Friday, July 5, 2013

The supposed "heresy" of "All men are born equal" part 1

Polish Medieval coins with inscriptions in Hebrew
Yesterday was 4th of July celebrations in US. This time I am moving away from my chronological plan, and move in the next entry about this subject into 16th and 17th century Poland,  some "heretics" there dared to declare that "all men are born free." This included women too. Those people ideas influenced thinking in Europe, and then found it bloom in American Constitution. Do you know that Newton, Locke, Founding Fathers and other influential thinkers had their writings  in their libraries, or knew some of the thinkers in person?

The story of Socinians, Arians, or Polish Brethren as they were called, is the history of religious tolerance becoming persecuted fro freedom of conscience and pacifism. About them in the second part. Before I will write about them specifically, I need to explain a little bit more why I am doing it, about roots, and liberties  protected and abused.

This Summer I will write more about Poland, as there are interesting subjects you normally will not encounter easily. I hope I will not appear like Gus from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who promotes Greece such way that whatever is good it must be Greek. I will be writing about Poland, good and bad, also about roots of ideas, not only about Polish  Brethren who influenced Enlightenment in Europe and American Constitution, but also about Bogomils who influenced Cathars, Czech Brethren who were before Luther, and Arabs who influenced science and courtly love.

Poland once was a very unique country in Europe; had religious freedom guarantied by law.  There is a reason that there are Polish legends which talk about people escaping from other countries and finding safe haven in Poland. It was once called "a country without burning stakes." This is only partially true. And also the story of Polish Brethren, quite unique about whose ideas I was thinking yesterday in relation to American Constitution. Their story is story of intolerance in a country which was supposed to be tolerant,as declared to be so. Freedom can be very fragile, and needs to be protected. I will one time write more about burning stakes in Poland, but Polish Brethren were expelled form Poland. It was a tragedy because tolerance was guarantied by law.

Other people were not as fortunate to be "only" banished. Just some idea about it: Jews came to Poland because there were prosecuted in other countries. Many came from Spain. In Poland it was a unique situation Chapter of Jewish Liberties, known as Statute of Kalisz. It created a Jewish nation inside Polish nation. Please, take time to read this document, it is from 13th century, as it is very interesting, on English wikipedia are only some points out of original 36 , but still interesting.

Sounds good, right? For example the chapter forbade accusations of blood libel. Once world world's largest Jewish population lived in Poland, because they came there, escaped, looking for protection. Yet one Jew in Krakow was accused of desecration of the host, and he was burned on the stake. In Silesia 50 Jews were burned on the stake because they were accused of blood libel. Were such accusations forbidden by law?  Their freedom was supposed to be guaranteed by law, and I don't buy the argument " that it was unusually few casualties in comparison to the rest of Europe."  No, such comparison simply doesn't make it better, less tragic.  No need to ignore the problem, because the victims deserve better.  Even this one person in Krakow who was burned because he was accused of desecration, this is one human life too many.

There was also hysteria during epidemics, riots etc. No person should have been even harassed because of differences in creed, ethnicity etc. Those people came to Poland because they wanted protection. It is no need to be lured by numbers and compare it to other countries in Europe which were much worse. Comparing to even worse isn't ethically sound at all. In relation to  human lives and dignity. Even one victim is one too many, period. 

Wojciech Gerson, Reception of Jews by Casimir the Great, painting from 1874

History of Jews in Poland article can tell you more details, about riots, blaming Jews for black death and so on. It was not only freedom of religion and freedom profession on equal level with Christians. There were also abuses of freedom and human rights.

How strange is the contrast of Statutes of Kalisz in comparison to WWII. Non-Jewish victims in Poland were 3 millions, which was 20% of Polish population killed. Three million Polish Jews killed counted for 90% of Jewish population in Poland. We humans were we not supposed to be  "more civilized" during XX c?  After the era of Enlightenment people less enlightened than during Medieval times?  Antisemitism was than sponsored by the communist regime. Freedom need to be protected, always.

In comparison to those XXc. prosecutors, the king on the picture above was more enligthened. He not only reconfirmed the favorable laws of his predecessor who lived century earlier, but added additional protections. Freedom need to be protected, always.