. . the moral-religious system not only retains almost all of its traditional power, except in some limited circles, but is still growing as new conditions of communal life arise and the old principle is applied to new problems.
William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki (1918-20, p.286)
The position of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland invites comparison with the other great Catholic nations of Europe. In the second half of the twentieth century the spiritual hold of the church appears to be greater in socialist Poland than in Italy or Spain, whilst its political significance has no parallel in any other country (perhaps the closest comparison would be with the position of the Irish church before the achievement of independence). The distinctive characteristics of Polish Catholicism have been widely recognized, especially since Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope; but it is not always appreciated how important a role religion played in the development of Polish national consciousness, especially from the latter half of the nineteenth century, when this consciousness spread amongst the rural population. In the case of the new community in Wislok, this background has an added significance because of the ethnic troubles of the recent past and the physical reminders of the existence of another rite. This chapter begins by looking at the symbiosis of church and nation produced by Polish history, for this can help us to understand both the political role of the church today and the private religiosity of individuals. We shall also note the particular attention which the church pays to its rural constituency, and consider how this too has helped the parish to become the focus of a new collective identity.
The Roman Catholic Church is the national church of Poland and has been compelled to play an increasingly complex political role in the socialist period.
A clear statement of how the Polish church sees its own position in the history of the nation can be read in a public letter sent by the Polish bishops to the German episcopate in the mid-1960's on the eve of celebrations which, for the church, commemorated the millennium of Catholicism in Poland and, for the secular authorities, the foundation of the Polish state. They wrote: 'The symbiosis of Christianity, Church, State has existed in Poland from the very beginning and has never really been destroyed. In time it molded the almost universal political attitude: Polish has come to mean Catholic. From this association there emerged, too, the Polish religious form, in which the churchly and the political have been woven closely together from the start, with all the positive as well as the negative aspects of this problem. . '(letter of November 18, 1965; translated in German Polish Dialogue; Edition Atlantic-Forum, Bonn 1966)
The secular authorities were incensed by this political initiative, as in fact they often had been in the past, despite the Bishops' claims concerning the fusion of church and state. A closer examination reveals that relations between the two were actually rather turbulent during several centuries of the Middle Ages (Saint Stanislaus being the Polish Becket). In accounting for the unique strength of the church in modern times, many historians attach the greatest importance to changes brought about by the Counter Reformation. It should be noted, however, that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Poland remained on the whole a rare example of religious tolerance in Europe, and a 'state without stakes'.1 The accretion to religious affiliation of an embryonic national identity was still limited at this period to the educated classes, if indeed it had begun at all. There is more widespread agreement that the institutional survival of the church in long periods during which the state was deprived of its independence (between 1794 and 1919; and again under the Nazi occupation) helped to spread this confusion to all social strata. Moreover, when it began to apply itself to the task in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the church was able to play an active role in the creation of national sentiment. In consequence, the political emancipation of the Polish peasantry took place in such a way as to bind them even more closely to their church. A new Polish patriotism was indissoluble from their traditional commitment to Catholicism.2
