Introduction• Each country has its own culture and its own history. The way people behave and perceive the World is often a result of both of these aspects. It is not enough then to learn about the culture ignoring the history of the country and all the events that might have influenced the mentality of the nation. Therefore, the aim of this project is to briefly present Polish history and historical films that may help foreigners understand Polish past and therefore become a tool of intercultural communication.
Before Christianisation (966) Between IV and V c. AD the Sarmatians and the Slavs came toinhabit parts of Poland in the place of the Germanic tribes. Most probablybetween VI/ VII c. the Slavic tribes spread to the West and North from theline of the upper Vistula. Later, on the territories between the Oder and theBug River the Slavic peoples created several tribal organisms. The most important Polish tribes were Polans, Masovians,Vistulans, Silesians and Pomeranians. These tribes lived in the territoriesthat became Polish from around the mid-7th century to the creation of thePolish state by the Piast dynasty. However, it was not until the year 966when the current headman of Poland, Mieszko I, became a Christian andwas followed by his people. This act strengthened the position of Polandamong other European countries and led to the coronation of the firstPolish king - Boleslaw I, the Brave .
”An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God” (2003) directed by Jerzy Hoffman• An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God takes place in pre-Christian Poland, when various Slavic tribes lived separately in lands that would later become Poland; at a time when each tribe worshipped its own god – time of cruel princes, revenge and fight for domination.• Watch: http://youtu.be/BIs5ls9XwYQ
The Medieval Period – the Battle of Grunwald (1410)Mieszko’s descendants continued to rule Poland for three centuries. The last of thePiast Dynasty, Casimir the Great, is said to have found a Poland made of wood andleft one made of stone for he built hundreds of castles around the country to protectit. He is also known for inviting Jews to come and settle in Poland under hisprotection. After Casimir’s death the throne passed to his nephew’s daughter, Jadwiga.As a monarch of Poland, she married the Great Duke of Lithuania, WladyslawJagiello thus joining the nations in a union known as the Polish-LithuanianCommonwealth. In the meantime, the north of Poland became the Prussian state of theTeutonic Knights, a powerful German monastic order. The order tried to expandtheir territory at the cost of Poland and Lithuania. In time, this led to the biggestbattle of the Middle Ages, that of Grunwald in 1410.
”Knights of the Teutonic Order” (1960) directed by Aleksander Ford• The plot is situated in the late-14th century and early- 15th century Poland and centres around the Polish– Lithuanian–Teutonic War and the final Battle of Grunwald. It is based on the novel of the same title written by Henryk Sienkiewicz. It was released on 15 July 1960 on the 550th anniversary of the battle of Grunwald. ( source: Wikipedia)• Watch: http://youtu.be/ruivAt3_Tnw
The Swedish invasion on the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth (1655–1660) For the next couple of hundred years, the country prospered under the ruleof the Jagiellonian Dynasty, gradually becoming more and more democratic. In1493 the first bicameral Parliament was elected and the power of monarchybecame restricted. In 1573, at the Confederation of Warsaw, a special Act waspassed that recognized freedom for all to practice their faith without fear ofpersecution. Besides the political changes, in the so-called Golden Age (16th c.) Polishculture flourished (partly thanks to many Italian artists and architects). After the last of the Jagiellonian monarchs died childless, the thronepassed to elected kings. One of them was a fervent Catholic brought up inLutheran Sweden - Sigismund III. He involved Poland in a series of disastrouswars with Sweden, known as the Swedish Deluge.
”The Deluge” (1974) directed by Jerzy Hoffman• The film is set in the 17th century during the Swedish invasion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the years 1655 to 1657, known as The Deluge, which was eventually thwarted by the Polish-Lithuanian forces. However, a quarter of the Polish-Lithuanian population died through war and plague, and the countrys economy was devastated. ( source: Wikipedia)• Watch: http://youtu.be/i0Ll_hE2aeE
The Three Partitions (1772, 1793 and 1795) Three partitions which took place in the 2nd half of the 18th century endedthe existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It resulted in the eliminationof sovereign Poland for 123 years. The partitions were perpetrated by the RussianEmpire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria, which divided up theCommonwealth lands among themselves progressively in the process of territorialseizures. The First Partition of Poland, which the Poles proved incapable of resisting,was decided in 1772. Two decades later, Russian and Prussian troops enteredPoland again and the Second Partition was signed in 1793. Austria did notparticipate in the Second Partition. The Third Partition of Poland took place in 1795,as soon as the Polish Kosciuszko Uprising was defeated. With this partition, theindependent Polish state ceased to exist. There were two major rebellions to regain independence in the 19th century:in 1830-31 the November Uprising and in 1863 the January Uprising. Unfortunatelyfor the Poles, they both were unsuccessful.
Independence of Poland (1918-1939) However, the yearning for independance was never ebbed. The opportunity came with the outbreak of World War I. In the firstdays of November 1918, the Poles liberated themselves and on the 11thof November under the leadership of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, theyproclaimed their independence. During the twenty-one years ofindependence the Poles succeeded in their efforts of the reconstructionof their independent state.
”Battle of Warsaw 1920” (2011) directed by Jerzy Hoffman• Soon after the end of World War I the Polish-Soviet war broke out, the decisive battle of which is known as the Battle of Warsaw or the Miracle at the Vistula. It took place in 1920; its stunning reversal and unexpected Polish victory crippled the Red Army and is believed to stop Soviets from seizing the rest of Europe.• The film’s plot is based on Polands winning battle against Soviet Russia as seen through the eyes of two young protagonists, Ola and Jan. She is a Warsaw cabaret dancer, while he is a cavalry officer and poet who believes in socialist ideals. ( source: Internet Movie Database)• Watch: http://youtu.be/DstyaGotWFM
World War II (1939-1945) World War II opened with the German Nazi invasion of Poland onSeptember 1, 1939. The Polish Army was defeated after over a month offighting. After Poland had been overrun, a government-in-exile (headquartered inLondon), armed forces, and an intelligence service were established outside ofPoland. These organizations contributed to the Allied effort throughout the war.Notable was the service of the Polish Air Force in the Allied victory in the Battleof Britain. The main resistance force in German-occupied Poland was the ArmiaKrajowa ("Home Army"; "AK") and an underground ultra-nationalist resistanceforce called Narodowe Siły Zbrojne ("National Armed Forces”). The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 was a major operation by the Polish HomeArmy (AK) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. However, the Germansdemolished the city and defeated the Polish resistance, which fought for 63 dayswith little outside support.
The Nazis were responsible for The Holocaust, the killing of approximately 6million Jews, as well as 2 million ethnic Poles and 4 million others who weredeemed "unworthy of life" as part of a programme of deliberate extermination.About 12 million, most of whom were Eastern Europeans, were employed in theGerman war economy as forced labourers. German concentration campsincluded: Dachau, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek (KL Lublin). Theaforementioned two camps were situated in Poland.
”Days of Honor” (broadcasted since 2008)• Days of honor is a feature about a shortened youth, stormy passions, struggle in the name of freedom, and betrayal, actuated by deceit and fear. This is a story of those whom the war changed everything: took away their families, sense of security, tested their character and male pride many a time, but never dashed their hopes and appetite for life. (source: http://dystrybusja.tvp.pl)• Watch: http://youtu.be/dBfLlBt1roo
Postwar reality (1945-1946) The end of the war did not mean the end ofproblems. Warsaw and some other Polish towns weredestroyed. People lost their homes and families. Thetime of relocation of millions of people began. Polishpeople had to leave their homes in the east and tosettle in the former German and new Polish territory inthe north and west. Jews came back to Poland fromthe Soviet Union and elsewhere. The operation‘Vistula’ forced many Ukrainians to leave their homesin eastern Poland and to move to the west and north. Also, the end of the war did not equal thereturn of sovereignty and independence. As a result ofthe agreements reached by Churchill, Roosevelt andStalin at Yalta, Poland was consigned to the Sovietsphere of influence and thereby to the Communistrule.
