Jolanta Lenard talks with Prof. Andrzej Nowak, Prof. Krzysztof Ożóg and the chairman of the publishing house Biały Kruk Leszek Sosnowski – an editor of the ‘Great Book of polish Patriots’

JOLANTA LENARD: - What were reactions of Professors, when you received a proposal from the chairman Sosnowski of participating in the publishing enterprise called the ‘Great Book of Polish Patriots’?

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: – The first thought was that another idea of Leszek resulting from his immediate reaction to what is expected by people. The second one - was a kind of anxiety, whether it would be successful. The title sounded extremely obliging and the material which they wanted to ‘seize’ into the book, seemed too long in comparison to the volume, which can be accepted by the average reader. It is a permanent dilemma with these elaborations. However, the main thought was that it was an important enterprise and something must be done, that this book is potentially supposed to play a great educational role, both in the sphere of historical knowledge, and forming civilian attitudes.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - I liked the very idea because the contemporary generation of Poles needs this kind of work, showing people in the history of Poland, sometimes very important, sometimes unjustly forgotten or omitted in publications and school manuals, wonderful people, being a great treasure of the Polish history, Polish heritage, Polish culture. We found luckily, that we would understand patriotism in a broad way, that we would show not only people of a sword and weapon, but also people of a pen, the Church, the saints, those who had struggled with the invader through their whole life, and structures of evil which he had been imposing on others, people who were building the Polish Kingdom, and later the Polish Republic of Both Nations, they would contribute to its power, to the establishment of its exceptional society and system. Leszek, your intention was that first you would talk with readers about book characters which should be in this book in their opinion; I found it intriguing because readers suggest what they expect and how will influence the form of the book. We would like to arrange a group, which would possibly be the most representative for the ‘Great Book of Polish Patriots’.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - Yes, it is the first ‘Great Book of Polish Patriots’. It is seen now, that continuation is necessary. Resigning from many surnames in regard to the volume framework of the book - and in fact the ‘Great Book’ has over a hundred pages more than I had intended – we felt a kind of grief and dissatisfaction. But it was impossible to do more; one copy weighs nearly 3 kg ….Nor did we want to shorten biographies. After all, the intention was not to have a lot of book characters, we did not want to create expressionless biographical notes about them, but we wanted to tell stories in a more literary way. It was a hard work lasting for half a year, and an enormous effort of many people. Thanks to God, this effort was not in vain. The ‘Great Book’ is read like a good novel, although it involves thousands of historical facts.

– Maybe some readers think in a wrong way that the ‘Great Book of Polish Patriots’ is somehow a book of people without any fault. However, when they will get to know the profiles of kings, who were, for example, salacious, and did not always behave in a moral way, they can be surprised that somebody like that had been included in the book, or they can suspect that the untruth had been written, and disgraceful deeds had been assigned to him. I understand that it was not about concealing something or ‘improving’ biographies. Being a patriot is an activity on various fields, and causes various consequences and although among great patriots there are also the saints and the blessed, holiness is not a determinant here.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - A classic example here is Kazimierz the Great, whom it is difficult to call an example of Christian virtues, but on the other hand, it is difficult to find a more distinguished king for Poland.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - Here there is a difference between Bolesław Szczodry, who did not undertake a public repentance after murdering St. Stanisław, and Bolesław Krzywousty, or later Kaziemierz the Great, who was an impulsive man, too and he gave an order to murder a vicar at Wawel Baryczka. However, this monarch undertook a thorough repentance later. The ‘Great Book of Polish Patriots’ is not a hagiographic work, which would be intended for sanctifying the book characters, but it is intended to show, how life and work of the distinguished Poles were inscribed in the good of the country, society, in its religious fundaments, in its culture, etc. Otherwise, it would be impossible for a work to appear which would be reliably historical.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - A reader is supposed to make a conclusion from the ‘Great Book’, that everybody can become a patriot, although everybody can choose a different road. We show how people were struggling with their fates and despite their weaknesses, they could overcome an obstacle of an obligation. It is not only about military patriotism, although it has its basic place, because, first Poland must be defended from military challenges to exist. But we should not only defend it, but we should build, organize it and popularize all over the world in a wise way, for example, through stunts of sportsmen. A sportsman can also be an excellent patriot.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - The profiles of sportsmen are in the ‘Great Book of Polish Patriots’, too. Let’s add that in our concept it was not intended to include biographies of alive people.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - The variety of people and richness of attitudes and behaviours – all this proves that patriotism is attractive. It is extremely important because now people often deprived of any values who have dangerous influence on young people, are being promoted as examples, authorities, celebrities. So, it seems to me that weapon for patriots was created – as it was rightly stated in ‘Sunday’.

