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The Sacred Cause

The Europe that was Lost – Thoughts on Central and Eastern European Modernism

Tom Sandqvist

«This book is about Modernism and Avant-Garde movements in Central and Eastern European art around the last turn of the century. It sketches a surrealistic, bewildering, irrational arena. At the same time, we are offered a differentiated view on the complex whole of the avantgarde scene in Eastern Europe. The author takes us to dark soirées, scandalous dada theatrical performances, drunken bouts with loudmouthed reformers. Subjectivity stands against rationality, ethnonationalism against internationalism. Yugoslavian zenitism, Czech poetism, Hungarian activism, and other less-known isms, are proposed in exstatic outbursts in shortlived magazines. The pace is hectic, the commitment enormous, and the sheer force of strongminded individuals overwhelming. All in all, the inversed perspective seems alluringly fresh, with Eastern Europe as the co-producer of ideological content, instead as the receiver, or, even worse, the passive reflection of Western thought. I am impressed by the tolerance of much of the audience before and after the First World War: To be a genius seems to be just a matter of course. Karel Teige in Prague, Ljubomir Micić in Zagreb, Lajos Kassák in Budapest, and Jacek Malczewski in Krakow were tireless propagators of avant-garde art – but also of nostalgic messianism. How did they get away with this, at times, monomaniac egoism, one wonders. Sandqvist finds the answer in that subjectivity was the remedy for avantgarde artists as a defence mechanism against the repressive society and destructive socioeconomical forces.» (Jan von Bonsdorff, Professor, Uppsala University)


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8. Back in Poland. Symbolism, Messianism, Przybyszewski, Nationalism, and the Polish People


269 8. Back in Poland Symbolism, Messianism, Przybyszewski, Nationalism, and the Polish People For the journey towards the South from Krakau to Prague, Budapest, Laibach, and Agram through the vast Habsburg empire it is perhaps best to start in the Russian zone of partitioned Poland, more precisely in the little town of Macie- jowice about seventy miles South of Warsaw in the Polish-Russian governorate of Siedlce. It was here – out in the fields just outside the town on October 10, 1794 – that the leader of the Polish rebellion Tadeusz Kościuszko and his forces mainly consisting of rebellious peasants finally were defeated by the three times larger Russian army led by General Alexander Suvorov, one of the most expe- rienced commanders in Europe at that time. It was also here – on the battlefield itself – that the badly wounded Kósciuszko was supposed to have uttered the legendary words “Finis Poloniæ”,762 which after the third and final partitioning of the ancient Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth “Rzeczospolita” would reverber- ate through the Polish 19th century up to the moment of the re-establishment of Poland in 1918. “Finis Poloniæ” were those fateful words which were hammered into the Polish identity again and again by the romantic nationalists and patriots never being able to forget the notion of an independent Polish state linked to the idea of Catholicism as the ethnic marker separating the Poles from the Orthodox Russians and the Lutheran Prussians.763 Almost exactly one hundred years after the fatal battle of Maciejowice the...

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