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> [ANG] Church, State and Family in Communist Poland, Natali Stegmann
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post 18/08/2008, 12:35 Quote Post

Church, State and Family in Communist Poland

Natali Stegmann


Fragment: Poland is a land with a deeply-rooted Catholic tradition. The milestones of the ‘long 19th century’, such as industrialisation and modernisation, took place in the specific context of partitioned Poland (1795-1918/19). There the church functioned as a social and national institution that tried to give unity to the Polish ‘nation without a state’. The basic meaning of the actuality of that phrase in the 20th century was that it placed the Polish community above history. Studying Polish history, one must distinguish this transcendent narrative from a careful historical analysis. We will stress this point mainly in one field: the idea of Polish education in a central part of female social engagement and Catholic thinking in the long durée perspective. The process of the unification of the ‘Polish nation without a state’ that found its temporary end in 1919 was not free of conflict and took place under different conditions in the Russian, Prussian/German and the Austrian partition areas. In particular, the young inteligencja of the kingdom of Poland (Russian partition area) favoured, after the suppression of the January Uprising in 1863/64, a secularised and rational concept of the nation. Within this milieu the Polish women’s education movement came into being. Itdeveloped its own ideas of public and family life by transforming the traditional mother image into the figurine of a nationally-sanctioned female teacher of the Polish children and ‘the people’ (naród). The uneducated rural population was the mass that, according to the so-called programme of ‘organic work’, should be formed into the national basis of a modern Polish society under the conditions of partition. The engagement of educated women in public and (often secret) children’s and popular education actually led to a conflation of interests (not of ideas) between them and the Catholic church. The church survived secularisation despite the pressures of German and Russian assimilation policies by binding together Polishness and Catholicism to a personified antithesis of the partition powers. In this context the church played an imported role in children’s education as well. The church and the secularised education movement, which was largely female, understood their education initiatives as a national ‘battle for the souls’ of Polish children. That battle was to be fought between Polish society as a whole and the partition powers. In fact Polish society of the late partition era was highly disintegrated. The so-called progressive inteligencja and the church used similar phraseology in order to unify Polish society for their cause. In actuality, they had completely different conceptions of an ideal Polish nation. This is particularly clear if we recall their different – modern-idealistic and religious-collective – gender concepts. But the conflation of interests between progressive women and the church in precommunist and communist Polish history-writing was reduced to the incorporation of both into the Polish body social. This conception led to denying the conflict of interest that existed between them. The church managed to dominate the Polish idea on national identity even though, or because of the fact, that the county underwent deep changes in the 20th century.

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