Home Sociology Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism
Political Nativeness and Nationalism
Most Rodzimowiercy today would probably be comfortable with the label “patriot.” Some have explicitly called themselves “nationalists,” and mean this in a political sense. A number of hybrid ideological movements have mixed religious, social, and political ideas in the family tree of Polish Rodzimowierstwo. Jan Stachniuk’s 1930s Zadruga movement laid out the social, economic, and political aspects of their vision for a future Poland (Strutynski 2013: 125). A small and brief-lived postcommunist political party, Unia Spoleczno-Narodowe (The Socio-National Union), tried to merge Zadruga thought with free market capitalism. A club founded in 1998, Stowarzyszenie na rzecz Tradycji i Kultury “Niklot”(the Association for Tradition and Culture “Niklot”), combines Zadruga ideology with new inspiration drawn from identitarian and nouvelle droite streams in Western Europe. Their name references one of the last great Pagan Slavic princes who fought against the forced Christianization of his people. Their “metapolitical” program includes expressly Pagan ideas, such as honoring the ancestors and gods, and they frequently work in cooperation with Rodzima Wiara, one of the registered Rodzimowierstwo religious organizations (http://www.niklot.org.pl).
There are also significant numbers of Polish Rodzimowiercy who reject such mixing and attempt to keep their religious practices and political activities entirely separate, regardless of their political sympathies. The tendency to openly mix politics and religion within Polish Rodzimowierstwo has declined markedly over the past two decades. This does not necessarily mean that individuals have become more apolitical or that their religion does not have a significant influence on their ethics and politics. But a semi-official and semi-articulated membrane has been erected in many communities to keep political slogans away from the sacred. The reasons why individuals might want to maintain this separation are probably varied and need further study. It certainly reduces potential conflicts within communities, and leaves more space for the kind of religious reflection which is unrelated to politics.
The influential Zadruga periodical was proudly subtitled “A Publication of Polish Nationalists.” The explanatory essay that led the first edition only fleetingly mentioned the Republic of Poland, focusing instead on the cultural and social “nation” which is more than the polity: the Romantic narod of shared character and kinship (Zadruga: 1935-1939 (1937 issue): 1). But there is little doubt in the articles that followed that their vision for a post-Christian nation embraced both political and economic systems.
The earliest Rodzimowierstwo publications from the start of the 1990s also embraced the term “national.” The photocopied ’zine Zywiot (1991-1999) carried a banner at the top of every issue declaring it to be a product of a “National Conceptual Study Group” and in the articles that followed writers regularly referred to the “Polish nation.” Observers in the 1990s frequently noted connections with nationalist political organizations and discussed them in academic articles (Wiench 1997).
There is a very extensive literature on nationalism, embracing a wide variety of definitions of the term, both substantive and functional in scope, and representing primordialist or modernist perspectives (Hutchinson and
Smith 1994; Delanty and Kumar 2006). The definition offered by the PWN encyclopedia, a standard reference work in Poland, runs:
Nationalism (Latin. natio ‘narod’) the belief that the nation is the most important form of socialization, and that national identity is the most important component of individual identity combined with a requirement to hold national solidarity over all other relationships and commitments, and [to hold] everything that is national over that which is foreign or cosmopolitan; A political ideology, according to which, the primary task of the state is to defend national interests, and [the state's] territorial limits should match the area inhabited by the nation. (PWN 1999: 568)
Since the eighteenth century, Polish national identity as well as Polish nationalism has been strongly informed by the sense of struggle to escape foreign occupation and partition. It is almost always framed as a call for liberty. In many countries, people are accustomed to associating “nationalism” only with colocations like “conservative” or “right-wing.” But in times of oppression, Poland has had its liberal nationalists, like the great politician-scholar Joachim Lelewel (1786-1861), who sought home rule for his nation through democracy, and drew inspiration for this project from an explicitly Pagan Slavic model, the gminowladztwo (community- rule) that he believed had guided the ancient tribes. Lelewel's political ideas were to go on to influence later nationalists (both Pagan and Christian in orientation), and his scholarly reconstruction of the ancient Slavic religion would also have an influence on some branches of Rodzimowierstwo (Gajda 2013: 48). As Peter Sugar (1994: 46) noted about nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century movements across the region, “nationalism in Eastern Europe was a revolutionary force aiming at transferring sovereignty from the rulers to the people ... Eastern European nationalism shared with all others the basically anti-clerical, constitutional, and egalitarian orientation that gave it its revolutionary character.” This stream continues to intertwine in Poland with other kinds of nationalism that, for example, far from demonstrating an anticlerical streak, now cozy up closely with the institutional Roman Catholic Church, or at least those sectors of that institution within Poland that embrace their role as the guardians of Polishness.
