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Polish independence following the end of World War I marked a new era for a nation which had endured centuries of foreign partition. But the spirit of Polish nationalism - forged during this long period of external domination - has been frequently at odds with the modernising drives of democracy and communism. How can the ideals of nationalism survive in a modern nation-state? Anita Prazmowska traces this conflict from the emergence of an independent Poland in 1918; through World War II, communism and the democratic victories of Solidarity; to the present day, when Polish membership of the EU is changing perceptions both within Poland and in the wider world.

Poland emerged independent from the post-imperial chaos of World War I, flush with a sense of democratic and even revolutionary fervour. But this excitement faded in the 1920s, lulled into a reactionary nationalism by age-old fears of territorial disintegration. Ostensibly democratic, the Polish government on the eve of World War II was in reality dominated by a military coterie, to dramatic effect. Post-war communism offered a different path to modernity, creating greater access to education and employment. Communist authorities were quick to exploit nationalist sentiments, but just as swift to reduce the influence of democratic bodies. Solidarity’s astounding victories in the 1980s and 90s once again changed the face of Poland, but they have not removed the perennial contest between modernity and nationalism. Even today, as Poland seeks greater integration with Western Europe, politicians are keen to present themselves as staunch advocates of the national interest to a population often wary of external commitments.

Poland: A Modern History presents a vivid and accessible portrait of Poland’s tumultuous history over the past century. It is a clear and concise introduction to a nation which, often at the epicentre of European political history, has nevertheless sometimes struggled to define its national identity.
Published: I.B.Tauris on
ISBN: 9780857715722
List price: $14.95
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