Broken Land: Everyday Life and the Reconstruction of the Polish Countryside, 1914-1939
Wilczewski, Michal Janusz
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“Broken Land” traces the everyday lives of Polish-speaking farmers as they navigated the transition from subjects of the German, Austrian, and Russian Empires to citizens of an independent nation-state. Covering the period 1914-1939, it explores this moment of social and cultural contestation, telling a story of grass-roots rural activism that rebuilt the physical, moral, and social character of the Polish village in the face of political instability, stymied land reform, abject poverty, and lasting imperial structures. As such, it offers a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in the Second Republic and they ways they viewed their national identity, relationships with the state, and plans for the future of the countryside. I argue that Polish-speaking farmers’ attitudes toward Polishness was still limited during the partitions and First World War, and that though Second Republic leaders tried to bridge villagers’ gaps in national belonging via standardization schemas, it was mainly through local activism that farmers came to embrace the idea of Poland and Polishness more closely. For the first time in their history farmers across Polish territory could engage fully in associational life—through rural youth organizations, agricultural circles, and housewives’ groups. The nation-wide explosion of these organizations connected farmers from across Poland, forging a strong rural voice in the infant country.