Sokols: Pan-Slavism and Patriotism in the ‘New Europe’ after 1918 – Reflections on SPUR 2019

This is part one of a two part blog on the activities of students who participated in the SPUR programme this year under the guidance of Dr. John Paul Newman

Spur project overview – John Paul Newman

This summer I was lucky to work with two excellent Maynooth University students on the SPUR programme: Aleksandra Czarnik and Kamil Goworek. I have been working for some time on a project that looks at the ‘Sokol’ movement in central Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. ‘Sokol’ (the word means ‘Falcon’ in most Slavic languages) was a patriotic Pan-Slavic gymnastics association formed in Habsburg Bohemia in the nineteenth century. One of Sokol’s purposes was mobilizing the Slavic population along national lines – quite similar to the GAA in Ireland around the same time. Branches of Sokol soon spread to the South Slav lands, to the Balkans, and to partitioned Poland. To properly study the movement its necessary to work in a range of languages and with historical documents across central and eastern Europe. Aleksandra and Kamil are both fluent Polish-speakers, and their project work this summer involved travelling to Poland to work with Sokol materials in the period after 1918.

Kamil Goworek, Maynooth University SPUR student participant

            It started slow, yet exciting as ever. It was the perfect opportunity to on one hand unravel my birth nations patriotic history as well as a big commitment on the other. Despite my concerns the decision was already made; Summer 19 was going to be all about my investigation into the Polish Sokols Gymnastics organisation.

My SPUR journey began with my lecturer turned mentor Dr. John Paul Newman approaching me in search of a native Polish speaker willing to aid him in his personal project titled ‘Sokols: Pan-Slavism and Patriotism in the ‘New Europe’’. As mentioned above I was instantly intrigued and my intentions clear. Travelling forward in time I soon found myself on a plane to Poland with this huge research commitment – as opposed to relaxing – throughout Summer. Reading that may seem quite daunting, but I was far from dreading the experience. Intrigue, initiative and anxiety; the perfect mindset for effective research. The driving motive? Similar to that of the organisation I was to study, patriotism.

Sokol membership card, Silesian library, Katowice

My SPUR colleague Aleksandra and I embarked on our SPUR adventure under the thoughtful mentorship of Dr. Newman with the aim of filling in the missing gaps within Sokols general history regarding Poland. Founded in Prague in the Czech region of Austria-Hungary in 1862 the first instance of the Polish Sokol appears in Lviv in 1867. The Polish Sokol although not as prominent as its brotherly branches in other nation states was not by any means irrelevant to Sokol or even Polish history. Furthermore I intended to look out for sources mentioning Sokols relations to Polish Armed Forces, minorities, other Sokol branches and their outlook on the contemporary state of the nation.

The main arm of my research was located in the Silesian area of Poland, specifically Katowice. General investigative research work was carried out prior to and after my travels through online library databases including scouting potential places to visit. Although locating and investigating certain places and sources proved less of a ‘walk in the park’ than I had anticipated – presented to me were certain unexpected obstacles. My trip to the Silesian library in Katowice for instance was an inch short of turning into a total disaster. Unknown to me was the fact that Polish libraries close their doors for the whole month of August, during my stay in Poland. After reaching out to the Silesian library and presenting my position I was thankfully granted access to a collection of Sokol material which included photographs, hand written notes and even membership cards. Step two was to translate my findings from Polish to English. I was also unable to locate a Sokol members office which I had found online and to this day I am unsure whether the office no longer exists, roads have been renamed or the member had perhaps sadly passed away. Nevertheless these are realities of investigative research work which I had not expected prior to beginning this journey.

Having investigated multiple locations and translated many more sources one may conclude that my research was an astounding success, although with its above mentioned hardships. It is an area of history that has largely gone unnoticed even by myself, and would have most likely stayed that way if not for Dr. Newman. Without those willing to archive what has been lost, and research what is unknown human history would be nothing but a series of speculations. SPUR is a program which allows students such as myself to have the honour of actually participating in such important research. It is truly an amazing ordeal. For this I would like to thank Dr. Newman and Aleksandra Czarnik for accompanying me on this wonderful journey on which I got the chance to finally explore my nation’s history.

Sokol ledger dating back to the early 20th century, Silesian library, Katowice

Sokol members c. 1920s., Silesian library, Katowice, Poland

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