ACTA SLAVICA IAPONICA
Abuse in Communist Poland
and Inherited Issues*
Alfred F. Majewicz, Tomasz Wicherkiewicz
Copyright © 1998 by the Slavic Research Center.
) All rights reserved.
Acts of minority rights abuse catalogued and exemplified —
doubtlessly incompletely — so far could not have no impact upon
what has been inherited.
In most basic terms the present situation can be described as a
fertile soil for an almost uncontrollable proliferation of movements,
political parties, social organizations, and other organisms of
pressure — both minority-supporting (emerging from or organized
by particular minorities or minority group alliances as well as formed
by Poles) and nationalist, strongly or utmostly nationalist, opposing
any idea of even the recognition of the right of any minority group to
exist, not to mention any other rights.
The most spectacular is without doubt the activity of numerous
German organizations swelling in numbers of members and supporters
reaching hundreds of thousands, having their strong representation in
both chambers of the Polish Parliament, introducing bilingual education
and bilingual road and other informative signs and captions, initiating
and promoting economic development on the basis of combined
Polish-mainly-German capital, organizing cultural, religious and
political events that are heard of throughout the country.
Simultaneously, it is the Germans who are mostly feared of as ones who
can "buy out Poland cheaply," or otherwise create danger to "vital
Polish (i.e. nationalist and 'Catholic') interests," and more and more
often are the object of attack from gangs of skinheads — one such
attack ended with a brutal murder of a German citizen, a truck driver,
solely because he was a German. To some extent, though it does not
constitute any excuse, such attacks are a kind of response to frequent
acts of a shameful treatment of Poles in Germany, also for being Poles
Many ethnic minority groups realized the existence of a chance to
improve their lot and prospects in the sweeping changes taking place in
Poland. It is not a proper place here to discuss or even list their
initiatives in detail but some examples should suffice to more fully
depict the opening opportunities.
Worthy of praise and close observation is the Kashubian group which
started promoting regional education (unthinkable of under communists)
which includes the foundation of a Kashubian secondary school and
introducing the Kashubian ethnolect to primary schools, their own
regular TV programs with video-courses of their language, and
sponsorship of academic research embracing sociology, history,
linguistic and literary studies related to their own minority, and
economic research aiming at identifying and defining optimal factors
for regional development. An impressive Kashubian Congress under the
label "The Future of the Kashubs" took place in June 1992 in Gdańsk
with associated events organized throughout the whole year. The
Kashubians are also strongly represented in the Parliament.
Regional development is also a priority for Byelorussian political
movements: the regions inhabited by the Byelorussian minority comprise
territories of the so-called "eastern wall" — the poorest and
least-developed areas of the country in the east with deserted
villages, abandoned land, and Byelorussian youth escaping to urban
centers where acculturation and loss of language and Byelorussian
self-identification are inevitable.
Resentments against Byelorussians are not weak but are regional and
ignored by ignorant authorities; they are associated with the fact that
during clashes and regular fights between Polish and Byelorussian
groups of varying political orientations that were frequent between
1945-1947 and on a smaller scale lasted till 1957 the Byelorussians too
often stood by or supported the communists and even the idea of
transferring the whole Biaystok region to Soviet Byelorussia.
Resentments against Ukrainians are incomparably stronger and on a
nationwide scale. The Ukrainians continue to be largely dispersed and
although their activity towards cultural development is more visible
now, their material basis for it seems to have considerably
deteriorated: the buildings of their only secondary school, for
example, which for communist authorities was a showcase of their
tolerance towards and protection of minority interests have turned into
a ruin endangering the lives of the pupils and teachers.
Conflicts between minority groups and the Polish majority are also
generated by the growing intolerance on religious grounds, at times
triggered by monstrously growing appetites of representatives of the
Catholic Church but at times occurring evidently against the will of
the Church authorities. The former can be exemplified by the uneasy
situation of Protestant pupils of Czech extraction in Zel—w in central
Poland after the reintroduction of religious education to schools or
the anti-Jewish hysteria after a — far from rational and honest
— interpretation of the event in Auschwitz described above (sec.
1. 6.) by the Polish Church Primate. The latter — by the case of
a prolonged opposition of Catholics to the handing over a church to
Uniates (the transfer was approved by the Pope himself). There are also
cases of clashes over the language of church services between members
of minority and Poles of the same religious denomination from the same
parish (one such case from a region inhabited by Slovaks and Poles was
presented in a shocking TV coverage nationwide).
Religion can be stimulative for a minority language maintenance but
it can also be destructive. The above mentioned Czech community from
Zelów is afraid of requesting some form of education in Czech (taught
only at home) precisely because of the very hostile attitude of both
the majority Poles as well as the local Catholic church. On the other
hand, the Catholic Church supports the promotion of Kashubian in church
services and the Kashubian translation of the New Testament was
published in 1992 with the Bishop's blessing and "nihil obstat." The
Kashubian region is peculiar as the only region in Poland at present
where a "battle for the language" actually takes place with a very
strong movement to upgrade the linguistic status of Kashubian under
communism officially declared "a local dialect of Polish."
The tendency to upgrade, or change, the status of a language
— although on a much smaller scale and among dispersed minorities
the minority status of which (in sharp contrast to Kashubian) was never
disputed — can be observed among the Lemks and Gypsies: both
started publishing their own press.
The statistics concerning ethnic minorities in Poland still has to
be collected. Generally, with the strengthening renaissance of minority
ethnic self-consciousness, but also with other factors (as economy in
the case of the Germans or those pretending to be Germans), the
population of certain minority communities grows, but the decrease in
the population of certain others is evident — sometimes it is
biology that is decisive (as e.g. in the case of Karaims,
Wilamowiceans, or Tatars), sometimes still politics and intolerance (as
e.g. in the case of Czechs or the very few remaining Jews).
As stated, the growth of minority ethnic self-consciousness goes
together with intolerance — individual, rooted in ignorance, as
well as institutionalized — in nationalistic parties or
movements. The prevailing tendency, however, seems to lead towards a
more tolerant society, as one may conclude from unprecedented interest
of Poles, especially the younger intelligentsia, in minorities, their
cultural heritage and their differentness. Books, especially on Jewish
heritage, but also those concerning other minorities, are among
What is alarming and distressing is the complete ignorance of the
political authorities (and so-called "political elites") of the country
in this respect and their absolute lack of preparation and readiness to
deal (not to speak of solving) with minority problems. Some of the
politicians are outrightly nationalist and openly reject the very idea
of minority rights but also those who are "intellectually" aware of the
problem (often outstanding and respectable figures) group themselves
into official or semi-official bodies to "assist" selected (because
simply they know nothing of the very existence of other) minority
groups; although their obvious incompetence and lack of basic knowledge
and qualifications is evident from their (rare) initiatives and
(frequent and abundant) talking, the idea of looking around for people
competent and experienced in the domain would not even occur to them.
Political short-sightedness results e.g. in such schizophrenic
attitudes as simultaneous support (or demand) for the foundation of a
Polish university in the capital of independent Lithuania and outrage
upon hearing rumors about possible demands for the foundation of a
German university in Polish Upper Silesia.
Unfortunately, equally ignorant are Poland's academic circles.
Organizing a much publicized conference on Poland's national minorities
in Warsaw in September 1992, the Polish Academy of Sciences invited
very distinguished speakers; the pity was that none of them was a
specialist in minority issues and none of them even tried to touch
minorities and their problems in their otherwise very sophisticated and
intellectually stimulating speeches. The Academy simply knew nothing of
any research in Poland or researchers involved and the money at the
disposal had to be spent. Fortunately, representatives of minorities
were present and did protest.