For about the first decade of the socialist period relations between the church and the new secular authorities were extremely bad. After 1956 both sides seemed to recognize the futility of direct confrontation, and the relationship that has since developed has been subtle and complex. It has been extensively studied, and the observers are generally agreed that the church, in contrast to its performance in other socialist states, has here held its ground if not actually enlarged it. However, it is also appreciated that statistical data, such as the figures which show high levels of participation in the life-cycle rituals of the church and the only slightly less impressive figures for those who attend mass regularly, cannot give a complete picture of religious commitment. They are not sufficient, for example, to refute the claim frequently made by the socialist authorities to the effect that Polish society is nevertheless undergoing profound secularisation.3
There is no doubt that the church is viewed by some Poles as a quasi-political institution, as the only possible vehicle for political opposition in a socialist system. Whatever the specifically religious meaning of a commitment to this church, which we shall consider below, Catholicism is for all a patriotic affirmation; whilst for some, affiliation is simultaneously a rejection of the communist order. One of the many paradoxes of this situation is that opposition to a doctrinaire establishment can only be expressed by allegiance to one of the more doctrinaire of religious creeds. It is fertile soil for a well-trained clergy, some of whom do not worry unduly about straying into territory that is controversial politically. In fact, there can be few countries where a priest is quite so free to lambaste the establishment, secure in the knowledge that he himself cannot be identified by his congregation with the ruling classes. This is the regular pattern from country pulpits such as that of Wislok. It is perhaps of equal significance in accounting for the continued religious commitment of the industrial working class. The church suffered so much in the Stalinist period, and is still frequently obstructed and harassed -thus, its priests can hardly be perceived as privileged, as a class enemy, though earlier generations of socialists may have tried to cast them in this light.4
One of the most graphic illustrations of the present power of the church has been in the unauthorized construction of new church buildings. The diocese of Przemys'l, to which Wislok belongs, has been exceptionally prominent in this activity. It is a mainly rural diocese, and the proportion of practicing Catholics ('dominicantes') is higher here than anywhere else in the country. A remarkable expansion in the number of vocations to the priesthood has enabled the diocese to mount an ambitious offensive to improve the quality of pastoral work. Smaller parishes have been created, and new churches constructed in outlying hamlets whose inhabitants formerly traveled elsewhere to attend mass. The authorities have the right to withhold planning permission and have often exercised this power to frustrate the building of churches, in both urban and rural parishes. However, in Przemys'l an exceptionally energetic Bishop has shrewdly encouraged the clergy to take matters into their own hands whenever unreasonable obstruction occurs. The latter have seized the opportunity to mobilize their congregations: building has invariably been accomplished not by professional firms but through self-help, in such a way as to reinforce group identity. Interference by the authorities and the fines imposed by the kolegium (see previous chapter) are taken in their stride. A notable example in which several Wislok men participated was the establishment by the Komancza parish priest of a new church (later to become an independent parish) in the village of Rzepedz', site of the sawmill and model socialist housing estates. It is typical too that this church was dedicated to Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan who became a martyr at Auschwitz and was canonized by the Polish Pope, John Paul II.
In political life at the national level the power of the church has been amply demonstrated in the successive crises of recent years. As the problems have worsened, the socialist politicians have looked to the church to restrain its followers, and have forged closer links with its leaders. For its part, the church has been wary of being drawn into unpopular compromise, but is keen to profit from a general relaxation of the previous climate of persecution. The emergence of Solidarity posed great dilemmas for the church. In spite of the sympathy and support given to the free trade union, the hierarchy was certainly mindful of the dangers. Its occasional efforts to curb militancy disappointed many intellectuals, and perhaps also some workers, who may have recognized at these moments that the church was principally concerned to ensure its own survival. The wisdom of its strategy would seem to be confirmed when Solidarity was duly repressed. The church was not treated in any way harshly in the period of martial law. It appears to have regained its optimal historical position as the exclusive institutional focus of opposition to the ruling power, and seems certain to remain a vital and generally respected mediator of the political process.
