Interview with prof. Jan Hartman about the relationship between politics and education and about immigration

Several months ago, we have published an interview with prof. Jan Rydel about role of modern state in the history education. The coin has always two sides; therefore, we publish an interview with prof. Jan Hartman, one of the leftist liberal Twoj Ruch movement leaders for the EP election. 

Relationship between state and teaching history at schools is to a great extent subject to ideological debates. According to you, what kind of role should schools play in this process?

Teaching about history and the national language is usually subject to purposes of propaganda by the particular social and governmental establishment. It is a task of a modern state to avoid the temptation to mythologize its culture, history and art.  Only the states which are strong in terms of ethics are able to resist the lust of propaganda and not to emphasize the suffering of the nation.  

In that sense, how can we interpret the attitude of conservative politicians who aim at strengthening the national unity by building knowledge about the nation?

Rightist parties of course want to keep the ideological and nationalist patterns in teaching about history and national traditions in form of symbols, mythicised events etc. “The enlighteners” try to advocate, say, change of paradigm in teaching about the history of society, history of ideas or cultural history. On the other hand, teaching about history has undergone a distinct change in the last decade. The legacy of the 19th century – pride, frustration and anger – was played down. These categories are not crucial for today’s modern people. The politicians will always try to influence schools and teaching about history, after all, it is about their future voters.

From this point of view, is it necessary to change the teaching methods or the “system settings”?

In Poland the reform of the education system is slower than e.g. in the Czech Republic. In the 90s the content of teaching was turned upside down but the principle remained unchanged – the Polish nation is catholic and has built its identity in the past itself. That is the reason why the contemporary level of rationality in teaching about history is approximately the same as it was in the communist times. Nowadays the system is better set, however, still far from neutral. In this respect we need to develop the civil society and lead the teachers to openness.

So how to deal with the Catholic Church? How should it be involved in this process?

The Church in Poland naturally seeks to build a Catholic identity. In each country where the church is active, it aims at mixing the elements of national and religious ideas. The Church aims at having as many supporters as possible who are willing to participate in it activities. Therefore in Poland in terms of interest it is advantageous to be connected to the political community. On the other hand, the Church’s merit of building the Polish national identity in the 19th century is undisputed. In those times, the solidarity with the Church and its effort to create a national identity was present in the entire society. However, nowadays there is still less people who see this role of the Church as unsubstitutable.  From the Church’s point of view, this role is eventually contra productive.

Speaking about creating a national identity one may ask if Poland should try to build relations with the Polish people living abroad.

Poland should try to support Poles in economically weak regions, like e.g. Kazakhstan. It is necessary to come up with a system which would not be unnecessarily archaic. Those people will then prefer to integrate in the modern western society. Poland does not have a great energy or ideas to attract Poles living abroad to have a greater interest in Poland or to think about returning home. It would be good to use their political and social experience which could then be reflected in the positive role of Poland in the international arena.

Other example is the traditional minorities in the neighbor countries. The EU supports the formation and shaping of the new elements of regional relations through the Committee of Regions. Poland so far has not been successful in using those possibilities because it has not been willing to admit the advantages of building regions. An example of this can be found in relations with Ukraine on the regional level. Although this element offered quite a big space for creating a new level of relations, it has not been used. A positive example could be the region of Ciezsyn where there is a successful cooperation with the Czech side.

This topic is closely connected to the issue of immigration. Should Poland simplify the conditions for granting a permanent residence or citizenship?

Poland is quite unfriendly to foreigners, even to those of them with a Polish origin. The system needs to be radically changed, so it would be more able to absorb new cultural impulses and to prepare for integration. Considering the demographic situation, the immigration is desirable for Poland in order to sustain its economic development. Therefore it is also desirable to prepare the society to be more open and to overcome its reluctance to newcomers. It is however appropriate to support the immigration from culturally close areas, which should be achieved just through cultural and political cooperation. Unfortunately, last 20 years brought an almost complete collapse of the traditional bonds with the Visegrad countries as well as with Russia. 

Jan Hartman is Polish philosopher and bioethicist; hegraduated from the Catholic University of Lublin in 1990. He received his PhD from the Jagiellonian University in 1995, since 1994 he worked at the Philosophy Institute of that university. In years 2005–2008 he was the professor at Pułtusk Academy of Humanities. Since 2009 he is a professor of Jagiellonian University, where he is a philosophy lecturer. For the 2014 EP election he leads a candidate list of Twoj Ruch movement in Krakow