Annual meeting of the SIIAEC - Pax Romana (2002)


Situation of Catholic Intellectuals in Poland
and the Country's Confrontation
With European Integration
in Christian Perspective

Talk by Paweł Broszkowski

Chairman 
of Alliance of the Clubs 
of Catholic Intelligentsia

 

Shrine of the Divine Mercy,
Krakow-Lagiewniki, Poland,
October 19, 2002.


Foreign observers of the Polish scene are often surprised with the importance and presence of history in our present-day life. This is not only because we think of history as the Magistra vitae (a teacher of life) but also because of Poland's violent history and complex heritage. Otherwise, we may start to accept various simplified explanations blaming the Jews, the free-masons, the red heads and the like for all the evil we experience today.

Therefore, let me say a few words on the history of Catholic intellectuals' movement during the years after the Second World War.

Despite having been a significant member of the anti-Nazi alliance - Polish Armed Forces were larger than those of Free France - Poland was left to its fate and found itself under Soviet influence, and became a 'People's Republic' for a long forty five years.

The Roman Catholic Church was systematically attacked and the communist authorities applied their favourite 'splitting' techniques to the Church in the same way as to the political parties. They did this partly by launching a series of anti-Catholic, pseudo-religious organizations such as PAX, Caritas and Veritas which usurped the functions of Church's former social, charitable and cultural enterprises.

The crisis of 1956 which rocked the whole communist world was launched by Krushchev's 'secret speech' to Soviet Party Congress recounting a limited selection of Stalin's crimes. Similarly, Poland was to enjoy a period of 'political thaw'. Cardinal Wyszyński was released from his imprisonment and the Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia were allowed to come into existence. However, only 5 Clubs were permitted. These are Warsaw, Cracow, Wrocław, Poznań and Toruń. This community, known as 'Znak' (a Sign), likewise included the "Tygodnik Powszechny" - a Catholic weekly as well as two monthly magazines "WięŸ" in Warsaw and "Znak" in Cracow.

Second generation of our Clubs would emerge only in 1980- during the great days of 'Solidarity' while the third generation arose in the years 1989 - 1992.

Intellectual work, Christian formation and moral reflection based on the teaching of the Church in order to form good Christians and good and creative citizens who are aware of their rights and duties, as well as creation and promoting of religious culture were included in the statutes of all the Clubs.

Some remark about the political role of the KIKs. To be precise, however, we should rather point at the preparation and formation of their members so that they were able to take up political activities or simply join public life, acting in harmony with their Christian faith.

As regards religious formation, this consisted mainly in preparing favourable conditions for the reception of Vatican II followed by popularization of the documents of the Council and its spirit. As a result, the Clubs were able to become a place of ecumenical dialogue or a dialogue in general (Christian-Jewish, Polish -German, etc.). A new outlook on the role of the lay people in public life was developed. This made it possible to retain considerable number of intellectuals in the Church and later to attract new people - as well as non believers.

After 1989, the political scene in Poland changed dramatically. So did the situation of the Church and the movements of Catholic laity. New Catholic associations and organizations emerged in large numbers including additional Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia - as already mentioned.

Today, we have over 100 Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia in Poland. This figure includes both the main Clubs and their local branches in various locations. The 'Alliance of the Clubs of Catholic Intelligentsia' was formed in 1989. This is a kind of a federation of independent organizations aiming at co-ordination of common activities and evangelization and Christian formation in particular. Their presidents, who usually meet twice a year, elect 'the Council" consisting of 18 members who, in turn, elect three chair persons and a secretary for a three year term - responsible for the activities of the Alliance.

The following declaration was proclaimed at one of the first meetings:

"In our present situation, while Polish democratic system is being constructed, members of the Club as well as members of its authorities are allowed to enter various political groups in their own name, however, without involving or using the Club to support such groups. Instead, members of the Club must not engage themselves into such political movements, whose programmes and activities contradict the values of Christian ethics".

This statement was optional and binding only when the Board of respective Club ratified it.

Therefore, the Clubs decided to develop civic consciousness rather than political party awareness and to serve values not ideology.

In the statement passed at the meeting in Częstochowa, before the general election in 1993, we read:

"Let us remember during the election campaign that our political opponent is also our neighbour".

The strong community spirit that prevailed among the original 'Znak' movement participants was based on similar attitudes towards the world, the issues arising in Poland and within the Church, and on the recognition of the same authorities on morality and the vision of modern times.

Nowadays, the above words have - to a great extent - lost their validity. Many new Clubs were founded without awareness of the values so dear to their predecessors belonging to the 'Znak' movement. While the "old" and many other Clubs choose to stick to former 'Znak' attitudes, some "new" Clubs - despite declarations of being apolitical - get involved in political rhetoric. Some of them are influenced by certain Catholic media renovated or established after 1989 - such as 'Niedziela' (Sunday) weekly or the big broadcaster Radio Maryja with its daily 'Nasz Dziennik' (our daily news). These media, and Radio Maryja in particular, feeling affinity with the ideas of the bygone National Democratic Movement, for years, deliver xenophobic diatribes against the liberal West, propagate fear of market economy, European Union and in many cases, present anti-semitic attitudes and offer strong resistance to Poland's accession to the European Union - which contradicts the teaching of the Pope. Earlier, they opposed Poland's membership in the NATO. In exchange, they offer vague ideas of the Pan-Slavism. They accuse secret powers to act against the Church and the Polish nation - a conspiracy theory.

With GNP growth stagnant and unemployment close to 20 per cent there are many listeners in Poland who are ready to accept easy solutions to difficult problems. What is worse, the information broadcast is too often untrue.

