What has the freedom gained after 1989 given to culture, and what has culture given it? What is the state of the balance sheet? We have gained freedom of speech, but words have become a commodity on the market of values and ideas. The intellectuals and artists have lost their fear, but they have also lost their sense of the importance of their work. The latter issue is perhaps the one that most concerns Jagiellonian University professor Teresa Walas, the author of Understanding Our Era: an exploration of Polish culture after communism.
What explains the decline of the “debating community” in Poland?, she asks. Why is it hard to create an attractive cultural community, such as communism used to propose in this part of Europe at one time by offering a vision of man overcoming nature and himself, and restoring the meaning to his historical era? The lack of such a vision, says Walas, is not just the result of renouncing efforts to come to terms with the past, intellectually and politically, or of a way of thinking that is reluctant to promote all-embracing visions of culture, based for example on the category of “national” culture. The intellectuals and artists are also to blame; disinherited of their former role as the defenders of threatened values, they have been over eager to go into partnership with the culture marketing experts.
Teresa Walas’s book is an important attempt to diagnose the language of a public debate that is ongoing in Poland today.
- Marek Zaleski