Szyszko,” informs Dusiewicz. Each story is preceded by an introduction on the historical background. The anthology also includes eight articles by outstanding historians, writers, linguists, researchers, comic creators and critics. “The traditional textbook narrative is not always understandable to young people. That’s why we are reaching for a method of conveying information that is clear and approachable for their generation. Therefore, school textbooks feature infographics using computer-made models, reconstruction drawings, photos of reconstruction artists. They also have online versions, which enables the students to work on their Smartphone or tablet,” explains Dusiewicz.

The evolution in the way of talking about such matters is also taking place outside school. “The language used to talk about celebrating independence can’t be hermetic, so we try to undertake various activities, constantly promoting solutions that can be of interest not only to experts but also to people searching for knowledge, positive examples and inspiration to celebrate, not only November 11. However, new means of expression should be deeply rooted in tradition, which is consistent with NCK’s mission,” thinks Prof. Wiśniewski. In the recent years, his Center has launched many projects addressed to young as well as older people. Apart from campaigns encouraging joint national anthem singing in schools or making independence day cotillions, the institution has also prepared a historical family game called “Szacun!” (Respect!), an exhibition entitled “Niepodległa” (The Independent), combined with a happening, at the Kordegarda gallery in Warszawa (it tells the story of the fight for independence through old and contemporary posters). It has also become a co-producer of the movie entitled Rzeczpospolita Reaktywacja (Republic of Poland Reactivated) directed by Anna Ferens. “The documentary presented the civilizational and cultural achievements of the Second Polish Republic. The viewer could learn how many of them have actual influence on our current life,” emphasizes Prof. Wiśniewski.

In the Idols’ Footsteps

The independence-related narrative is not only dictated by institutions. For years, also famous figures from the world of film, music, sport, have been contributing to it, and their input is particularly important. “I understand independence mainly as the freedom for which our ancestors fought, and which should be looked after by the following generations,” emphasizes Marcin Gortat, a famous basketball player, who for many years played in the NBA. “I think we should propagate this idea in all possible ways. Being for a long time the only Polish person in the NBA, I felt responsible for the way our country is perceived abroad. I tried to represent our country and our culture the best I could,” he recalls. Gortat invited Polish veterans to games, and on the centenary of regaining independence he hung a Polish flag in the locker-room of his team, Los Angeles Clippers, and promoted in the social media a movie commemorating the anniversary. “I try to undertake similar activities in Poland,” he says, adding that: “New times require an updated, modern content, which we should try to find. This is the only way for us to truly understand how important an issue is independence.”

Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Poland’s representative in boxing, kick boxing and mixed martial arts, a multiple Europe and world champion, is of a similar opinion. “We should talk about patriotism, teach it to young people. How? For instance, by showing them valuable people who can become an inspiration. For me, such role models have always been sportspeople: Tomasz Adamek, Dariusz Michalczewski, Adam Małysz or Krzysztof Hołowczyc. They’ve made me feel proud to be Polish. Soldiers can also become such source of inspiration. When I was in the USA, I saw the Americans’ enormous respect for military men and war veterans,” she says.

In the end, however, it is not the activity of institutions or celebrities that will decide on how the issue of independence functions in the collective consciousness, and whether it becomes a strong foundation of social life. The high school student, Michał, says that on a daily basis, we all focus on our own affairs. “Still, I don’t think I would find anyone among my friends who wouldn’t like to live in a free country. I think, though, that each of them would have a slightly different vision of what a free country is to them.”

Łukasz Zalesiński In cooperation with Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek

autor zdjęć: Janusz Baczyński / Shutterstock, Stanisław Kowalczuk / EAST NEWS

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