Anna Weissman, PhD student in political science, received a CES travel grant for pre-dissertation research in Poland this past summer. Anna's dissertation explores the self-identified political identities of women and LGBT individuals in Eastern European/post-communist contexts. Read more about it below!
|May 1980. Photograph: Jean Louis Atlan/Sygma/Corbis Jean Louis Atlan/ J.L. Atlan/Sygma/CORBIS|
My pre-dissertation fieldwork in Warsaw and Gdansk this past summer was spent fact-gathering, interviewing Polish feminists, and visiting sites that were important in Polish history, namely the Gdansk shipyard where the Solidarity movement began—which would eventually grow to 10-million strong and topple Communism in Eastern Europe. My aim was to make contacts that could help me in my next fieldwork trip, this time for my dissertation work. As a PhD student in political science, my research interests center on identity politics and feminist theory, specifically in Poland and broadly within the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. My training in comparative political analysis, feminist theory, and political theory has equipped me to analyze through a gender lens the processes of democratization and regime transition and the constructions of civic culture and identity. For my dissertation, I plan on analyzing minority political self-identity construction throughout the processes of democratization in post-communist Poland, demonstrating how the inheritance of a specific gendered religious nationalism has affected the development of civic identity, specifically for women and individuals who identify as LGBT(IAQ).
As a first-generation Polish American, my family emigrated to the United States in the 1970s from communist Poland, this subject is not only informed by my academic interests, but has personal significance for me as well. Poland has a history marked by years of foreign occupation and fluid borders. The robust, ancient Catholicism that has defined and protected Polishness through these occupations also has a political nature—the Church has a strong influence in the policies that are enacted (for example, the abortion ban in 1993) and in the country’s general conservative directionality since 1989. I saw this marriage of the political and the religious firsthand on my trip, witnessing the “March for Life and Family” (Marsz dla Życia i Rodziny), which is an annual march sponsored by several conservative Catholic pro-life organizations. This was a huge march that drew several hundred people as they walked down the ulica Krakowskie Przedmieście–-the Royal Avenue—down the center of Warsaw. The majority of the participants were families with children in tow, but there were also nationalist and neo-fascist groups and people with “No Gender” banners. It was a fascinating mix of parents and children holding balloons and flowers, accompanied by a cheerful musical float, priests and clergy members, and people passing out pamphlets that equated homosexuality to pedophilia. “Gender” was seen as the culprit.
Prior to the beginning of the march, there was a brief speech that encouraged the marchers to “keep it non-political,” to simply walk to “promote family life in Poland.” Several people were actually pulled out of the crowd and told they were unable to participate, that their homemade signs were “too political” and outside of the mission of the march. I spoke to one such man as he stood dejected on the sidewalk, asking me how they could consider any of this apolitical. This experience demonstrates the kind of work I am looking to do in Poland, to uncover the differing conceptions of the political and how this leads to differing political self-identities. How can a large, annual march for pro-life legislation, with several extreme-right groups and nationalist Polish families together, be considered apolitical? How is the political defined (and embodied) in Poland, and how does this affect political membership and participation?
My short 3-week trip this summer was a fantastic introduction to the work I intend to do in my dissertation. Without CES’s Travel Grant, I would have been unable to afford the trip and would have had to forego it. I am grateful for the Center and for the support of the people that helped make it happen.