11th November

Alternative title:
Mainly unedited and unstructured reflections
for the 11th of November

11th November is supposed to be the day of joyful celebration of something that unites us, not the confrontation that it is today based on who has the right definition of ‘Poland’ and ‘patriotism’.

 

It was just a coincidence that I spent the weekend directly preceding the 11th November, Polish Independence Day, working on two assignments for university that are strictly connected to the topics of nationalism. One was a massive reading about national romanticism in modern architecture of Scandinavia and Germany. The other, an essay involved with the issues of Polish independence and geography under the partitions. 

To top that off, I also visited the just-finished exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland called “Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland”. 

National and romanticism all the way. 

This slow weekend was a particularly good occasion for me to rethink the topics of nationality and independence, particularly what it means to be a national, and what it means to be independent. 

 

Back at school in Poland, I do not remember learning anything deep about what a nation is — they were a given. We were taught about the partitions and Germanification and Russification and that they were bad. Then I moved abroad to a high school in England where I learnt that nations are groups of people held together by common culture, language, attachment to a territory, and other things — namely, they were a cultural group. 

Once I had gone to university, that entire thing got complicated — nations were social constructs and “imaginary communities”, and anyone who believes otherwise is naive and oblivious to the ‘real’ ‘nature’ of nationality. 

 

Given the transformation of the idea of ‘nation’ in my mind, it became increasingly difficult for me to understand who I am and where I came from. 

Growing up I was deeply involved in Girl Scouts and my patriotic stance and Polish-ness were a major component of my sense of identity. In my early years I was taught and sang quite often the Scouts’ anthem, which begins with the words: “All that is ours, we will give to Poland” (words by Olga Drahonowska-Malkowska, the founder of Girl Scouts in Poland).

 

Although I’m aware that there is not a single (or simple) understanding of nationality, I still feel strongly attached to the country I came from. This does not mean I am appreciative of all the political turmoil that is happening there at the moment. However, experiencing it from abroad has forced me to ask myself questions: what is the best way to care about Poland? 

Is it to fight on behalf of the disappearing native species and the pristine environment?

Is it to take care of the needy and the poor?

Is it to try and improve its reputation on the international level, campaigning for the government to accept refugees and improve its position on equal rights?

Or is it to draw a clear and deep line between the Polish and the non-Polish, separate oneself from ideas from the West, the migrants from the South, and build a hermetic community with a unified system of values and political views?

 

Perhaps I am not the right person to judge. For the last five years, ‘being home’ — being in Poland — has been mainly limited for me to spending Christmases and summer holidays in my hometown of Torun. That is to say, every time I’m home I am basically on vacation.

 

Summers are long, hot days at the park, occasional trips to the lakeside, roaming the woods, and drinking iced coffees with my friends in the Old Town square. Christmases are having cake at my Grandma’s, visits to my old school teachers, shopping with friends, and getting on with my ‘Christmas reads’ — a selection of books from the local library that I re-read every year and feel deeply sentimental about (see: last para). 

 

This is only my personal experience, but I wonder whether the physical distance from the country had an effect on all those ‘great patriots’ of the Great Emigration. As distance increases, the more imagination gets involved in constructing our images of particular places — and what is the correlation between the Great Emigration and the Romantic period. (I’m sure there’s multiple sources on that, anybody have any suggestions?)

 

11th November is supposed to be the day of joyful celebration of something that unites us, not the confrontation that it is today based on who has the right definition of ‘Poland’ and ‘patriotism’. 

 

When I talk about Poland, offer Polish chocolate or Torunian gingerbread to my friends, I always worry that they will judge me as overly nationalistic and preoccupied with something that is, apparently and after all, only a product of human imagination. Then I wonder why I still do these things. And the answer is there, surprisingly simple: there’s no explaining why, it’s about what it makes me feel. 

 

I have not read much yet on the psychological function of ‘the nation’, but you can be sure I will do that soon. Things I think about when I think of Poland:

  • My favourite singer-songwriter and how he makes me feel
  • The band I listened to when I was 14
  • Poppy seed roll, Christmas gingerbread, eating hot bigos straight out of the pot
  • Walking in the park where there’s snow on the ground and my nose stings from the cold
  • Staying up till 3 am after my night flight drinking hot cocoa and reading Malgorzata Musierowicz’s teenage romance novels from 1970s

And the more recent things…

  • Anger when I watch footage from the Radical Nationalist Camp march on Independence Day 
  • Unhealthy obsession with Jan Paderewski on Spotify
  • Sense of shame when I see a Guardian article discussing Polish economic migrants
  • Constant need to point out to everyone who’ll listen that Marie Curie’s name was Maria Sklodowska-Curie, and she was actually Polish

Published by kotersey

Graduated from geography (University of Edinburgh), now student of history of design and material culture at the University of Brighton. Probably drinking iced coffee and thinking about buildings/computer games.

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