I am proud of my father
Prime Minister Stanisław Mackiewicz believed that there were four fathers of independent Poland – Michał Bobrzyński, Roman Dmowski, Józef Piłsudski and Władysław Studnicki. Poland.pl talks with the son of the latter, the economist Prof. Konrad Studnicki-Gizbert.
POLAND.PL: This year, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of your father, Władysław Studnicki. Polish history remembers him as one of the most important founders of the Republic revived in 1918. How do you remember your father?
KONRAD STUDNICKI-GIZBERT: Celebrating birth and death anniversaries of specific people are an opportunity to recognise worthy people – those who directly or indirectly influenced our history. I recognize the value of historical celebrations, but in Canada and other countries that I had the opportunity to get to know, such anniversaries are not celebrated, although there is interest in the lives and achievements of historical figures. Having spent most of my life outside of Poland, I do not overestimate this type of anniversaries, although I appreciate the importance of looking to the past and I respect people who have given much to their homeland.
My father was definitely such a person. He shaped my character and way of thinking to a large extent, I am proud of him and I learned a lot from him. Our relationship was very good, based on respect and love. He was a man of a small stature, but with a great heart and huge courage, he wasn’t afraid of anything. He said what was on his mind, often used words or pen to criticize various dignitaries and influential people, but he was always polite to his subordinates and poorer people. He also always willingly helped the needy, even if it sometimes caused him problems.
Your family roots can be traced to Latgale and Dyneburg (now Daugavpils in Latvia), where your grandfather was even the deputy mayor. How did this shape Władysław Studnicki's worldview?
Our family has been associated with Dyneburg and Latgale for many generations as part of the local nobility. My grandfather Adolf Studnicki was a district judge, during the January Uprising of 1863 he acted as a delegate of the insurgent government, and after the end of the post-uprising persecutions he was actually even elected deputy mayor of Dyneburg. It was extremely important for my father to get rooted in the Kresy region (Eastern Borderlands). The inhabitants of the Borderlands were united by a great patriotism, but people of many nationalities and many religions lived there side by side and were friends and married with each other. They were characterized by principled political convictions and sharp discussions were common, but the bitter adversaries were also selflessly helpful. They were proud of their origins, but derogatory references aimed at others were considered contrary to good manners.
For his generation the key experience was perhaps the anti-Russian uprising of January 1863?
As I mentioned, in 1863 my father's father was a delegate of the insurgent government and miraculously survived the war and post-uprising repressions, which had a significant impact on Władysław, his brother Wacław and their sisters. Their mother's patriotism also no doubt seriously influenced their worldview, she often lead her children to the Dyneburg Fortress - "a Russian prison where people were imprisoned since the uprising, and many Poles were hung here on the gallows". Of course, these experiences had to affect my father and he remained anti-Russian throughout his life. This was reinforced by the 1888 sentencing, when the Russians imprisoned him in the Citadel, and he then spent six years in exile in Siberia. However, he nevertheless knew and valued Russian writers and poets, he had Russian friends and, as I remember from my childhood, he valued the Russians he hired as my governesses.
Władysław Studnicki is called the "father of the November 5th Act" - the proclamation of the emperors of Austria-Hungary and Germany, which proclaimed the creation of the Kingdom of Poland.
In fact, he is considered a "spiritual father" of this extremely important document from 1916, which was the first step to regaining full independence by Poland. This success was related to my father being acquainted with Hans von Beseler, the German general of the governor of the area of Poland occupied by the Germans. He convinced him that a reborn Poland would not be a threat, but rather a buffer between Germany and Russia. The "November 5th Act" had enormous significance for the Polish cause, because for the first time the two European powers officially announced the rebirth of the Kingdom of Poland. It was a declaration from which you could no longer retreat from. In addition, it established the Polish administration, local governments and other institutions, as well as the Polish Armed Forces. All this was the doing of Władysław Studnicki.
