U początków polskiej tolerancji

Jerzy Wyrozumski

Abstrakt

Tolerance is a great social value and a sign of high culture. It is a historical category and not and inborn virtue of an ethos, a nation or a state. We used to emphasise the fact that in the past Poland, in union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country. And it was a country without stakes, as Janusz Tazbir said, so at least on the level of state power – tolerant. The beginnings of Polish tolerance date back to much earlier than the beginnings of the Republic of Poland (1569).
The Middle Ages, with their low level of literacy of the society, narrow knowledge of the world and omnipresent Church, which by nature was intolerant towards other beliefs, did not encourage tolerance towards the “different ones”. This quality of being “different”, not accepted or accepted with difficulty, or to be more specific, the attitude of social communities or state power towards it constitutes the essence of tolerance or intolerance as a social phenomenon. In conclusion, on the basis of what has just been said, tolerance, as defined here, can be established either on the level of social groups coming into contact with the “different ones” or on the level of state power as a guarantor of a certain social order.
Excluding the process of Poland’s christianisation, which is a separate issue, the discussion should focus on the establishment of the relations of local communities with the settlers from the west: the Walloons, the Flemish People and the German, and separately the Jews as well. The only thing we know about the Walloons and the Flemish is the fact that they were in Poland and that in the course of time
they must have assimilated with the local people. German settlement was much more important. They settled both in the cities and in the countryside, taking advantage of the privileges and legal protection of the nobility. There were cases of phobias among local people, due to the privileged position of the settlers, language or morality, as in the case of keeping fasts. However, there was no “different” religion,
which eased the conflicts and controversies. Eventually, the assimilation took place, sometimes twoway assimilation. Jewish settlers were a separate issue – different religion, perceived as hostile towards Christianity, and hermetic, impossible to assimilate culture. As the “servants of the monarch’s treasury” they enjoyed special legal protection of the nobility, which was guaranteed by western law adopted in Poland. The first noble to acknowledge it was Duke of Kalisz, Bolesław Pobożny (1264), it was introduced all over Poland by Kazimierz Wielki (1334 and 1364). It was of great importance, however, it did not prevent frequent conflicts, or even routes of Jewish people.
In medieval Poland the attitude of tolerance towards the “different ones” was being build by state authority. King Kazimierz Wielki played a special role in that process. Red Ruthenia, which became part of Poland in 1340, was a great challenge. Its inhabitants, people of various ethnic origins, gained special guarantees of their legal and religious status. Namely, according to the privilege of Magdeburg rights for the city of Lviv the king allowed the Armenians, Jews, Saracens, Ruthenians and others who settled in Lviv (also Tatars) to keep their religious ritual and to be trialed according to their law. That law of king Kazimierz was acknowledged by next rulers from the House of Anjou and Jagiellonian dynasty, which means that it was really adopted. What is more, it can’t have been limited only to Lviv itself. It is certain that the Armenians used their own written law for a long time.
Thus, the beginnings of tolerance in Poland date back to the Middle Ages. It was programmed by state authorities, which upheld it. The union between Poland and Lithuania was built on the foundations that had already by prepared. It is also due to that fact that it became a permanent creation. It is not a coincidence that in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lived more than half of the entire Jewish population.