Traditional affectivity is supplemented by a social doctrine tailored especially for the peasantry
From 1980 to 1981 the Polish church was perceived to be, at every level, much more firmly committed to one wing of Solidarity than to any other. Its support at the highest level was instrumental in securing formal recognition in the courts for Rural Solidarity, in May 1981, whilst at lower levels, the clergy vigorously encouraged the new syndicalism.6 Under martial law the church was more cautious in most of its political statements, but did not hesitate to call for a revival of the peasants' independent union. This was not merely because workers were judged to be able to look after themselves. Behind the support for Rural Solidarity lies a more profound commitment on the part of the church to certain ideals and idealized notions of rural society. The Catholic Church has developed this theme in other countries, perhaps most successfully in Italy. There, as Guizzardi (1976) has shown, the myth of a 'rural civilization' based upon private property and the integrity of the family is manipulated by the church to preserve its own power and the legitimacy of Christian doctrine in the increasingly adverse conditions of industrial society. There is a comparable situation in Poland, in fact the circumstances here may be more propitious for such an ideology. In most parts of the Catholic countryside in Western Europe the peasant is rapidly disappearing in the course of modernization; but in Poland the survival of the old agrarian structure has ensured that the configuration of social classes is still conducive to the propagation of this kind of ideology by the church. Thus, the failure to implement collectivization, apart from its implications for the economy and for the political system, discussed in previous chapters, may also in this way have far-reaching effects upon consciousness. The persistence of peasant private property has helped the church to consolidate its position. This has obviously vexed socialist practitioners of 'religiology', whose scientific principles had led them to predict the opposite, i.e. a gradual weakening of religion.7 Some have reacted by suggesting that support for the church in the present situation is not evidence of a genuine religious commitment, and they have accused the church of systematically adapting its religious package in order to maintain maximum social support. These claims are not entirely convincing. The church can fairly point out that in the inter-war period, when there was no realistic prospect that socialists would assume power, the Catholic hierarchy had already worked out a social doctrine similar in spirit to that propounded today, based upon a democracy of smallholders.8
It is nevertheless true that Polish Catholicism has changed considerably in the socialist period, and this can be interpreted as an accommodation by the church to new conditions, as successful an adaptation as that of the Counter Reformation in its day. The most conspicuous and frequently criticized features of pre-socialist Catholicism in Poland were those common in popular, charismatic religions elsewhere, and exemplified in Poland in Marian cults and pilgrimages to Czestochowa. The emphasis was placed upon 'the external, ritualistic aspect of worship unrelated to a moral and eucharistic life'.9 William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, in their classic account of the Polish peasantry (1918-20), reinforce this interpretation by playing down the significance of subjective, individualist interpretations of religious phenomena amongst the Polish peasantry, in contrast, for example, to the Russian peasantry under the Orthodox Church. It is possible that fundamental changes were taking place in this, the 'traditional religious culture' of the countryside, even before the socialist period. At any rate in recent decades secular pressure (e.g. preventing the church from organizing public processions) has combined with reformist tendencies within the church itself (those which culminated at the second Vatican Council) to reduce the importance of external, 'ritualistic' aspects. The church which serves the new community in Wislok illustrates the new situation. This small building is not the center of a parish but a filial church of the Koman'cza parish. It is used only on Sundays. Even on most holy days, apart from Christmas and All Saints, it remains closed. Sunday mass frequently brings together more than half the population. However, participation in other services and rituals is limited for most peasants to the major celebrations of the life-cycle (christenings, marriages and funerals), and to a child's first holy communion. Confessions are not held in Wislok, and holy communion is usually made only by a few school children. At each mass the priest leads the congregation through a limited repertoire of hymns, of which by far the favorite is an invocation of the paramount national symbol, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, hailed explicitly as the 'Queen of Poland'. About half a dozen young boys serve him at the altar. He encourages the congregation to bring objects to mass with them at specific times of the year for blessing -eggs at Easter tide and flowers a little later in the spring. He shows the church's readiness to modernize its ritual services by sprinkling holy water over private motor vehicles on Saint Christopher's Day (as yet there is no local demand for this service in Wislok). The only occasion on which there is any procession or protracted ceremonial inside or outside the church is on the first of November, the eve of All Souls Day, when it is customary to sing and place candles beside the family graves. More elaborate rituals are organized in the main parish church in Koman'cza, where it is possible to attend services daily, and also to prepare zealously for the major feasts (especially the Holy Week vigil, before Easter). In practice it is difficult for Wislok residents to attend a church 10 km away, and only a few non-peasant women have time to do so. (Many hope that in time Wislok itself will become a parish, with the services of a full-time priest.) I knew of nobody who had taken part in a major pilgrimage. However, many persons with relatives in villages outside the former Rus zone have experience of lesser patronal feasts (and choose this occasion each year to visit their relatives). Although the church in Koman'cza has not held such celebrations on a significant scale, it is interesting that an attempt is being made to establish August 14 as a major holiday at the church of Maksymilian Kolbe in Rzeped. The filial church in Wislok does not have a patron saint at all. Pride in the first Polish Pope was universal amongst Poles. No one from Wislok made the journey to Cracow to see him when he returned to his homeland in 1979, but many had a souvenir postcard prominently displayed in their home. A fine photograph of Pope John Paul II hangs inside the church, and in other alterations to this old Greek Catholic building, part of the surviving Rus iconostasis has been covered by two distinctively western portraits, one of Our Lord and the other of Our Lady (there was no female image previously), and by a large eagle, the Polish national symbol.
