Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2017 Citation Recipient

Paul Brykczynski

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: Paul Brykczysnki
Title: Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland (University of Wisconsin Press)

Primed for Violence takes a historical incident, the assassination of the first president of Poland, that had been formerly relegated to a brief aside in the historiography of the Second Republic and, through a careful and confident reading of its cultural context, shows how it is in fact central to understanding the pressures and ultimate failures of the new state. Paul Brykczynski demonstrates how the 1922 murder of President Narutowicz and the riots that followed became a bloody assertion for the radical right that only “ethnic Poles” should run the multiethnic state – a claim that the Polish left, despite its condemnation of the assassination itself, never really rebuffed. This explosion of violence and the rhetoric surrounding it thus anticipated the failure of democracy in the 1926 coup d’état, as well as the state’s descent into antisemitism in the 1930s. The book is beautifully written, tightly argued, and is a model of pacing and precision. It speaks not only to students of Polish history and politics, but also to anyone interested in antisemitism, nationalist violence, and radical right-wing politics.

Honorable Mention: John Kulczycki
Title: Belonging to the Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Polish-German Borderlands, 1939-1951 (Harvard University Press)

Belonging to the Nation is a study of the preeminence of nationality as a category of identity, while illustrating the historical pitfalls and limitations of just such a method of categorization. The book shows how the state, whether Nazi Germany or Communist Poland, used similar techniques and modes of thought as authorities sought to sort out the national belonging of the complex, often nationally indifferent populations who lived in the overlapping spaces of their shifting borders. It illustrates how in the 1940s, there were still plenty of people for whom ethnonationalist categories offered a poor fit, and conveys, often through personal testimony, the tragic consequences of trying to make people fit these categories. Meticulously researched and dispassionately presented, the book makes a major contribution to the study of nationalism and the political and social history of one of Europe’s multilingual and multiconfessional borderlands.