While certainly not mass movements, there are sectors of the Rodzimowierstwo spectrum which lean toward extreme, right-wing nationalism and which treat “the nation” as an integral part of their sacrum. This sector has attracted a significant portion of the Polish media’s interest in Rodzimowierstwo. Nigdy Wi^cej (Never Again), a Polish periodical dedicated to fighting racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and fascism (http://www.nigdywiecej.org), has shown recurring interest in that extreme sector. A 2009 edition ran a cover story on “Slavic Abuse,” listing a number of communities which could be characterized as both right leaning and committed to Pagan streams of thought and imagery (including some of an openly political character, but also some with other interests, such as rock bands). In it, Kornak (2009:17) neatly encapsulated an outsider’s view of “fascist neo-paganism”:
The Pagan Slavs have been for years the object of ideological abuse and manipulation, if not to say profanation ... The far-right appropriation and perversion of the Slavic myth has followed two paths. The older, Panslavism ... has appeared mostly under the patronage of Russian imperialism and nationalism. The other [Polish] manipulation is ... currently popular fascist neo-paganism, which is mainly indebted to the ideas of pre-war Zadruga developed by Jan Stachniuk ... of an “indigenous,” original, ancestral Slavic community ...
In Kornak’s view, fascist neo-paganism primarily envisages the role of Slavic religion in nation-projects as:
An ideological fist aimed at the Judeo-Christian concept of charity, humility, love for one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek. And this is again more abuse, because whatever the essence of the original religion of the Slavs might have been, it was certainly not developed on the basis of alleged anti-Semitic complexes. (Kornak 2009: 17)
Many in the Polish Rodzimowierstwo scene took umbrage with the broadness of the brush they were being painted with. An article posted on the website of the periodical Gniazdo (the Nest) responded:
The basic idea of the article is correct—there are groups that use the Slavic tradition to bolster an ideology which is more or less associated with fascism. The purpose of this publication and the association behind it is to stigmatize these groups. This would be cool, if it were not that the author sees “little Nazis” almost everywhere ... Sometimes, amid the allegations there is a shadow of real events, and sometimes they cross the border into sheer slander. (Bozywoj 2009)
As wide and varied as the political opinions across the Polish Rodzimowierstwo scene may be, it is difficult to say where the proper division should fall between “legitimate Rodzimowiercy nationalists” and “fascist appropriators of Slavic myth.” Some activists have attempted to set up such ideological boundaries, such as Ratomir Wilkowski’s (2009) manifesto on “real Rodzimowierstwo” and “pseudo-Rodzimowierstwo.” Among the kinds of false Rodzimowierstwo, he lists “extreme nationalism, fascism or even Nazism.” Wilkowski notes that both the real and pseudo appeal to national heritage and Slavic religion, and can be difficult to tease apart. He concedes that extreme views might sometimes be found among real Rodzimowiercy, although he considers them “strange” and atypical. The fundamental difference for Wilkowski lies in that the real Rodzimowiercy believe in a faith, whereas fake Rodzimowiercy use deities only as symbols for political purposes.
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