The strength of private religiosity in Wislok was a matter into which I conducted no detailed inquiries, nor do I know of any method which would reliably reveal ultimate convictions. My own observations at Sunday mass and interviews in every household convince me that it is considerable, although it does not always influence behavior in the way that might be expected.10 The old emotional and ritualistic components have not disappeared entirely and religious images are conspicuous in almost every dwelling. Nevertheless, many traditional practices have been modified and the use since the second Vatican Council of the Polish vernacular in all services has perhaps done more than anything else to demystify religious ceremonies. The church has found more than adequate compensation through being able to encourage 'a more mature, intellectual approach to religious life' amongst large sections of the intelligentsia.11 In the rural milieu it has developed its pre-socialist social doctrine, idealizing all that the peasantry prizes most highly (and fears for constantly) under a socialist regime. In Wislok ecclesiastical pomp and ceremony are minimal, but scarcely a Sunday passes without a reminder from the pulpit of God's hand (usually benevolent) at work in nature. Sermons are rich in agricultural metaphor, and the real shortages of food in 1981 gave them an added poignancy. The basic message was that God continually produces anew, whilst Poland's secular leaders had been sowing bad seed for nearly forty years. The wealth accumulated by past generations of peasants was being rapidly squandered. God was to be praised if the current harvest was good, but equally He should be praised for disasters such as the floods of 1980, if in this way those who have mismanaged the nation's inheritance may learn the errors of their ways. Like a majority of the clergy throughout the country, the priests who spoke in this vein in Wislok were themselves of rural or small-town origin. One of them, an older man attached to the monastery in Komancza who referred frequently to his extraction, was occasionally adjudged to overstep the mark in expressing his anti-Communist sentiments. The parish priest himself was more discreet, preferring to expound more on the manifold, links between God and the natural environment, and to extol the historic legitimacy of the peasant family unit as tillers of the Polish soil. He thus eschews a dubious political role and never attempts to mobilize discontent collectively. He merely offers his congregation what they are ready overwhelmingly to accept as individuals, irrespective of whether or not they themselves own any land - a coherent system of values and an alternative ideology to communism. So far we have noted that the Catholic Church in Poland is perceived as a bulwark of the national cause, and that in particular it supplies the peasantry with values more fundamental than any they have been offered by socialism. It still does what religion must do in simpler societies, where it '. . . establishes, fixes and enhances all valuable mental attitudes, such as reverence for tradition, harmony with environment, courage and confidence in the struggle with difficulties and at the prospect of death.'12 However great the distance between the modern Polish village and the archetypal primitive community of the anthropologist, the functionalist approach still seems useful. I would contend, in some contrast to the account of traditional Polish religiosity put forward by Thomas and Znaniecki (1918-20), that the religiosity of individuals may now be stronger, whilst public performance of religious acts and ceremonial aspects tend to be less important today. However, I am in agreement with these authors on a more essential point: religion still functions to draw the community together, and the role of the church in stimulating new ties of solidarity has been of the greatest significance in a settlement composed of unusually diverse elements. Amongst the many ways in which a sense of community is fostered we shall look briefly at three: mass meetings of the congregation at the divine service, individual contacts with the parish priest, and neighborhood ties and other forms of association called into being by the church.
