European studies blog

67 posts categorized "Poland"

08 March 2022

“Your problems are also my problems” – tracing Ukraine in the British Library's Solidarity Collection

As the catastrophic situation in Ukraine unfolds, as human lives and cultural heritage are under threat, the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine keeps displaying a curt and distressing message: ‘Due to the imposition of martial law throughout Ukraine, the library remains closed to readers’.

The tragic circumstances of one of the most populous countries in Europe remind us of the importance of international solidarity and the need to come together to preserve lives and heritage. In this blog post we take a look at Ukraine in the British Library’s Solidarity collection to show the prominence of international connections for building democracies.

Since 1980, when the Gdańsk Agreement was signed between the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard and the government of the Polish People’s Republic, the Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement – the trade union – has been being widely credited with playing a crucial role in ending communist rule in Poland. For many activists around the world Solidarity became a symbol of a successful battle against tyranny and dictatorship.

The British Library’s collection named after the movement holds thousands of items inspired by the theme of freedom and democracy. A detailed description of the collection can be found on our blog

The Solidarity Collection, which includes diverse pro-democratic materials from many independent bodies, is a true testament to the freedom movement spreading through the Eastern Bloc in the late 1970s and 1980s. The following collection items highlight the connection between the Polish movement and Ukraine.

Anna Walentynowicz

Cover of Tomasz Jastrun, Życie Anny Walentynowicz

Cover of Tomasz Jastrun, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (Warszawa, 1985). Sol.223.c

Anna Walentynowicz (née Lubczyk), born in 1929 in Volhynia into a Ukrainian protestant family, was an icon of the Polish solidarity movement. From 1950, when Anna started working for the Gdansk Shipyard, she was actively engaged in defending workers’ rights, protesting against financial fraud, and distributing underground newsletters. In 1978 she joined the Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża, WZZW), which two years later became an excuse for firing her from her post at the shipyard just before she was due to retire. The act, which infuriated her colleagues, triggered the famed strike on 14 August 1980, and consequentially led to the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement and the birth of the Solidarity trade union. By the mid-1980s Anna’s symbolic position within the ranks of the opposition prompted Tomasz Jastrun, a fellow dissident and literary critic to write her biography, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (The Life of Anna Walentynowicz), in the form of an extended interview. Although Walentynowicz later entered into a conflict with Lech Wałęsa over the direction the Solidarity movement was going, she worked relentlessly her entire life to defend human rights. She said in one of the interviews:

Our main duty is to consider the needs of the others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly. Our day-to-day motto should be: “Your problems are also my problems”. We must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity. Source: Extracts from Polish underground publications 

A declaration of the hunger-strike protest signed by Anna Walentynowicz

A declaration of the hunger-strike protest signed by Anna Walentynowicz. Cele i zasady naszego głodowego protestu. List do społeczeństwa (Kraków, 1985) Sol.764

Anna died tragically in the Smolensk air disaster in 2010. Before her death she managed to find and reunite with her family in Ukraine from whom she had been separated during the Second World War.

Robotnik periodical 

Robotnik. Pismo członków Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Komitetu „Solidarności”

Robotnik. Pismo członków Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Komitetu „Solidarności” (Warszawa, 1986) Sol.764

This special issue of the underground periodical Robotnik (Worker) is devoted to the April 1986 atomic disaster in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The editors of Robotnik express their sympathy and proclaim solidarity with the victims of the catastrophe, which in their view occurred as a result of systematic negligence. They declare: ‘In the Soviet system there is no space for protecting human rights, even the most elementary right to life’. [my translation]

Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation

Proclamation on the Rules of the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation

Oświadczenie w sprawie zasad współpracy polsko-ukraińskiej (Paryż, 1987) Sol.764

The Liberal Democratic Party ‘Niepodległość’/’Independence’ aimed to overthrow the communist regime and make Poland an independent country. One of their goals was to establish a common position of the Ukrainian and Polish opposition regarding mutual support for the countries’ independence and the future Polish-Ukrainian border. The 1987 ‘Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation’, held in the Solidarity collection, shows a joint attempt to reach a solution. The signatories promise to respect each other’s right to national independence.

A postcard celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine

A postcard celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine (1988) Sol.764

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections 

Further reading:

Ukrainian collections in the British Library 

Shana Penn, Solidarity’s secret: the women who defeated Communism in Poland (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Bristol, 2005). YC.2007.a.10368

M. Szporer, ‘Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Poland’ Journal of Cold War studies, 13:1 (2011), pp. 213-222. 4958.799420

28 February 2022

Love, like any other - Maria Dąbrowska and Anna Kowalska

Hardly anyone growing up in Poland in the 1980s can say they are not familiar with the flagship Polish TV production Nights and Days. The movie, later followed by a TV series, was a frequent guest in Polish homes and for many young people a much more dreaded part of the Christmas period than Home Alone is today. The production was based on Maria Dąbrowska’s novel of the same title, Noce i dnie.

Title page of Noce i dnie by Maria Dąbrowska

Title page of Noce i dnie by Maria Dąbrowska. (Warsaw, 1934-35) 012591.dd.85

The author’s opus mundi was by most critics considered the greatest achievement of Polish interwar literature. Awarded the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature Dąbrowska was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Sketch of Maria Dąbrowska by Anna Linke

Maria Dąbrowska by Anna Linke, illustration from Maria Dąbrowska, Dzienniki, (Warsaw, 1988) YA.1989.a.16391)

To be perfectly honest, her epic (and compulsory) novel was a difficult read for a teenager. Barbara, the main protagonist, her fears of spinsterhood, unhappy marriage, burdens and boredom of mundane living are much better understood later in life – just like John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte’s Saga or Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. Nonetheless, generations of Polish pupils were ‘taught’ Nights and Days and learned about Maria Dąbrowska from zealous teachers who insisted on instilling in us the love of literature and of our mother tongue. However, what they mostly failed to teach at the time was an appreciation of diversity through the true life-story of the author.

Only years after my graduation from the Polish school system have I learned that Maria Dąbrowska was much more complicated and considerably more exciting a person that our teachers made us believe. Coming from impoverished landed gentry Dąbrowska was a socialist, an ardent critic of anti-Semitism, a tolerant and unprejudiced person who lived in an open relationship with her husband Marian Dąbrowski and later with her long-time partner, the social activist and freemason Stanisław Stempowski. However, the longest lasting and probably the most emotionally close relationship Dąbrowska had was that with a fellow writer, Anna Kowalska.

