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Catholicism, Rodzimowierstwo, and Nationalism

Practically every religion—large or small, ancient or freshly minted— enters the popular Polish consciousness with a question hanging over it as to which nationality it represents. From the point of view of the majority of today’s citizens of Poland, Roman Catholicism represents Polishness. This is a received tradition that is only rarely seriously questioned in public discourse. Eastern Orthodoxy, Poland’s second largest religion, is seen as representing Russia, while Protestantism represents Germany. Once associated with Poland’s esteemed Tatar minority, Islam is increasingly represented in the twenty-first century as the religion of immigrants from some exotic (and probably dangerous) Oriental land. Even atheists cannot escape this equation entirely, as their lack of Catholicism may be interpreted by others as a lack of Polish ethnic identity. It is difficult to imagine how contemporary Paganisms in Poland could completely escape the connection between religion and national identity, even if they wished to do so. Many engage in this question actively, turning the interwar slogan “Polak to katolik” (a Pole is a Catholic) on its head by pointing out that Slavic Paganism was here before Christianity arrived and, therefore, is more Polish than Roman Catholicism. This should not be read as a turning away from the field of religion into a new realm of ethnic nationalism, but rather as inhabiting the religious landscape around them.

Some, such as Hoppenbrouwers (2002: 311), have seen a general “identity match” between nationalism and religion. Both encourage social homogenization and cohesion through similar mechanisms and symbols. For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the postcommunist vacuum was broad and deep, “political, ideological and social ... What had been the point of all the suffering of the 1940s and 1950s? How did the communist experience until 1989 fit into the timeline of the nation and the individual? How could moral order be restored?” (Hoppenbrouwers 2002: 313). Religion and religious institutions may attempt to fill that immense void, but are tempted to reach for support in nationalist themes (just as nationalists reach for religious themes) to bolster their cause.

Because the dominant religious discourse in Poland today is unequivocally Roman Catholic, there is a huge and unavoidable challenge to any smaller religion that wants to say something about the Polish nation. This is monumentally so on the right wing of politics. This leaves would-be right-wing Rodzimowiercy in an awkward position. One of the key tropes of the right wing in recent years has been the defense of Christendom in the face of invasions of “laicism” from the West and Islam from the East. Nearly all of Poland’s right-wing parties jostle with each other to make more convincing declarations of Catholicism. At the most extreme, the Polish far-right contains figures such as Father Jacek Mied lar, who delivers speeches which can take the style of football hooligan chants and the rhetoric of skinhead political agitation, but who may end his performance by asking the flag-waving crowd to join him in an expression of traditional Marian Roman Catholic piety and recite “Under Thy Care.”

In such an atmosphere, where is the space for Polish nationalists who are also outspoken Rodzimowiercy? In the absence of large-scale quantitative studies, it is impossible to say precisely how Rodzimowiercy stand on a variety of political and national questions. But from my interviews with members which touched on the subject, as well as from anecdotal evidence (online discussions, in particular), we can say that a significant number of self-declared Rodzimowiercy express negative opinions about accepting additional non-Slavic refugees in Poland (especially under a quota system set by the EU), and are against encouraging Islam (especially in a foreign variant) to become a more significant part of Poland’s religious landscape.6

But to fight against this, they would have to work with groups, initiatives, and events that are Roman Catholic-dominated, who speak about defending “Christian Europe.” Even the briefest look at the Polish media shows that such anti-immigration groups repeatedly include Christian symbolism and prayer in their marches and demonstrations. They wave banners portraying Christian Crusaders attacking a Muslim horde. Rodzimowiercy could not fail to be aware that the Northern Crusades of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries (the Crusades which most directly affected this area of the world) were directed against the native Pagans. While some rightwing Rodzimowiercy might elect to work individually with such groups on an enemy-of-my-enemy basis, they would have little reason to identify as Rodzimowiercy while doing so, and no reason to reinforce the “defense of Christian Europe” portion of the message in any public forum. This is perhaps one of the most salient reasons for the lack of attempts to raise a stronger Rodzimowierstwo voice on the anti-immigration issue.7

More progressive representatives of Rodzimowierstwo (those continuing the democratic “home rule” nationalism of Lelewel) fight to have their voice heard at all. With limited numbers and resources, they are currently more likely to engage in the discussion about how (and whether) religion should appear in school curricula, for example, than diving into controversies around Muslim immigrants. In theory, more tolerance for minority religions should be beneficial for them, and they would no doubt be happy to see the “defense of Christian Europe” banners disappear. But in practice, supporting issues like immigration from non-Slavic countries would seem dangerously close to endorsing a further dilution of local Slavic tradition. Thus, progressive Rodzimowiercy run a double risk of alienating their own colleagues, while also not being heard in the mainstream discussion as a distinctive voice. As with the right-leaning sector, they might individually join some marches and other initiatives, but are unlikely to loudly identify themselves as Rodzimowiercy when they are doing it.

 
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