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This January marked the 150th anniversary of the Polish Rebellion against Russian authority in 1863. Ever since the revolt, the events themselves and international reactions to them have remained the subject of scholarly dispute. One of the controversial questions still being debated is the British response to the situation in Russian-held Poland between 1861 and 1864. Some historians view Britain’s policy towards Poland as a complete failure, while others argue that it was successful in checking the expansionist tendencies of France. The motivations behind Britain’s tactics in the Polish crisis remain somewhat murky, however.
Karol Szymanowski
Director Jan Komasa at the festival

The international stage is full of uncertainties, which pose the main obstacle to an economic recovery in the United States. Relations with Russia remain as fragile as a Rochester spring. After emerging from the deep freeze that set in during the Bush administration, relations have cooled again in recent years, as Russian interest in the Obama administration’s Reset policy has flagged. Conflicts over Ukraine, Georgia, and defensive rockets in Poland have subsided, and Russia allows transportation of a majority of the materiel needed to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan through its territory. A signature nuclear arms reduction agreement was ratified and Russia was finally admitted to the World Trade Organization. Nevertheless, Russian anti-American rhetoric is on the rise, and Vladimir Putin seems to calculate that the United States is more useful for him as a bogeyman in domestic politics than as a serious diplomatic partner.
Director Arkadiusz Wojnarowski at the festival
Randall Stone and Jan Komasa at the festival

Meanwhile, Europe continues to struggle with the fallout from adopting a common currency. The slow-moving crisis has retreated from the front pages because the European Central Bank has flooded the economy with cheap credit. However, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain remain too heavily mired in debt to grow, and austerity policies have brought growth in the euro zone to a halt. As all eyes turn towards Germany, Germany turns its attention inwards to the elections coming this fall, so nothing is likely to happen before then. The most likely outcome appears to be another government led by Angela Merkel, the only euro zone leader to avoid being toppled by the euro crisis thus far. The country with the strongest economic performance in Europe remains Poland, which has so far steered clear of the euro imbroglio and used a devalued zloty to maintain international competitiveness. However, more countries keep joining the euro zone—Estonia last year, Latvia next year, and Rumania the year after—and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has proposed holding a referendum on joining the euro as well.

International affairs continue to be complex and economies are ever more intricately connected, emphasizing the importance of a sustained commitment to understanding the culture, politics, economics and history of Europe. The Skalny Center has its work cut out for it in the years to come.

This year has been a particularly rich one on the research side. In addition to two visiting professors, Ana Sliwinska, a film specialist from Poznan, and Jan Lencznarowicz, a historian of immigration from Krakow, we hosted a post-doctoral fellow, Ora John Reuter, a Fulbright fellow, Karel Svoboda from Prague, and a visiting scholar, Kathleen Geaney from Prague. You can read a contribution from each of them in the pages that follow. John Reuter describes some of his research on the consolidation of authoritarianism in Russia, and Karel Svoboda describes his research on the economic relations among the Communist countries before 1989. Professor Svoboda came to Rochester specifically to make use of archival materials that I gathered for my first book, many of which are still sealed and inaccessible in Russian and East European archives.

One of the highlights of the year was a panel commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1863 January Uprising in Poland against the Russian Empire, with contributions by Professor Kathleen Parthe, Professor of Russian and Director of the UR Russian Studies Program, Professor Jan Lencznarowicz, and Ms. Kathleen Geaney. Prof. Parthe discussed the reactions of Alexander Herzen and the Russian intelligentsia to the uprising, Prof. Lencznarowicz discussed the Polish domestic context, and Ms. Geaney focused on the international dimension. Some of their comments are reprinted in the following pages. I was chairing the discussion, and Ms. Geaney’s comment that British newspapers referred to the Poles in 1863 as “the Irish of the Continent” made me introspective. “I have finally discovered my Polish roots,” I said. “I’m part Irish.”

The Center sponsored its most successful Polish Film Festival yet, with visits from Polish film directors Jan Komasa and Leszek Wosiewicz, and producer Arkadiusz Wojnarowski. Jan Komasa directed the stunning film “The Suicide Room,” his debut, which transcended its Polish setting to depict the contemporary psychological dilemmas of teenagers struggling with sexuality and identity in the age of social media and interactive internet gaming. Leszek Wosiewicz directed “The Totentanz. Scenes from the Warsaw Uprising,” which presented the events of August 1944 in a uniquely personal way. Arkadiusz Wojnarowski produced “Crulic—The Path to Beyond,” which was a pseudo-documentary using animation and fantastic elements, but based on the true story of a Rumanian who fell through the cracks of the Polish justice system and died after a long hunger strike. Audiences enjoyed meeting the creators of the films and engaging them in discussion. In all, we showed eight major contemporary Polish films and three short films over six days.

The Center continued its collaboration with the Rochester Jewish Film Festival by co-sponsoring the film, “Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising According to Marek Edelman.” The narrator survived the Holocaust, became a successful cardiologist in post-War Poland, and was a Solidarity representative in the 1989 Round Table Talks. Edelman was 23 years old when the events he recounts took place, and became the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising after the death of Mordechaj Anielewicz. In addition, we continued our partnership with the local Hungarian community by sponsoring a lecture by Petr Balla, a Hungarian scholar at Charles University in Prague, on the contemporary political significance of the Trianon Treaty that set the borders of Hungary after World War I. Trianon reemerged in Hungary’s political debate after the fall of Communism in 1989, and continues to play a special role for right-wing political parties. In 2010 Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban introduced a “Day of National Unity” on June 4th, the anniversary of the Trianon Treaty.

The Center sponsored two concerts this year that paid tribute to the rich heritage of Polish classical music. The first was an homage to Karol Szymanowski commemorating the 130th anniversary of the composer’s birthday, and the second was a celebration of the 80th birthday of Krzysztof Penderecki. Karol Szymanowski (1882 – 1937) was an important composer of the first half of the 20th century, and his position in Polish music can only be compared to that of Chopin. His works included four symphonies, two violin concertos, two operas, “Hagith" and “King Roger," the ballet-pantomime “Harnasie," the oratorio “Stabat Mater," as well as numerous piano, violin, vocal and choral compositions. The concert featured musicians from the Eastman School of Music including Katherine Ciesinski, mezzo-soprano; Clay Jenkins, trumpet; Jan Opalach, bass-baritone; Maria Rączka, violin; Dariusz Terefenko, piano; as well as Hwaen Ch’uqi, piano, and Karolina Terefenko, violin. Matthew Ames (Theatre Department, Nazareth College) read excerpts from Szymanowski’s writings to accompany the musical selections. Krzysztof Penderecki is one of the leading Polish contemporary composers, and our concert of his work featured performances by Eastman alumnae Eunmi Ko (piano), Sini Virtanen (violin), and Julia Shulman (double bass). After giving the audience a taste of the Avant-garde Penderecki, the players moved to the Romantic Penderecki, performing his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1999) .

In addition, the Center hosted an extraordinary jazz concert in December. Born in Poland, now based in Chicago, jazz vocalist Grażyna Auguścik appeared with Paulinho Garcia, her musical partner on voice and guitar. Auguścik is one of the most intriguing contemporary vocalists on today’s international jazz scene, and has won the praise and admiration of music critics, jazz enthusiasts and non-jazz audiences with a remarkable voice. “Her name is Grażyna Auguścik,” writes American Jazz Scene, “and she is one of the hottest jazz talents in the country.”

In short, the Skalny Center has been a busy place this year, and many of you have been here to celebrate with us. We look forward to seeing you again in the coming year!

Randall W. Stone is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Skalny Center.