Cover of Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969

Cover of Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969, (Warsaw, 2008) YF.2009.a.30901

Although Dąbrowska met Kowalska by chance at a party in pre-war Lviv, their relationship did not start until the 1940s when Anna and her husband Jerzy arrived in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. In the course of their life-binding relationship Anna and Maria exchanged almost 2400 letters that testify to their turbulent relationship and deep affection for each other. Anna looked up to Maria who encouraged her to take more care with her writing. Nonetheless, Anna was a brilliant translator, publicist and intellectual. She was a creator and active participant of Wrocław’s post-war literary scene. In 1949 she received a Pen Club award for her Opowiadania greckie (Warsaw, 1956; 12596.bbb.18.). The two women constantly challenged and stimulated each other both emotionally and intellectually. Anna wrote in her diary: “Before I go to sleep, when I lie awake, after I wake up, when I wash, cook, drink and clean, I make up conversations with M. Only recently have I noticed that I stopped being lonely, or rather alone (as you can be lonely with someone) in my existence.” [Dzienniki, my translation]

Maria Dąbrowska, Bronisław Linke and Anna Kowalska at Anna and Bronisław Linke’s flat in Warsaw

Maria Dąbrowska, Bronisław Linke and Anna Kowalska at Anna and Bronisław Linke’s flat in Warsaw 1951. Illustration from: Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969.

As Dąbrowska insisted that her diaries must not be published in an unabridged form until 40 years after her death, only recently have we been able to fully appreciate the depth of her connection with Anna and to understand better the consequences this bond had for the work and personal lives of both women. Kowalska once commented:

I am fascinated by the fate of this relationship, when everything is against it: age, gender, circumstances, and on M.’s side weariness and emotional exhaustion. She craves artistic fulfilment only. However, so do I, but I cannot bring myself to talk about it as it is a sore point, an all-consuming anxiety. [my translation]

Anna and Maria discussed the complicated nature of their relationship, as Maria struggled with the notion that their love is dangerous. In a letter to her lover Anna states:

Love is not shameful. Darling, what a joy that you are not ashamed of love. What a relief! Homosexual love, if it is not for show, but is plainly more destructive and tormenting, is no less significant or ‘dignified’. … The middle class has hated love for centuries. The extent of the taboo is surprising. [Quote from Ewa Głębicka, Rzecz prywatna, rzecz sekretna. O granicach intymności w korespondencji Marii Dąbrowskiej i Anny Kowalskiej z lat 1946-1948, (Warsaw, 2017)]

Both women dared to be different – strived to fulfil their emotional and professional ambitions – in times when being different was not perceived as a virtue. Their lives were filled with struggles against societal norms, but at the same time, in their own way, they came out victorious from this fight by living their lives to the fullest.

Cover of Sylwia Chwedorczuk, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej with photographs of the two writers

Cover of Sylwia Chwedorczuk, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej, (Warszawa, 2020) awaiting shelfmark

Poland’s struggle to officially recognise LGBTQ+ rights creates challenges to those who want to commemorate and research the minority’s history and culture. However, the upside of the situation is that it generates more interest in human rights and it prompts efforts to build awareness of those in the country’s rich history who dared to be themselves despite limitations of social conventions. Sylwia Chwedorczuk’s fascinating and non-judgmental biography of Anna, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej (‘Kowalska, the one with Dąbrowska’) is a brilliant example of this trend. Chwedorczuk, who partly based her book on unpublished correspondence between the two women, gives the reader a sneak-peek into their lives – their virtues and their flaws, to put it simply, their humanity. I hope that books like this will one day become part of school curricula. Looking back at my young self, this is the book I would have loved to read.

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections 

01 February 2022

In Memoriam: Zuzanna Krzemien (1987-2021)

As January draws to a close, we remember our dear colleague, Zuzanna, who passed away a year ago. In her short time at the British Library, as a cataloguer and curator of Slavonic and East European collections, she made a lasting impression on both the people and collections she worked with. As well as being a talented linguist and researcher with a PhD in Hebrew and Jewish studies, she is also remembered for her generosity of spirit, quiet humour and beautiful smile.

Photograph of Zuzanna

Photograph of Zuzanna. With kind permission of her family. 

Zuzanna’s regular contributions to the Library’s European Studies blog were always popular due to her accessible, interesting, and often witty, writing style and choice of subjects. From art and book design to Holocaust studies and the forgotten histories of women, her natural ability to tell stories and engage readers helped to open up the Polish, Czech and Slovak collections to wider audiences.

In June 2020 she organised an important collaborative blog post to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month and to highlight collection items written by or related to members of the Roma community in Europe. One of our favourite pieces she wrote was the first in a series of blog posts in which colleagues described items in the collection that held a significant meaning for them. Zuzanna chose a Polish samizdat edition of George Orwell’s 1984, which she first came across aged 13 on her father’s bookshelf, and a book devoted to the Roma community in Slovakia.

In one of her blogs on book design, Zuzanna explained that Czech cubists believed that objects, including books, had their own inner energy. The way she worked with books and wrote about them suggests that she also believed in their inner energy.

Zuzanna's ex-libris

Zuzanna’s ex-libris

Zuzanna’s family have kindly donated 14 books from her personal collection to the British Library. Each title includes her ex-libris. An avid traveller and bibliophile, the design features a scene with books next to a wide-open window. There is a vase of flowers on the windowsill and a flock of birds is flying over the vast, mountainous landscape. We hope that it will bring a smile and sense of calm to all those who read Zuzanna’s books in the Library.

The following books were kindly donated to the British Library by Zuzanna’s family

Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists (London, [2018]). YD.2022.a.275

Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (London, 2006). YD.2022.a.273

Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (London, 2012). YD.2022.a.278

Angela Gallop with Jane Smith, When the Dogs don’t Bark: a Forensic Scientist’s Search for the Truth (London, 2020). YD.2022.a.279

Georgi Gospodinov; translated by Angela Rodel, The Physics of Sorrow (Rochester, 2015). YD.2022.a.281

Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor (London, 2018). YD.2022.a.276

Jonah Lehrer, Proust was a neuroscientist (Edinburgh, 2012). YD.2022.a.277

Shannon Moffett, The Three-Pound Enigma: the Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock its Mysteries (Chapel Hill, 2006). YD.2022.a.282

Heather Morris, The Tattooist of Auschwitz (London, 2018). YD.2022.a.274

Erin E. Murphy, Inside the Cell: the Dark Side of Forensic DNA (New York, 2015). YD.2022.a.283

Henry Jay Przybylo, Counting Backwards: a Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesia (New York, 2018). YD.2022.a.280

