Essay
History
Andrzej Nowak
Poland and Russia: Neighbours in Freedom and Despotism, Tenth to Twenty-First Centuries

The bizarre link between enslavement and expansion, the obverse and reverse of the same Russian coin

There is a war being waged – a war for Ukraine’s independence and for Poland’s security, a war for the future of Europe and freedom’s place within it. A parallel struggle is under way for the future of Russia. Can this future even be conceived of without imperialism? Can Poland exist without freedom? What is the heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and what is that of Moscow, the Third Rome? These are the questions I seek to answer in this book. To this end, I explore the history of Poland and Russia’s neighbourly relations, beginning in a time predating the very existence of these names, and ending in the present day.

Freedom and despotism are not separated by geography. They are impulses inscribed into human nature. However, over centuries, history creates and retrospectively depicts the conditions that either suppress freedom or allow it to flourish, and reinforce despotic methods or subvert them. This is one of the conceivable histories of Polish-Russian relations. […]

When we think of Polish-Russian relations, the events that inevitably come to mind are the most recent and tragic ones surrounding the 2010 Smoleńsk catastrophe and now Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. But there are also events linked to the reopened wounds of twentieth-century history: World War II, the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, and the subsequent occupation of its eastern territories. We then ask ourselves these questions: To what extent can we attribute the unambiguous historical culpability of one side of the conflict – the Soviet side – to Russia and Russians? To what extent were Russia and Russians among the vast number of victims of the communist system between 1917–1991, during the period of existence of the ideological construct known as Soviet Russia, and later the Soviet Union? Vividly and painfully drawing our attention to Polish-Russian relations, these twentieth-century events reemerge with particular force at moments such as the signing of the joint letter from the Polish bishops and Patriarch Kirill I on the reconciliation of the Polish and Russian nations, at the Royal Castle in Warsaw in August 2012. It was a beautiful but difficult message – and, sadly, one thoroughly undermined by the Russian co-author’s longtime service in the KGB (code name Mikhailov, beginning in 1972), who has used his authority as head of the Russian Orthodox Church to support every imperialist act of aggression perpetrated by Moscow, up to and including its latest attack on Ukraine.

The purpose of history is to ponder the meaning of the burden we Poles and Russians have inherited from our shared past as neighbours, and the meaning of the perhaps unfinished mission that persists in our mutual relationship. When we think about our difficult heritage – the one the bishops mention in their letter, thankfully leaving it to historians rather than granting hasty absolution to such a complicated past – we often wonder: Could things have been different? Could we have lived more harmoniously with Russians, whom we regard, after all, as a brotherly nation? […]More than anything else, we share a bond of language: we are “Slavic brothers” in a linguistic heritage with common roots. Perhaps we could have built a different sort of relationship on this plane, and maybe our shared history would have unfolded differently. […]

I dedicate this book to the memory of Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Vladimir Bukovsky and Georgi Vladimov, three brave Russians with whom I had the honour of crossing paths; to the memory of those who dared to fight for freedom in their homeland and in its historical neighbours.

Excerpt translated by Arthur Barys

Essay
History
Andrzej Nowak
Poland and Russia: Neighbours in Freedom and Despotism, Tenth to Twenty-First Centuries

The bizarre link between enslavement and expansion, the obverse and reverse of the same Russian coin

Publisher: Wydawnictwo Biały Kruk, Kraków 2022
Translation rights: Wydawnictwo Biały Kruk, adam.sosnowski@bialykruk.pl
Foreign language translations: Andrzej Nowak’s texts have been published in Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the USA.

“The  time will come when you say with pride: ‘Let me be a slave, but the slave of the master of the world.’” This epigraph from Mikhail Lermontov is the perfect introduction to professor Andrzej Nowak’s fascinating story about the nature of Russian despotism. This single sentence encapsulates the bizarre link between enslavement and expansion, the obverse and reverse of the same Russian coin, and a  recipe for the  endurance of an empire in which the absence of domestic freedom is compensated by the enslavement of others.

Many scholars are trying to penetrate the depths of the Russian soul, to find an answer to the question: How can an “evil empire” exist in twenty-first century Europe? Nowak finds it in history: both the most distant, reaching back to  the  Viking conquest of the Eastern Slavs, and the most recent, in the era of Putin’s rule. Traversing the centuries, Nowak presents concrete examples demonstrating that every despot, tsar, general secretary and Russian president must constantly sow terror, lest he lose his mandate to rule the slaves in his own country. Putin, like his predecessors, seems to be saying: I give you neither freedom nor prosperity; instead, I am reviving a great empire. The historical perspective of this book reveals the civilisational chasm dividing “eternal Russia”, a state of permanent terror, from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the birthplace of the democracy of the nobility. Poland exported freedom and civil rights; Russia supported itself with endless conquest. Both orders were doomed to confrontation. Andrzej Nowak offers a fascinating account of its successive chapters.

