Polish Diaspora in France 1918-2018. State of the Art and New Perspectives (Warsaw, 27–28 February 2018)
Compte rendu par Florence Vychytil-Baudoux
A scientific conference dedicated to the Polish “diaspora” in France was held in Warsaw on February 27th and 28th, 2018. It was organised by the Centre de Civilisation Française et d’Etudes Francophones (OKF, University of Warsaw), in collaboration with the Centre of Migration Research (University of Warsaw) and the Centre de Civilisation Polonaise (CCP – Paris-Sorbonne University). A tribute to historian Janine Ponty (1930-2017), a pioneer historian on interwar Polish migrants in France, the conference stemmed from the desire to bring together researchers so to review the current state of knowledge, sketch out research perspectives and launch a research network on the topic of Poles in France.
Over just two days, 25 papers were presented by researchers from France and Poland and representing altogether about 15 scientific institutions. In his opening address, director of OKF Nicolas Masłowski emphasised the multifaceted notion of “diaspora” and the subsequent variety of topics pertaining to the study of the “Polish diaspora”, while CCP director Paweł Rodak highlighted the diversity of disciplines, approaches and sources encompassed by the conference program.
The diversity of sources (institutional or communal records, private letters, press clippings, interviews, cultural artefacts, etc.) attests the vitality of the Polish presence in France throughout the 20th century. It provides a rich and unique material for historians, sociologists, anthropologists and demographers (among others) to better understand of Polish life in migration and in dispersion as well as of French-Polish relations over the century. However, as pointed out repeatedly during the conference, without systematic inventory and preservation, this heritage may disappear or get lost in the foreseeable future; hence a certain sense of emergency shared by most participants.
Papers covered a broad range of topics, from individual and collective biographies to state and communal institutions, and to representations and self-representations. Notwithstanding the differences in approaches, some common points could be identified that span across Polish migration waves. A first set of questions pertained to the social, ethnic and religious diversity of Polish emigrants and their descendants and thus intra-group relations and community-building. A second set dealt with integration processes, relations with Poland and/or the Polish state and their articulation. The Polish-Jewish experience came into focus, and gender dynamics, rooted in recent trends in migration and diaspora studies, were included in the aforementioned analyses.
Several speakers also called for greater attention to labels and categories. The need to distinguish between institutional categorisations, self-representations and descriptive and analytical categories was especially highlighted by Agnieszka Fihel, Paweł Sękowski and Florence Vychytil-Baudoux, while Sławomir Czarlewski questioned notions such as “diaspora”, “Polonia” and “Emigracja” [Emigration] as polysemic political projects reflecting power struggles between the Polish group, Poland, and host countries.
To sum up, the conference highlighted the diversity of Polish experiences in France, and the analytical impossibility of subsuming them all under a single narrative. If anything, the conference stressed the need for a network of researchers dealing with the Polish “diaspora(s)” in France who reflect upon the conditions of production of such knowledge: from the preservation of sources to the articulation of various approaches and methodologies. A promising start, this conference will hopefully help foster a community bound together by such common research goals.