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

Reviewed by Marcus E. Ethridge 
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Emeritus)

Third Europe

Between 1939 and 1945, nearly 15,000 Poles arrived in the United States, including a substantial number of highly respected Polish intellectuals. Their ideas they explored and the proposals they discussed were driven by their shared hope for an independent Poland, lost first to the Nazis and later to the Soviet empire.

This book’s title can be traced to an observation by a British columnist in January of 1942. The columnist, Valentine Heywood, identified the “Third Europe” as a “lithe” area situated between Germany and Russia, and stretching from the Baltic as far as the Adriatic, the Aegean, and the Black Sea” (p. 1). The Cold War divided Europe into East and West, of course, but Polish émigrés in the United States made strong arguments for the idea that Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, and Greece constituted an identifiable region that would figure prominently in Europe’s future.

Sławomir Łukasiewicz brings a detailed historical perspective to the political and legal analysis generated by these Polish intellectuals, giving us valuable insights into the issues at stake in the emerging bi-polar post-war world. Although these thinkers were a diverse lot, the book focuses on their efforts to create a federal arrangement for the countries of central Europe.

Long before the creation of the European Common Market and decades before the EU was formed, the idea of a European federation had been discussed seriously among important politicians and philosophers, particularly in Central Europe. Among the most important was Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, an Austrian politician (born in Japan in 1894), who had argued in 1923 for a federal system. According to Łukasiewicz, Coudenhove-Kalergi’s ideas influenced Winston Churchill and many others during and after the war. However, while many spoke of a “United States of Europe,” Łukasiewicz notes that the federation envisioned by Coudenhove-Kalergi and others would primarily emphasize collective security and trade.

Although many Polish intellectuals were initially drawn to the Pan-European Movement, most broke away from it in the early 1930s. Toward the end of World War II, the Polish government thoroughly rejected the concept of Pan-Europeanism, largely because its leaders distrusted the Germans and the Soviets. Łukasiewicz chronicles the evolution of support among Polish-American intellectuals for a federation of central European states. These thinkers represented an extensive array of perspectives, although they shared the idea that a federal arrangement of these nations would be beneficial. Some were concerned about collective security, given that the countries included had a population of some 15 million, which could support an army of more than a million. Others focused on the need for independence from the Soviet and Western blocs.

The book documents the contributions of dozens of historians and political scientists, more than can be described in this review. Among the most noteworthy is Oskar Halecki, who joined the faculty of Fordham University in 1944.

Łukasiewicz points out that Halecki was opposed to a “world order based on the balance of power, which was the opposite of a world order based on federalist states” (p. 111). Feliks Gross was, according to Łukasiewicz, “one of the most original Polish thinkers of the twentieth century” (p. 219). Gross’s 1945 book, Crossroads of Two Continents: A Democratic Federation of East-Central Europe, set out proposals for several alternative federations of central and eastern European nations, based on the importance of security and economic factors.

Piotr Wandycz, currently professor emeritus at Yale, contributed significantly to the concept of federalism in the post-war years. One of his key contributions was the idea that a federal arrangement can only work if it was “transformed into a new ideology” that supported personal and national freedom. 1

Łukasiewicz points out that the proposals prepared by the Poles during the war failed in 1945. The Cold War dominated international relations, and Western policies were often shaped by concerns for Soviet responses and demands. However, it is arguable that many of the ideas discussed in this book have been fulfilled. 

As the author notes, an identifiable “Eastern Europe” became a reality “when Belarus and Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union” and when Poland, Hungary, and other nations joined NATO. Recent actions by Putin’s Russia are perhaps best understood by appreciating the pro-federation forces that existed throughout the last century, which were articulated so ably by Polish émigrés. Some readers will feel that The Third Europe is more of a bibliographical synopsis than a thorough analysis of the federalism concept as it applies to Poland and her neighboring states. However, the book provides an excellent discussion of the contribution that Polish émigrés made to the modern understanding of history and international relations by exploring the special problems of central Europe in the mid-twentieth century. 

1. Halecki was also a founder and President of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA). Gross and Wandycz later served as President of this interdisciplinary academic Association, which is the sponsor of The Polish Review.

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

Sławomir Łukasiewicz


Third Europe

The genesis of the federalist thought that the book discusses is related to the collapse of the international order in East Central Europe in the years 1938-1939, which also marked a breakthrough in political concepts. One of the projects widely discussed beginning in the fall of 1939 was the idea of combining Poland’s and Czechoslovakia’s war efforts, which soon developed into federalist concepts, leading, in turn, to particular political gestures: the Polish-Czechoslovak Declaration of November 11, 1940; a joint project of a constitution of a future Polish-Czechoslovak Federation; and, finally, the Declaration from January 1942. The process was also reflected in the activities of other groups from East-Central Europe — including Polish circles — in the United States. The Declaration of November 1940 coincided with the publication of the inaugural issue of the journal New Europe and World Reconstruction, after the war the same milieu created another initiatives — Polish Federalists’ Association in America (Związek Polskich Federalistów — ZPF), Czechoslovak Polish Research Committee or the journal “The Central European Federalist”. The journals and organizations aspired to influencing U.S. policy. Poles and their Central European colleagues in exile cooperated with the American Committee for European Reconstruction during the war or with the National Committee for a Free Europe (later Free Europe Committee) after the war. There were many more initiatives referring to federalist ideas which incubated in the United States. Chronologically, the first organizations dealing with such problems included the International Peasant Union and the Christian Democratic Union of Central Europe. Another, much more important initiative was the Assembly of Captive European Nations — ACEN — established in 1954. ACEN included both representatives of national committees, which were part of the Free Europe Committee and representatives of CDUCE, the International Peasant Union, the Socialist Union of Central-Eastern Europe and the Liberal Union of Central Europe.

The goal of the political federalist thought was to offer the best solution to the situation in which Poland found itself after World War II. There were differences of opinion about the actual structure of the federation of states (or nations) that was to be established, about the way of establishing it and the political options that were proposed. However, the common assumption was that, without joint activism by the émigrés, followed by collective action by the countries of East Central Europe, independence could not be gained.

Sławomir Łukasiewicz, Hab. PhD, historian, Europeanist. Since October 2015 director of the Institute of European Studies, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Canon Law and Administration. Head of the Research Department at the Lublin branch of the Institute of National Remembrance, 2011-2015 coordinator of research program on Polish political exile 1939(45)-1990. Author of the books Trzecia Europa. Polska myśl federalistyczna w Stanach Zjednoczonych, 1940-1971 [Third Europe. Polish federalist thought in the United States – 1940-1970s], Warszawa-Lublin 2010; Partia w warunkach emigracji. Dylematy Polskiego Ruchu Wolnościowego “Niepodległość i Demokracja” 1945-1994[Émigré party. Dilemmas of the Polish Freedom Movement  “Independence and Democracy” 1945-1994], Lublin-Warszawa 2014; and several publications about Polish émigrés and their European visions (e.g. “Poles in European Federal Movement”, Warszawa 2005) as well as about activities of Polish communist intelligence after the II World War. Editor among others of Tajny oręż, czy ofiary zimnej wojny? Emigracje polityczne z Europy Środkowej i Wschodniej[Secret weapon or the victims of the Cold War? Political émigrés from Central and Eastern Europe], Lublin 2010; Towards a United Europe: an Anthology of Twentieth Century Polish Thought on Europe, Warsaw 2011; Polska emigracja polityczna 1939-1990. Stan badań[Polish political exile 1939-1990. Research reports], Warszawa 2016.


A ground-breaking book that unveils a world hitherto unknown to the English-language reader — even though this world was based in the United States. Required reading for any student of political exile and emigration

Piotr H. Kosicki, University of Maryland

Third Europe is about an idea. Many émigrés from East Central Europe who left their native lands because of World War II and communism wound up in the United States, where they were free to discuss the future shape of Europe and quickly discovered new inspiration — not only in regional traditions but also in the thoughts of the American Founding Fathers. Sławomir Łukasiewicz recounts the fate of these thinkers, illustrates the historical and political context in which they would act and create, and discusses the concept of a federalized East Central Europe. Many of these ideas are still current, which is why this book is not only of scholarly importance but also is significant in contemporary discussions about this topic.

John Micgiel, President and Executive Director (Kosciuszko Foundation)

The outbreak of the Second World War and the complete collapse of the world order created at Versailles led anti-Fascist, democratic politicians and intellectuals from Nazi-occupied Europe to work out plans for a future lasting and peaceful European settlement. In such a context, the projects that envisioned federalist or confederalist solutions formed the origins of the quest for a European union that was destined to characterize post-war Western Europe. Ideas put forth by the émigré political leaders and scholars from East-Central Europe were part of a process that was not limited to the war years but continued long after the ‘iron curtain’ had divided Europe and were of paramount relevance to defining the characteristics of the ‘return to Europe’ after 1989. Professor Lukasiewicz’s study explores those plans in detail on the basis of broad and in-depth research. This important scholarly contribution offers food for thought for everyone who is interested not only in the history of the European integration but also in the image of a continental order that was nurtured by Polish politicians and intellectuals.

Antonio Varsori, professor, History of International Relations, University of Padua