17.06.2023 change 17.06.2023

Pride or prejudice? Psychologists study who is proud and who is ashamed of being Polish

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What is Poland like today and what is the attitude of Poles towards their own nation? What shades does contemporary Polishness have and what are contemporary patriots like? Who today is proud of their country, and who is ashamed of it? Scientists have investigated.

Researchers from the Political Cognition Laboratory of the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences have just published a report 'Do we identify with Poland today and how?'. The researchers distinguished five different types of approach to Polishness and patriotism. It turns out that members of individual groups not only have different political views, but also levels of self and life satisfaction.

The report is the result of a study in which the topic of national identity in Poland was analysed in detail. The aim of the authors was to check what part of society identifies with Polishness and to understand what motivations and barriers are behind particular attitudes.

'One of the most important goals of our study was to understand how people from different groups view patriotism,’ says Dr. Marta Marchlewska, head of the Political Cognition Laboratory. 

'Today, people understand the concept of patriotism in different ways and two main trends clash: on the one hand, national patriotism, which is associated with great deeds and sacrifice, on the other hand, civic patriotism, focused on everyday activities for the good of the country.

'The results of our study show that some Poles have a problem with the concept of patriotism, because for some, traditionally understood patriotism does not fit the contemporary reality and is difficult to identify with. In the opinion of many respondents, this term is also overused in the political game, which may cause it to lose its meaning and value,’ she says.

Dr. Marchlewska's team conducted a study on a group of 1,504 people aged 18 to 96. Many variables were taken into account, including attitude towards one's own group and foreign groups, attitude towards faith, tradition and the European Union, as well as psychological variables such as the level of self-esteem, feeling of loneliness, narcissism. On this basis, five types of Poles were identified, differing from each other in their approach to Polishness. They were: fulfilled democrats, open traditionalists, committed conservatives, ashamed of Poland, and withdrawn pessimists.

The researchers then conducted in-depth interviews with representatives of each of these groups.


The study found that three out of five groups consisted of people attached to Poland and willingly involved in the life of the country. The first group, fulfilled democrats, has an exceptionally strong sense of bond with other Poles. They are open to others, often have liberal views, and for them patriotism means taking care of their country and participating in elections. It is also the group with the highest average age, the highest education and the best economic status. Being Polish is 'OK' for them.

Another group are open traditionalists, for whom Polishness is a reason to be proud. This group is dominated by people with centrist and right-wing views, with low support for the European Union. Attachment to tradition, history and customs is more important to them than political activity, although they also have a positive attitude towards strangers and are open to other world views. For them, being Polish is a distinction.

The third group consists of committed conservatives, for whom patriotism means caring for tradition, respect for the country, readiness to fight, but also interest in politics and participation in elections. This group, unlike the previous two, has a clearly negative attitude towards strangers and the highest sense of threat related to the influx of immigrants to Poland. Generally, however, it consists of people who are satisfied with their relationships, with a low sense of loneliness. For them, being a Pole is an honour and a mission.

The remaining two groups are at the opposite pole, because they practically do not identify with their nation and nationality. The scientists called the first of them 'ashamed of Poland'. It includes people with left-wing views, very open to foreigners, but at the same time negative towards their own national group. They do not identify with other Poles and do not like them. According to the researchers, this approach may result from discouragement with Polish politics in its current form, although it cannot be ruled out that it is also psychologically conditioned. Those who are ashamed of Poland are people with low self-esteem, lonely people who find it difficult to adjust to reality. For them, being Polish is a reason for embarrassment.

The last type of Poles are withdrawn pessimists. This is the largest group, characterized primarily by a negative approach to life. Its members are negative towards both strangers and their countrymen. Polishness means little to them, and they care about their everyday problems more than about politics. According to psychologists from the Polish Academy of Sciences, the hostile attitudes of representatives of this group may be a form of compensation for their own problems and the sense of being lost. Being Polish doesn't mean much to them.


One of the most important goals of the qualitative study was to understand how respondents from individual segments approach the concept of patriotism, the researchers write in their report. 'To this end, we asked a number of questions about how a person understands patriotism, what associations and emotions are associated with this concept, and also about how much they identify as patriots and what it means to them. The results showed that the contemporary understanding of patriotism is very heterogeneous. Two main trends, defined as national and civic patriotism, clash. Different people identify with one and the other understanding to varying degrees,’ the study found. 

