8. Despatch From the Embassy in Poland to the Department of State0

No. 274


  • Report on Cultural Activities for 1957–58 with Special Reference to the Educational Exchange and Cultural Presentation Programs

The purpose of this despatch is to summarize and appraise general program operations and services as they relate to the subject of educational exchange and cultural events in Poland. At the same time, a brief description is submitted of the developments in cultural policy of Poland that have been observed over the past year.

In the absence of an official educational exchange program and a cultural agreement, our operations in Poland are informal. Informational and cultural activities are conducted within the framework of the [Page 23] Press and Cultural Section of the Embassy and there is no identification of these with USIS. This despatch will deal mainly with a review of the principal events and activities of the cultural unit of the Press and Cultural Section over the past year.


Following the “thaw” of 1954–56 and particularly the events of October 1956, the situation in Poland provided opportunities for the resumption of cultural contacts with the West. The changed circumstances permitted the appearance of a number of Western cultural presentations and visas were issued to American professors, scholars, scientists and performing artists.

Contacts were resumed with the Ministries of Education and Culture, with educational officials, the general public and representatives of the theatrical and musical professions. The requests for information and assistance that came to the Embassy were almost more than could be taken care of but adjustments were rapidly made. This situation has continued with some variation.

Although the purpose of this despatch is not to outline changes in internal cultural policy over the past year, it may be worthwhile to refer to them in so far as they may affect our own cultural and exchange programs in Poland.

For over a year following the closing of Po Prostu in October 1957, and the banning of Europa before it even appeared, there have been cautious attempts by the Party to apply stricter controls over cultural and, in particular, literary life. The appointment of a new Minister of Culture, Tadeusz Galinski, in September 1958, afforded an opportunity to verbalize the principles of a “new” cultural policy.

The speeches at the XIIth Plenum1 contained recommendations which would enable the Polish United Workers Party (PZPR) to assume its leading role in intellectual life and to control the most intransigent cultural forces. Those measures suggested ranged from “persuasion” to “administrative measures.” No firm steps were taken at the Plenum and the statements of the Party’s cultural spokesman, Jerzy Morawski and of Minister Galinski at the Wroclaw Congress of Writers in December2 indicated that the regime was not prepared to adopt immediate and drastic measures against the dissident writers’ group, although threats were uttered that it was necessary for cultural workers to favor “socialism” in a positive manner. Galinski went further in stating that the Party and [Page 24] Government would use financial pressures as a means to persuade Polish intellectuals to pursue this line. It is yet too early to state whether measures aimed at stricter control will be carried into effect in the near future.

Despite the threats outlined above, culture in practice in Poland offers a livelier fare than in any other eastern country. The theater during this season has been offering a number of unusual plays, such as Kafka’s “The Trial”, Morzec’s “Policeman”, Camus’ “State of Siege”, and others. Outstanding also has been the number of books of foreign authors which have appeared in translation and are scheduled for publication.

Nevertheless, censorship (it is one of the “administrative measures” frequently referred to and which was decried in a resolution at the Wroclaw Writers’ Congress) remains a potent weapon in the hands of the regime. The comparative freedom is circumscribed by several distinct limits. There can be no direct criticism of the Soviet Union or denial of the Communist system as such, and discussion of Stalinism and its present effects must be avoided. (It is also known that censorship operates to restrain the tone of criticism of the western countries, with the possible exception of Western Germany.)

We have been unable to determine that the above developments have had a direct negative effect on the operations of our cultural and exchange programs.

[Here follows a detailed description of educational exchanges; the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation programs; the P.L. 402 Foreign Leader program; visits by American specialists, government-sponsored as well as privately arranged performances by American artists; and an appraisal of the operations and services provided by the Embassy’s staff to these activities.]

Recommendations for Program Improvement:

We greatly appreciate the cooperation of the East-West Contacts staff and USIA in supporting the development of cultural relations with Poland. Further expansion of the program, while desirable, is contingent on conditions outside this immediate field. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundation programs should be continued along present lines and the Foreign Leader grants under the P.L. 402 program offer the best investment of government funds in bringing effective results but further study and consideration may be given to increased participation in English language instruction and provision for a couple of specialist grants in the future.

A more continuous flow of cultural attractions should be offered to avoid the concentration of a number of American attractions over short periods. Artists, scholars, lecturers and prominent literary personalities should be encouraged to come to Poland. The British, whose citizens are [Page 25] of course more accessible to Poland, have had much success with frequent visitors but it is believed more could be done to direct the attention of American distinguished personalities to Poland, should they plan to be in the vicinity.

Further consultations are necessary in order to determine the advisability of exploring additional technical and academic fields as for example, offering of fellowships in the field of management, architecture and engineering.


Poland appears desirous of continuing and developing cultural contacts with the United States. Academic freedom prevails in most fields of academic learning and universities seem eager to receive capable American professors. Major American cultural presentations (ANTA) have been well received in Poland but it is essential that there be balanced flow of these attractions. The development of a “new” cultural policy has not resulted in the exclusion of American cultural presentations. The Polish population is friendly to the United States although certain officials have given the appearance of seeking to keep the volume of our cultural efforts within bounds. The programs of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations should continue. By careful adjustment and persuasion we believe it possible to continue to conduct cultural activity between the United States and Poland within limitations for our mutual benefit.

For the Ambassador:

Frank G. Siscoe
Counselor of Embassy
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 511.493/1–2959. Official Use Only. Drafted by Frank J. Lewand. The Department of State was asked to pouch copies to Moscow, Prague, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, and London.
  2. The XII Plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party was held in Warsaw in October 1958.
  3. Regarding the Wroclaw writers’ congress, see Intelligence Report No. 8005, April 27, 1959, Part 1, Document 17.