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Politics and Harmony

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					Focus on History ACADEMIA




                                                       Consensus in Polish political history



                                                       Politics and Harmony
                                                       JANUSZ TAZBIR                                                                                      reform of Polish parliamentarianism prior to
                                                       Polish Academy of Sciences                                                                         the enactment of the Constitution of the Third
                                                       bck@pan.pl                                                                                         of May (1791). Of them, only eight were call-
                                                                                                                                                          ing for the principle of unanimity to be aban-
                                                                                                                                                          doned. Konopczyński comments on this state
                                                       Is the presence of harmony (which
                                                                                                                                                          of affairs quite bitterly: “This was no camp; it
                                 Prof. Janusz Tazbir   in the political domain is identified                                                              was a drop in the ocean; these were excep-
                             focuses on the history    with the idea of consensus) always                                                                 tions, not even isolated cases.” I myself have
                            of culture and religious   a factor conducive to the development                                                              encountered even less success in researching
                                         movements     of civilization – or was the emergence                                                             the reform movement in Poland, from its out-
                                       in 16th–17th    of the modern Polish state in fact more                                                            set to its sad end – only being able to identify
                                     century Poland                                                                                                       a single writer who defended the principle of
                                                       the product of a multiplicity of views
                                                                                                                                                          tolerance while appealing in specific to the
                                                       and a certain degree of conflict?                                                                  concept of harmony.
                                                                                                                                                              This source was Mikołaj Ławrynowicz
                                                          The wider notion of harmony – naturally                                                         (Laurinowicz), who was himself not only a
                                                       and quite comprehensibly – was first inter-                                                        Catholic but also a Bernadine monk, and
                                                       preted in musical terms, whereby all mani-                                                         whose panegyric in homage to Tomasz
                                                       festations of disharmony were condemned                                                            Zamoyski, published in Lwów in 1639, more-
                                                       as being identified with discord, the seed of                                                      over had to pass through monastic censor-
                                                       civil strife. Such is the construal of harmony                                                     ship. Laurinowicz worked under the premise
                                                       that emerges from the Collection of Essential                                                      that two diametrically opposite natures would
                                                       Information (Zbiór potrzebniejszych wiado-                                                         always exist within human society, much like
                                                       mości), an Enlightenment-age encyclopedia                                                          fire and water in nature. And so, although
                                                       authored in 1781 under the guidance of                                                             there was no sect in the world that was not
                                                       Ignacy Krasicki. Only after offering an expla-                                                     to be found represented in Poland, with even
                                                       nation that harmony “signifies the product of                                                      paganism propagating in the country, this
                                                       various tones in agreement with each other,                                                        nevertheless served the Lord God well: “As
                                                       rendering an overall sound” does the ency-                                                         the variety of elements to be found under the
                                                       clopedia entry discuss harmony in rhetoric                                                         broad heavens doth no harm to the heavens or
                                                       (speech), painting, and lastly theology. In                                                        earth, but indeed such discordant things give
                                                       that era of struggle for religious hegemony                                                        rise to a single beautiful harmony, like a lute
                                                       in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, har-                                                        of different strings, playing almost against
                                                       mony – or rather the lack thereof (i.e. a lack                                                     one another, so too the variety of the sects to
                                                       of consensus) – was invoked nearly just as                                                         be found in the Crown hath never harmed and
                                                       often as in music, as the main cause for the                                                       doth not harm the Crown, but indeed, with its
                                                       downfall of states. The key example held up
                                                       here was that of Hungary, whose multiplicity
                                                                                                        Poland’s Central Archives of Historical Records




                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Declaration
                                                       of faiths was considered to have rendered it
                                                                                                                                                                                                             of the Warsaw
                                                       such easy prey for the Ottoman Porte.
                                                                                                                                                                                                             Confederation (1573),
                                                                                                                                                                                                             considered the “great
                                                          Harmony’s few opponents…                                                                                                                           charter” of tolerance
                                                          The outstanding historian Władysław
                                                                                                                                                                                                             in Poland, contained
                                                       Konopczyński, in his still-pertinent mono-
                                                                                                                                                                                                             articles that aimed
                                                       graph Liberum veto (reprinted: Kraków
                                                                                                                                                                                                             to preserve civil order
                                                       2002), culled together the names of just over
                                                                                                                                                                                                             and religious peace
                                                       a dozen individuals who were urging the
                                                                                                                                                                                                             between religious groups

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                                    No. 3 (11) 2006
Maciej Bonarski/MNW

                      contrast and contradiction it offers good occa-     grounds, King Zygmunt August in particular.        This sketch for the plafond
                      sion to the minds of fervent Catholics, much        According to Marcin Białobrzeski, abbot of the     (decorated ceiling)
                      as iron be sharpened and tempered by stone          Cistercian cloister in Mogiła, had there been      in the Great Hall
                      put against it.”                                    a different ruler, one avid for “bloodshed and     of the Royal Castle
                          This statement, extraordinary given who         desirous of predicaments and civil discord,”       in Warsaw
                      it is coming from, is striking in its modern        Poland would have seen religious warfare,          – “The Separation
                      approach to the issue: the view that the            “whose harm is clear to those who have             of the Four Elements”
                      unhampered clashing of opinions could be            known it.” This represented indirect praise        by M. Bacciarelli in 1778,
                      beneficial to the intellectual level of Catholics   of the notion of political compromise – some-      commissioned
                      themselves. More importantly, the treatment         thing that would nowadays be referred to in        by King Stanisław August
                      of heresy not as a dissonance, i.e. something       Poland as the “Round Table” principle – yet        – shows how the “order
                      deserving to be immediately stamped out,            at the same time it called into question the       of the world” was
                      but rather as one of the necessary elements         principle of political harmony, understood as      a fundamental issue
                      within the overall harmony of the world,            entailing total confluence of views. It was just   for the king
                      stands in stark contrast to the tenor of the        such a compromise, following the heirless
                      Catholic propaganda of the day. The same            death of King Zygmunt August, that led to
                      goes for the opinion that the presence of           the enactment of what was called the Warsaw
                      diverse sects “hath never harmed and doth           Confederation (January 1573). This “great
                      not harm the Crown.”                                charter” of Polish tolerance granted the entire
                                                                          nobility the right to freely choose their faith
                         ..and many proponents                            and to fund the corresponding schools, places
                         Laurinowicz voiced such views at a time          of worship, and publishing activities.
                      when the victory of the Polish counterrefor-           The declaration of the confederation was
                      mation was already a foregone conclusion. As        in August 2003 entered on the register of the
                      early as in the 16th century, pride was taken       “Memory of the World” program patronized
                      in the wise policies pursued by the kings           by UNESCO; also listed at that time were the
                      of the Commonwealth who were success-               21 points of the Solidarity agenda approved
                      ful in preventing civil warfare on religious        in August 1980. Nevertheless, one may

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Focus on History ACADEMIA




                                                            Consensus in Polish political history


                                                            doubt whether these documents are tokens             ing the stamp of the ominous liberum veto. Let
                                                            of national concord and a complete harmony           us cite Władysław Konopczyński once again:
                                                            of views. The Warsaw Confederation declara-          “Despotism does not demand any virtues
                                        The Constitution    tion was opposed by nearly the entire episco-        other than obedience, while Poland’s liberty
                            of the Third of May (1791),     pate and the vast majority of the subordinate        demanded state sensibilities, sacrifice, and
                                  the passage of which      clergy. The Solidarity agenda, too, continues        vigilance from hundreds of thousands. These
                                      is depicted below,    to have its critics on both sides of the political   sufficed in one generation, yet were lacking
                                    contained an article    fence (the same likewise holds true for the          in subsequent ones.”
                               on apostasy (essentially     outcome of the “Round Table” talks of 1989).            Moreover, not all present-day research-
                                    a ban on conversion                                                          ers harbor blind admiration for the Warsaw
                                       to any faith other      Harmony and progress                              Confederation of 1573. On its four-hundredth
                                      than Catholicism),       Historians who consider the Polish-               anniversary, the outstanding historian of the
                              diverging from the highly     Lithuanian Commonwealth’s faulty political           16th-century Stanisław Grzybowski wrote:
                                 enlightened standards      system to have been one of the reasons for           “The Warsaw Confederacy proved to be an
                                  of the remainder. Few     its downfall often lament that 16th-century          enduring and stable element […] When jux-
                                     know it was in fact    or even 17th-century Poland did not witness          taposed against the course of events in other
                                          included there    any political conflict that could have facili-       countries, the confederacy and the fate it met
                            at the initiative of Polands    tated radical reform of the ossifying system         attested to the strength of the Polish political
                                      highly enlightened    – a system that elevated the principle of            system at that time and the esprit de corps
                                 ruler Stanislaw August     complete harmony in parliamentary (Sejm)             of the nobility, their resistance and political
                                            Poniatowski     debate to the status of political dogma, bear-       maturity. The confederation represented




                                                                                                                        K. Wojniakowski, Passage of the Constitution of the Third of May (1791)/MNW

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                                        No. 3 (11) 2006
                                                                                                                                                                                     ACADEMIA Focus on History
a great product of the Polish Renaissance.




                                                    Poland’s Central Archives of Historical Records
Yet it emerged late in the era, into a world
that was already Baroque in many regards,
a world not of Renaissance harmony but of
the violent conflict that shaped the Baroque
view of reality. It was a stable element; yet
the world moved on. And it was not order,
not peace or harmony, but rather struggle
and conflict that propelled it onward.”                                                                                                                The stamp of Mikołaj
   Jan Kochanowski, the leading Polish poet                                                                                                            Radziwiłł, chancellor
of the 16th century, tried to reinstate that                                                                                                           of the Grand Duchy
harmony in his well-known poem Harmony                                                                                                                 of Lithuania,
(Zgoda). This work expressed a twofold disap-                                                                                                          on the Declaration
pointment: the disappointment of a humanist                                                                                                            of the Warsaw
forced to lament how pertinent and fruitful                                                                                                            Confederation
discussion of literature, art, and human
attitudes was perishing in the face of intel-                                                         use of gentle measures – rather than impris-
lectually fruitless dogmatic strife, and the                                                          onment, the sword and the stake – had suc-
disappointment of a citizen-noble, stemming                                                           cessfully converted most dissidents. Thus
from a conviction that hot-headed religious                                                           there was hope that the remaining non-
disputes could undermine the political unity                                                          Catholic population would “come to its senses
of the noble estate, thereby threatening the                                                          and there will be one faith, one baptism, one
interests of the entire Commonwealth.                                                                 indivisible Church, as long as Poland endures
   Nevertheless, neither the poet’s fears nor                                                         in fraternal concord and peace.”
his hopes would be fully realized. On the one                                                            Few know that the article of the
hand, religious disputes did not do much                                                              Constitution of the Third of May concerning
damage to the coherence of the noble soci-                                                            apostasy (conversion to a different faith), an
ety, and its political divisions did not coincide                                                     article that diverges from the remainder, was
with religious ones. Yet on the other hand, by                                                        included there at the initiative of a highly
calling upon the dispute-mongers to look to                                                           enlightened ruler and ultra-European. King
the Council of Trent, the author of Harmony                                                           Stanisław August Poniatowski was afraid
was pointing them in the wrong direction                                                              that the Ruthenian peasants who inhab-
– the work of the Council, completed one                                                              ited the eastern lands of the Commonwealth
year before Kochanowski’s work emerged,                                                               would begin to convert to Orthodoxy en
had put an end to all hope of reconciliation                                                          masse, which would hamper or even preclude
between the opposing sides in the reforma-                                                            their polonization. The king’s dream was for
tion of Christian faiths.                                                                             the Commonwealth, a quarter century after
   Kochanowski looked with similar dis-                                                               the Constitution was enacted, to be inhabited
gust upon his countrymen steeped in Sejm                                                              exclusively by Polish-speaking Catholics.
squabbles or religious disputes, which all                                                            Such sui generis “harmony” was supposed to
undermined what was the poet’s highest                                                                be accomplished via top-down polonization
ideal: “Zgoda.” This, the title of his aforemen-                                                      in the schools, judiciary, and administration,
tioned work in Polish, alongside its meaning                                                          where leading Enlightenment-era figures
of “harmony” likewise carries the senses                                                              wanted to introduce Polish as the sole obliga-
“agreement” and “consent.” Yet the question                                                           tory and official language.
“Consent to what?” seems to be much less
essential for Kochanowski than harmony and                                                              The false face of harmony
unanimity per se.                                                                                        Victor Hugo once wrote that “this specter,
                                                                                                      the past, is given to falsifying its own pass-
   One religion, one state and peace                                                                  port.” This superbly reflects a certain tenet
   The poet and political writer Łukasz Opa-                                                          urging the need for “moral-political unity of
liński, when defending the Commonwealth in                                                            the nation” – a catch-phrase used by Polish
1648 against allegations of tolerating heresy,                                                        propaganda in the Gierek era just as eagerly
cited the triumphs of Polish Catholicism. The                                                         as it is now employed by the extreme right,