National patriotism is associated with great deeds and sacrifice. It is close to committed conservatives and open traditionalists, while for those who are ashamed of Poland it is a manifestation of xenophobia, racism and delusions of grandeur. Civic patriotism is focused on everyday activities for the good of the country.

'The results of the study show that some Poles have a problem with the concept of patriotism - traditionally understood, for some it does not fit with modern reality and is difficult to identify with. In the opinion of many respondents, this term is sometimes abused, used as a cover in the political game, and thus loses its value and meaning,’ says Dr. Marchlewska. 

During the study, the researchers also asked about the criteria that must be met in order to be called a Pole. For most people, the most important thing is whether a person feels Polish or not. Knowledge of culture, history, language and care for the country are also important. Interestingly, the respondents attached much less importance to birth, origin and religion.

'According to the majority of respondents, faith or place of residence are not so important. It can therefore be said that the approach to nationality is very open. The criteria of being a Pole are theoretically possible for everyone to meet,’ says Dr. Marchlewska.


In their analysis, the researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences also focused on the upcoming parliamentary elections. They asked the participants who they were going to vote for and whether they believed that voting made sense at all. They then compared the political activity of the respondents with the level of dissatisfaction with the current situation in Poland.

It turned out that fulfilled democrats were the most critical of the current politics. Their dissatisfaction also translates into participation in elections - only 4 percent of this group do not intend to vote, the rest will. The political preferences of fulfilled democrats are quite clear: almost half will vote for the Civic Coalition. The authors of the report cite the statement of a statistically fulfilled democrat: 'I believe that we would really be a great country if people at the helm would look at everything not through the +my party+ lens, etc., but with Poland in mind. And we have never had a government like that.’

The vast majority of committed conservatives will also vote. This group, however, is satisfied with the current government and still intends to vote for the United Right. 'Well, you cannot say all the time that everything in the parliament is wrong, everything is negative. Whatever the government does. Sure, everyone makes mistakes, the rulers also make mistakes, but it is not always bad', says one member of this group. 'I cannot imagine not going to the polls. (…) I vote for people so that they simply raise the standard of living in my environment higher and higher,’ says another.

The current rulers also enjoy considerable support among open traditionalists. People from this group intend to vote, although they do not fully believe that as citizens they have a real impact on what the reality looks like. 'I no longer believe that politicians will do anything for me, that I can give them my responsibility. (…) I am at such a stage of development that I do not believe that they can change anything. For something to change, everyone should start with themselves and we should all be equal, you cannot put someone on a pedestal,’ says a member of this group of Poles.

Such a lack of faith is also typical for withdrawn pessimists, who often do not know who to vote for and generally have little interest in politics. This is the group in which the largest number of people do not intend to participate in the elections or do not know whom they will vote for. 'I don't care much about politics, but it scares me,’ says one of the respondents from this group.

On the other hand, those with the most left-wing and liberal views, i.e. those ashamed of Poland, declare that one should take care of the country in which one lives, and therefore also vote in elections. At the same time, this group is strongly discouraged and resigned when it comes to Poland and Polish politics. 'I don't even have an idea who should rule this country, because with what they have now dissolved, spent, given away, stolen, I do not know how many years, how many generations will have to pay for all this', says a 49-year-old person who says he is ashamed of Poland.


The popular view that Poles can show solidarity in difficult times was also reflected in this study. The categories that unite Poles the most include attachment to the land, culture and tradition, but also community events, such as aid for Ukraine.

In addition to things that unite, there are also things that divide the society. And there are, unfortunately, many more of those. Almost all of the respondents felt that the nation was currently divided. In their opinion, the thing that causes the deepest divisions is politics and voting for specific political parties, support for or opposition to integration with the European Union, attitudes towards religion and ideological issues, such as attitudes towards abortion.

'For some time, it has been observed that the topic of Polishness has become an element of the political game, which has influenced not only greater social polarization, but also the fact that some people no longer feel like citizens of their own country,’ says Dr. Marchlewska. 'This phenomenon should be counteracted, because national identification is connected with participation in elections and acting for the benefit of Poland. It is necessary to build a country where everyone feels good, regardless of their political views and other preferences'.

The full text of the report is available here.

The research was carried out by a team of experts from the Political Cognition Laboratory of the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, thanks to funding from the state budget under the Minister of Education and Science programme 'Science for Society'.

PAP - Science in Poland, Katarzyna Czechowicz

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