The Sunday mass has always been the most important public occasion in the life of the rural community. In the Rus village the religious service was a transparent pretext for the social assembly: only the women entered the building at all during the warm summer months, whilst the men remained outside, chatted and played cards.13 In the early stages of the new settlement the pioneer settlers strove to institute regular services and later to establish a new cemetery, separate from the old Greek Catholic burial grounds. Nowadays nobody remains outside during the service. But the men still aim to arrive early and their conversational groups do not disperse until the moment mass begins. Everybody dresses for the occasion, and it is common then to go on to visit family or friends in the afternoon. Attention is paid to church attendance, and regular non-attendance may well be a cause for reprobation. Most of those who incur this sanction earn their living in the socialist sector. The fact that seasonal workers in the forests seldom attend is explained by peasants in terms of irregularities in their domestic affairs, the presumed motive in most instances for their presence in the region. Such men do not become part of the community in any wider sense. On the other hand, most employees of the socialist sector who are long-term residents do attend church services, as do most of the teachers. As in other resettled areas of the Bieszczady region the peasants have a stronger identification with their parish than other groups, and this can be correlated with their stabilization in the new environment and their loyalty to the region.14
The parish expresses the unity of the community, but the church building and adjacent cemetery are 'the visible symbol and the material instrument of this unity'.15 This is no longer quite the case in Wislok, for this village does not constitute a parish, and the Greek Catholic building probably does not satisfy the present Polish population aesthetically. It is one of only thirty-two filial churches in the 426 parishes of the diocese of Przemys'l. This makes the priest less accessible to his outlying parishioners, but it is recognized that in present circumstances Wislok is still too small to warrant a resident priest. The present incumbent at Komancza is a young man with considerable energy, who became personally acquainted with each family within a few years of his arrival. He is easy to approach and the congregation is regularly encouraged to use him as a pastor. He is respected as much for his personal qualities as for the prestige of his office, which cannot be said of many secular office-holders in the gmina of Komancza. He is always extremely busy, but anyone reluctant to bother him with private matters has at least one opportunity in the year when he calls on them personally, 'in the caroling season'. This is an occasion for simple hospitality and a long chat in the deep of winter. The priest is welcomed into almost every home, both Polish and Ukrainian. Conversation may not touch upon religious matters at all. But the priest may use this opportunity to exert pressure, e.g. in households where a Catholic marriage has broken down or when a child is not participating regularly in catechism classes. In this way, through conscientious pastoral work, the influence of the church is better preserved than it would be, e.g. if the priest were to announce bluntly from the pulpit his intention to deny a religious funeral to anyone whose marital relations had not been validated by the church; this kind of sanction is never invoked in practice.
Thus, peasant families obtain a common identity in their parish, through the work of its attentive priest. Sunday assembly at the church and personal contacts are supplemented in a number of other ways. For example, in 1981 an association for Catholic women was launched, with around a dozen members initially participating in a series of prayer meetings. It soon atrophied, just as the secular Housewives' Circle had done earlier, simply because the peasant women had not the time to sustain their commitment when the agricultural season began. More important is the catechism for schoolchildren, normally taught by the priest himself in a peasant's farmhouse close to the village school. Attendance is almost universal, though the attitudes of some non-peasant parents are ambiguous, and their children may not participate beyond the completion of their first holy communion. As throughout Poland, there has been in the past acrimonious discussion over the priest's right to perform this instruction inside the school, or even within the official curriculum. In some areas he is able to use the school, but the Koman'cza priest is satisfied with the present arrangements, which leave him complete control over the manner in which the faith is taught to future generations.