Christopher See, Succeed in your Medical School Interview: Stand out from the Crowd and get into your Chosen Medical School (London, 2015). YD.2022.a.285

Tom Zoellner, Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World (New York; London, 2009). YD.2022.a.284

Ruslan Russian, 1. Student Workbook. Exercises by John Langran ([Birmingham, 2013]). YD.2022.b.73

23 December 2021

Festive Feasts

It’s the festive season again! Conversations in our multi-national department invariably turn to colleagues’ national Christmas and New Year traditions, especially what we have to eat in our home countries. In today’s post colleagues share some Christmas Eve cuisine from Central Europe, Ukraine and France

Christmas Carp 

In Central Europe, carp is a popular traditional dish for Christmas. ‘The queen of rivers’, as it was called by the 17th-century English writer Izaak Walton, this fish is quite oily and bony. So the first thing to do is to remove as many bones as possible, so that your Christmas dinner is not spoilt by a call to the ambulance. Choking on carp bones was a typical Christmas accident and is the source of many songs and anecdotes. However, you really should risk it, as carp scales are a symbol of wealth, so don’t forget to place them under plates before dinner, or hold in the palm of your hand, or put them in your wallet.

If you want your taste-buds get excited this Christmas and are seriously concerned about your wealth, why not visit your fishmonger and then indulge in a quality family time removing bones together during dark December evenings? Once the bones are out of the way, you can be creative with rubbing salt, spices, and pepper into the fish. Some recipes suggest using mustard and lemon juice or eggs to mix with flour or breadcrumbs for wrapping. Each household in Czechia or Poland would have their own traditional recipe, but the most important thing is to fry carefully and not overdo it.

Of course, carp is not only for Christmas, it is a really big part of Central European culture all year round. Books have been written about this wonderful and really tasty fish, as for example this one, promoting carp from the southern regions on the Czech Republic in national and foreign cuisines.

Book cover with a cartoon of a carp wearing a chef's hat

Cover of Vilém Vrabec, Jihočeský kapr v naší a zahraniční kuchyni (České Budějovice, 1979) X.629/16113

In fact, in Polish territories neighbouring the Czech lands carp was popularized by Czech Cistercians in 12th century. Although it became one of the staples of Polish cuisine, for a long time it was not considered as an essential part of the Christmas Eve table. Other fish dishes were equally, if not more popular. However, after the Second World War when freshwater fish farming could not come back to its former glory and the Baltic fleet was depleted, the Polish Minister for Industry and Trade, Hilary Minc, came up with an ingenious trade and marketing strategy. First, he decided that the answer for the ‘fish crisis’ was to set up carp breeding ponds which would offer fish-starved Poles a cheap but hefty chunk of protein. The slogan ‘Carp on every Christmas Eve table’ became a reality. Since 1947 almost every Polish child has been able to pet their own carp, held for days in bathtubs, in a run up to Christmas. Live carp were often offered to workers as a festive bonus.

In recent years animal rights activists launched a very successful campaign ‘Uwolnić karpia!’(‘Free the Carp!’) to put a stop to animal suffering which for years has been a part of the festive season. The campaign, which is ongoing, does not aim to fight the Polish Christmas tradition, but to get rid of the part which is unnecessarily cruel to animals. So let us celebrate with a cheerful: Happy Carp – Happy Christmas!

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator and Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections

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Ukrainian Christmas Dishes

In Ukraine the whole family gathers at the table for the Christmas Eve dinner. Traditionally they wait for the first star to be appear in the sky. It reminds them of the star of Bethlehem which once announced to the Magi the birth of the Son of God. Only after that (and after prayer) can they start dinner.

Since Christmas Eve is the last day of the Advent fast, all meals should be lean. Traditionally it is 12 festive dishes in honour of the 12 apostles.

Chief among these are kutia and uzvar. The dinner starts with kutia – a porridge made from wheat or barley grain which symbolize eternal life and prosperity. Before cooking, the grain is soaked in cold water. Traditionally some people cook it in clay pots. Cooked porridge is placed in a deep, preferably earthenware, bowl or makitra and crushed poppy-seeds, walnuts, raisins and honey are added. Everything is mixed thoroughly.

Kutia recipe from the book 'Ukraine: Food and History'

Recipe for kutia from Ukraine: Food and History, edited by Olena Braichenko (Kyiv, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.  

The traditional Christmas drink Uzvar is made from dried fruits. Uzvar means ‘boil down’ because the fruit is boiled over a low heat. First of all it is apples, pears, plums and cherries which give it an intense and warm colour. It could be also dried apricots and raisins or other fruits depending of the area of Ukraine.

Cover of the book 'Ukrainian Christmas Feast'

Cover of Igor Stassiouk, Ukrainian Christmas Feast = Ukraïnsʹke Rizdvo (Kyïv, 2010) YK.2012.a.9322

The other 12 dishes are not so prescriptive, and among them could be holubtsi (stuffed cabbage with mushrooms), lean borsch, vinaigrette, deruny (potato pancakes), varenyky (dumplings with cherries or grated poppy seeds), baked apples, etc. Recipes for these and other festive dishes can be found in the British Library’s collections, for example in the works illustrated above and cited below.

For Christmas and Easter: religious holiday dishes = Na Rizdvo i na Velykdenʹ: zakarpatsʹki sviatkovi stravy. Compiled by Valentyna Dzioba English translation by Valentyna Babydorych. (Uzhhorod, 2002) YF.2007.a.29847

Olha Verbenets, Vira Manko, Obriady i stravy sviatoho vechora (Lviv, 2007) YF.2008.a.30595

Lidiia Artiukh, Zvychaï ukraïntsiv u narodnomu kalendari (Kyïv, 2015) LF.31.a.5017

Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow

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A ghost and thirteen desserts

Christmas is associated with many things: seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit. Since Charles Dickens, maybe, it has also been associated in literature with ghost stories and  just supernatural retribution for mistakes, past and present.

French author Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), who was instrumental in reviving and creating a canon of Provençal folklore, somehow managed to combine food and ghosts in his story of the ‘three low masses’, which was part of his work Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from my Mill; Paris, 1879; 11483.aaa.13).

Published in 1875, Daudet’s short story ‘Les trois basses messes’ imitates the tradition of folk-tale and evokes the delicious food of Christmas with a celestial retribution that sees gourmand Priest Dom Balaguère so impatient for his Christmas réveillon feast of truffled turkeys, pheasant, eels, trout, and wine that he succumbs to the Devil’s tricks and rushes through the required three low masses for Christmas Eve… As a punishment, God decrees that the priest shall not enter heaven until he has celebrated 300 Christmas masses in his chapel, where for centuries his ghost will be heard saying the masses he had first botched because of his gluttony. The British Library has several recordings of readings of excerpts from Lettres de Mon Moulin including some by French actor Fernandel (Sound Archive 1LP0095903), and in English by British actor Stephen Fry (Sound Archive 1CA0029425).

