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Silesian Identity: Social and Political Problems

Maria Szmeja


This paper focuses on Silesia, where a phenomenon now forgotten in Europe (i.e. the formation of a new nation) has recently appeared: in this case, the Silesian nation. After World War II, which inflicted suffering and heavy losses on some national and cultural minorities inhabiting the territory of Poland, people of different race and apparently different culture simply vanished from Polish public life. After the democratic changes, people talk more openly about their different traditions and different backgrounds. A totally unexpected phenomenon is the strong emphasis placed on cultural diversity by the Silesian group. It appears as an attempt at creating a new nation. Demographers estimate the number of Silesians to be approximately 350,000 (Rauzinski 1997). However, the last census, carried out in June 2002, revealed that in Silesia 172,700 people defined themselves as members of the Silesian nation, whereas 136,200 people declared themselves as members of the German nation. At the beginning of the 1990s, up to 500,000 Silesians called themselves Germans. Now, the number of Germans has diminished. It is interesting to point out why Silesians neither want to be members of the Polish, nor of the German nation. For many people, the frequent changes of national identity in that part of the Polish borderland are hard to accept. In the 1990s, Silesians - through various associations of German minorities - were becoming political partners of Poland. They have now declared themselves members of a new Silesian nation. The problem of the volatility of Silesian national identity and the recent attempt to create a Silesian nation are not too widely discussed in sociological literature. Silesia is a borderland area and borders that cross that territory have changed at least three times during the 20th century. It resulted in identity problems for indigenous people we have observed nowadays. This is an ongoing process so it is hard to forecast the future for Silesia since changes are taking place so fast and frequently.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
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