The Idea of Freedom: The Polish and British Perspectives
The concept of freedom has played a crucial role in the political life and culture of the Western World. Political writers from both Poland and the United Kingdom, inspired by the social and political traditions of their societies, have written extensively on this topic. In British politics, the compromise between political custom, effective policy building and the incarnation of the idea of freedom in law proved to be important for achieving domestic stability and success in international politics. In the case of Poland however, many historians and political writers have argued that the lack of balance between freedom and a strong political authority was the most important factor that led to the fall of the First Commonwealth (1454-1795). The disappearance of a sovereign Poland from the political map of Europe during the years of the partition (1795-1918), meant that the idea of freedom nurtured in Poland was that which was associated with struggling for political autonomy and self-determination. This affected the perception of the democratization of political life, the question of civic rights and the problem of international order in Europe.
The political history of Poland and the UK meant that the understanding of international order would evolve differently in both countries. Poles, for instance, saw in the international conflicts that rocked nineteenth century Europe, an opportunity to fight for their own independent Polish state. The United Kingdom, whilst not necessarily opposed to these movements, did not consider then crucial to their own national interest. This perception of political freedom could be seen again after the Treaty of Versailles. This would particularly become evident at the end of the Second World War when the policies of the allies taken in the name of defending their national interests and world order, allowed Poland to lose its autonomy and become entangled within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.
These differences and predicaments provoke us to ask what determines the understanding of political freedom in Poland and the British Isles? Is this understanding shaped by the geopolitical position of these states? How did the understanding of freedom in both countries determine their political fate? Does the idea of freedom essentially mean the same in both countries, or has it evolved differently? What lessons can history teach us today and how might this awareness inform British – Polish relations? This seminar hopes to explore these questions and open the discussion to how cognitive, historical conditions affect political perception and inform policy building and statecraft.
Moderator: Artur Wołek, Center for Political Thought
- Gerald Frost, journalist, former director of Center for Policy Studies and of the Danube Institute
- David Martin Jones, King’s College London
- Marek Kornat, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University: Poland and Great Britain in the Twentieth Centuries: Winston Churchill and the context of his political decisions
- Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves, Jagiellonian University: Polish and British understanding of freedom from a historical perspective
- John O’Sullivan, Editor of The Quadrant, former advisor to PM Margaret Thatcher, president and founder of Danube Institute
- Radosław Żurawski vel Grajewski, University of Łódź: Poland in the Context of Nineteenth Century International Conflict
This seminar was co-organized with the Center for Political Thought as part of the project titled, ‘Polish Political Thought and Independence: A Program for the Promotion of Polish Intellectual Heritage Abroad’, generously funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as part of ‘Public Diplomacy 2017’, component ‘Collaboration in the field of Public Diplomacy 2017’.