It has been argued that Daudet, following Provencal Poet Frederic Mistral’s success, deliberately exaggerated his links to Provence to further his literary career and social success; but Provence has been, and still is, an acknowledged source of Christmas traditions, be they religious, musical or culinary.

The true Provençal Christmas delicacy, is nowadays considered to be the tradition of the ‘thirteen desserts’ (Occitan: lei tretze dessèrts), the traditional table of delights arranged for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. In Provence particularly, the ‘Réveillon de Noel’ (Christmas Eve supper) ends with a ritual of thirteen desserts, representing Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles – you can read a nostalgic and love-filled description of this in Marcel Pagnol’s Le Chateau de ma mère (Paris, 1958; F9/5843).

Reveillon

Definition of the reveillon, from Petit almanach perpétuel de gastronomie (Paris, 1859). Source: Gallica

The food should be presented on Christmas Eve and remains on the table for three days. The precise composition varies in each province, town, or even family. There are only six compulsory items including the four mendiants (‘beggars’), evoking religious orders that had taken a vow of poverty (walnuts or hazelnuts for the Augustinians, dried figs for the Franciscans, almonds for the Carmelites and raisins for the Dominicans), black and white nougat (which counts as one dessert) and the famous pompe à l’huile d’olive, a sweet focaccia-type brioche made with olive oil and flavoured with orange blossom water. Other treats might include calissons (a sweet made of almonds and candied melon), fresh fruits, oreillettes (a type of light doughnut) and all sorts of delicious things.

If only poor Dom Balaguère could have waited for a few hours…

Thirteen desserts

The traditional thirteen desserts served for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmerman from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

09 August 2021

Documenting the Belarus Protests, 2020-2021

In August 2020, Belarus was catapulted onto the world stage as a wave of anti-government protests swept the country. Although demonstrations had begun in May after President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, declared his intention to run in the 2020 elections, the protests intensified when the first official results were announced on the evening of 9 August.

Thousands of protesters were arrested in the months that followed, with human rights organisations documenting hundreds of cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Local and international journalists covering the events were also arrested and/or stripped of accreditation, internet access was periodically blocked, and an increasing number of books and media channels have been labelled ‘extremist’.

A year on from the elections, this blog post brings together accounts, reflections and creative responses to the protests. Published outside of Belarus – in Germany, Poland and Sweden – they include diaries, photographs, poems, essays and a play.

Photo from Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov showing a large number of protesters holding flags and placards

L. Pirs, Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

In November 2020, 31-year old artist Raman Bandarenka died in police custody after being arrested at an anti-government protest in Minsk. His last known words, Ia vykhozhu (‘I’m going out’), which he posted on Telegram, became a rallying cry for thousands of protestors in the days following his death. Those words also form the title of this book, which brings together over 350 photographs of posters from the 2020 protests in Belarus. Bold, direct, heartfelt and at times humorous, the posters speak to the creativity of the protestors and the range of issues they are fighting for.

Cover of Plays International & Europe

Andrei Kureichik, ‘Insulted. Belarus’, translated by John Freedman, in Plays International & Europe, Vol. 35, Nos 9-12 (Winter 2020), pp. 30-45. P.903/1085

Written by leading Belarusian playwright Andrei Kureichik, Insulted. Belarus (Обиженные. Беларусь(сия)) is a short, powerful play focusing on the days immediately before and after the contested presidential elections on 9 August. Through a series of monologues, we are introduced to seven fictional and non-fictional characters: Oldster, based on long-time president Alexander Lukashenko; Novice, representing opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya); Youth, Lukashenko’s video-game obsessed teenage son Kolya; Cheerful, a fictional character who believes in the power of the Universe; Raptor, a storm trooper engaged to Cheerful’s sister; Corpse, a 26-year-old football fan who detests the old regime; and Mentor, a middle-aged teacher involved in rigging the elections.

Kureichik contacted translator John Freedman in early September 2020 with a request to translate the play into English and to bring it to the attention of an international audience. Nearly a year later, it has been translated into more than 20 languages and performed (as readings, productions, videos and films) in more than 25 countries, including the US, Nigeria, Slovakia, Turkey and the UK. Freedman’s English translation was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Plays International & Europe.

You can watch a reading of Insulted. Belarus in English here

Cover of BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution

BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution (Berlin, 2020). YF.2021.a.8763

Much has been written about the central role women have played in the Belarus protests, from opposition figures Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Maria Kalesnikava to the defiant images of women, dressed in white and holding flowers, standing against police brutality.

Published in Germany in late 2020, this book (‘Belarus! The Female Face of the Revolution’) brings together analytical and journalistic texts, poems, essays, and documents by women. Among them are the poets and translators Iulia Tsimafeeva (listen to her contribution ‘My European Poem’) and Volʹha Hapeeva, artist and activist Marina Naprushkina, and Irina Solomatina, Head of the Council for the Belarusian Organization of Working Women and co-author of a 2015 book on women’s activism in Belarus.

Cover of Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus

Another of the contributors, the philosopher Olga Shparaga, has written a separate book on the topic of women’s participation in the protests, Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus (‘The Revolution has a Female Face. The Case of Belarus’).

Parallels have of course been drawn with Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich’s 1985 work The Unwomanly Face of War, which documents the experience and memories of Soviet women who fought during the Second World War. As Shparaga has pointed out, however, a key difference is that women have become visible in Belarus through the protests.

Alexievich recently announced that she is also focusing on the role of women in the pro-democracy movement in Belarus for her new book.

Cover of Dagar i Belarus

Julia Tsimafejeva, Dagar i Belarus (Stockholm, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark

Iulia Tsimafeeva (Julia Tsimafejeva) also kept a diary during the protests, which was translated into Swedish and published at the end of 2020 as Dagar i Belarus (‘Days in Belarus’). Extracts from Tsimafeeva’s diary appeared in English in the Financial Times, including a passage in which she describes preparing to join the protests:

When we leave the house, we go prepared. First, I dress carefully, in case I end up spending a night or two in the detention centre. Second, I intensively water dozens of my plants. Third, we leave our cat enough food for a few days. (One of my friends says that her cat has become fat with all these Sunday rallies.) Fourth, we take passports and a bottle of water. It’s important, too, to clear the history of your mobile phone, as these are often checked in the detention centres.

