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Reflections on Continuity in Polish Intellectual Culture: Transborder Perspective of Post-war Public Discussions (1945 – 1956)

Aleksei Lokhmatov

After the Second World War three centres emerged in Europe which claimed to be legitimate representatives of Polish culture and to continue the Polish national tradition: The Polish Republic under Soviet domination, London as the seat of the exiled government, and Paris where many Polish intellectuals gathered soon after the Second World War. The Polish intellectuals were faced with the necessity to reconsider the main points of the discussion on cultural continuity under the new conditions. The Polish philosopher and writer Stanisław Brzozowski had written still in the beginning of the 20th century: “the nation is a kind of continuity of will which sustains, raises and realizes itself”, having mentioned that “cultural continuity is impossible without the assimilation of the former cultural achievements by each new generation.” With the independence, Polish intellectuals plunged into a fierce public debate on cultural and historical identity, deepening and developing the concept of cultural continuity. The Second World War yet again radically changed the European political and intellectual landscape and shaped a completely new situation for rethinking the issues of cultural identity.

I will examine the concepts of cultural and political continuity which were coined by Polish scholars and writers who took part in the public discussions in the three European centres of Polish intellectual and cultural life after World War II. Under the term “continuity”, I understand the concepts which were formulated within these disputes and had to inscribe the post-war realities into the course of the Polish cultural and political tradition. In my research, I will concentrate on the debates in cultural journals which were, in all three centres, an important mediator between scholarly or literary communities and the broader public. In contrast to the existing historiographical tradition, I will be especially interested in the continuation and the development of the interwar debates and will examine these three centres not as separate from each other but in the context of their common intellectual genealogy and cross-border discussions during the early Cold War.