Sunday, 9 May 2010

Slavic yearnings

Last week, on 3rd May, Poland celebrated the adoption of Europe's first written constitution in 1791. On the 9th, Russia celebrates the defeat of Fascism, VE Day.

Remembering my midnight conversation with Dr Halina, the Radio Maryja listener a week ago, I'm prompted to write about pan-Slavism, a significant undercurrent in Polish society and politics. She had a PhD from the University of Lvov and had travelled the length and breadth of the USSR. Despite her strong anti-communist, patriotic and Catholic stance, she had a clearly sympathetic point of view towards Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, their peoples and their culture.

Scratch a Pole and you'll find a German or a Russian. That one part of the Polish identity that comes from the west is organised, technically-minded and seeks order. That part of the Polish identity that comes from the east is poetic, spiritual, wild and disorderly, sentimental, fantastical in vision, determined and hard.

Genetically, eastern Germany is populated by germanised Slavs, decendents of the Sorbs, Wends and Veleti. Slavic populations have a high percentage of the R1a mutation of the Y-chromosome. To quote from the Wikipedia article:

In Europe, R1a ... is found at highest levels among peoples of Eastern European descent (Sorbs, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians; 50 to 65%).

With genetic science still in its infancy, we do not yet know what personality traits are characteristic of peoples of the R1a haplogroup. They are certain to differ (though by how much?) from peoples of the R1b haplogroup, who are predominant in western Europe.

It is possible to rewrite central and eastern European history, in particular the Drang nach Osten, Grunwald, the Teutonic Knights, the ostfront in WWI and WWII, as the struggle between the R1b and R1a haplogroups.

[Remember, that in any national group there is a significant minority of a haplotype other than the dominant one.]

So if there's a genetic as well as linguistic bond between Slavs - why are they split geopolitically between eurocentric western Slavs, fractured and fractious southern Slavs, and the north-eastern Eurasian landmass dominated by Moscow?

It is because of history. I've already mentioned the religion/alphabet split, but another reason why Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have found it easier to absorb democratic ideas is their distance from oriental despotism. Russia has had a hard history. Under the yoke of the Mongol hordes, Russian people would watch their princes tied up and dragged through the mud for sport; those same princes that had failed to save their people from the random pillaging and raping of Genghis Khan's mounted warriors as they swept westward. And when the Golden Horde finally went home, those princes, humiliated in front of their people, had to somehow reassert their authority. To do so, they used zamordyzm.

Zamordyzm. The strong holding the weak by the morda - the snout. A lack of human respect, a lack of civilisation. Despotic command-and-control, denying dignity to the weaker party. Might is right. The Tsars did not go in for Enlightenment. Serfdom was only abolished in Russia in 1861; its scale far greater than slavery in the USA or British Empire (23 million serfs vs 4 million slaves in the USA and 750,000 in the British Empire at abolition).

Civilisation to me is above all society rising above the biological mammalian hierarchy whereby the alpha puts the others beneath him into the pecking order by force. Civilisation is politeness, manners, rituals. Noblesse oblige. "Hello Mr Jones, how are you, half a pound of lamb chops please, nice day isn't it?" as opposed to "Dawjcie mi pół kilo karkówki, dobra? " (There's less hypocrisy, though).

As human society evolved, so brute zamordyzm has given way to more subtle systems of political control whereby freedom is not taken but traded in exchange for someone else taking responsibility for your welfare. The feudal prince would give way to the mill-owner, the welfare state or the Supreme Soviet. Consenting to servility in exchange for freedom from want.

Radio Maryja listeners yearn (as does their entire age cohort across the former Soviet empire) for the certainties of communism - welfare, pensions, cheap food and housing, free healthcare. None of this could communism sustainably deliver, so the system imploded. The fundamental difference between the elderly veteran with his medals and Stalin badge in Red Square and a Radio Maryja listener in Częstochowa is Catholicism and Polish patriotism. Other than that, there is a bond.

I sense within the Radio Maryja mindset a yearning for some kind of a pan-Slavic union, a return to a simple life of religious observance, tradition, folk-song, crafts, extended families. On the issue of vodka and wild behaviour, I suspect there is ambiguity, although during the era of Soviet hegemony, the vodka bottle was ubiquitously used to cement pan-Slavic bonds.

(Is there something in the R1b haplogroup that makes people more likely to consent to servility in exchange for freedom from want? Probably not. Differences within groups are greater than between them. Could Bolshevism have taken hold in any other country than Russia? Probably not, though for historical rather than genetic reasons.)