Now ready, our small family brigade goes out into the street, into the unknown.

Tsimafeeva’s third poetry collection, ROT, was published in Belarus in July 2020, YF.2021.a.4086.

Cover of Die weißen Tage von Minsk with a photo of Vitali Alekseenok

Vitali Alekseenok, Die weißen Tage von Minsk (Frankfurt am Main, 2021). YF.2021.a.6322

Vitali Alekseenok, the musical director of the Abaco Orchestra of the University of Munich, organised protests in Germany last summer before returning to Belarus in August to support the protest movement there. The conductor documented his experiences during the six weeks he spent in Minsk in a book entitled Die weißen Tage von Minsk (‘The White Days of Minsk’).

A Deutsche Welle article commented that Alekseenok’s book ‘reads like a travelogue dotted throughout with matter-of-fact impressions of war. It combines background information about the country and its people into a kind of "How-to-Belarus" for those who know little about the country and its present problems’. 

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Publications and resources relating to the protests in Belarus:

Vitali Alekseenok, Die weißen Tage von Minsk (Frankfurt am Main, 2021). YF.2021.a.6322

Alhierd Bacharevič, SIE HABEN SCHON VERLOREN. Revolution und Revolte in Belarus (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Edyta Banaszkiewicz, Marsz Białorusi Sierpień–grudzień 2020 (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Alice Bota, Die Frauen von Belarus. Von Revolution, Mut und dem Drang nach Freiheit (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Iya Kiva, My prokynemos' inshymy (Chernivtsi, 2021). YF.2022.a.9364

Andrei Kureichik, ‘Insulted. Belarus’, translated by John Freedman, in Plays International & Europe, Vol. 35, Nos 9-12 (Winter 2020), pp. 30-45. P.903/1085

L. Pirs, Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Olga Shparaga, Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Maria Stepanova, Brev till en lycklig tid (Stockholm, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark. Stepanova’s essay is in part a response to the open letter written by Svetlana Alexievich in September 2020. 

Dmitrij Strotsev, Belarus: motståndets konst (Stockholm, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark. This essay was originally published in Russian by COLTA.RU in December 2020. 

Julia Tsimafejeva, Dagar i Belarus (Stockholm, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark

I. Turlai, Belarusʹ: ot protestov k narodnomu edinstvu (Moscow, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution (Berlin, 2020). YF.2021.a.8763

I’m a Journalist. Why Are You Beating Me? Stories of repressed Belarusian journalists (Open Access e-book published by the Polish Association of Journalists. Available in Polish, English, Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian) 

‘The Sociology of Protest in Belarus-Social Dynamics, Ideological Shifts and Demand for Change’, Slavic Review, vol. 80 (Spring 2021) 

'Belarus Presidential Election 2020' digital collection of ephemera. Available via British Library reading rooms. 

The British Library has contributed to a collaborative web archiving project to document the events in Belarus 

Further reading:

Katerina Andreeva, and Ihor' Il'iash, Belorusskii Donbass (Khar'kov, 2020). YF.2021.a.10548

Stephen White, Elena Korosteleva and John Löwenhardt (eds.), Postcommunist Belarus (Lanham, MD, 2005). m05/.18747

Andrew Wilson, Belarus: The last dictatorship in Europe (New Haven, Conn.; London, 2011). YC.2011.a.14827 (New edition March 2021, Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship. Awaiting shelfmark)

N.B. Many of the books featured in this blog post have recently been acquired by the British Library and are not yet available to Readers. We will update the shelfmark information as soon as they are ready to order.

07 July 2021

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part II)

With Euro 2020 in full swing, we've come up with a few football-related titles from the collections. Next up, France, Italy and Poland... 

“Sports and politics both thrive on hope, and both largely consist of disappointments”, wrote Laurent Dubois in his fantastic Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. The book takes the French national team as its subject, following a nation whose political and footballing reality is “firmly rooted in Empire”. Victory at the World Cup for the first time in 1998 occurred against a vitriolic criticism of the squad, most prominently from the leader of the far-right Front National party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who claimed in 1996 that the national team had “too many players of colour”. The team included Guadeloupe-born Lilian Thuram and Zinedine Zidane, whose parents had immigrated to Paris from northern Algeria before the start of the Algerian War, and whose histories feature prominently in the work.

Cover of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France with a photo of the French team celebrating

Cover of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France by Laurent Dubois (Berkeley (California), 2010) YC.2010.a.7769.

Dubois traces how the 1998 victory did not silence the racist discourse. In 2007, Georges Frêche of the Socialist party echoed Le Pen’s sentiments and was thus excluded from his party. Blame for Les Bleus’ disastrous 2010 World Cup mutiny was placed firmly on the black and Muslim players by Le Pen’s daughter and current leader of far-right National Rally party, Marine, who declared that the World Cup was not a success because many of the players had “another nation in their hearts”. In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 competition, the French Football Federation attempted to place a 30% cap on players with “certain origins” in football academies across the country, while national team coach Laurent Blanc argued for selecting players with “our culture, our history”

A second World Cup victory in 2018 has not ended the constant racism levelled at French national team players. They are forensically examined by a commentariat who question their every move - from performances on the pitch to their supposed heartiness when singing the French national anthem. However, despite their shock penalty exit to Switzerland in this summer’s Euros, a new set of superstars including Kylian Mbappé, a Parisian banlieusard of Cameroonian and Algerian descent and Paul Pogba, born in Paris to Guinean parents, will continue to inspire people around the world. They fluently speak what Lilian Thuram described football to be: “the language of happiness”.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Cover of the 1977 edition of Azzurro tenebra with a photo of a footballer running

Cover of Giovanni Arpino, Azzurro tenebra (Turin, 1977) X.909/83737

Sports journalist and prize-winning writer, Giovanni Arpino (1927-1987) is the author of one of the most beautiful novels on Italian football. A story of defeat, Azzurro tenebra is a fictional account of the unlucky participation of the Italian national team, the azzurri (‘blues’), in the 1974 World Cup in what was at the time West Germany. Some legendary names feature in the book: coaches Ferruccio Valcareggi (‘the Uncle’) and Enzo Bearzot (‘Vecio’), Gigi Riva (‘the Bomber’), Gianni Rivera (‘the Golden Boy’), and goalkeeper Dino Zoff (‘San Dino’). Arpino joins the Italian delegation and is acutely aware of the difficult position of the team, struggling to find an identity and lost in the transition between the old stars, who had won Euro 1968, and the new talents, who would end up winning the 1982 World Cup in Spain a few years later.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

If asked to name a Polish football player, the one that instantly springs to mind for most people will be the current captain of the Polish national team and star striker at Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski who also holds the record of most goals scored for Poland at national level. Those with longer memories may however come up with another name – Włodzimierz Lubański, who held this record before Lewandowski.

