The recent shift towards conservative nationalism in Poland seems to be part of a greater whole, observed not only in several countries of Eastern Europe but also in some parts of the “old” Europe as well as in America. However, a closer look reveals disturbing differences between Poland and other countries in that Poland’s contemporary political conservatism is becoming alarmingly close to the communist authoritarian rule, tinted with a large dose of populism and nationalism. Unlike elsewhere, the Polish identity transformation was triggered by a recent national tragedy, i.e. the death of the Polish President and ninety-five other prominent Poles in the Smolensk air crash of 2010. The tragedy, followed by intense political propaganda of the right-wing parties, has had a far-reaching consequence: it has divided Polish society. The rupture is so deep that Poland seems to be inhabited by two tribes, admittedly deriving from the same stem, yet, apart from the shared territory and language, having nothing or very little in common. The demarcation line goes across communities, groups of friends and even families, making communication between both sides almost impossible. The division has also affected the sphere of identity: once homogenous, firmly grounded in people’s consciousness, the sense of national identity has been replaced by two different and opposing identities which, despite common roots, are highly antagonistic towards each other.
Aware of the complex character of the very idea of national identity as well as of the variety of approaches to the concept of identity, the authors try to scrutinize why so many Poles, laboriously trying to emulate the Western world after the 1989 political upheaval and re-establish their national identity so as to face challenges posed by the new millennium, have suddenly started questioning their own achievements. To explain the dual nature of national identity it is necessary to examine its foundational myths, as the re-surfacing opposing identities can be traced back to the same roots. The authors claim that the dichotomy of Polish national identity is its innate quality which had not manifested itself fully before the 2010 Smolensk trauma. The tragedy not only brought to the surface the duality but also started the parallel re-interpretation and re-construction of the paradigm of national identity. The authors argue that the process has accelerated since the latest election, when the winning party and its associated media initiated the policy of reshaping the crucial elements of national identity, thereby further polarizing Polish society.
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