Poland’s Missing Other

This has me thinking a bit more about the Other. Of course all people’s have multiple others that exist at different levels of abstraction. When I said that Poland’s Others are Russia and Germany (usually in that order though sometimes Germany outdoes Russia in Otherhood) I meant it. But that’s only at the international level.

As Others neither works without the… other. They complement each other as Others. As a Polish person explained to me years ago, Germany is often admirable but the language and customs create no feeling of common connection while Russia is never very admirable but the similarity of language (and some cultural features) mean there is often a feeling of common connection.

But that leaves Domestic Others – the people Poles not want to see when they look in the mirror. Of course prior to WWII Polish people’s domestic Others were the Jews. After WWII during the communist period most people’s Others were (roughly) Party Members (among which Jews were thought to be wildly overrepresented).

Modern Poland is an example the dangers of not having a familiar Other. Since the end of communism, Poles have no common collective domestic Other which is maybe why politics and opinions have become so divisive and divided and why so many Polish people struggle to find the Jews among themselves. The Jewish presence is both idealized, demonized, longed for and hated and the general lack of overt Jewishness (a visible Other to use a negative role model) leaves people disoriented and they lash out at each other politically in more and more destructive ways.

What’s weird is that from an American perspective, Jewish appearance and some stereotypical Jewish behavior are both very common in Poland and many people have some trace of Jewish ancestory (usually from converts to Christianity, often very long ago). East Germany was once described as a place where at any given time half the population was spying on the other half. Poland at times seems to be a place where at any given time half the population is hiding its Jewish roots from the other half.

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