When I was young such things did not interest me, for
what was the past to someone like me who thought only of the future?
Nowadays I avidly read through these memoirs, conscious of the power exerted by place names, winding paths, hills and ferryboats on the river.
How vital it is to be attached to one's home and countryside, to treasure dates and the traces that remain of bygone generations.
Why are we in search of Poland?
We are searching for a Poland that existed for centuries: a Poland as heterogeneous
as the Tower of Babel and that gloried in a rich and varied cuisine, a Poland
that astonished and amazed foreigners, but which was familiar and made sense
to those born there.
We are searching for a Poland we should be proud of, whose identity we should cherish and protect during turning points in our history: we are seeking the unification of an old continent torn between East and West. The kind of Poland we are seeking is one that will give us the strength to confront our fears and complexes. We shall seek it as we unravel the labyrinthine tales told to us; as we map a path through the dense forest of family relationships whose entwined branches link the many nationalities that once peopled our land; we shall seek it as we forage through trunks full of old photographs and as we engage in ceaseless debate.
In our wanderings through the past we shall often come across a Poland that no longer exists, but we believe we shall discover those general characteristics of our country of which we should be proud: the fundamental principles of tolerance and respect for others, and of loyalty towards and pride in one's own traditions. Poland once was to be found wherever there lived those exceptional people who had much to thank Poland for, but to whom Poland in turn owed a debt of gratitude: Ukrainians and Jews, Belarusians and Lithuanians, Lemkos and Germans, Tartars and Russians, Karaites and Roma - all of whom made a brilliant contribution not only to our national and cultural inheritance and to our way of thinking, but also to our cuisine and language; these are figures who cannot be omitted from any portrait of Poland. Together they spent centuries building our country and creating its unique character, even though Poland did not always behave towards them as a loving mother, in fact often more like a wicked stepmother. We shall not attempt to gloss over such dispiriting aspects, but shall allow them to act as lessons for the future.
The purpose of the 'A to Z Gallery of Pre-war Poland' - the project we are
working on - is to provide a fresh interpretation of the legacy of Jagiellonian
Poland and of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In our opinion, this legacy
deserves to be remembered and nurtured. It is an important part of our history
that for many years has either been suppressed or interpreted one-sidedly. Studying
the achievements of the Commonwealth may prove extremely useful in view of the
challenges faced by modern Poland in connection with its entry to the European
The fact is that the Jagiellonian state was the first in European history not to insist on ethnic homogeneity, the domination of one nation over others, nor on the imposition of one single language and religion on its subjects. It was a country that limited the power of its monarchs by law, conferring power on them on a contractual basis. The maintenance of internal peace and order in such a state - a state that was unique for those times - demanded from its politicians a great sense of responsibility and great skills, if the delicate balance between the individual parts of the federation and their at times conflicting interests were to be permanently maintained.
You do not need to have an especially vivid imagination to recognise in this
state the prototype of the European Union. Nothing better supports the claim
that our European aspirations are not something alien that is being imposed
on us from without, but something that is deeply rooted in our multinational
tradition. What is more, it was within the framework of just such a multinational
European federation that Poland attained the summit of its powers centuries
ago. In the words of the great Polish historian Paweł Jasienica, this was an
"(...) outstanding creation with its face turned firmly to the future,
but at the same time a complex one that demanded a watchmaker's patience and
care to constantly ensure that the multifarious internal cogs and wheels whirred
along smoothly next to each other." Over the years this arduous work allowed
people to develop such valuable qualities and skills as tolerance, the ability
to compromise and work together regardless of individual differences, as well
as loyalty to one's fellow citizens and the state.
We believe that the experiences of the last two hundred years have not entirely effaced this Jagiellonian legacy from the Polish national consciousness, but have merely driven it deeply into the unconscious. It is our hope that a large proportion of our fellow-countrymen have preserved this 'Jagiellonian gene'. For the time being it remains dormant and inactive, but with sufficient educational effort, it may be awakened and harnessed to the cause of our common future.
The projected 'A to Z Gallery of Pre-war Poland' will be composed of two parts:
a permanent museum and a mini Internet portal (you may view its test version
via the portal 'A Forgotten Odyssey' - www.aforgottenodyssey.com/gallery/albums.php).
The real-life Museum (work on which is now well-advanced) will exhibit many
thousands of original pre-war postcards and photographs illustrating the rich
ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The most important part of the collections will be grouped around topics relating
to the theme of a multicultural Poland.
The Portal will be a virtual version of the Gallery. The collections will be split into sections corresponding to the regions of pre-war Poland and then further sub-divided into groups for individual towns and villages. Anyone interested, whether Polish or not (e.g. Germans, Ukrainians etc.) will be able to look for their own hometown and also add scans of postcards or photographs from their own collections together with a commentary. In this way clubs for individual towns and villages will gradually be formed, and the same will happen as regards national minorities (for example, clubs for Polish Germans, German Poles, Polish Roma, Polish Jews and so on, which may also be conducted in their respective national languages). The way we see it, there will be no frontiers. For example, the Vilnius Club will be headed by a Lithuanian, the Grodno Club by a Pole of Jewish descent and the Szczebrzeszyn Club by a Californian. We are counting on the particpation of local societies, of those with a love of the past and of all those who have emotional ties to Poland. Everyone will have an interactive tool at their disposal that will enable them to exhibit their own material and to make contacts all over the world.
Such an enterprise has become possible only very recently thanks to modern
technologies that are giving birth to totally new educational methods, currents
of thoughts and online debates. It is these opportunities that the 'In Search
of Poland Society' wishes to make use of (the society was registered under the
name 'Stowarzyszenie Szukamy Polski' at the Regional Court of Białystok on 3
April 2003 ; KRS [National Co-operative Council]: 0000157426).
The A to Z Gallery of Pre-war Poland is an educational project that has elements that will appeal to the imagination of young people (online photo gallery, clubs and interactive media). The aim of the project is to construct a central online forum for serious debates about Poland, to help each other build up a corpus of knowledge about the country, to stimulate the minds of secondary school pupils and provide access to a wide range of information (we have, for example, created the test page of an online newspaper which is intended to be edited by students and school-children).
We are confident that by combining the latest technology with both a modern interpretation of patriotism and a multicultural approach to history, we will achieve better results than the conservative methods used in schools in order to cultivate national consciousness and patriotism. As a result, this enterprise, which is unique in its way, will, we hope, succeed in awakening the 'Jagiellonian gene' and to some extent "privatise" a patriotism which, as is generally acknowledged, politicians and professional patriots have in the past hi-jacked and exploited for their own ends.
It would be easier for us to reactivate the most valuable elements in this
"Jagiellonian gene", if we were fully-fledged members of the New Europe.
Join us in creating the A to Z Gallery of Pre-war Poland. Big and small, old
and young, whether from Białystok, Parczew or Chicago. Support us in creating
this forum where positive debates about Poland can take place and which will
confirm our permanent and rightful place on the continent of Europe, a place
which, situated as it is on the outer edge of Europe, provides us with a vantage
point from which we may sip the magical nectar of the culture of the east, a
culture to which we also belong. But above all, our project will disseminate
this central idea - that our multi-cultural heritage, our centuries-old attachment
to tolerance and fraternity, is not only a source of pride but - banal though
this may sound, it is the only way to put it - a firm foundation upon which
our future can safely be built.