Reconciliation in Bloodlands

Assessing Actions and Outcomes in Contemporary Central-Eastern Europe

by Jacek Kurczewski (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 352 Pages


Central-Eastern Europe, in the mid-20th century, was a scene of Holocaust, mass killings, war, deportations and forced resettlements under the competing totalitarian invasions and afterwards. It was also the area where churches, politicians and citizens were engaged in reconciliation between antagonized religions and nations. This book presents several attempts to heal relations between Poles, Jews, Germans, Czechs, Ukrainians, Russians and Latvians as well as between Catholics, Protestants and Mariavites. Re-conciliatory practices of John Paul II and other Catholic leaders as well as Protestant churches are analysed in the first part of the book. Most of the remaining studies are focused on particular localities in Upper Silesia, Cieszyn Silesia, former Polish Livland and on the Polish-Ukrainian borderland. These detailed contributions combine sociological methods with anthropological insight and historical context. The authors are sociologists, psychologists and theologians and this leads to a fully interdisciplinary approach in the assessment of the recent state of inter-group relations in the region as well as in the proposed theory of peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Bloodlands à la longue durée – Introduction
  • Anthropology in Service of Reconciliation: The Approach
  • Hate Narrations
  • Love Speech as Action. John Paul II’s Teaching and Practice of Conciliation
  • Reconciliation with the Absent: Poles and Jews in Democratic Poland
  • Polish Youth Confronting the Jewish Past: Antagonistic History and Pathways to Reconciliation
  • Reconciled Diversity – Contribution of the Opole Catholic Church to the Reconciliation of Ethnic Groups, Traditions and Cultures
  • Polish Protestants in Trans-Olza Cieszyn Silesia Towards the Polish-German and Czech-German Reconciliation
  • Young People of Cieszyn Silesia in Interfaith Dialogue
  • The Reconciliation Through A Marriage: A Comparative Study of Marital Selection in Two Polish Bi-denominational Communities
  • Memory Sites versus Antagonism and Reconciliation: The Case of Polish-Czech Relations
  • Latvian-Russian Relations in Daugavpils Since 1991
  • Kresowianie: The Polish Expellees’ Perspective on Reconciliation
  • Past, Conflicts and Seeking of Reconciliation on the Polish-Ukrainian Borderland
  • The Culture of Coexistence in the longue durée. On Practising the Ethos of the Borderland
  • Compelled to be Neighbours: A Small Polish Town in Former Germany
  • Reconciliation in the Bloodlands – Concluding Remarks
  • Contributors to this volume
  • Acknowledgments
  • Series index

← 6 | 7 → Bloodlands à la longue durée – Introduction

Jacek Kurczewski

This book is the collection of studies written as contribution to the better understanding of reconciliation as needed and attempted in the Central-Eastern Europe. Some of these studies relate what was prepared within the scope of the Antagonism and Reconciliation in Multi-Culureal Areas Project Grant NN116230436 of Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education under my direction in years 2008-1012 (contributions by Czech, Fuszara, Gawkowska, Herman, Kasperek, Kurczewska, Rusek, Szymeczek, Volkov and Wojakowski). The project was finalized in form of two volumes in Polish (Różańska joined one of those) establishing in Polish sociology the empirical field of sociology of antagonism and reconciliation. First was called “Sociology of Reconciliation” (Kurczewski 2012) and presents the works of ad hoc symposium organized together with Oświęcim Academy during the 2011 Cracow Congress of Polish Sociological Association, while the second, titled “Antagonism and Reconciliation in Multi-Culural Areas” (Kurczewski and Herman 2012) focused in more detail on selected cases of antagonism. Bilewicz et al., Czyżewski and Śpiewak – each of whom was either academically or practically engaged in the reconciliation contributed for this particular volume. But even the earlier contributions were mostly rewritten in order to present the particular issue in the way that will allow to take it into consideration by readers from other areas of the world. Thirtieth anniversary of awarding Lech Wałęsa with Nobel Peace Prize is the proper occasion to reflect how the peaceful transformation of people in the direction of mutual tolerance and cooperation is proceeding in this part of the world. Thirty years ago Eegil Aarvik in his Presentation Speech on October 10, 1983 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Lech Wałęsa, the leader of then banned first independent and self-governing SOLIDARNOŚĆ trade union in the Communist country said: “Solidarity has come to represent the determination to resolve conflicts and obliterate disagreement through peaceful negotiation, where all involved meet with mutual respect for one another’s integrity”. This describes well the understanding of reconciliation that is uniting the contributors to the volume.

