Sunday, 2 August 2015

Vikings in Poland - an official view

While the lively festivals and performances reconstructing medieval and Viking times, like the one at Wolin in Pomerania, draw nowadays more and more public interest, there has been a striking disinterest of the Polish scholars towards the never scientifically answered question of the Viking impact on Poland in the Early Middle Ages.

Those who dare to look closer today at the Poland’s history and its material heritage from the Viking Age will not accept anymore the official position of the Polish historians saying that there was no Viking Age in Poland.

Despite the significance of the archaeological material unearthed in Poland in the last decades, the historians relentlessly defend the theory of the purely autonomous Slavic foundation of the Polish state in the tenth century. In this way they keep trying to uphold the concept of Poland’s birth based on a legend and keep going against the archaeological evidence.

Thanks to the proliferation and democratization of knowledge that has been brought up by the Internet to everybody’s doorstep, presently any open-minded human being who is willing to explore the knowledge on his own, is no longer completely dependent on doubtful scientific probity and good will of certain professionals to gather and reveal the facts that may not necessarily be in line with the dominant narrative.

That is why, aside of my blog in Polish "Manowce historyk√≥w" ("Biases of historians") I would like to propose a series of articles under the heading “Vikings in Poland” dealing with the subject that has always been ignored, evaded or simply rendered null and void by the mainstream of Polish historiography.

Here is a map of Europe in the Viking Age (9th-11th centuries) depicting the main directions of the Viking penetration and their principal settlement concentrations, with the Polish territories including Pomerania marked in a circle (credit: Vikings, Wikipedia).

One may understand the position of the Polish intellectuals of the 19th century who, in their effort to bring Poland back on the map of Europe, looked more for every bright aspect of the Polish statehood history rather than for a scientifically balanced view. One may also acknowledge scientific compromises of the Polish historians in their self-defense position against the Nazi prewar ideology aiming to annihilate the Slavic people. 

One may not, however, understand and agree with some of the present-day historians in Poland who sacrifice scientific principles and professional integrity on the altar of Poland’s legendary  birth. The “shrine” that once served for vital political purposes in times of Poland’s lost or threatened statehood, in today’s Poland enjoying democracy and peaceful growth, is nothing more than an assemblage of petrified theories with their roots reaching the 12th century tale collected or fabricated by a certain Gallus Anonymus

Any effort of younger scholars to shed some new light on the ideologically sensitive early medieval period in Poland provokes a scathing reaction of the biggest history authorities, the custodians and guardians of the fossilized “shrine”. When a new, fresh idea, theory or view on the Viking subject appears in public, the guardians or their ardent assistants, being concerned about their academic careers, precipitously communicate: “the matter has already long been thoroughly examined and correctly interpreted by” … and here follows the list of publications admitted to the altar of the Polish official historiography. 

Let us skip here the prejudices, pre-judgments and other unscientific considerations that remain behind the official narrative of the absence of an essential Norman component in the foundation of the Polish state. Let’s talk about a scientific approach to the historical facts and archaeological evidence available to the wide public. 

Pursuing the spirit of enquiry and skepticism which is indispensable in the scientific method, we shall not accept “the truths established already long time ago” nor shall we be discouraged by the possible imputations of anti-Polish, anti-state or anti-Slavic motives. Quite to the contrary, we should seek the truth for the sake of our better self-understanding, better understanding of others and a better adaptation to the challenges of the contemporary world.