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                                                                                                                                                                   No. 3 (11) 2006
Focus on History ACADEMIA




                                                          Consensus in Polish political history




                                                                                                                                                                           Jerzy Kośnik/Fotonova
                              The “Round Table” talks
                             between representatives
                                    of the Communist
                                            authorities
                                   and the opposition,
                                  which were watched
                                 by the world in 1989
                              and launched a political
                            transformation in Poland,
                                does have their critics
                             – just as the Declaration
                                        of the Warsaw
                                        Confederation
                                 did 400 years before

                                                          both church and secular. Harmony of this sort     late 19th and early 20th centuries, describ-
                                                          seems to have found its fullest expression        ing the relations between the Ukrainian
                                                          in the pseudo-elections of Communist-era          villagers and Polish manor courts in simply
                                                          Poland, when more than 90% of the popula-         idyllic terms. Most such authors shared the
                                                          tion expressed its support for the agenda of      delusions held by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka,
                                                          the party and government. The example was         who oblivious to recent events writes in her
                                                          of course set by the Soviet Union, where a        Conflagration (Pożodze): “These people lived
                                                          vast majority of voters backed the bloc of        well and amicably with the Polish landown-
                                                          Bolsheviks and independents, yet several mil-     ers, eagerly recognizing the superiority of
                                                          lion of them had to subsequently be sent to       their masters and respecting it.” Faith was
                                                          gulags and shot as enemies of the people.         harbored “in the existence of harmony in
                                                             I will not conceal the fact that harmony       the Eastern borderland society” (Mirosław
                                                          seems to me to be a somewhat dubious ideal.       Ustrzycki), which even the most perfidious,
                                                          Especially when it is taken to entail the end     mass-scale propaganda could not undermine.
                                                          of all disputes, religious or political. This     So much greater was the shock when mass
                                                          goal is unattainable without reintroducing        pogroms began: the robbing and plundering
                                                          censorship and the category of “political pris-   of manor homes, and the murder of their own-
                                                          oners” (the latter was abolished by during        ers and their entire families. Harmony trans-
                                                          Piłsudski’s era of Sanacja in Poland, and was     formed into horror from one day to the next,
                                                          not, for obvious reasons, reinstated by the       and the victims of this nightmare could but
                                                          People’s Republic of Poland). All attempts at     echo the words of the playwright Wyspiański:
                                                          too far-reaching a compromise will likewise       “All was but a mask of pretense, painted pic-
                                                          be hampered by the memory of past agree-          ture false in substance” (“wszystko była podła
                                                          ments that were breeched.                         maska, malowany fałsz z obrazka”).          
                                                             Here we should not repeat the mistakes
                                                          made by Kochanowski centuries ago: calling
                                                                                                            Further reading:
                                                          for concord and total harmony in working on
                                                          behalf of the Polish state, without stopping to   Bérenger J. (1999). Tolerance ou paix de religion en Europe
                                                          consider the price that must sometimes be               centrale (1415-1792). Paris: Honoré Champion.
                                                          paid for such harmony. Or to consider the fre-    Lecler J. (1954). Histoire de la tolerance au siècle de la
                                                                                                                  Réforme. Vol. I. Paris: Aubier. Editions Montaigne.
                                                          quently purely superficial nature of harmony.     Tazbir J. (1973). A State without Stakes. Polish religious
                                                             A classic example here is to be found in the         toleration in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
                                                          pastoral journals and memoirs written in the            Warsaw: The Kościuszko Foundation.


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