Sociological, anthropological and psychological analysis dominate throughout the volume though no wonder that with such project the common methodology was established flexibly. Its main assumption are presented in chapter by Joanna Kurczewska who is pointing at the need to add the so-called new anthropology to the historical sociology in order to understand the complexity of the ← 7 | 8 → process of reconciliation. Authors agree that basically reconciliation is the process, not a solid state. Assumed to be achieved it may suddenly escape if one of the Pandora’s boxes still abound in the “Bloodlands” as Timothy Snyder (2010) calls our region will be opened.

In our title we refer to title of his book though we think the scope of European Bloodlands is larger than he thought. Intermarium or more exactly Isthmus Inter Mares stretching from the White or Baltic Sea in the North to Black Sea and Adriatic in the South was leading between Holy Roman Empire of German Nation and Muscovy defined as the “Third Rome” first by Brother Philoteus in 1510. Ivan III married Sophia Paleologue, a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XIV in 1472 and in 1478 proclaimed himself a Tsar of All-Russia. He contested Mehmed II who declared himself Kayser-i Rum, “Caesar of Rome” and also had some blood relation with Byzantine dynasty. Between those three contesting imperial claims inhabitants of Isthmus were trying to defend their own independence.

À la longue durée – to follow F. Braudel’s perspective – what happened in the Central-Eastern Europe since the end of the 14th century is crucial for civilizational processes that somehow continue until the present. The national identitites are produced that will remain with us as points of reference for the mutual accusations, sympathies and hatred.

There were four outsiders who step by step became closer to gaining control of the Isthmus – Sweden, Habsburgs, Ottomans and Muscovy – and then withdrawn even slower except for Sweden that ended its conquest at beginning of the 18th century. The native, and here one may include the Teutonic order that settled here as late as in 13th century actors had been ambitious too but only the Germans took control of the Germans and attempted the control of the whole region to surrender in turn to Soviet Russia that after 45 years withdrew from here almost completely if not for the symbolically and military important presence in the Northern part of former East Prussia.

Braudel’s excursion into history of Poland follows two roads. One is short, so-called “Moravian road” from Moravia and Hungary (including Slovakia) to Poland “practically devoid of vineyards” (Braudel 2004 I:212). Though Christianity brought with it the need of wine and Cystersian abbeys were diligently developing the scattered viniculture in the North it is true that the results remained limited in volume and in taste, to say the least. Beer and mead were the local product while wine until today needs to be imported. The second road goes differently as one could not easily herd the cattle through the heights of Carpathian mountains. Short range in this case means distance from Moldova to Gdańsk covered by tens thousands of “white cattle” yearly. In 1588 English Ambassador to the Sultan contracted exchange of these cattle for English cloth to be transferred ← 8 | 9 → via Gdańsk. “Sothward, after Cracow, Lviv, Galati, bypassing Hungary with is frequent wars long commercial tract leads to Balkans, and further to Constantinople. In one direction the furs, skins, small quantities of amber, cheap Polish cloth or expensive re-exported, iron, probably coins of lower standard (…), in the opposite Armenian and Jewish (…), Turkish and Greek merchants (…) supply horses, more often spices and silk” (Braudel 1995, I:214/215). This is commerce in luxuries, important of course but we believe that “white cattle” which one may still encounter in Rumania or Moldova seems to be the key to understand the desperate struggle between Poland, Turkey and local princes to control Moldavian “isthmus” that allows the passage of herds at footsteps of mountains from North to the South. And the link with Black Sea, unexplored by Braudel was of greatest importance for this part of Europe. Until 1479 Kaffa (for thousand years major centre of slaves’ trade) at Crimea remained in hands of Genovese merchants. Cetatea Alba and Galati continued afterwards as ports under the Christian power, under Ottoman rule Greeks were running the Black Sea version of Levantine sea culture in Varna. So the whole tract from Baltic sea ports of Gdańsk, Elbląg, Kaliningrad, Riga and land ports of Poznań and Franfurt to Black Sea ports and the city of cities – Stanbul was of the strategic concern.

