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The History of Poland and its Literature since 1918


The First World War (1914-1918) and the October Revolution in Russia radically changes the political map of Europe. In 1918 , after more then 100 years of being an annexed territory, Poland regains independence. The reunited country has to be restored. Both industry and culture are developing dynamically. There is a spirit of joy and optimism amongst the Poles celebrating their independence.

1919-1920 Polish-Bolshevik (Russian) war

A lot of new trends such as futurism or expressionism appear in Polish literature.

New literary circles are founded. The most famous among these is "Skamander"

Years 1923-32 Optimism of the first years is gone. There are a lot of doubts and worries about the future of the country. Literature become anxious about values in the independent country.

At about 1930 - Existentialism settles in Polish literature.

1923-32 The authors are seeking order in the world. It leads them to glorification of heroism and moral values. There is also a trend created by Peiper-the chief editor of "Zwrotnica" which is called the "Cracovian Vanguard"

The big economic crisis in 30's brings criticism of capitalism system and stirs conflicts between political opponents.

Culture is getting politically involved so literature is telling about social and political problems. In a famous case against the left-wing group of Vilennis University some editors of "Żagary" are sentenced.

The most important literary circles are "Żargony" in Vilnus and a group of following poets Czechowicz in Lublin called the "Second Vanguard".

In the 30's the, so called, "Generation 1910" makes its debut. Amongst them is Czesław Miłosz.


September 1939 - the beginning of the Second World War. Poland is invaded by Germans from the west and Russians from the east border. In 1941 Russia joins the Allies whereby Poland has only one enemy.

The battle against invaders is carried on mainly by the "Generation of 1920" and the "The Generation with Zits". Szymborska belongs to the latter.

Polish writers and poets join the struggle either by taking part in the resistance movement or by propagating Polish culture through distribution of clandestine newspapers and by publishing literary magazines.


May 1945 - the second World War is over. Writers try to describe the traumatic experience of the war crimes and genocide.

Poland is under Russian influence, the new political system - communism - is being forced upon it. The working class - the proletariat - comes to power while intelligentsia is loses its importance or is used by the communist to popularize their ideas.

There is a national discussion of the literature in the press

"Odrodzenie" (Cracow, Warsaw) and "Kuznia" (ŁódĽ) are in favor of Marxism, "Pokolenie"(Generation) supports socio-political changes. Catholic magazines such as "Tygodnik Powszechny" and "Dzi¶ i jutro" oppose the communist system.

Wisława Szymborska publishes her first poems in "Odrodzenie" and "Pokolenie".

Literature is suppose to give priority to the truth over esthetical values. It relates to traditional, realistic novels of 19th century (Diderot, Stendhal, Prus) and the Age of Enlightenment

Writers divide into those who refuse to collaborate with the government and left-wing authors who have very idealistic attitudes.

Very important for literary life of those days are meetings of the Polish Writers Union. The first one takes place in Cracow in September of 1945.


There are years of strict Stalinism and persecutions of people regarded as political opponents such as ex-soldiers of the wartime resistance, the A.K. (Armia Krajowa or Home Army), soldiers who served under British command in the Allied Army, the intelligentsia and people with families on the other side of the 'Iron Curtain'. A lot of people are arrested on trumped up charges and tortured.

At a 1949 meeting of the Polish Writers Union in Szczecin, Socialist Realism is declared to be the one and only direction for Polish literature.

There was a very bad time for poetry, especially lyrical poetry. The choice of subject matter is very limited; little room is left for the imagination.

The censorship is very strict and it prevents esthetic works that differ from Socialist Realism from being published. Only political poetry can appear and there are two interesting collections of Szymborska from those days: "That's What We Live For"(1952.) and "Questions Put to Myself" (1954). Many Socialist Realists writers belong to "Generation with Zits"

Miłosz never conforms to Socialist Realism and the limitations it places on personal freedom of the writer; he decides to remain abroad.


The poor economic conditions of the nation and the lack of democratic freedom cause public dissatisfaction.

In June 1956, workers in the major factories in Poznan go on strike and large manifestation brake out against the government. Military force is used to suppressed them..

In October 1956, the Central Committee of the Polish Workers Party ( PZPR, the formal name of the governing communist party) condemned the old ways of governing. The system become more open towards democracy, in politics, economy and social life.

The events of 1956 bring about a relaxation of censorship; this is very important for literature. Socialist Realism as an idea loses its vitality, hence popularizers of socialism have to prove their talent by displaying their individuality in more personal works. Writers are free to sit in judgment of the Stalinist past but they still cannot openly discuss some issues since censorship continues to be a part of the literary life.

The earlier products of Socialist Realism are no longer taken seriously. People are expecting esthetics and parodies the ideas of Socialist Realism.

A lot of writer made their debuts, others make their second debuts. Szymborska, for instance, makes her second debut with the publication of her collection "Calling out for Yeti" (57). Beginning in October 1957, the "Generation 56" ("contemporaries") start to publish their works.

Contacts with European and American culture become again possible.

Polish writers living abroad (for example in Great Britain) are able to get in touch with the native country, which is very important for their cultural identity.

In 60's the ideas of 'Generation 56' begun losing their vitality. 'Generation 60' made its debuts, its literary circles begun to appear and its political directions begun to developed.

1968 - 1980

Social dissatisfaction increases as conditions cause a deterioration in the quality of life. Eminent individuals write open letters to the governing communist party, the PZPR, for instance the "letter 34" of writers and scientists. They ask for changes in cultural politics, specifically for greater freedom of expression in writing and reduction of censorship. These efforts are viewed by the authorities as an anticommunist activity.

In January 1968 - performances of the National Theater's production of Mickiewicz's "Forefathers' Eve" are canceled by action of the government which deems the drama had too many anti-soviet meanings.

March 1968 - anti-government manifestation take place at most universities. Students demanded freedom for culture and individuals and condemn anti-Semitic politics. Students are severely prosecuted.

Beginning of 1970's - living standard begin to decrease.

December 1970 - worker strikes were brutally put down with the help of armed forces.

Following the strikes the living standards begin to improve. The government builds new houses, hospitals, schools, and factories.

In literature, a "New Wave" of writers begins to appear, authors who made their debuts in 1968-70 ("Generation 68", "Generation 70").

Economic and political promises made by the government on the beginning of 70's don't materialize, so public dissatisfaction increases.

The new political organizations are come into being creating a strong "political underground" opposing communist rule.

In 1976, after another mass protest by workers in Radom and Ursus, the Committee for the Rights of the Workers (Komitet Obrony Robotnikow or KOR) is set up by a group of intellectuals. Its target audience are young working class people and students.

The literary underground becomes very active, publishing otherwise banned books. The underground press reaches its greatest popularity in 80's.

In 1977 another dissident organization began his activity - this was the Movement for Human and Citizen's Rights.

1978 - "Solidarity," an independent trade union is set up with Lech Wałesa and Anna Walentynowicz as its leaders. It proclaims a 'Workers Rights Charter'

Since 1980

1980 - Workers in some 2000 factories spread across the whole country go on strike and, at year's end, "Solidarity" their independent trade union, is granted legal status. Polish farmers also set up their union called "Farmer's Solidarity'

1980 - Czesław Miłosz receives the Nobel Prize in Literature

The Independent Students Union is granted legal status.

1981 - W. Jaruzelski - representing the government, Lech Wałesa on behalf of 'Solidarity' and archbishop Józef Glemp as a Church mediator sign an agreement which is frequently broken by the government.

Strikes spread to the country.

On 13th of December of 1981 the government institutes martial law. The country begins to be ruled by a military regime.

1982 The Sejm (Chamber of Deputies) dissolved the trade unions which had been suspended in December 81. "Solidarity" become an illegal organization. It takes part in activity of Poland's political underground. The opposition had its literary life, newspapers and publishers.

31.2.1982 The People's State Council, an arm of the communist party, suspends martial law and in July 83 - the military regime ceases.

1983 The Polish Writers Association is dissolved.

9.10.1983 Lech Wałęsa received Nobel Peace Prize.

The government continues in its efforts to suppress the opposition and persecute its active members.

1989. The government and the opposition begin the "Round Table" negotiations regarding a range of the most vital social and political issues. Since "Solidarity" is regarded as illegal organization by the government, the Catholic Church is called upon to act as a mediator in the negotiations.

April 1989. The both sides sign the, so called, Round Table Agreement. It becomes the basis for the development of a new democratic system of government.

June 1989. For the first time since WWII, a democratic election is held. The communist are totally vanquished.

Democracy finally brings the freedom to speech; the literature of the Polish underground can be published, authors could freely describe the last 50 years of Polish history .

The 90's see the appearance of a new generation of poets called "The Brulion, or Rough Draft, Generation"

December 22, 1990. Lech Wałesa is elected President of Polish Republic.

March 10, 1996. Wisława Szymborska become another Polish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This page, in its earlier 1997 version, was created by Aleksandra Kolodziejczyk, Iwona Kowalska, and Dariusz Plygawko, students of the Fifth General Education Liceum in Bielsko-Biala. Marcin Tomana and Piotr Kowalski of the School's Informatics faculty and Urszula Zajaczek of the Polish Language faculty, acted as advisors. Linguistic editing of current version by Peter K. Gessner.


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