To cherish our distinct roots and traditions as complimentary of the national culture is profoundly conservative. To use our origin and heritage as incriminatory of the present national community is insidiously revolutionary. The conservative attitude helps us celebrate E Pluribus Unum, while the revolutionary tackle breaks up One into Many. In other words, it is laudable to stress singular contributions of particular groups to our common heritage. Conversely, it is lamentable to use the past experience of some to damn the present for everyone else.
We shudder anytime the hyphenated ethnic American appears as an abstract concept within the walls of he academe. That augurs no culinary feast but rather the siren song of multiculturalism. Therefore it was with great caution and fear that we delved into a work put out under the aegis of a Polish-Canadian intellectual group. To our great relief, the book resonated a distinctly un-hyphenated message.
The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in Canada was founded in 1943 by Professor Oskar Halecki, a member of the Polish Academy of Knowledge (Polska Akademia Umiejetnosci–PAU) that had been banned by the Nazis and the Communists. It is perhaps for that reason that the Polish Institute is suspicious of various ideological “isms,” including multiculturalism, and, unabashedly, carries on in the old-fashioned way.
The proceedings of a scholarly symposium held on November 20, 1993 in Ottawa to commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Institute amply testify to its commitment to their fatherland. Its members advocate integration into the mainstream culture. As one of them put it, “Integration, unlike assimilation, is a mutual process. Assimilation is a one-sided adaptation of the new culture.” The Poles would like to share the bounty of their heritage with their adoptive homeland.
To express themselves better, the eminent Polish-Canadian intellectuals drew liberally on their ethnic background and historical experience. At times, they treat them as means for stringing the past and present together; at others, as points of reference for their work. The former applies to artists and poets, the latter to scholars.
The prints and woodcuts of Stefan Mrozewski adorned the works of Dante, Cervantes, Sienkiewicz, and others. From the jolly, if pensive, depictions of Don Quixote and his companion, to haunting anti-Nazi images of “Death Stalks the Streets” in the Warsaw Ghetto, Mrozewski made his distinctly Polish art technique universally accessible.
Mrozewski’s flight of artistic imagination found its counterpart in the scientific inquiry by Tadeusz Grygier, Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, into the question of crime in Canada’s arctic territories. Grygier explained that “the study was conducted in and outside of Churchill, Manitoba, but its design and framework had its roots in my experience in a Soviet labor camp, where I had been a prisoner.” A careful comparison of the Zyrians of the Soviet Komi Republic and the Inuits of northern Canada prompted Grygier to discard the hypothesis of the common sources of criminogenic impulses among both indigenous peoples, their close relationship notwithstanding. “In the Komi Republic the local population was oppressed, as could be expected…It was…the Russian imperialists that they deeply resented as their masters and oppressors.” Not so with the Inuits of free Canada. There, the welfare state was to blame: “We used to prepared Eskimo children for life in the South; we did not want to prepare them for life in the North, and this is where they wanted to return and live. When there are no jobs for them, they accepted the comforts and security of the welfare economy, which erodes their drive, ambition and native skills.” Hence, the endemic crime persists among the underclass.
Admittedly, the symposium of the Polish Institute was esoteric. But its multidisciplinary approach should engender a broader scholarly appeal to its findings. The symposium consisted of four main sessions.
During the first session, devoted to arts and literature, Richard Sokolski spoke about Polish-Canadian literature, Andrzej H. Mrozewski about the work of his father Stefan, and Regina Czapniewska on the artistic eclecticism of Pollock, Rothko, and Newman. Next, social scientists delved into current affairs. Teresa Rakowska-Harmstone shared her thoughts on the Polish parliamentary elections of 1993. Tomasz Skapski commented on the state of the transformation of East-Central Europe from a command economy to a free market. Finally, Adam Podgorecki recalled the moral contributions of his friend, the socialist dissident Jan Jozef Lipski, to the collapse of Communism in Poland. In the course of the last two sessions, Jerzy Wojciechowski hypothesized hermeneutically about the mutual relationship between knowledge, environment, and ethics. Jerzy Sasiadek accessibly shared with the laymen his knowledge of space robotics, while Tadeusz Kwasniewski shed some light on the development of microelectronics in Canada. Next, Wiktor Szyrynski lectured about the utility of silence in psychotherapy and Jacek Skoczkowski considered the relationship between psychopathology and the arts. Tadeusz Grygier presented his study of the Canadian Arctic and its inhabitants. And, lastly, Sylwester Krzaniak pondered the question of various health threats to newborns.
During the intermissions the assembled listened to poetry and some obligatory Chopin. Additionally, prominent Canadians and Poles, including Aleksander M. Jablonski, Robin H. Farquhar, Eugeniusz T. Bystram, Jozef Litynski, Marcel Hamelin, Pierre Hurtubise, Tadeusz Diem, and Andrzej M. Garlicki, delivered separate congratulatory speeches and addresses.
The spirit of the symposium was best captured by Professor Andrzej Hubert Ruszkowski, who averred that “we must consider what freedom really means. Both for Poland and for Canadians of Polish origin who continue to live in this wonderful country and wish to contribute significantly without forgetting a debt to their [original] homeland.”
Many Poles who became Americans feel the same way.
Pawel Wyczynski, Andrzej H. Ruszkowski, and Richard Sokolski, eds., A Search for Knowledge and Freedom: The Polish-Canadian Perspective (Ottawa: Promyk Publishing, 1995).