The interplay of political actors points to the communality of this area. Treaty of Radnot in 1653 partitioning for the first time in history Respublica or as we call it here Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is made in Transylvanian town by Brandenburgian, Swedish, Cassack. Lithuanian and Transylvanian leaders. 80 years earlier a Transylvanian prince, Istvan Batory becomes King of Poland, grand duke of Lithuania and expels Muscovites from Smolensk and Swedes from Riga continuing to rule his Transylvanian duchy from Warsaw. Polish king Jan Olbracht dies in the battle won by Moldavians, another one, Jan Sobieski 80 years later helps to defend Vienna from Turks in 1683 and afterwards marches through Hungarian lands to reconquer Moldavia. These interactions show the organic community of the region as well as the white cattle contracted in Stambul to be dispatched from Moldavia through Poland to England.

Historians and sociologists speak most often of the national and ethnic conflicts as if forgetting that there were and still are other dividing lines which are difficult to put unto the common scheme especially if one is neglecting the significance of religion in contemporary culture. But the realization that people who differ ONLY on religious beliefs may massacre each other led first to the impulse for tolerance. Edict of 315 made in Milan expressed concern on part of two rulers of multi-denominational polities that the citizens will struggle between themselves and not under the rulers against the outside enemy. Once Christianity won universally within the Roman world it was thought that this is ← 9 | 10 → even better solution. But the inside differenced started to grow here and there and the problem again grew in importance so much that the problem of religious tolerance emerged again at the end of Late Middle Ages.

There were five historical religious dividing lines that met each other in Central Eastern Europe. First, the indigeneous Paganism continued among the Balts mouch longer than among their Slav neigbours whom they were attacking and plundering. The forceless duke Konrad of Mazovia finally invited the jobless and homeless Teutonic Knights escapees from the Holy Land to fight and convert with sword if necessary the pagan tribes. The Northern Crusade continued until the beginning of 15th century when the last country Samogitia in Lithuanian Grand Duchy got converted and the Holy Fire in Wormia had been extinguished in 1413. But history of wars led by Knights against Pagan tribes as well as against Orthodox (Novgorod under St. Alexander Nevski) and Catholic (Polish Pomerania) population is still one of the historical reference points for national histories.

Second, was the Great Schism of 1054 that divided Christianity in the region. Not surprisingly typically for liminal areas we find here the crossing – Uniate churches of Ruthenians, Ukrainians or Rumanians that resulted from the political decisions by some of the Greek faith to accept Pope of Rome authority. While Florence Union was without consequences, it had been implemented in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth due to the Roman Catholic pressure that led to the act of union took by the Orthodox synod in Brest’ Litovsk in 1596. In Transylvania Othodox bishops set up Union with Rome in the years 1697-1700 that used Romanian language in liturgy and became Romanian Greek Catholic Church after unification of Rumania. Treated as traitors, Uniates were persecuted by Russian governments until Stalin who dissolved them in Ukraine and in the subject Rumania, (in Poland there were also non-recognized by the state) and it is only since revolution of 1989 and Ukrainian independence of 1991 that they may again enjoy their existence in peace. But the fierce conflict between Uniates and Orthodoxes is the result of the basic antagonism between Christian of Roman obedience and the Orthodox whether focused on Constantinople or on the “Third Rome” as Moscow is called. The denominational fission has its parallel in ethnic fission as the difference between Croats and Serbs is based upon the different religious obedience and is decisive in that of South Slavs, Slavonians took part in the history of Holy Empire, Croats as mostly autonomous part of Hungarian Kingdom and Serbs as the “alien” though welcomed from time to time as anti-Ottoman allies.

