From Renaissance Poland to Poland’s Renaissance

Poland is located in Eastern Europe – the “other Europe” – which shares a continent, but seemingly little else, with Western Europe. Most histories of Europe, legal histories included, are actually histories of Western Europe only. The “euro-centrism” some scholars complain about is, more accurately, a “western eurocentrism.” The eastern half of the continent is ignored like the embarrassing black sheep of the European family. Economic historians have described Eastern Europe as a “backward” place, where feudal and mercantilist economies persisted as Western European economies modernized and industrialized. In geopolitical terms, Eastern Europe has been characterized as a region of “underdevelopment and dependence,” “striving after the ‘modernity’ seemingly embodied in certain of its western neighbours.” In the popular imagination Eastern Europe is “the old country” – a region populated by poorly educated and xenophobic peasants, ruled first by nationalist despots and later by communists. The communists are gone now, and the countries of Eastern Europe supposedly are “learning” about constitutional democracy. American and West-European “experts” flocked there after the fall of the Berlin Wall (with mostly good intentions) to teach the natives about democracy and constitutionalism. In many cases, these teachers were as ignorant of local culture and history as they were condescending. As German constitutional law Professor Hans Mengel has stated, however, “[y]ou cannot come in and prescribe a constitution . . . . It comes out of the cultural background. You have to take care of what the society is like in the moment.”