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Polish Patriotism after 1989

Concepts, Debates, Identities

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Dorota Szeligowska

This book analyses the concept of patriotism and the contestation over its meaning in key public debates in Poland over the last twenty-five years. It focuses on the strategies used to define, re-shape and «bend» the notion of patriotism, which during this period has become a central issue in Polish political discourse. Contemporary Polish society is characterized by a growing polarization of the public sphere. Rivalry between former communists and former dissidents has been progressively replaced by internal opposition within the ranks of once-dissident allies, now divided into civic-minded «critical» patriots and nationalist-oriented «traditional» patriots. This division re-emerges regularly during key moments in Polish public life – most recently in the aftermath of the highly contested 2015 parliamentary elections. By tracing the evolution of the debate over patriotism since 1989, this book provides crucial insights into the current political situation.
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Chapter 5: The Development of ‘Critical Patriotism’ within Debates About Polish–Jewish Relations

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CHAPTER 5

The Development of ‘Critical Patriotism’ within Debates About Polish–Jewish Relations

The previous chapter has shown how the emergence of a consolidated conservative intellectual circle had a structuring impact on the discursive field of contestation of patriotism. The consolidation of the conservative mind-set and its transposition onto the political sphere in the context of the conservative government of the PiS contributed to a progressive polarization of the public sphere on the whole.

This chapter will focus on the concept of ‘critical patriotism,’ coined by the conservative intellectuals to denigrate the critical approach to national history. The concept of ‘critical patriotism’ will be set in the context of three formative texts published in the 1980s that according to the conservatives were its alleged inspiration. The analysis will focus on the evolution of public debates following the publication of three books by Jan Tomasz Gross about Polish–Jewish relations (Sąsiedzi, 2000, Strach, 2008, and Złote żniwa, 2011). I will demonstrate the transformation of the nature of the contestation, which in the beginning of the 2000s was much more open and deliberative, and became increasingly polarized in the second half of the decade. While critical introspection into historical memory is incompatible with the conservative mind-set, it has liberal and left-wing proponents who consider it ‘mature,’ and consequently intend to re-label ‘critical’ patriotism as ‘mature’ patriotism.

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