In 1980 I witnessed a rare occasion when religion brought together, outside the church itself, large social groups which would not otherwise have gathered. The circulation of replica effigies of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa is nowadays organized mainly at diocesan level, through national campaigns have been mounted in the past. Arrangements once the image has arrived in a parish are left very much in local hands During her stay in Wislok the Madonna spent twenty-four hours in each house, before being carried aloft in a procession to the next. She was invariably displayed in the best room in the house (if it contained more than one), often surrounded by lesser images and adorned with colored lights. A few small pews were occupied by the old and infirm, whilst up to fifty or sixty persons stood nearby. These always included the immediate neighbors, those with whom the Madonna had lodged the previous night, and to whom she would go on the morrow. The composition of the rest of the crowd would depend upon the popularity of the family, and the numbers of their kin in the village. Most families were keen to attract a respectable attendance, yet this was a holy occasion and hospitality was almost entirely precluded. Certainly there was no drinking of alcohol. Peasants and non-peasant families nonetheless did turn out, in the early hours of the evening, at a time of year when there was a great deal of work in the fields, and spend two or three hours singing hymns and reciting all the prayers that they knew in front of this holy image. Each family was anxious that nothing should be missed out in their house, and the best known hymns to the Virgin were sung many times over. Children were frequently called upon to read prayers. Many older persons were moved to tears. This was clearly a visceral experience which involved all three of the levels at which we have been discussing the functions of religion. This image of the 'national virgin' was a most potent symbol for the individuals who gathered before her, and the way in which she circulated helped to cement the social unity of the parish.56
The image visited almost every house in the village, including those of Ukrainian families (where it looked most at home, surrounded by icon reproductions). It was explicitly rejected by only one household of confirmed atheists, recent immigrants brought up in an urban environment (see Krzysztof Oltarzewski's own description of the problems he encountered in Wislok, partly through failing to conform to peasant requirements in this respect, in the Appendix - 'Two Immigrants'). In the judgment of most villagers this was enough to place them beyond the pale of the community, and it does illustrate how very difficult it is in the Polish countryside to maintain even an agnostic position.17 Peasants are more tolerant of common law marriages or still more flagrant breaches of the Catholic moral code than they are of a man who will work on Sunday if it suits him and makes a point of not sending his children to catechism. The priest, however, is tolerant of all wrongdoers, and he still regards this family as part of his flock. Under pressure from their own urban relatives they were obliged to turn to the priest the following year and ask him to baptize their younger son, then four years old. The priest was flexible enough to accede to this request, and the ceremony took place as usual in the course of a Sunday mass. There was great surprise in some quarters, and I heard some more favorable comments about this family afterwards.
From both ethnic and religious standpoints Poland has been, since the end of the Second World War, one of the most homogeneous states in Europe. The Roman Catholic Poles of Wislok are therefore in an unusual position in being bounded to the east, west and north by three very different types of community (to the south there is the state border with Czechoslovakia, where only a few Ukrainians have some family contacts). Although I am not at all sure to what extent the religious consciousness of Wislok residents is affected by this diversity, some peasants do draw comparisons. Each of these neighboring communities is a case worthy of consideration in its own right.
10 km to the east along the main road from Wislok is the commune center of Koman'cza, where the same small wooden chapel which serves the Roman Catholic parish is also used by a Greek Catholic (Uniate) priest. His congregation comprises the descendants of the indigenous Rus population, nowadays widely dispersed and in most villages outnumbered by Poles. The largest concentration is in Koman'cza itself, causing some Poles in Wislok to describe their commune-center mockingly as 'the capital of the Ukraine'. Despite the crass religious policies of the authorities, noted in the previous chapter, there is little tension between the two main congregations. Inter-marriage is common, and the trend regretfully acknowledged by the Greek Catholic priest himself is one of rapid assimilation into Polish society. One aspect of this is the younger generation's abandonment of the Byzantine rite. Relations between the two Catholic priests are very cordial; and with the firm allegiance of about eighty families (nearly half the population of the village) the Greek Catholics are still a force to be reckoned with in Koman'cza.
