Dr. Natalia Nowakowska is a Tutor & Lecturer in Early Modern History at Somerville College, University of Oxford.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Back in the News...

The 15th century courtyard of the Jagiellonian University, Krakow:
still debating Jagiellonians...
  In this, the 4th year of the ERC-Oxford Jagiellonians project, this enigmatic and mighty Renaissance royal dynasty are suddenly making it back into the news. Between 1386 and 1572, the Jagiellonians (as we now call them) ruled a chunk of Europe – encompassing, at their height, present-day Lithuania, Belarus, western Ukraine, western Russia, Poland, Prussia, Hungary, Romania, Bohemia, parts of Serbia and Croatia. With a cv like that, it is no surprise that they cast a long historical shadow. Just as some British politicians invoke the Tudors, and Henry VIII’s 1534 break with Rome, as a precedent for Brexit, so in Poland’s own fraught domestic politics this year the Jagiellonians are back. For it is in Poland above all that the Jagiellonians, with their glittering court at Krakow, are most fondly remembered, and today most fiercely argued over.
            This month, for example, sees the launch of a new Polish research project, ‘Jagiellonian Ideals and Present-Day Challenges’, led by the Krakow University sociology professor Leszek Korporowicz. In a series of seminars to be held in Krakow, Oxford and Kiev, social scientists and historians will ask what social or policy lessons can today be drawn from the multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies found in Renaissance-era Central Europe. Also interested in what this Renaissance royal family can teach us in the 21st century are members of Poland’s Citizens’ Congress (Kongres Obywatelski), a civil society group which seeks to promote active citizenship and open policy debate. One of its members recently visited Somerville, where we drank tea in the SCR and he spoke passionately about the need to write new, provocative narratives of the Polish past (especially its Jagiellonian phase) in order to stimulate critical thinking about the country’s present, and its future. Earlier this month, in London, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of EU Ambassadors from the Baltic area, and was struck by how keen they too were to discuss this region’s 16th-century dynastic history. Meanwhile, there has been controversy in Poland over the ‘Three Seas’ (trójmorze) summit of Central European countries attended by Donald Trump, which for some Poles evokes a nostalgic vision of former Jagiellonian power stretching between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas. Since the 1930s, the idea jagiellońska, ‘Jagiellonian vision’, has regularly functioned as a byword for Polish would-be hegemony in Eastern Europe.

            As our project’s first book (Remembering the Jagiellonians, due out in May 2018) shows, the Jagiellonians have been used to legitimate (or denigrate) a vast array of different political projects since their official extinction in 1572. And in the current political turbulence across Europe, it is interesting to see how this Renaissance dynasty is being redeployed in new 21st century contexts. For liberals, the vast territories ruled by this curious late medieval royal house offer a narrative of outward-facing internationalism, cosmopolitanism and tolerance; for populists and nationalists, a story of national ascendancy, achievement and empire. In Europe’s latent culture wars, great Renaissance dynasties are useful to have on one’s side. We shall see which of these narratives wins out, and in whose image the Jagiellonians are remoulded in this century.

Europe of the Three Seas:
graphic from biznes.onet.pl