In 1918, Poland regained its independence. How did Władysław Studnicki view reborn statehood? On the one hand, despite considerable influence on Józef Piłsudski's views and regarding foreign policy, he probably remained marginalized – on the other hand he was considered an extremely influential political writer who shaped the young generation of Poles to a large extent.
It seems that we Poles are too often driven by emotions, and not a sober assessment of the situation, Realpolitik according to Władysław Studnicki was therefore too often not fully understood. As a result, after 1918, father held rather subordinate positions in various ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, he wrote a lot, he also appeared in public and it seems that he had a big influence on the young generation, which even years later considered themselves to be students of Władysław Studnicki.
In spite of everything, father adored his own independent Poland and was proud of how much was achieved after 1918. I remember his meeting after the war, in London, with General Józef Haller - it was very cordial, because although both of them often did not agree politically, they both loved and respected what had brought about independence.
The Second Polish Republic is also the time when Władysław Studnicki got married and his only son, that is you, was born. Marian Zdziechowski, rector of the University of Vilnius and friend of the family, became your godfather. What do you remember from your first years?
Marian Zdziechowski, an outstanding political writer and rector of the Stefan Batory University, was a friend of my parents (I think he even brought them together, in any case he was a witness at their wedding), and he was a frequent guest in our house. He was also my godfather and on the wall in my room I had a silver bas-relief depicting Our Lady of Ostra Brama, a gift from Prof. Zdziechowski. I remember how he took me on winter and summer rides on his sleighs and carriages. Besides, one of my first memories is a taxi ride with my parents through a snow-filled Vilnius - the taxi was a sledge harnessed to a mare, I still remember the sheep's skin covering trimmed with red fabric, which covered our legs. In 1934, my parents moved to Warsaw and there they already used cars as taxis.
The German and Soviet occupation constituted the defeat of the political ideas of your father, and yet even in exile in Great Britain after 1945 he did not stop publishing and drawing up concepts for the rebirth of Poland.
1939 showed that my father's generation, which regained independence for Poland, did not manage to maintain it for long. Władysław Studnicki's warnings were considered as blackmail, and yet almost all of them came true. After the war, we found ourselves in exile in London, and my father remained faithful to his ideas and the Republic, he wrote books and articles. His funeral in 1953 in London was a great manifestation by Poles, regardless of the existing political divisions.
The first head of Polish diplomacy after the fall of communism, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, who had met your father, claimed that ultimately his ideas resulted in what became the Polish-German agreement. Due to the consistent vision of the "European bloc", Władysław Studnicki is also described as the Polish "father-founder" of a united Europe. In your opinion, besides his great political writing, what else remains of your father’s legacy?
I met Krzysztof on secret teaching in occupied Warsaw, where the Skubiszewski family was displaced by the Germans from Wielkopolska. He often stayed at our home, father liked him, and when he was imprisoned by the Germans, the Skubiszewskis sent him packages with food. We renewed our acquaintance with Krzysztof Skubiszewski in the 1990s, when he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He liked to reminisce about my father, also in connection with the necessity of building good Polish-German relations, which father was an advocate of his whole life, and European integration, which my father valued. It seems to me that Poland’s membership in the European Union today is to some extent the result of my father’s ideas. He had excellent intuition and a political brain, although this was not always enough to achieve political success. As Dr Michał Graban once rightly noted, "Władysław Studnicki will remain a model of sober and inquiring political thinking.”
PROF. KONRAD STUDNICKI-GIZBERT
An economist, a graduate of the London School of Economics and McGill University in Montreal, a former economics professor at Mount Alliston and York universities and visiting professor at the Universities of Halifax and Carleton in Ottawa as well as at the University of Gdańsk. He worked as a director of transport studies in the federal administration of Canada, as well as a consultant in several other countries around the world and an advisor to the UN Commission for Latin America. He is the author of many articles and books, including Moje wspomnienia z życia, które miałem, zdarzeń, które widziałem, i nauk, które otrzymałem ('Memories of My Life, Events that I Witnessed & Lessons I Received', 2017).
He lives in Canada.