Many Wislok residents had been conditioned by anti-Ukrainian propaganda long before they migrated to the mountain zone and had any direct contact with a non-Polish ethnic group. This is as true of the first peasant immigrants who arrived after the liquidation of the guerrilla bands in the 1940s as of the atheist immigrant from an urban background who arrived only in the 1970s. A good deal of prejudice extends to religious matters. Amongst the Ukrainian families in Wislok there is not one which would refuse to welcome the Latin rite priest into the home; but most prefer to attend their own services in Koman'cza whenever possible. They observe Polish religious holidays, but also those of their own calendar. There are a few old peasants who say that they find it painful to enter a church which they built (i.e. the church in Wislok), but where they now hear a Latin rite service, in a language which they understand but cannot
call their own. The presence of such a small group in the village, and the more conspicuous Ukrainian presence in Koman'cza, has an unfortunate influence on some members of the new majority. The surviving roadside shrines, crosses and inscriptions in the churchyard, the church building itself- these are all tangible reminders that Wislok once belonged to another religion and another people. Some Poles would gladly destroy all these traces. Official Roman Catholic policy is more restrained, but has not prevented the destruction of many Ukrainian churches in recent years.18 So long as attitudes of deep mistrust persist the age-old identification of religious creed and national identity will be reinforced for the inhabitants of this village. To this extent the Ukrainian minority in Wislok cannot be fully incorporated into the Roman Catholic parish.
Quite different conclusions may he drawn from the experience of the village of Wola Piotrowa, although this may be less prominent in the consciousness of Wislok residents. This village is located about 10 km to the north, close to the road which leads from Wislok to the small town of Bukowsko. This route over the mountains is nowadays used only by forestry workers. Like other villages of the region it was depopulated and destroyed in 1947. Unlike Wislok it was not resettled until more than twenty years later, but the story which then began was one of the most remarkable of the entire Bieszczady region and a much publicized example of its very wide appeal. Poor peasants came to Bieszczady because they were promised land, foreign refugees (notably Greek communists) found asylum here, criminal offenders found a place where they could forget their past, and students found a place to drop out. Wola Piotrowa became the 'promised land' in a profoundly religious sense of a Protestant sect which originated in California in the early part of this century, spread to Poland via Germany in the inter-war period, and has continued to flourish under socialism. Indeed, they alone amongst peasant immigrants to this region have succeeded in transcending peasant status in socialist conditions. Although loosely associated with other tiny groups throughout the country, the three villages settled by the sect in the Bieszczady region (of which Wola Piotrowa is largest) are recognized collectively as an autonomous religious grouping by the secular authorities, who have registered them as the Bieszczady Protestant Community. Their own name for themselves is 'Union for a Resolute Christianity'.19
In 1981 the village contained thirty families, all residing in large modern houses, most of them owning cars, but all regulating their lives according to a strict moral code and denying themselves not only alcohol and tobacco but even television or the occasional cinema trip. Most of them are farmers, and they have been lauded in national agrarian publications for their diligence and innovations on the land. Their farms are not larger than farms in Wislok, but, having sought and obtained larger credits, they are incomparably better equipped and it would no longer be appropriate, given the large surpluses which they market, to describe them as peasants. Each household modestly attributes its success to the help it has received, both from the state and also from neighbors and kin, especially in the period when they were building up their farms. Certainly the community is more tightly knit than the new community in Wislok. It does not, however, have much room for communal principles in economic life. Their successes have been achieved by individual endeavor, they too are proud to be private owners of their land; when the outside authorities persuaded them to establish a producers' cooperative, this venture was the first failure after many years of unmitigated prosperity. Observers from neighboring villages explain their results not in terms of mutual support for each other, but in terms of individual diligence in application. (And they certainly did not offer vodka as a bribe in order to obtain what they needed from the administration; it seems more reasonable to suggest that they succeeded in official quarters by dint of greater perseverance; and it is possible there was discrimination in their favor, since it was clear that no credits or supplies would be wasted by these farmers: they wanted to market as much produce as possible to the state.) It is not to be concluded that it is religion which prevents Polish peasants from following this path - on the contrary, the more modern farmers in Wislok also tended to be the more devout Catholics. It is simply that the religion-based zeal of this community was strong enough to transcend all the 'rational', economic factors outlined earlier, which are blocking modernization for the peasantry as a whole.20
Two further perceptions, voiced by Poles from other villages nearby, are worthy of note. Firstly, it is considered as odd (though perhaps admirable) that one's faith should influence one's daily behavior to such an extent. Thus, Catholics in Wislok, whether Poles or Ukrainians, see little connection between their religion and gross over-indulgence in alcohol (though the church is nowadays trying hard to encourage temperance). It seems that Catholics are more oblivious to the bearing of the moral teaching of the church upon many aspects of personal behavior, and this is why the strength of their religious commitment has been questioned. But to the outsiders it is the sect which makes such extreme demands upon the individual that is the puzzling phenomenon. A second revealing feature of local perceptions of the people of Wola Piotrowa is the way their otherness is sometimes classified. If, faced with basically the same existential situation, they have behaved so differently from the majority of Poles, it became natural to bestow upon them a different ethnic label. The group hailed from the Cieszyn (Teschen) area, near the border with Czechoslovakia, and a few actually originated from the other side of the state boundary. Although all were 'ethnic Poles' and few spoke any other language (some knew German), this was enough for some of their Bieszczady neighbors to christen them 'the Czechs', and in this way again to complement a different religion with foreign ethnicity.
