Looking at the annual rankings of Polish universities and colleges, 2003-2015 (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
I personally remember some very pleasant college-level studies on Polish Ethnography that I had attended in the summer of 1975 in Poland, in Kielce (in south-central Poland). Since I was highly fluent in Polish and quite bright for my age, I was able to meaningfully take part in the activities though being only in my mid-teens at the time. These types of initiatives were part of Edward Gierek's huge outreach to Polonia -- that is, communities of persons of Polish descent living abroad. There was an especially intensive effort towards American and Canadian Polonia. This coincided with a brief "ethnic studies" movement in America and Canada at the time – when, for the first and probably last time, so-called "white ethnics" like Polish-Americans were somewhat popular. One remembers that 1970s television series, Banacek, with a suave Polish detective – although it was marred by little research into actual Polish matters. (The name Banacek, for example, is typically Czech, not Polish.) There was also the iconic figure of Bobby Vinton, one of whose hit songs included major passages in Polish. The American television mini-series Roots was also referred to as representing a search for rootedness which Polish-Americans should also undertake, in respect of their Polish origins. Although there was obviously a "hidden agenda" behind the Gierek outreach, it was something that (as far as I can see) has actually never been matched – I refer of course as far as its positive aspects -- in the post-1989 period. I also note the major emphasis that was put on folk- and peasant-culture and native Slavic elements in Poland at that time – for example in widely-circulated art.
It should be noted that I never visited Poland in the 1980s, especially after the declaration of martial law by Communist General Jaruzelski on December 13, 1981. I felt a distaste to go there during those years. Finally, the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 resulted in the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. I thought of visiting Poland again. However, I was discouraged by the dissolution of the patriotic Olszewski government in 1992. Around this time, I had also written a long cri-de-coeur letter to the new Polonia coordinating body, Wspolnota Polska (Polish Commonweal). Not receiving an answer, I mailed a copy of the same letter some months later. The fact that I never received even the most cursory reply discouraged me further.
Because of various difficulties in the 1990s, I only managed to get out to Poland in the spring of 2002, twenty-five years since my last prior visit of 1977. I went with great expectations in regard to some personal matters. I returned in the fall of 2002, the fall of 2003, and the summer of 2004. These were probably the three happiest years of my adult life. The beauty of the Polish landscape and architecture, and, especially, the wonderful ambience of the countryside and smaller towns, was clearly a significant element of these moments of joy. However, things didn't work out as I had hoped, and I subsequently suffered great disappointment.
I managed to go again in the summer of 2008, but it was a bittersweet trip.
To be continued.
(An earlier version of this article has appeared at Quarterly Review (UK) (September 28, 2012).)
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.