Cover of Włodzimierz Lubański’s autobiography with a portrait

Cover of Włodzimierz Lubański’s autobiography, Włodek Lubański: legenda polskiego futbolu (Katowice, 2008) YF.2011.a.19125

Lubański’s career from 1967-1975 had been spent at the well-nigh invincible Górnik Zabrze where he played a key part in winning six Polish Championships and six Polish Cups as well as reaching the quarter finals of the European Cup in 1968 and being beaten only in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1970 by Manchester City. In his autobiography, he recounts that on an evening out with Spanish players, following a UNICEF fundraising match in which he had participated, he was pursued by Real Madrid whose representatives arrived in Poland and offered a million dollars for Lubanski. Apparently discussions took place at ministerial level and in the Central Committee of the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party who decided they would not let him go. He comments that, as was common at the time, he knew nothing of this and only found out after the event. So different from the modern business of football!

Cover of Kazimierz Górski, Pół wieku z piłką with a portrait

Cover of Kazimierz Górski, Pół wieku z piłką (Warsaw, 1985) YL. 1988.a.19

England fans may also remember Lubański as one of the players in the fateful England v Poland World Cup qualifier that ended in a 1-1 draw at Wembley in October 1973. This heralded the first of Poland’s two World Cup 3rd places in 1974 and 1982, under the leadership of Kazimierz Górski and England’s first ever failure to reach the World Cup Finals.

Janet Zmroczek, Head of European and American Collections

More European Studies blogs about Euro 2020:

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part I)

The mystery link between The Brass Bottle and Soviet football revealed 

Euro 2020: Orange Madness

04 March 2021

Rosa Luxemburg: a brief glimpse in five items

Rosa Luxemburg, who was born 150 years ago this month, has come to be seen as an iconic figure of socialist and revolutionary thought. Her life and legacy are reflected not only in her own works but in the many works about her that have been written in various genres – biography, academic study, polemical and literary – since her murder in 1919. Below are a handful of examples from the British Library’s collections which illuminate some of the many aspects of her story.

Cover of 'Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens'
Rosa Luxemburg, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (Leipzig, 1898) 8282.ff.14. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens

Luxemburg’s first published monograph was her doctoral thesis, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (‘The Industrial Development of Poland’). Although Luxemburg was herself Polish, she gained her doctorate from the University of Zürich, since women were barred from higher education in Poland, where Luxemburg, as a Jew and a Polish speaker in a country under Russian rule, faced additional social and educational challenges. She had sought refuge in Zürich in 1889 to avoid detention for her revolutionary activity at home. The city was something of a centre for socialist exiles, and alongside her university studies, she continued working for the cause, becoming known as a writer, organiser and highly effective public speaker. By the time her thesis was completed and published, her written work was focusing more on these issues, and a plan to write a longer economic history of Poland never came to fruition.

Cover of 'Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie'
‘Junius’, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin, [1916]) YA.1997.a.11594. (Image from the Bavarian State Library)

Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie

Luxemburg strongly believed in the international nature of the struggle for social justice. On the outbreak of war in 1914, she hoped that workers would refuse to fight and would recognise that the ruling classes in their own countries were the true enemy and the workers of other countries their true allies. When the German Socialist Party (SPD) members of the Reichstag gave their support to war, she felt betrayed. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD representative to remain opposed to the conflict, she founded the Spartacus League, which grew into the German Communist Party. Jailed for her socialist and pacifist activities, Luxemburg continued to write in prison, most notably the pamphlet Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (‘The Crisis of Social Democracy’) in which she set out her views on the war as an imperialist and capitalist project and her despair at the attitude of the SPD, and calls for revolution. Published in 1916 and often referred to as the ‘Junius Pamphlet’ after the pseudonym Luxemburg wrote it under, it is one of her best-known works.

January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

Following the brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht by right-wing ‘Freikorps’ militias in the aftermath of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919, they were seen as martyrs for the socialist cause. Although Luxemburg had often disagreed with fellow-socialists on a range of issues, she was increasingly depicted as a heroine of the left and has sometimes been described as the woman who could have united the different strands of Weimar Germany’s left-wing politics in the face of the growing right-wing threat. In 1924 the Young Communist League of Great Britain published a pamphlet entitled January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, 1919 (8140.i.4.). The first in a planned series of ‘Manuals for Proletarian Anniversaries’, it suggested ways to commemorate Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s murders, an anniversary which still sees still sees parades and acts of remembrance take place today.

Cover of 'Rosa Luxemburg', with photographs of Luxemburg and the actress who portrayed her in the 1986 film
Margarethe von Trotta and Christiane Ensslin, Rosa (Nördlingen, 1986) YA.1987.b.6118

Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of Rosa Luxemburg

As well as eulogies and memoirs, Luxemburg was from early on remembered in poetry, drama and fiction. In 1986 the German director Margarethe von Trotta released her film Rosa, which portrayed Luxemburg in a decidedly feminist context. Luxemburg has often been regarded as uninterested in feminism as she tended to keep at arm’s length from the formal women’s movement of her time. This was partly because she felt that she would be sidelined by being associated purely with women’s issues, but also because she saw the issue of equality as being vital to all workers regardless of nationality or sex. She was also somewhat wary of the way the suffrage movements tended to be predominantly run by and focused around educated middle-class women. Nonetheless, she had close ties with leaders of the women’s movement, particularly her friend Clara Zetkin, and her own determination to live in both the personal and political sphere on an equal footing with male friends, lovers and colleagues is reason enough to celebrate her today as a feminist pioneer.

Cover of 'Red Rosa' with an stylised picture of Rosa Luxemburg surrounded by images of war
Kate Evans, Red Rosa (London, 2015) YC.2017.b.584

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

A recent publication that depicts the many facets of Luxemburg’s life, work and personality in a compelling and accessible way is Kate Evans’s striking graphic biography Red Rosa, a work originally commissioned by the New York branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Evans initially knew little about Luxemburg, but studied in particular her collected letters (London, 2013; ELD.DS.286414), which is perhaps what gives the book such a rounded picture of Luxemburg both as a brilliant thinker and inspirational political figure, and as a very human woman determined to live on her own terms. Kate Evans will be one of the speakers at a British Library online event marking Luxemburg’s 150th birthday on 5 March 2021. Rosa Luxemburg: At Home in the Entire World brings together authors, actors and activists to examine Luxemburg’s revolutionary legacy. 