The third and last contrasting community is Moszczaniec, about 6 km west of Wislok along the main road. Since the late 1950s Moszczaniec has witnessed the construction of a large penal colony, with room for up to about 500 prisoners. Warders and other ancillary staff, including officials of the State Farm on which most of the prisoners work, are accommodated on a new housing estate in four-storied blocks of flats. It is a sort of garrison settlement, provisioned directly from Komancza, without a shop, a school, or public institutions of any kind. It has no church, and relatively few inhabitants attend the services in Wislok. For the peasants the settlement at Moszczaniec has represented something deeply disturbing. The staff there is as emphatically outside the community of civilized society as the prisoners themselves. Warders are looked upon with some contempt: their uniforms distinguish them from those who have to work honestly for a living, and although they enjoy prosperity and relative comfort in their state-owned accommodation, they have turned their backs on God. A few Wislok families have relatives on the dechristianised estate, and these can be drawn into the Wislok community (they are then unlikely to gain rapid promotion in the prison service). No ties are maintained with persons who do not attend church. The priest, who will not acknowledge the presence of a single atheist in Wislok, allows that many workers in the socialized sector are permanently estranged from the church. A high proportion of these people have found their way to Bieszczady after coming into conflict with the church in their native regions. For such people, in contrast to the mass of peasant immigrants, a strong identity with the new region is possible without allegiance to the church. Their individual stories are not known and are of no interest in Wislok. A free man who chooses not to go to church is as remote from their community as the shaven-headed convicts with whom they may mingle more readily (and to whom the local clergy has consistently been denied access). Nobody calls into question their ethnic identity, any more than they question the Polishness of the one atheist within their own farming ranks. In the same way that Koman'cza represents the threat posed by the Ukrainian minority on a magnified scale, so Moszczaniec is the atheist threat writ large. It is the secularized community which has been prominent in socialist ideology since the new community in Wislok was founded, though to peasants it is no more acceptable now than it was then. (We shall consider the effects of secular ideology and culture in more detail in the following chapter.)
The aspect of religion most clearly brought out by these brief sketches of contrasting communities is the integrating function. The new conditions of communal life' to which Thomas and Znaniecki refer in the quotation at the head of this chapter were in fact the conditions of emigrants in North America. But the 'old principle', according to which social unity was forged by the parish and allegiance to the church confused with allegiance to the nation, has still been of use in the construction of a new society in Wislok. Atheists excluded themselves completely. The Ukrainians, Catholics of another rite, were less than fully incorporated. With these qualifications religion has still been the basis of what Thomas and Znaniecki term the 'moral unity' of the current peasant community in Wislok. Malinowski, too, considered that one of the main functions of religion in primitive communities was the maintenance of moral standards. It is now time to turn to the secular context of an advanced socialist society in order to understand how religion can retain its 'moral' importance whilst having but little effect on individual behavior.
Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich
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© LV Productions Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: May 30th, 1999.