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Jagoda Wierzejska

A historian of literature and culture of the 20th and 21st Century, Assistant Professor in the Department of Literature of the 20th and 21st Century at the University of Warsaw (Poland). She defended her PhD thesis at the Institute of Polish Studies of the University of Warsaw, in 2011. For her thesis she won the Prize of the Archives of Polish Emigration for the best dissertation on emigration. A member of the editorial board of the academic journal Przegląd Humanistyczny [The Humanistic Review]. The author of the book Retoryczna interpretacja autobiograficznaNa przykładzie pisarstwa Andrzeja Bobkowskiego, Zygmunta Haupta i Leo Lipskiego [Rhetorical interpretation of the autobiography. The cases of writing of Andrzej Bobkowski, Zygmunt Haupt and Leo Lipski] (2012). A co-author of the international project Galician Polyphony. Places and Voices (2014-2015).

An Eastern European “Sahib” in the Former Colony of the Western Powers: Andrzej Bobkowski in Guatemala (1948-1961)

In my presentation I intend to analyze a curious case of colonial othering manifested by immigrants from Soviet-dominated countries after the Second World War in the areas which were Western colonies at that time. In a somewhat paradoxical manner, the immigrants who themselves experienced subjection to foreign rule and other forms of denied sovereignty took on the role of the white colonizer in other colonial spaces, at least in attitudes and perceptions.

I want to consider the case of a Polish economist, intellectual and writer, Andrzej Bobkowski, who emigrated to Guatemala for ideological and financial reasons in 1948. On the one hand, he was deeply disappointed with political and cultural weakness of Western Europe, which yielded to the pressures from the Soviet Union and agreed on the new division of the world, thus leaving Eastern and Central Europe to the Soviets. On the other hand, being already in the mid-forties, this well-educated cosmopolitan who had been living in France since spring 1939 started to perceive the “Central Europeanness” as a condition for second-class belonging. Given these circumstances, we can understand Bobkowski’s emigration to Guatemala as a compensatory experience, a way to abate or even deny the subordinated position of Central European in the West during and immediately after the WWII. The compensatory dimension of his emigration manifested itself in that he adopted a role of a “sahib” in Guatemala. According to the writer’s private notes which reveal tacit or sometimes overtly racist threads, a Central European is a European of ambiguous position, someone who was disregarded in the West, but here, in the former colony, being “white” can elevate his social position and earn him recognition unattainable to him in the West.

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