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

16 February 2021

Doughnuts and Fools: Some Carnival Traditions

It’s Shrove Tuesday, and that means pancakes in Britain, but not everywhere! Today we take a look at some Polish and German carnival traditions.

The last days of the Carnival season start in Poland on Fat Thursday (tłusty czwartek). It is widely celebrated by eating traditional doughnuts called pączki. Filled with rose jam or plum preserve, amongst other flavours, they should be light and fluffy. Around the country, people queue up to buy them from their local bakeries. Statistics show that some 100 million doughnuts are sold on this day. Historically, the reason for making them in large quantities was to use up all the leftover ingredients from the Carnival, particularly fat and eggs, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, where such food was not allowed to be consumed. Pączki are believed to bring good luck for the whole year and the average Pole eats at least two of them on Fat Thursday. A search for ‘Polish Cooking’ in our catalogue will find a number of cookery books which might inspire readers to try and make their own!

A plate of Polish pączki
A plate of pączki (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Fat Thursday is followed five days later by Shrove Tuesday, called Ostatki meaning the last day of Carnival. It is also known as the Herring Night or śledzik, because the most favourite dish to consume that evening is pickled herring. Poles exuberantly celebrate Ostatki by indulging themselves in food, drinks, dance and music. A horse-drawn sleigh ride (kulig) through the snow-covered countryside is a popular way to end the happy Carnival season.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

The Shrovetide carnival has a long history in the German-speaking countries There are three broad regional traditions: the Rhineland Karneval, the Alemannic Fasnacht in south-eastern Germany and Switzerland, and Fasching in Bavaria and Austria (the latter two are sometimes grouped together). Within these there are endless local variations, but all involve a spirit of misrule and anarchy which sometimes sits oddly with British perceptions of orderly Germans!

A central organising role is played by the various local Fools’ Guilds (‘Narrenzünfte’) which support and maintain traditional practices, including, especially in the southern regions, the making and wearing of grotesquely carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. These costumes often represent jesters and fools, but devils, witches, and fantastical figures similar to the ‘Kurents’ of Slovenia’s carnival also feature. Many books are devoted to the history and design of these costumes, and to the traditions of carnival and of the guilds.


Three covers of books about Fasnacht traditions with pictures of masks and costumes
Books in the British Library’s collections about Fasnacht traditions in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with images traditional costumes and masks

In the 19th-century Rhineland, carnival traditions came to be seen as an opportunity to assert local identity and resistance to first French and then Prussian rule. This gave the festivities a more political edge, reflected today in ‘Rose Monday’ processions with floats featuring caricatures of national and international politicians.

But however earnest the political satire or intense the dedication to maintaining local tradition, carnival is primarily about fun, celebration, and a few days when the world is turned upside down.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator German Collections

18 December 2020

A musical festive feast from around Europe

With Christmas approaching, European Collections curators introduce some festive songs from the countries they cover.

‘O Tannenbaum’ (‘O Christmas Tree’)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Illustration of a Christmas Tree

Title page of The Christmas Tree, a present from Germany (London, 1844). 12803.ff.3.

Which Christmas Carol links a student drinking song, a lover’s lament and a socialist anthem? None other than ‘O Tannenbaum’, one of the German-language carols that have gained worldwide popularity.

Originally the song had nothing to do with Christmas. The evergreen fir tree as a symbol of constancy was a familiar poetic motif when, in 1819, August Zarnack used it in a poem about a man betrayed in love, contrasting the tree’s ‘faithful’ branches with the woman’s faithlessness. A few years later, the musician and composer Ernst Anschütz altered Zarnack’s poem, replacing the verses that told the tragic love story with musings on the tree teaching a lesson in constancy, with mention of its bringing pleasure at Christmas. The song was first published in 1824, and its spread around the world probably owed something to the growing popularity of Christmas trees in various countries during the 19th century. Although the German original only briefly references Christmas, metrical necessity caused English translators to use ‘O Christmas Tree’,  thus firmly establishing the song’s festive credentials for English-speakers.

The simple yet catchy tune no doubt also contributed to the success of ‘O Tannenbaum’. Originally a folk melody, it became popular in the 18th century as a student drinking song, ‘Lauriger Horatius’ (‘Laurel-crowned Horace’). It has also been used in many other contexts, perhaps most famously for the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’. For such a short and simple carol, ‘O Tannenbaum’ certainly has a wide-ranging cultural background and influence!

‘Shchedryk’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Illustration of a swallow

Illustration of a swallow from BL Flickr. BL shelfmark 10201.e.12

Chances are you’ve heard of ‘Carol of the Bells’, a Christmas favourite that has appeared in films, TV shows and adverts from Home Alone to The Muppets. What many don’t know, however, is that the music was written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and is based on the Ukrainian folk chant ‘Shchedryk’. Dating back to pagan times, the original song tells the story of a swallow flying into a household to predict a prosperous New Year for the family. In pre-Christian Ukraine, the coming of the New Year and spring were celebrated in March but with the move to the Julian calendar, it shifted to 13 January (New Year’s Eve), which is known in Ukrainian as Shchedry Vechir (Bountiful Evening).

Leontovych’s song premiered in Kyiv in December 1916 and was performed as part of the Ukrainian National Chorus’s US tour in the early 1920s. The American composer Peter J. Wilhousky subsequently rearranged the melody and wrote new lyrics around the theme of bells, which is the version we know today as ‘Carol of the Bells’.

You can listen to a recording of Leontovych’s ‘Shchedryk’ here.

Pastorałki (‘Pastorals’) by Tytus Czyżewski
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

A baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. A shepherd, standing next to him, playing the bagpipes. A stork sitting on top of a nativity stable. That’s the kind of images you will find in Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski.

Woodcut of the baby Jesus with angels and cattle

Cover of Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski, design by Tadeusz Makowski (Paris, 1925) Ac.9664 Source: Polona 

Czyżewski (1880–1945) was a futurist poet, painter and co-founder of the Polish avant-garde “Formist” group, whose aim was to create a new national style in art and literature by combining Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism with traditional folk art. Czyżewski’s volume of Pastorałki [Pastorals], named after the genre of Polish Christmas carols with pastoral motifs, is an intersection of Polish folklore, medieval miracle plays and European avant-garde.

You can listen to a recording of one of these carols, ‘Kolęda w olbrzymim mieście’ (‘A Christmas Carol in a Big City) here.

