Backstory to Polish nationalism | Letters

Michael Kowalewski on the reasons for the rise of illiberalism in Poland

I cannot speak for Hungary, but the very nuanced account of Polish and Hungarian illiberalism (The long read, 24 June) omits some crucial dimensions – notably the influence on the Polish psyche of national messianism, a reaction to the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, which led to the disappearance of Poland from the map. These events traumatised intellectuals and turned Polish poets and artists into guardians of the national soul through prophetic writings in which Poland appears as the Christ of Europe whose sufferings will lead to a wholesale resurrection of European culture.

This influence – spread by the 19th-century Polish poets Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński – was strengthened by the papacy of John Paul II, which seemed to actualise what the poets had written about. Indeed, a poem by Słowacki prophesies the coming of a Slav pope who will set the country and all Europe free from tyranny. It is this background which is the cradle of Polish nationalism, even if the failures of western liberalism are a contemporary nurse.
Michael Kowalewski
Melbury Osmond, Dorset

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