These attitudes find acceptance among certain members of our communities. This created difficulties when a draft of the new Polish Constitution was discussed. According to the opponents the new Constitution would deprive the Polish nation of its sovereignty. Nevertheless, a few years later, during the ceremony ending the recent papal visit to Poland, Cardinal Glemp mentioned this Constitution among Poland's major achievements after 1989.

The Holy Father himself has clearly expressed his support for Poland's accession to the European Union. In his historic address to the Polish Parliament in 1999, the Pope called for a great "European community of spirit" and stressed that the Church had supported Poland's Western integration "from the beginning". Recently in Cracow, he said:

"May the spirit of mercy and fraternal solidarity, harmony and collaboration and concern for the well being of our homeland reign. I hope that the Polish society who has been fostering these values - and which has belonged to Europe for centuries - shall find its own place in the structures of the European community and not only will not lose its identity, but will enrich the Continent and the World by its tradition"

During his recent visit the Pope referred to the extensive social and economic changes that have taken place in Poland. He said many Polish families and the unemployed and the elderly were suffering as a result of these changes. He also criticized the 'noisy propaganda of liberalism' causing many Polish politicians to argue what he really meant. They should have listened to the Pope's words more attentively since the Holy Father was talking about a liberalism based on "freedom without the truth or responsibility" and about such a way of life if "God never existed".

During his 1999 visit, the Pope appealed for "solidarity through love" and urged us not to "harden our hearts to the poor". Today, with poverty rampant and the concept of "solidarity" highly politicized - some would even say discredited - the language of the past is no longer appropriate. It needs to appeal to the higher quality of mercy, a notion that goes beyond the temporal values of justice, stability and efficiency.

This time the Pope said he brought a message of the Divine Mercy to his homeland and his fellow countrymen: "Stop your fears"! Trust in God, who is rich with Mercy. Christ - unfailing Donor of hope - is with you".

The Papal message should become an important part of our programme: "new creativity in charity" is a slogan containing difficult and challenging tasks. The Pope is calling here for new and true solidarity. A solidarity being the real sign of God's Mercy.

Poland's accession to the European Union is today a subject of animated discussion. The issues mentioned by the Holy Father are often neglected. Public opinion is being focused on how to drive a hard bargain rather than on creation of great European community of spirit.

Let me address only a few issues causing excitement within Polish society today.

Much attention has been drawn to agriculture which in view of the EU enlargement presents an unquestionable and complex problem in Poland. What used to be our pride and a basis for the nation's resistance against the communist order - significant majority of Polish arable land remained in private hands - is today our weak point. The main concern addressed by the Polish negotiators to Brussels is the question of direct subsidies in order to provide Polish farmers with equal terms of trade. Nevertheless, the problem is not easy to solve. At present, there are thousands of tiny farms which can hardly be named 'agriculture' in the modern sense. These farmers cannot be considered as regular 'food producers'. Moreover, at the same time, they usually find part time employment outside agriculture. Efforts should be made to create new jobs in other areas, however still in the country - to absorb these people, who will never become active participants in the modern Polish agricultural sector - subsidized or not by the European Union. After all, this belongs to the responsibilities of the Polish Government.

Next question is whether the foreigners should be allowed to buy land in Poland. Many confusing opinions are offered and the public discussion is accompanied by considerable excitement. Meanwhile, competent sources indicate that these fears are much exaggerated.

'A sphere of values' is another important question - worth mentioning in view of Poland's accession to the UE and the role of Catholic intellectuals. Again, the right wing circles and the media who are influenced by the ideas of former National Democratic Movement fiercely criticize the European Union as a source of evil of all kind. The UE is perceived here as a threat to the Polish national identity, Polish language and the Christian faith. Danger of erosion of moral values and the abuse of science is emphasized.

Under these circumstances, a group of Catholic movements, associations and the institutions founded on Christian values have taken the 'Saint Adalbert Forum' initiative. The Forum is supposed to reflect and work on the contribution of Polish Christianity to common Europe. The Warsaw KIK, 'WięŸ' monthly and the Alliance of the Clubs are among the main initiators of this Forum. The initiative enjoys full support of the Polish Episcopate and Archbishop Henryk Muszyński, the metropolitan of Gniezno, became its patron.

In the belief that Europe has been our common Christian heritage growing out of Judeo-Christianity, Greek philosophy and Roman law, the participants in the Forum desire to join common work on the creation of Europe of the third Millenium. They are convinced that Poland's accession to the European Union will allow all people of good will to shape the future of our Continent - not only in political or economic respect but also as regards culture, morality and religion.

Integration, however, is not going to be an only once happening event. It is perceived as a process of reconciliation and building closer relations between nations, a process of overcoming antagonisms, development of mutual trust and spirit of collaboration.

The Forum intends to provide and publicize reliable information about the European Union through undertaking various activities in the Polish society.

This work has been entrusted to the protection and intercession of Saint Adalbert who was a bishop of the undivided Church, the Church breathing with both lungs of the East and the West. Today he is a patron saint of the integrating Europe.

A few days before the referendum in Ireland on the Treaty of Nice, that would open or close a chance of the approaching extension of the EU, the Forum appealed to the Irish society for "a testimony of solidarity and brotherhood".

In conclusion, let me recall the words of John Paul II:

"(we wish to) offer to Europe our attachment to the faith, our customs filled with religiousness, pastoral efforts of the bishops and priests - and possibly many other values that could make Europe an organism enjoying not only economic wealth but also featuring deep spirituality".

 Main


Related Web sites:

Kard. Stefan Wyszyński (Pl)  
'Znak' Publishing House (Pl)  
'Tygodnik Powszechny' Weekly (Pl)  
'WięŸ' Monthly (Pl; Eng)  
Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (Eng, Fr, Pl)  
Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (Eng, Pl)  
The Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow (Eng)  
Polish Parliament (Eng)  
European Union Official Web site (Eng)