Gazeta Wyborcza*, which in the Radio Maryja mindset is a judeo-masonic organ run by anti-Poles with a Brussels agenda, has initiated a campaign to light a candle for the fallen Soviet soldier on 9th May. Promoted by figures such a Andrzej Wajda (who spoke out against burying President Lech Kaczyński in Wawel Castle), the logic of the campaign is entirely human. The Soviet dead (as I wrote here) were primarily peasants and workers herded west at gunpoint to gain territory for the USSR, treated instrumentally as cannon fodder by Stalin. We should mourn them as victims, not as liberators or occupants.

There is ambiguity among Polish social conservatives towards Russia. On the one hand there is deep distrust of Moscow, tsarist partition, Bolsheviks invading in 1920 and 1939, and returning in 1944 to install their puppets for another 45 years. On the other, we are all Slavs, and Slavs should not be drawn, they say, into the clutches of Brussels and the morally bankrupt EU.

Politics aside, Poles need to draw a distinction between the Russian state and the Russian people. In matters artistic, musical and literary, there's so much in common between our souls. It's just that history and politics have got in the way.

* Another campaign currently being promoted by Gazeta Wyborcza and the Civic Platform City Hall is Kręć, Warszawo, aimed at getting people to cycle to work this month. Proof, if any is needed, that there is indeed a conspiracy of Jews, masons and cyclists.


Unknown said...

Your haplotypes analysis is an oversimplification. There's no European nation that can be described in terms of majority of a given Y chromosome haplotype. Only the small, separated Scandinavian nations can be described in this way. Any other nation has much more complicated, multi-level "genetic history". For that reason relations - you are looking for - between genetic and society traits can be early falsified.

Having said that I find your post quite interesting ;-) You should look in that subject much more carefully.

magdalena said...

"Hello Mr Jones, how are you, half a pound of lamb chops please, nice day isn't it?" as opposed to "Dawjcie mi pół kilo karkówki, dobra? " (There's less hypocrisy, though).

Do you actually think Polish people are so rude? Are you truly convinced that "dawajcie pół kilo schabu, dobra" is the correct and polite way to make a purchase in Polish? If so, your Polish skills (both in language and culture) are sadly lacking, I am afraid.
How about :"Poproszę pół kilo schabu. Dziękuję ślicznie! Do widzenia!" Who knows, your local shop assistant might start liking you after all ;-p
I am making this observation because you seem to be trying to prove something about national character based on an obvious error.

Michael Dembinski said...

I'm making a generalisation of course. But I absolutely insist that both shoppers and shop assistants are in general more polite in the UK than they are in Poland.

Also - read this post for more detail.

If there's another cultural difference between Poles and Brits in in the formers' inability to identify the latters' humour!

oppollo said...

I agree with Michael. Poles still have some way to go (I'm a Pole myself) in a way they approach everyday life. Sense of humor, small talk and auto criticism are main areas of improvement.

Sylwia said...

"I'm prompted to write about pan-Slavism, a significant undercurrent in Polish society and politics."

I'm not sure you understand the idea of pan-Slavism. It was, from start, a military and political movement, rather than a cultural one. The idea was that, on the basis of some alleged common heritage, all Slavic peoples should submit themselves under the leadership of Moscow. Not surprisingly, Poles opposed it from the very beginning, for which they were called the bastards of the Slavic family. Moreover, in their attempt to distance themselves from Moscow, they created an opposite theory claiming that the Russians are really Slavicized Mongols rather than our brothers.

In effect, Poles don’t really claim any similarities to Russians, on the contrary, they look down on them -- a nation lacking any culture at all. They were never seen as our cultural brothers, only as barbaric occupants. I’m not trying to make any actual remarks upon the values of Russian culture, only to summarise typical Polish attitudes.

Also, Poles see themselves as very different from both Russians and Germans, exactly because both Russians and Germans are viewed by Poles as prone to servitude. That’s how we explain both the tsarist and Prussian absolutism, and Bolshevism and Nazism. So I’m afraid your argument about civilization and oriental despotism doesn’t stand. It wasn’t difficult to transform Eastern Germany into a neat communist state, was it?

"Politics aside, Poles need to draw a distinction between the Russian state and the Russian people."

Poles do draw the distinction, but not because they feel somehow close to the Russian people, only because the Russian people cannot be held responsible for the deeds of their leaders. But that doesn’t prove any kindred spirit between us and them. On the contrary, it’s at least in part a patronizing attitude. We think they’re not mature enough to take care of themselves.

Pan-Slavism was widely promoted during the Communist era, so no doubt some people, your friend included, believed in its myths. But I wouldn’t say that it’s an undercurrent in Polish society and politics. At least in politics it’s quite clear it’s not. The only times the PO, PiS and even SLD leadership could agree on anything was when there was a need to oppose pan-Slavism, and I’m sure Kaczyński understands it as well as Tusk and Sikorski do. The entire plan of Poland’s foreign politics is designed against pan-Slavism. It’s been like that since the times of Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (ca 1830).

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I didn't mean to post three times, but I had some technical problems. Please delete the other posts.