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Barbarian Europe

Karol Modzelewski

European culture has been greatly influenced by the Christian Church and Greek and Roman culture. However, the peoples of Europe’s remote past, whom the Greeks, Romans, and their medieval heirs called the «barbarians», also left their mark. Closely examining ancient and medieval narratives and the codifications of laws, this thoughtfully conducted comparative study sheds light on the illiterate societies of the early Germanic and Slavic peoples. The picture that emerges is one of communities built on kinship, neighborly, and tribal relations, where decision making, judgement, and punishment were carried out collectively, and the distinction between the sacred and profane was unknown.
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The political rhetoric in Poland revolves around Europe. It is difficult to find anyone in Poland who has not heard the slogans announcing our return to Europe. At the same time, and almost in the same breath, people say that we have always belonged to Europe and that we therefore, do not have to return because we are there. Despite the apparent discrepancy, these slogans are not contradictory. Having been repeatedly chanted, they become like clichés and are no longer reflected upon. It is a shame. Political slogans, like advertising spots, are worth dwelling on, not only because of what they deliberately propagate, but also because of what they unwittingly reveal.

In such slogans, Europe is obviously not a geographical concept. We are not simply talking about the European Union, either. We join the European Union, but we had never been there, so we cannot really be “returning” to it. The context in which this return is pronounced suggests that Europe signifies a certain cultural canon. Not all countries in Europe, or social movements, or intellectual trends, or political systems of a European provenance are easily accommodated in this canon. When we speak of “our return to Europe,” we tacitly assume that Poland was severed from the European legacy by Soviet domination and communism. After the fall of communism, we are resuming our rightful place in the Western world. We are thus returning to our European roots, from which communism tried unsuccessfully to tear us...

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