When I am writing these words on 2nd June 2013, I hear from ERT International television channel the Holy Mass jointly conducted in the Athenian church of Saint Panteleimon of Acharnai by Kiryl, Patriarch of Moscow and All ← 10 | 11 → Russia and Jeronymos II, Patriarch of Athens and All Greece as brotherly feast during which prayers are made also for all other patriarchs of the autokephalic churches (except Ukraine!) while Catholic Church of Greece remains unrecognized as legal personality (Canea Catholic Church v. Greece.42) in contrast to Jewish and Muslim religious communities. When John Paul arrived at Athens airport on May 4 2001 he was welcomed by government officials, and by bishops from Greece’s Catholic minority—but no Orthodox bishop was there to greet him and when he met privately with then Patriarch Christodoulos the latter reminded the historical list of grievances from sack of Constantinople in 1204 through the conspiring to set up the Greek Catholic Uniate churches obedient to Rome to non-reaction on part of Vatican to Turkish annexing of Northern Cyprus in 1974. Personally I could have then seen the nuns in Meteorites cloisters protesting against Pope’s presence on the Hellenic soil. Fanariot Patriarch Chrysostomos is much more open and exchanges visits with Roman popes during which the Filioque clause is not pronounced in joint liturgy but his contested authority is matter of prestige and not of power.

Coming back to the said Mass, it is worthy to quote from the concluding speeches made by the both Patriarchs. Jeronymos expressed the “brotherly bonds” and “common historical experience” uniting Greek and Russian Churches. Kiryll was much more outspoken reminding Greek brothers of the 400th anniversary of Smuta during which some of Russian elites came to the horrifying idea of inviting “Polish Catholic king” to rule over Russia promising “higher culture” and “European unity” but happily Polish armed forces were in 1613 expelled from the occupied Kremlin under the leadership of the Patriarch Ermo-genes and the “Orthodox identity of Russian nation” was secured. In this part of the Europe – as we see – the centuries old antagonisms are very well remembered and influence the recent politics. The same year 2013 in Polish Catholic Church saw large scale commemoration of the 75th anniversary of canonization of Andrzej Bobola, known as “soul catcher”, the Catholic priest tortured and murdered in 1657 by the rebelled Cossacks avenging his zealous proselyting activity amongst the Orthodox Christians. The discrimination against Orthodox clergy and believers had been on the top of the grievances that led free Cossacks living in Ukrainian South East corner of the Commonwealth bordering the Crimean Tatars to the insurrection under command of Bohdan Chmielnitsky. The recognition of the equal rights of the Orthodoxes in Hadziacz Union of 1658 was made under the pressure from Swedes invading Commonwealth from the North and were short-lived. Cossacks went under the protective shield of Muscovy.

The third line of religious division developed with advance of Ottoman Turks following the capture of Thessaloniki in 1317, in 1354 of Gallipoli, in ← 11 | 12 → 1362 of Adrianople and the decisive Battle of Kosovo (1389) where Kingdom of Serbia lost its independence against the invaders. This in turn drove Hungary against the Ottomans, competing for the vassalship of the states of Serbia, Wallachia and Moldavia. Hungarian King Louis I the Great (Angevin) in years 1344-1364 made rulers of Serbia, Walachia, Moldavia, and Bulgaria his vassals but failed to convert local population from Eastern Orthodoxy to Roman Catholic faith. Louis the Great was King of Hungary 1342-1382 and King of Poland 1370-1382. His daughter Saint Jadwiga (Hedvig) was in 1384 elected as the (only female and first elected) King of Poland and quickly married to Lithuanian Grand Duke Ladislas Jagiello made King of Poland in 1386 after he converted himself and Lithuanians from ancient Lithuanian religion into Christianity. This has led to creation of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania at beginning as the personal union. Jagiellonian dynasty was for next century ruling in Lithuania, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary.