”Róża” [Rose] (2011) directed by Wojciech Smarzowski• In summer 1945 Tadeusz Mazur, an officer of the Armia Krajowa and veteran of the Warsaw uprising, moves to Masuria, a region in former German East Prussia, which became part of Poland as a result of the Potsdam Agreement after World War II. He visits Róża, a widow of a German Wehrmacht soldier whose death Tadeusz had witnessed, to hand over her husband’s possessions. While Róża is regarded a German by the new Polish authorities, thus facing her expulsion, Tadeusz wants her to declare her Polish nationality as many Masurians did in a "humiliating nationality verification procedure”. She invites Tadeusz to stay at her farm to protect her against marauders and the brutal rapes she had previously experienced in the lawless atmosphere of postwar Masuria. (source: Wikipedia)• Watch: http://youtu.be/vV7OW7BmoJU
Communism People’s Republic of Poland was created behind the Iron Curtain. Atthat time, the life of the Poles was under severe control. There was no freeexpression, much regimentation, a lack of consumer goods. The SecretPolice was everywhere and each form of uprising was suppressed bymilitary forces. In August 1980, the shipyard workers in Gdansk led by Lech Wałęsa,reacting to Poland’s spiralling economic decline called a strike. Thegovernment agreed on the formation of a national union movement,Solidarity. However, in December 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelskideclared the state of Marshal Law and Solidarity was outlawed. It was the year 1989 that brought the final turn in Polish politicalsituation. The Round Table Talks resulted in semi-free elections won bySolidarity. In 1990 the Communist Party dissolved itself and in 1991 new,totally free elections took place.
”Man of Iron” (1981) directed by Andrzej Wajda• The film continues the story of Maciej Tomczyk, the son of Mateusz Birkut, the protagonist of Wajdas earlier film, Man of Marble. Here, Maciej is a young worker involved in the anti- Communist labour movement, described as "the man who started the Gdańsk Shipyard strike”. The other film character is a journalist working for the Communist regimes radio station, who is given a task of slandering Maciej. The young man is clearly intended as a parallel to Lech Wałęsa (who appears as himself in the movie). (source: Wikipedia)• Watch: http://youtu.be/B7GU98L4Ml0
Modern times In 1978 a Polish cardinal became the Pope known as John Paul II. Thesituation had a great impact on the Polish society. The Pope became anauthority until his death in 2005. Since 1989 Poland has undergone serious political and economicchanges which have determined the conditions of the Polish society. During thisperiod the level of education and living conditions have significantly improved.Yet, people struggle with other problems e.g. unemployment and the negativepopulation growth. The latter phenomenon results mostly from young people’spostponement to start a family due to economic reasons. After 2004, when Poland became a member of the European Union,more and more Polish people (including well-educated persons) emigrated toother EU countries in search of better working opportunities. It is estimated thatover 2 million of Polish citizens live and work abroad.
”Karol: The Pope, the Man” (2005) by Giacomo Battiato• The film chronicling Pope John Paul IIs life as pope, from October 22, 1978s papal inauguration to his death in 2005. It is the sequel to the TV miniseries Karol: A Man Who Became Pope, which portrayed John Pauls life before the papacy. (source: Wikipedia)• Watch: http://youtu.be/rvjwY74pu-o
You can read more in: Bubczyk, R. (2011) A History of Poland in Outline. Lublin: Wydawnictwo UMCS.Lukowski, J. and Zawadzki H. (2006) A Concise History of Poland. Cambridge: CUP.Davies, N. (2003) God’s Playground: A History of Poland. Oxford: OUP.
Bonus: An Animated History of Poland (EXPO 2010, Shanghai) http://youtu.be/2DrXgj1NwN8
Discussion1. Think about important events in the history of your country and songs or films commemorating them.2. What are the benefits and possible threats of promoting one’s culture through art?