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Pawel Styrna lectures at the Polish Heritage Festival

The article below by John Czop describes Pawel Styrna’s lecture at the Polish Heritage Festival this past June.  Mr. Styrna currently serves as a research assistant with the Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies at The Institute of World Politics.  This article also appeared in the monthly News of Polonia (Pasadena, CA), in the weekly Post Eagle (Clifton, NJ), and on

On 9 June approximately 10,000 attended the 41st annual Polish Heritage Festival. Almost all of them were Polish Americans who came to the PNC Bank Center amphitheater and fair grounds in Holmdel, New Jersey for a day of family fun, Polish food, and entertainment. 

The annual festival is produced by a non-profit organization, the Polish American Heritage League (PAHL).  Mrs. Dorothy Sowchuk is Chair of the PAHL and Vice President for American Affairs of the Polish American Congress’ New Jersey Division (PAC, NJD). The PAHL supports higher education for Polish Americans and administers the Lubomir Zabilski Scholarships. The PAHL announces several Zabilski Scholarship awardees at the annual festival. This year the festival’s general focus on education was more specific. Festival goers learned from Mr. Pawel Styrna why America’s national security professionals should study Polish history.

In past years, the PAC, NJD has had a table at the festival to display brochures about the Division’s political initiatives.  This year, the Division enlarged the scope of its activity at the festival when it hosted a lecture by an accomplished young Polish American historian, Mr. Pawel Styrna, who is assistant to Professor Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, who holds the partially endowed Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies at The Institute of World Politics (IWP), in Washington, DC. 

The cost of an endowed professorial chair at IWP is $2 million, compared with, for example, the $3 million Polish Studies Chair at Columbia University.  Approximately $600,0000 needs to be raised to complete the endowment of the Kościuszko Chair at IWP.

Initially, the Kościuszko Chair was intended for the University of Virginia. Lady Blanka Rosenstiel’s American Institute of Polish Culture offered the University of Virginia a $1 million matching grant challenge to endow the $2 million Kościuszko Chair.  To her great credit, Lady Blanka withdrew, in 2008, her challenge grant when the Virginia House of Burgesses, the name of Virginia’s legislature which supervises the university, insisted that the post-modernist and anti-Polish Professor Jan Tomasz Gross be appointed as the first incumbent of the Kościuszko Chair.  Lady Blanka then offered a similar $1 million matching challenge grant to Polonia and others who value fair play for Poland and truth about Poland’s history by asking IWP to host the Kościuszko Chair. 

The Adam M. Bak Foundation was among the first to accept this challenge, and made a handsome leadership level gift to IWP that helped to raise part of the second million for the Kościuszko Chair.  Moreover, Mr. Pawel Styrna is top advisor to the Polish American Advocacy Group, the Bak family’s political initiative.

Smaller contributions to complete the endowment of the Kościuszko Chair have come from Polish organizations and individuals.  In February 2009, then and present Chair of the Board of Directors of the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union (PSFCU), Mr. Krzysztof Matyszczyk, and the then and present CEO, Mr. Bogdan Chmielewski, were photographed at IWP with General and Chief of Staff of the Army Raymond T. Odierno.  Army officers are among IWP’s students.  Many expect that the PSFCU’s gift in 2009 announces more substantial future contributions.

In his introduction of Mr. Pawel Styrna, Dr. Stanisław Sliwowski, president of the PAC, NJD, observed that far too many Polish Americans do not know that IWP was founded, in 1990, by a patriotic Polish American, Professor John Lenczowski.  This Californian, an expert on the world communist movement, the Soviet Union, and Russia, served on President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council.  Professor Lenczowski observed that no graduate school of national security and international affairs was teaching the integrated use of all the arts of statecraft and cultivating patriotism in its students, who were preparing themselves to become future American national security professionals.  To fill this gap, Professor Lenczowski founded IWP.  IWP advances the cause of America and Western civilization by training our future foreign policy-makers in the ethical and effective use of all the tools of statecraft.  Polish history is an integral part of Western Civilization and, as such, it appears in several IWP courses, including Geography and Strategy, Genocide and Genocide Prevention, and Russian Policy and Foreign Politics.

Mr. Pawel Styrna’s lecture at the Polish Heritage Festival explained why future American foreign policy-makers need to study Polish history.  In a nutshell, there are both positive and cautionary reasons for future American foreign policy and national security professionals to study Polish history at IWP.

On the positive side, the legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, or Res Publica, suggests hope for the future humane and democratic political organization of central and eastern Europe, or the Intermarium, the lands between the Baltic and the Black Seas, approximately the territory of the Res Publica at its zenith in the early 17th century.  The Res Publica was the western world’s first sustained political experiment with representative government based on individual freedom with broad participation; the Res Publica’s enfranchised political class amounted to about 10% of the adult male population. This level of participation was achieved elsewhere much later, in the 1830s in America and the United Kingdom.  Moreover, the Res Publica was a pluri-religious and multi-ethnic polity.  Today’s joint Polish and Swedish initiative within the European Union, the Eastern Partnership Initiative(EaP), builds on the Res Publica’s legacy of freedom rather than autocracy as the operative principle for the political organization of eastern Europe.  Readers recall that Poland and Sweden initiated the EaP in the spring of 2008, before Russia invaded Georgia, to deter resurgent Russian imperialism throughout the former Soviet space in eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

On the cautionary side, Mr. Styrna forthrightly identified hubris as the flaw which led to the Res Publica’s demise.  During the 17th century the Res Publica’s elites developed a delusional pride, or sense of hubris, in their own invincibility.  Victories of the Husaria against numerically much larger armed forces, at Kircholm (1605), Klushino (1610), repelling the invasions of the Swedes and Muscovites in the mid-17th century, and finally the victory over the Turks at Vienna (1683)persuaded the elites that royal authority and taxes did not need to be increased to provide for a standing army at the very time when Poland’s predatory and ungrateful neighbors, especially the Habsburgs, were doing so.  The success of the Husaria led to a tragically flawed sense of security and this allowed private ambitions to trump the common good of the Res Publica.  Emphasis on freedom and rights overshadowed obligations.  According to Mr. Styrna, the patriotic Polish reformers who drafted the May 3, 1791 Constitution were too late by 100 years.  He concludes by observing:  “Like the elites of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the period of decline, many Americans have become so absorbed by personal agendas and special interests that they are oblivious to a growing number of internal and external threats. It is time to heed the wake-up call before it becomes too late.”

Mr. Styrna’s lecture was well received and he answered about six questions from the audience.  Many did not know that the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda on the United States probably were scheduled to avenge the Polish victory over the Turks at Vienna on 11 September 1683.  Al Qaeda’s goal is to reestablish the Caliphate that the Polish Husaria thwarted by decisively defeating the numerically superior forces of Kara Mustapha Pasha at the Ottoman Turk’s Second Siege of Vienna.

The Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies at IWP is giving us that wake-up call and that is why it merits our support.  Please visit the web site of the Institute of World Politics for more information on how you can participate in this truly Polish American effort.