The book is illustrated by Tadeusz Makowski (1882-1932), a Paris-based Polish artist. His primitivist woodcuts, inspired by folk iconography, reflect the atmosphere of friskiness and humour of Czyżewski’s pastorals.

Woodcut of baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. Shepherds, standing next to him, are playing instruments.

Illustration from Pastorałki by Tadeusz Makowski, showing shepherds playing highlander instruments to amuse the baby Jesus. Source: Polona 

References:

Alicja Baluch, “Wizualność poezji Tytusa Czyżewskiego”, Rocznik naukowo-dydaktyczny 101 (1986), 199-137. Ac.9234.eb.

Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature (Berkeley, 1983), 400-401. X.950/37574

Kazimierz Wyka, Rzecz wyobraźni (Warsaw, 1977)

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’) is a popular Dutch Christmas song. It is thought that it originated in the 17th century when children would sing it in the streets of Utrecht, but it was first written down in its current form by Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm and features in his collection of ‘Old and New Christmas Songs’ of 1852.

Lyrics and musical notation for ‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ from Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm, Oude en nieuwere kerstliederen … (Amsterdam, 1852). B.893.

The song has four verses, but usually only the first one, and sometimes the second one, are sung. Children stick to the first verse, and I cannot remember singing the others. The first verse tells how the shepherds were in the fields, having counted their sheep and then heard the angels sing, ‘clearly and fluently’ of the birth of Jesus upon which they went to Bethlehem to find him. In the second verse they see three beams of light shooting from above and from the crib – they ‘see the light’ and, in the third verse they decide to stay with the Holy Family until the New Year and leave their flock to the angels to look after. The final verse ends with a prayer for salvation.

Illustration of shepherds from Egerton MS 1070 f032v

The Angel appearing to the Shepherds,  from a 15th-century Book of Hours Egerton MS 1070, f32v

Alberdingk Thijm was a devout Catholic and an influential figure in the 19th-century Catholic revival in the Netherlands (and also a supporter of the Flemish movement). His faith is reflected particularly in the third verse of the song with its emphasis on Mary and Joseph’s responses, which I don't think would have been found so much in Protestant circles. The last line of the verse differs in Protestant and Catholic versions. The Protestant one has ‘and found the little child there’, and the catholic one ‘it was nearing the new year’, also suggesting that for some this was more of a New Year’s rather than a Christmas song.

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Although it might sound like a very old English Christmas Carol, Ding Dong Merrily on High is the product of several nations – and centuries!

The tune first appeared in the 16th century as a French secular dance tune known under the title Branle de l'Official (the branle or brawl was a type of French dance danced by couples in either a line or a circle, and popular throughout Europe). It was recorded in Orchésographie, first published in 1589, and written by the French cleric, composer and writer Thoinot Arbeau, the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593).

Illustration of a drum and drummer from Orchésographie

Page from Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie (Lengres, 1589). C.31.b.3. Image source: Library of Congress

The illustrated Orchésographie provides information on social ballroom behaviour and on the interaction of musicians and dancers. It contains woodcuts of dancers and musicians and includes instructions for the steps lined up next to the musical notes, an innovation in dance notation. The lyrics however are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons (E.1485.f.).

Vignette of Bells from the Cover of 'A Christmas Carol', BL 012622.g.37

 

15 October 2020

Solidarity in satire

This is the last post in a series of blogs on the Solidarity movement published to commemorate its 40th anniversary. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here, the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here, and 'Mały Konspirator', a manual to anti-government activity in 1980s Poland, here

The British Library collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications [BL shelf mark Sol. 764] includes a significant number of posters, photographs, cartoons and humorous ephemera created by artists involved in various opposition groups. The ephemeral publications best reflected a rapidly changing reality in 1980s Poland. They were particularly effective in conveying Solidarity ideas, documenting its activities and informing about crucial social and cultural events of the time. Both simple in form and laconic, these visual materials carried powerful and indirect commentaries on the political situation as well as delivering witty, amusing and comforting messages. Most of them were produced anonymously and only some had features that later allowed for identifying their designers.

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti (1987) designed by Dariusz Paczkowski, a street art and graffiti artist. It was created to mock the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, whose image was widely used in communist propaganda.

A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Arrest warrant – the society hunts a national enemy (ca. 1982). A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responsible for proclaiming martial law in Poland in December 1981, with a description and an offer of a reward for his capture.

An image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star

I love PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party) – an image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; I love the USSR – an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star; I love ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) – para-military formations particularly brutal during the period of martial law in 1981-1983.  At the right bottom corner – Solidarity wins!

The next two images are examples of ephemera discouraging Polish citizens from voting in elections and must have been created either in October 1985 for the parliamentary elections, or in June 1988 for the election to the National Councils.

A sticker styled after a telegram

A sticker styled after a telegram: “Stay at home / stop / Gorbachev votes in your place anyway / stop”.

A mock election list with drawings of pigs as candidates

Election List. Candidate no. 1 the Polish United Workers’ Party, Candidate no. 2 the Alliance of Democrats, Candidate no. 3 the United People's Party, Candidate no. 4 the Christian Social Association. *Fill in missing data.”

Drawing of a person sitting on a TV and reading the journal «Solidarność»

A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Created in 1981.

Drawing of Lech Wałęsa with his hand coming through a TV

New Year’s wishes with the image of Lech Wałęsa, the future first democratically elected president of Poland and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Created in the 1980s.

Poster with the logo of A Cappella

The Military Song Festival in Kołobrzeg 88. The festival began in 1969. Part of the official propaganda, it was organised by the Main Political Directorate of the Polish Army and its aim was to instill patriotism and promote the image of a heroic soldier. In 1988 a group of activists from Ruch Wolność i Pokój (Freedom and Peace Movement) planned to disrupt the festival carrying with them 30 posters. Stopped and searched by secret service agents they managed to leave behind this poster which features the logo of A Cappella, a periodical published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój.

Poster with a dove/peace sign

A poster by Ruch Wolność i Pokój advertising an International Seminar on Peace taking place in Warsaw on 7-9 May 1987. Ruch Wolność i Pokój was a peaceful anti-government movement and advocated non-violent resistance. Its programme included support for conscientious objectors, protection of the environment, international cooperation, protection of the rights of minorities, abolition of capital punishment, and withdrawal of the Soviet army from Poland. It carried out numerous protests including hunger strikes, occupational strikes, marches, happenings and public burning of draft cards.

A poster with the logo of A Cappella
 

“A teddy bear is better than a machine gun”. A poster with the logo of A Cappella published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój

Zuzanna Krzemień, Ela Kucharska-Beard and Magda Szkuta, Curators of East European Collections

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