This book presents a  significant contribution to the Polish historical tradition that maintains that Russia is an invariably imperial country deprived of freedom, property and civic traditions – a state of affairs continually reproduced in contemporary Russian history.

Piotr Legutko

Translated by Arthur Barys

Selected samples

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Urszula Honek
Honek
Radek Rak
Agla
Mariusz Staniszewski
Staniszewski_Kartel
Paweł Rzewuski
Adriana Szymańska
Kazimierz Orłoś
Orlos
Rafał Wojasiński
Tefil
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Grzegorzewska_drama
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Sprawa
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Piatkowski_Oleksicki_Ekspozytura
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Droga
Józef Mackiewicz
Mackiewicz_Bunt-rojstow
Witold Szabłowski
Szablowski_Rosja-od-kuchni
Andrzej Muszyński
Muszynski_Dom-ojcow
Wiesław Helak
Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Jastrzebski_Dies-irae
Dariusz Sośnicki
Sośnicki_Po-domu
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski_chodz
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_SO
אנדז'יי ספקובסקי
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jakub Małecki
Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Przemysław "Trust" Truściński
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło

69

Marta Kwaśnicka
Piotr Mitzner
Paweł Sołtys
Wacław Holewiński
Anna Potyra
Wiesław Helak
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marek Stokowski
Stokowski
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
HKD
Jakub Małecki
Malecki_Horyzont
Łukasz Orbitowski
Orbitowski
Małgorzata Rejmer
Rejmer
Rafał Wojasiński
Olanda
Wojciech Kudyba
Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Bienczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Majewski
Weronika Murek
Murek
Agnieszka Świętek
Swietek
Stanisław Szukalski
Barbara Klicka
Klicka
Anna Kamińska

She climbed her first peaks in a headscarf at a time when women in the mountains were treated by climbers as an additional backpack. It was with her that female alpinism began! She gained recognition in a spectacular way. The path was considered a crossing for madmen. Especially since the tragic accident in 1929, preserved … Continue reading “Halina”

Wojciech Chmielarz

First, Marysia, a student of an exclusive private school in Warsaw’s Mokotów district, dies under the wheels of a train. Her teacher, Elżbieta, tries to find out what really happened. She starts a private investigation only soon to perish herself. But her body disappears, and the only people who have seen anything are Gniewomir, a … Continue reading “Wound”

Anna Kańtoch

A young girl, Regina Wieczorek, was found dead on the beach. She was nineteen years old and had no enemies. Fortunately, the culprit was quickly found. At least, that’s what the militia think. Meanwhile, one day in November, Jan Kowalski appears at the police station. He claims to have killed not only Regina but also … Continue reading “Penance”

Marek Krajewski

The year is 1922. A dangerous time of breakthrough. In the Eastern Borderlands of the Republic of Poland, Bolshevik gangs sow terror, leaving behind the corpses of men and disgraced women. A ruthless secret intelligence race takes place between the Lviv-Warsaw-Free City of Gdańsk line. Lviv investigator Edward Popielski, called Łysy (“Hairless”), receives an offer … Continue reading “A Girl with Four Fingers”

Ks. Tomasz Stępień

This question is closely related to the next one, namely: if any goal exists, does life lead us to that goal in an orderly manner? In other words, is everything that happens to us just a set of chaotic events that, combined together, do not form a whole? To understand how the concept of providence … Continue reading “Order and Love”

Jakub Małecki
Szczepan Twardoch
Wiesław Helak
Maria Wilczek-Krupa
Anna Kańtoch
Rafał Kosik
Paweł Sołtys
Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
Various authors
Mariola Kruszewska
Waldemar Bawołek
Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
Wojciech Tomczyk
Urszula Zajączkowska
Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar
Ks. Robert Skrzypczak
Bronisław Wildstein
Anna Bikont
Magdalena Grzebałkowska
Wojciech Orliński
Klementyna Suchanow
Andrzej Franaszek
Natalia Budzyńska
Marian Sworzeń
Aleksandra Wójcik, Maciej Zdziarski
Józef Łobodowski

The work of Józef Łobodowski (1909-1988) – a remarkable poet, prose writer, and translator, who spent most of his life in exile – is slowly being revived in Poland. Łobodowski’s brilliant three- volume novel, composed on an epic scale, concerns the fate of families and orphans unmoored by the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war and … Continue reading “Ukrainian Trilogy: Thickets, The Settlement, The Way Back”

Piotr Zaremba
Wacław Holewiński
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