– Why did you decide to divide the ‘Great Book’ into three parts, corresponding to three historical times, but you did not simply place all surnames in one alphabetical order?

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - In these chapters biographies are arranged alphabetically, and at the end there is an index of all book characters. Each chapter can raise discussions, but a chronological order must exist, because it makes it easy to find oneself in this excellent forest of trees of the Polish patriotism. Within particular epochs, it is easier to compare various attitudes; there were different forms of expressing patriotism, for example in X century, and the different ones in XX century. But all of them are inspiring.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - Dividing our histories into three epochs, we also show the continuity of the history of Poland. I see a deeper meaning in it, and I think that it will be appreciated by many readers. I hope that it will also be appreciated by teachers.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - In the introduction we wrote that our book is a preparation for the jubilee of the 1050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland and establishment of Polish statehood. History of Poland and the Church in Poland is 1000 years old and is a continuous duration, it is impossible to teach or propagate at random, putting pressure only on some surnames – because only then we deal with a perversion of history and depreciating the greatness of the Polish country and the nation.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - In regard to it, the great role is played by the introduction of Andrzej and presentation of an attitude of Kazimierz Karol the Restorer: patrimony is the first duty, there is nothing more important than heritage after ancestors. Formation of patriotism, as well as the very term ‘homeland’, starts functioning then, not only in the circle of regal mansion, but it is passing to the lower level, to the society, concerning first the military defence and later building the power, splendour in various fields. People of the Middle Ages are aware that there is the common wealth about which they must care. Kingdom must be free and it must be defended – not only till the borders, but also till its sovereignty. All basic elements, which are also important for the contemporary patriotism, have such deep roots and such a deep genealogy.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - Whereas there are attempts to persuade the contemporary Pole, especially the young one, that patriotism is only an instantaneous invention of an organization ‘Solidarność’, or of a party of Law and Justice, who make it a political tool.

PROF.ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - Patriotism is not Polish quirk. Patriots are in every country and are naturally appreciated.

– Readers with whom I talked think that the ‘Great Book’ presents a very attractive patriotism also through a way, in which essays in the book were placed and presented - here I mean a graphic elaboration and a choice of illustrations.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - It is a pleasure to read it.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - It is a book with a good esthetical taste. One can see a care about a word and graphic elaboration, so that everything would encourage a reader to read this book.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - In our times, we cannot present beautiful values in careless way, otherwise we will not reach to a reader. And our intention was to reach with the ‘Great Book’ to as many people as possible. Moreover, the very topic required treating with dignity.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - In this way we break the negative stereotype, which is very harmful and in which patriotism is associated with, pardon my expression, living a beggar’s life. There is an explicit opinion: these Poles are good people, but they cannot do anything. Luckily, this stereotype is not proven here – yes, we have a wonderful tradition and we can pass it beautifully, also now.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - Readers phone us after reading the ‘Great Book’ to in order to thank us and they are emotionally moved to tears. Critical voices are an exception and they often express a grief that somebody is not in the book or he/she has too short biography. I think that the second volume solves this problem, because we are going to complement some book characters by their biographies with next pieces of information. 50 prominent authors express their willingness to continue the work, which helps Poles be aware of their wonderful genealogies.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - Although we are being taught all the time, to be ashamed of ourselves…

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - …First of all, be ashamed of what we inherited. We are told that Polishness is a curse.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - This is a sign of a general tendency: you will do a career if you leave for the West, if, for example, you manage to push your child to a foreign university, because here he can find work. The thesis that it is a country for losers, is still being repeated.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - In order to have this mentality changed, a revival of feeling of joy about one’s history is necessary, and also building the unity of patriotic communities, which allow for being provoked so easily.

PROF. ANDRZEJ NOWAK: - And raising dignity and the national pride.

LESZEK SOSNOWSKI: - It must be emphasized here that we speak about pride which other nations and societies, mostly much smaller ones, have and cultivate.

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - Yes, for example, the Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Irish have it – but we don’t. For example, when a Portugese man says about his country, his history, he is proud, he recalls people who are important, recognizable and he is prides on them. He prides on his traditional goods – and very rightly. Why cannot it be so in our country?

– But the national pride derives from knowledge. If I do not have any knowledge about my nation, about its achievements, so, what can I be proud of?

PROF. KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG: - It is all about elementary knowledge and feeling that Poland is a value for me, is something important, valuable and is 1000 years old. I identify myself with it, I care about it and I am on its side.


"Niedziela" 27/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: