Slavic Review: Third Europe

Third Europe: Polish Federalist Thought in the United States, 1940–1970s.

By Sławomir Łukasiewicz.
Reno, NV: Helena History Press LLC, 2016.
Trans. Witold Zbirohowski-Kościa. 476 pp.
Notes. Bibliography. Glossary. Index. Photographs. Maps.
$50.00, hard bound.
doi: 10.1017/slr.2018.143

Third Europe

This engrossing work deals with the organized efforts of a substantial body of political activists and intellectuals who worked together to discuss and promote the idea of a federalist solution to the national security concerns of the states in east central Europe, many of which gained their independence after World War I. These individuals, many of them Poles, realized that independence alone was no guarantee for their “third Europe” homelands—countries geographically perched between two threatening super powers—Germany and Russia. Nor were alliances with one another, with Britain and France, or their membership in international bodies like the League of Nations enough in themselves. Instead, the push for a “federalist” solution (a concept whose meaning and implications receive considerable discussion from the author) was something these individuals saw as a far better way to provide for both their countries’ individual advancement and their shared national security needs.

In the interwar period, however, the idea of federalism fell like a seed on rocky ground. The focus of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and the Baltic states was on nation building, a focus that too often led to friction and divisions over boundary and ethnic minority issues. World War II in turn brought devastation to the region. What followed was the Soviet takeover of east central Europe, a “solution” to the issues of the region that the federalists, along with a host of other émigrés who found themselves in western Europe and the United States after the War, totally rejected. 

Out of this tragedy came a new impetus for the exiles’ patriotic thinking, and their far-sighted but realistic discussions in support of a federalist, post-Soviet, future for east central Europe. Their many activities, often taking place in concert with various American and west European activists who established organizations in the decade after World War II like the National Committee for a Free Europe, and exile groups who became involved in the Assembly of Captive European Nations, are well presented. These involved debates on a number of proposed federalist solutions—some of which focused on bi-lateral relations (most notably between Poland and Czechoslovakia) and others that extended the application of federalism to most, if not all, of the countries in the region.

Two particular features of this work merit a comment here. One involves the author’s extensive and welcome discussion of the thought and scholarship of a number of Poles who settled permanently in the United States after 1940 and went on to establish impressive and influential academic careers in this country. Four of these individuals receive particular attention. The oldest was the historian Oskar Halecki (1891–1973), who had already achieved prominence in Poland and was in the U.S. at the start of World War II. An organizer of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, which was formed in the wake of the ruthless Nazi and Soviet efforts to destroy his country, Halecki found a home at Fordham University and published extensively on Polish history through the rest of his life. A second scholar was the Kraków-born sociologist Feliks Gross (1906–2006), who wrote extensively about federalism and was based at the City University of New York. Marian Kamil Dziewanowski (1913–2005), a Polish army officer during the War who later earned his PhD in History at Harvard University, went on to enjoy a multifaceted career at Boston University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The fourth member of this distinguished group, Piotr Wandycz (1923–2017), whose work in diplomatic history at Indiana and Yale Universities gained him international recognition and saw him guiding a number of graduate students who continue to publish extensively on Polish, east-central European, and global matters. Moreover, the work of all four continues to be read and cited to this very day. A last point about this book involves the connections between the ideas of the east-central European federalists and the developments in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This subject, briefly touched upon by the author, merits a mention here. Freedom and independence for the countries of “East-Central Europe” (a term coined by Halecki), has indeed been greatly enhanced by the entry of nearly all of them into the NATO alliance from 1999 and the European Union after 2003. In a real sense these two developments represent the realization of the federalists’ dream, and it is to be hoped that the foolish criticisms of these organizations, both from within and from outside them, will not do serious damage to them.

There are also the regional organizations that have arisen in the spirit of the federalists—most notably the Visegrad group that brings Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak republics together—and the recent conversations about a broader “Three Seas Initiative.” These efforts are further testimony to the far-sighted thinking of the east-central European federalists whose aim was always the well-being of the peoples of the “Third Europe.”

Donald E. Pienkos
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee