Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2016 Citation Recipient

Iryna Vushko

The Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies (formerly the Orbis Book Prize), established in 1996 and sponsored by the Kulczycki family, former owners of the Orbis Books Ltd. of London, England, is awarded annually for the best book in any discipline, on any aspect of Polish affairs, published in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Iryna Vushko
Title: The Politics of Cultural Retreat: Imperial Bureaucracy in Austrian Galicia, 1772-1867 (Yale University Press)

The creation of the Austrian province of Galicia and Lodomeria on territory shorn from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772 offered its new masters an opportunity to put Enlightenment principles of rationality and universality into practice. Into the presumably backward lands occupied by Poles, Ruthenians, and Jews, the Habsburgs sent bureaucrats from Silesia, Bohemia, Styria, the Austrian Netherlands, and Habsburg Italy. Their efforts to create rational uniformity mostly failed, but the “politics of cultural retreat,” as Iryna Vushko ably describes the process, is no less worthy of our attention for that. In an insightful study of political paradoxes and unintended consequences, Vushko shows how Austrian bureaucrats frequently came to implement versions of policies from the former Commonwealth, reified or even exacerbated divisions in society by fomenting the emergence of modern nationalism, and through emulation of and intermarriage with the Francophone Polish-Lithuanian aristocracy and nobility, increasingly came to identify with Polish nationalism. Because Vushko’s study extends nearly a century, she is able to show how complex and unpredictable the transition to the age of nationalism truly was, often through the telling biographical detail of one of the children of these bureaucrats such as Wincenty Pol, who became a major Polish writer, Józef Dietl, who served as the patriotic first Polish mayor of Cracow, or the writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who eventually settled on Ruthenian self-identification. During this period, Poles joined the Austrian bureaucracy, Ruthenians found a political voice, and policies to control Jewish mobility and population growth largely failed, while efforts to educate them in German proved quite successful. Vushko also demonstrates how short-term failure did not preclude the modernization of this region or the development of imperial loyalties among all three groups. Thanks to Vushko’s decision to place Austrian bureaucrats and their families at the center of the narrative, The Politics of Cultural Retreat sheds new light on crucial aspects that often teleological national histories have missed. The scope and implications of this superbly researched, elegantly written, balanced, and persuasive book make it a valuable tool for scholars in disciplines spanning from history and political science to literary and cultural studies.

Honorable Mention: Lech Mróz
Title: Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th-18th Centuries (Central European University Press)

The Roma (‘Gypsies’) are Central Europe’s largest stateless minority of ten to twelve million people. During the modern period, Roma have been marginalized, denied their ethnic identity and language, and, alongside Jews, targeted by Nazi Germany’s genocidal policy of a ‘Final Solution.’ As a result, Roma were written out from the region’s past and present; in fact, the group’s current sociopolitical situation is eerily reminiscent of the United States’ Afro-Americans prior to the Civil Rights Movement. It suffices to recall how few protested when in 2010, France expelled thousands of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania regardless of the fact that they were citizens of the European Union. Lech Mróz’s groundbreaking monograph gives his readers an opportunity to rethink the history of Roma in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, that is, today’s Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. In this book, the culmination of his over-half-a-century-long research on the subject, Mróz returns Roma to their rightful place in the mainstream of Polish and Central European history, showing that until the end of the Commonwealth their position was no stranger or different than any other ethnic group inhabiting these territories. This historical revision single-handedly repudiates the lingering stereotype of Roma as the ‘eternal Other.’ Working with rare and hard-to-locate documents in Latin, Ruthenian and German, Mróz demonstrates that like Jews or Armenians, Roma enjoyed their own ethno-social non-territorial autonomy in the Commonwealth. An invaluable contribution of Mróz’s research is his uncovering of over a hundred and sixty original documents analyzed in the book. These priceless archival sources challenge the often preconceived notion that Roma represent an ‘ahistorical population;’ rather, Mróz shows that Roma history indeed can—and should—be probed with the use of historiographical instruments. Roma-Gypsy Presence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 15th–18th Centuries is an achievement that constitutes a turning point in our understanding of Roma minority. After reading Mróz’s book, one can hardly imagine the histories of the European continent and its political entities without a chapter on Roma.