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

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

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.

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