Eldest son of Jadwiga and Ladislas Jagiello, also Ladislas hold titles of Dei gracia rex Polonie, Hungarie, Dalmacie, Croacie, Rascie, Bulgarie, Sclavonie, nec non terrarum Cracovie, Sandomirie, Lancicie, Syradie, Cuyavie, Lythuanie princeps suppremus, Pomeranie, Russieque dominus et heres etc. Jagiellons were the only ones who ruled the Central-Eastern Europe as the whole.

Ladislas led the Crusade of Varna against the Turks until lost the Varna Battle in 1444 with few Crusaders survived. In 1453 Constantinople was taken by Ottomans. That marked the beginning of domination of Ottoman Porte in the South Eastern Europe until the 19th century. It is worthy to recall the picturesque mausoleum of Muslim Saint Gul Baba in Buda where Muslims pilgrimage since 1541 until today. Their rule was in some countries north of Danube – prince-doms of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia keeping their political and especially religious autonomy – indirect and that marks the southern border of the region. As on the Eastern flank the Crimean Tatar state developed out of the Mongolian invadors who subjugated Rus’ for more than two centuries, this became important commercial and military actor in the region. Since 14th century Tatars were ennobled and settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania serving as auxiliary cavalry and until today small enclaves of Polish, Lithuanian and Byelorus Tatars practice freely their Islamic faith. Those living closer to Crimea resettled finally to Dobrugea.

The longitudinal opposition was weaker, Ottoman Empire was stopped in the 18th century and forced to withdraw South of Danube, into Balkans where from 19th to 20th century the national mobilization grew victoriously. The parallel links and actors West and East of the region were much stronger and their dominance continued until First World War.

← 12 | 13 → Fourth, was the Reformation of Western Christianity that started in the Czech country with Jan Hus and anti-Hussite crusade of 1420 producing victims in Central and Western Europe. First full extermination was attempted out of pious abomination by famous Hussite knight Jan Žižka (Sedlar 1994:231-237) who dispatched for this purpose 400 armed warriors in 1421 against the seemingly naturist sect of Adamites residing at an island on Nezarka river. The hunt for Adamites across the Bohemia and Moravia continued afterwards as well as the better remembered bloody events. Later, with advent of Lutheranism and Calvinism the region’s Catholics almost in majority went for the Reformation side, to become object of massive reconversion campaign by the Church of Rome. Few years before Andrzej Bobola, in 1620 another Catholic priest died tortured by Protestants in the Moravian city of Olomouc accused of treason of state and refusing to renounce the secret of confession made before him by count Lobkowitz in charge of the enemy forces. Jan Sarkander born in Cieszyn Silesia was canonized on 21th May 1995 by John Paul II in Olomouc and honored day later by Pope in Sarkander’s native town of Skoczów in Polish side of former Cieszyn Duchy. While Catholics enthused, local Protestants told me that they took the canonization as abuse of their community. Poland has small Protestant minority living in compact settlements only around Cieszyn, so this opinion though irrelevant at larger scale was of great local importance. But in connection with this division it is important to recall the great achievement of the region, that is Warsaw Confederation of 1573 which stipulated i.a. that: And whereas in our Commonwealth there are considerable differences in the Christian religion [jest dissidium niemale in cause religionis christianae], these have not caused disorders [sedycyja] among people, as detrimental as have begun in other kingdoms that we have clearly seen, we promise to one another, for ourselves and for our descendants, for all time, pledging our faith, honor and conscience, we swear [pro nobis et successionibus nostris in perpetuum, sub vinculo iuramenti, fide, honore et consientiis nostris], that we who are divided by faith [dissidentes de religione], will keep peace among ourselves, and not shed blood on account of differences in faith or church [dla roznej wiary i odmiany w Koscielech], nor will we allow punishment [penowac] by the confiscation of goods, deprivation of honor, imprisonment or exile, nor will we in any fashion aid any sovereign or agency [urzedowi] in such undertakings. And certainly, should someone desire to spill blood on such account [ex ista causa] we all shall be obliged to prevent it, even if the person uses some decree as pretext or cites some legal decision.

Though objected by Catholic Church, and Mazovian gentry, and sometimes abused in practice, the basic principle of tolerance was included since election in 1592 in the living constitution of the old Commonwealth as all successive elected ← 13 | 14 → Kings were obliged to take oath of allegiance to the above quoted principle. Poland as ‘country without stakes’ remained exceptional in Europe (Tazbir 1967). “Certainly, the wording and substance of the declaration of the Confederation of Warsaw of 28 January 1573 were extraordinary with regards to prevailing conditions elsewhere in Europe; and they governed the principles of religious life in the Republic for over two hundred years.” (Davies 2005:126). Contrary to Western European historians (cf. Creppell 2008:326-327) the model of the ‘bottom down’ tolerance implemented by the ‘enligthened ruler’ was not the only one but also not the best one in terms of efficiency. It was religiously divided Polish-Lithuanian gentry that in the republican regime of elected monarchy themselves negotiated and uphold the principle of peaceful co-existence that functioned until the end of the old Commonwealth partitioned since 1772 between Russia, Prussia and Austria. It proves also that best reconciliation, which else it was, after all, if not the reconciliation functions if the divided parties discover the common good that transcends their mutual differences.

Fifth, was the Christian-Judaistic divide. Though Jews were present in Prague, the busy centre of slave trade already in 8th century, in Poland at beginning of its statehood, the influx of Jewish population accelerated steadily from the Rhine and Danube provinces into Poland, increasing in volume as a result of the Crusades (1146-1147 and 1196) and the severe Jewish persecutions in Germany but the real increase peaked after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, as well as from Austria, Hungary and Germany especially in the 16th century, after short attempt (1495-1503) to expel all Jews also from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where separate system of law continued.

This period led to the creation of a proverb about Poland being a “heaven for the Jews”. According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. During the 16th and 17th century Poland had the largest Jewish population in the whole Europe. The Polish-Lithuanian Jewry developed its special social characteristics as it constituted – in S. Dubnow’s terms – “not only a national and cultural, but also a civil, entity. It formed a Jewish city within a Christian city, with its separate forms of life, its own religious, administrative, judicial, and charitable institutions.”(Dubnow 2012:Chapter 3).

The sad sociological truth is that exactly this almost splendid autonomy cut off Jews of Commonwealth from the wider social bonds with neighboring society. They were free in contrast with peasants, Catholic or Orthodox, they were isolated from rival partially German burghers and from the Polish or Polonized ruling nobility estate. Year 1643 marked the armed rebellion of Orthodox Ukrainian Cossacks who suffered the combination of all discriminatory factors (Orthodox, Ukrainian speaking, peasant background) plus the sense of threatened ← 14 | 15 → personal freedom and pride united by ataman Bohdan Chmielnitsky against the ruling Commonwealth accompanied by mass massacres of Jews and Catholic clergy in Ukraine. The emancipation of peasants all over the region in the 19th century led to the undermining of the privileged social position of Jews in the countryside, legal emancipation of Jews had not met a chance of sudden assimilation of Jewish masses into the religiously and ethnically split Central European society. With growth of nationalism, including Zionism the mutual antagonism was growing and the modern ideology of anti-Semitism was finding the fertile ground among the developing industrial mass society. The final came with advent to power in post-World War I Germany of the National Socialist Party of German Workers led by Adolf Hitler.

Statistics of NS Final Solution of Jewish Issue in Central Eastern Europe


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (January)
Central-Eastern Europe inter-ethic relations Aussöhnung Frieden zwischenstaatliche Beziehungen Ökumenische Bewegung
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 352 pp., 22 tables, 3 graphs

Biographical notes

Jacek Kurczewski (Volume editor)

Jacek Kurczewski holds the Chair of Sociology and Anthropology of Custom and Law at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Warsaw (Poland). The professor’s main areas of interest are sociology and anthropology of law, political representation, and local-level politics. In 1997/98, he was Academic Director at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati (Spain). He is editor of the journal Societas/Communitas.


Title: Reconciliation in Bloodlands