On Saturday, 12 November 2011, IWP’s Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies hosted the Fourth Annual Kościuszko Chair Lecture.
This year, the event featured the following speakers: Dr. Carolyn Guile, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at Colgate University; Ms. Terry Tegnazian, President of Aquila Polonica Publishing; Gen. Walter Jajko, USAF Brigadier General (retired), and Professor of Defense Studies at IWP; and Dr. Tomasz Sommer, the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Poland’s primary conservative-libertarian weekly, Najwyższy CZAS! (High Time!), and Vice-President of the Polish-based think-tank, Instytut Globalizacji (the Globalization Institute).
“According to the Polish Sky and Customs:” Art and Architecture in Early Modern Poland
Prof. Guile’s lecture, entitled “‘According to the Polish Sky and Customs:’ Art and Architecture in Early Modern Poland,” addressed the interrelationship between architecture and culture. The architecture of Central and Eastern Europe, much like its culture and history in general, remains relatively obscure in the U.S. Art historians all too frequently ignore willingly the vast swath of European territory between Germany and Russia, which may be defined as the Intermarium, i.e. the “lands between the (Baltic, Black, and Adriatic) seas.” Prof. Guile admitted that this often patronizing neglect stiumulated her interest in the region. The lecture focused on the northwestern part of the Intermarium.
Architecture provides a venue not only to display one’s aesthetic tastes but to demonstrate one’s cultural identity as well, Prof. Guile explained. During the early modern period (and, indeed, other epochs as well), the Poles provided ample testimony to their continued allegiance to Western Civilization through their architecture. In fact, as Prof. Guile pointed out, the easternmost penetration of Western architectural designs (save for imported ones in St. Petersburg or Moscow following the reign of Peter the Great) was coterminous with the oriental frontiers of Western Civilization, and particularly the eastern border of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Thus, even Orthodox churches in the Ruthenian lands of the Rzeczpospolita differed significantly in appearance from Muscovite ones.
However, the Poles were by no means mere passive emulators of Western architecture. As full-fledged members of the Latinate Occident, Polish architects certainly embraced the emphasis on natural symmetry, harmony, and rationality in every structure. Such requirements were stressed by the famous first-century BC Roman architect Vitruvius, considered the greatest architectural authority in the ancient and medieval worlds. The Poles assimilated and integrated architectural nuances and styles derived from more “exotic,” Eastern cultures, such as Byzantine, Ottoman, and Persian influences. This approach stemmed from the Polish-Lithuanian worldview known as “Sarmatism,” which underscored the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the Commonwealth’s culture vis-à-vis both East and West. However, Prof. Guile noted, building in accord with the local “sky” and “customs” was certainly not tantamount to a renunciation of a greater Western culture. It was, in fact, a reflection of the quintessentially Western attitude embracing “variety within unity,” which has been translated into en pluribus unum in the United States.
Extraordinary Heroes, Desperate Times – 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron
The culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was reflected not only in the beauty of early modern architecture but also in the legendary Polish heroism during the modern period. Ms. Terry Tegnazian addressed the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron and its role in the Battle of Britain as but one example of Polish courage. Through their battle experience, daring tactics, and patriotic bravery, these superb aces overcame numerous linguistic and cultural barriers to provide an invaluable contribution to the Western Allied victory during the summer/fall of 1940. Unfortunately, Ms. Tegnazian observed, the memory of the heroes of the 303 Squadron was quite lacking in their homeland of Poland itself, not to mention the West. To expunge the legacy of independent Polish statehood in general, and the Second Republic’s role as a Western Ally in particular, the communists employed a two-pronged strategy based on terror and propaganda. The former was utilized to intimidate or liquidate the intransigent, and the former to mold the remaining Polish-speaking population into obedient Homini Sovietici. Nevertheless, the legend of the 303rd was kept alive by patriots both within and without the communist-occupied country.
303 Kosciuszko Fighter Squadron and its part in the Battle of Britain
Gen. Jajko elaborated further on the Polish pilots’ role in the Battle of Britain, which lasted from 10 July – 31 October 1940. The Polish squadron was the highest-scoring unit in the Battle of Britain and incurred the least damage. As Gen. Jajko pointed out, the Poles scored more hits precisely because they disregarded standard British air tactics, employing ingenious and daring ones of their own.
Gen. Jajko emphasized that the Battle of Britain was a great victory for the British, but an unrequited sacrifice for the Poles. Poland, the first Allied nation to resist and consistently fight the Nazis, was eventually handed over to the Stalin at Yalta. Adding insult to injury, the post-Churchillian Labour government of Clement Attlee failed to invite the pilots of the 303rd to the grand 1946 Victory Parade in London. The leftist British government had already recognized the communist puppet regime in Poland, which saw these pilots as enemies, in spite of their contribution to Nazi defeat. The Labour cabinet envisioned a British-Soviet postwar order in Europe and preferred not to antagonize Moscow.
In spite of immense Allied ingratitude, the pilots of the 303rd could live their postwar lives with a clear conscience. Truly, the 303rd had served as the Antemurale Christianitatis fighting in the spirit of the battle cry of Polish nineteenth-century insurrectionists: “For Your freedom and Ours!”
The Polish Operation of the NKVD, 1937
Last but not least, Dr. Tomasz Sommer discussed the “Polish Operation” of the NKVD, having authored the very first monograph on the subject. The “Polish Operation,” in fact a Soviet genocide, claimed up to 250,000 ethnic Poles during the years 1937-1938/1939. This slaughter of a considerable portion of the Soviet Union’s Polish population occurred mostly in the Belorussian and Ukrainian republics (one-third of the executed respectively). The remaining one-third perished throughout the Soviet Empire, including Moscow, Leningrad (the former St. Petersburg/Petrograd), and Siberia. The Poles residing on the western frontier of the USSR had lived in the Ruthenian lands since the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Those repressed in other parts of the Bolshevik Empire were the descendants of Poles deported to Siberia in the wake of failed uprisings or evacuated by force to Russia during the First World War. Most of the victims were of peasant or “proletarian” backgrounds, which indicates that the communist genocidaires were not guided by class origins.
Further, as Dr. Sommer pointed out, a whopping 80 percent of the sentences passed by Soviet kangaroo courts during the “Polish Operation” resulted in death sentences. Moreover, men in the prime of their lives were intentionally targeted first by the NKVD executioners, who reasoned that their elimination would automatically decapitate and disintegrate Polish families. In addition, two social groups suffered particularly heavy blows during the operation: Catholic priests and communists of Polish descent. The former represented not only a threatening alternative to the atheist regime’s claim to monopolize the hearts and minds of Soviet citizens, but also a feared eastward extension of “Polonism.” The latter – who had themselves participated in crimes against the Church and their fellow Soviet Poles – were exterminated simply because of their ethnicity, which clearly demonstrates the genocidal nature of the “Polish Operation.”
This communist ethnic cleansing campaign was one of the NKVD operations targeting entire nationalities, which, in turn, constituted an element of the Great Purge. Overall, Soviet Poles emerged as the ethnic group which suffered most during the Great Terror. The causes of the “Polish Operation” no doubt originated in Stalin’s hatred for the Poles, who stopped the Bolshevik effort to export the revolution westward in 1920. Furthermore, the Soviet regime feared the legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a competing universalistic political conception. Hence, the Bolsheviks chose to eradicate it by liquidating the human carriers of the “Polish disease,” that is, freedom.