On the 21st June 1945 the acclaimed poet Adam Zagajewski was born. He was born in what is now Lviv, Ukraine. However at the time of his birth it was called Lwow and it remained part of Poland. Although he was ethnically Polish, he spent most of his life in transition and felt removed or even absent from his true heritage. His family were expelled from the area that they knew and cherished at the behest of the Soviet authorities.
His poetry reveals a deep yearning for home, and a rancour for the successive imperial forces that attempted to erase the Polish national identity. Over the years some of his compatriots` identities became invisible when they were made to change their names into German or Russian. He described this phenomenon as a disturbing process of rendering the living into ghosts.
The tragedy of modern thinking is the misguided belief that any feeling of national attachment is inherently problematic, and ultimately leads to war. It is a shameful and condescending attitude held by privileged but very ignorant people who also enjoy proclaiming their “internationalist” beliefs. However “internationalism” is simply a synonym for cultural imperialism.
The journalist Edward Lucas criticised the laziness of Westerners who comment on “Eastern Europe” as if it were a monolithic construct. These commentators apparently perceive a set of disparate countries with totally different histories, religions and languages as a unitary culture. It is also representative of a peculiar stereotypical belief where Greece is geographically “Eastern” but as a political and cultural concept still regarded to be “Western” Europe.
The prejudice and ignorance of the “West” has almost become indelible, but remains the source of a profound pain shared by the people of these nations. Zagajewski carried the burden of loss and grief all his life, and his poems were a powerful meditation on the profound connection that some of us have to our feelings of national identity.
It is saddening to reflect upon his life and work now that we are in the midst of a refugee crisis, when very little attention is placed on the actual experience of displacement and exile. A permanent loss of home can be as devastating as a bereavement. Zagajewski travelled all over the world detailing his experience, and although the Polish community of Lviv disappeared he spent his final years happily in Krakow. He died on the 21st March 2021 but his poetic legacy lives on.