Prof. Chodakiewicz on landscapes and climates in the Intermarium

March 15, 2012  |  KOSCIUSZKO CHAIR

Delivering his twelfth lecture on the Intermarium on Wednesday, 7 March, Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz addressed the "landscapes and climates" in the region. His presentation was embellished with photographs from his summer 2010 expedition to all the states from Tallin and Odessa from north to south, and from Brest to Smolensk from west to east.

One might rephrase the famous cliché by stating that buildings and monuments speak a thousand words. Both reflect the worldviews, priorities, and values of governments and societies. In this context, Dr. Chodakiewicz offered his theory of development in the post-Soviet sphere, in which gas stations and international hotels play a central role. The former influenced the grass-roots while the latter impacted the elites. Both supplied the post-Soviet population in badly-needed lessons in hygiene, professionalism, and punctuality, thereby raising both popular and elite expectations. Thus, gas stations and hotels serve as simultaneous engines and gauges of re-Westernization in the Intermarium.

Another feature of the region is the persistence of Western architecture as far east as Smolensk, i.e. the eastern limits of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which also marked the easternmost frontiers of Western Civilization. This concerns mainly Catholic churches - which most locals refer to simply as "Polish" - but also palaces, castles, and manors.

At the same time, the Intermarium is dotted by monuments, structures, and other reminders of the totalitarian Soviet past. Lukashenka's Belarus - Europe's "last dictatorship - is the greatest offender in this matter, followed by eastern and southern Ukraine (the most Sovietized and Russified areas), and Moldova (Transnistria in particular). Ukrainian nationalist memorials, in turn, dominate in the western parts (i.e. lands belonging to Poland before the war). These consist of grandiose, Soviet-style monuments to such infamous nationalist leaders as Stepan Bandera commissioned by local self-government, as well as more modest, grass-roots-level burial mounds to ordinary Ukrainian anti-Soviet insurgents. While the Baltic states (Estonia in particular) have made greater progress in dismantling the elements of the Soviet system, these nevertheless remain. A case in point is a gigantic monument depicting a Bolshevik, which haunts the eastern Latvian city of Daugavpils (Dyneburg), or the new monument to Stalin in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia. Both symbolize the fact that communism-proper continues to cast a sinister shadow over post-communist societies in the region.

The picture that emerges seems to indicate a great amount of confusion regarding historical memory and cultural identity. In central Ukraine one will see, for example, nationalist symbols (such as monuments to Bohdan Khmelnitsky) in close proximity to Soviet ones (e.g. "liberator" tanks). In other parts of the country a traveler may spot shrines to the Red Army's role in the "Great Patriotic War" inside Orthodox churches. In Lukashenka's Belarus, the regime funds both the construction of new Orthodox churches and the renovation of such Polish landmarks as the Radziwiłł castle in Nieśwież (Niyasvizh) and, simultaneously, cherishes all Soviet-era memorials. In fact, Lukashenka renovated the manor house of the Polish noble Dzierżyński family ... but only to hold annual graduation ceremonies for new KGB officers while simultaneously commemorating the founder of the bloody Cheka, Felix Derzhinskyi. Yet, even in Belarus, grass-roots efforts to restore historical memory and rebuild local tradition have continued in spite of many obstacles. What may appear as a "compromise" to outsiders is, in reality, an effort by post-communists to retain as much of the old system as possible whilst non-communists strive to reclaim the pre-Soviet past. Thus, the Intermarium remains an arena for a struggle for the soul of the local peoples.