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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Having a Hand in History

Page address: https://grad.mnsu.edu/research/frontiers/winter2009/article_handinhistory.html

Having a Hand in History

Professor of Political Science Tomasz Inglot

A series of events that began in 1981 led professor of political science Tomasz Inglot to complete his first book, Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919–2004, an interdisciplinary study and comparative analysis of the evolution of socioeconomic policies in Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia.

People can't always imagine how their experiences will shape their futures. Tomasz Inglot certainly had no idea how raising his hand at a student strike meeting in Poland would affect his life. In fact, he forgot the details of that day until reminded by a friend years later. In retrospect, he says it marked the starting point for years of research and a comparative study of welfare states (social policies) in the former communist region of East Central Europe. Those years of research resulted in the recent publication of his book entitled Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919–2004.

It was fall 1981, during the Solidarity–led revolution, and Inglot attended a meeting of the Independent Student Association at the University of Wroclaw—"the only officially registered, openly anticommunist civil society organization in the Soviet bloc before 1989," according to Inglot. He knew something historic was happening and he was eager to become a part of it. But when he volunteered to take care of the everyday needs of the striking students, he had no idea of the challenges before him. He was forced to use all of his resources and ingenuity to feed hundreds of people for three weeks during a time when the only items stocked at grocery stores were salt and vinegar.

The Main Events Hall at the University of Wroclaw Poland

The main events hall at the University of Wroclaw (Poland), where the series of events that led to Inglot's book began.

The student strike successfully garnered promises of comprehensive educational reform. However, the immediate result was less positive for Inglot. Weeks after the strike, martial law was declared and he was imprisoned several months for conducting independent socioeconomic activities. Two years later, in 1983, he arrived in the United States as a political exile.

Although the strike marked the beginning, Inglot's life is full of experiences that led him to complete his first book. Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919–2004 is an interdisciplinary study and comparative analysis of the evolution of socioeconomic policies in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic and Slovakia since 1993). The reforms of the social security programs in these countries in the 1990s and even during communist rule are remarkably diverse. And he said the aim of the book is to reveal major reasons behind the divergence.

Inglot's book will not likely be found on coffee tables; however, since its release in May 2008, it has made Tomasz Inglot an international expert on welfare states in East Central Europe. As a reference book on the topic of welfare states, it is the first of its kind in both the U.S. and Europe.

Inglot earned his undergraduate degree at Stony Brook University in New York, his master's at Loyola University Chicago, and another master's and his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Each level of education encouraged him to explore his interests further. He received an earlier offer to publish his dissertation on social policies in Poland, but experts in the field encouraged him to explore the topic more deeply—to complete a comparative study.

Professor of Political Science Tomasz Inglot

A group of pensioners from the Solidarity trade union protest against the Polish government's decision to cancel the regular annual increases of retirement benefits. Warsaw, February 14, 2007.

He realized he was in a unique position that had prepared him to do just that. Inglot credits his mother who motivated him "to be proactive politically and socially and to explore different possibilities." Perhaps because of her, he had been encouraged to pursue new frontiers of research, focusing on socioeconomic reforms. His paternal grandfather inspired him to pursue academics, which prepared him for a decade of scholarly pursuits. He dedicates the book to them, noting "Their integrity, dedication, and love of knowledge will always remain the greatest inspiration for me and my work."

Another critical factor in his success became apparent as he described his years of research. Taking trips abroad, working with officials in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland to uncover documents, and writing and revising his book required passion. It is not possible to persuade others—family, government officials, or university deans—to support your work if you are not excited about the project. "Passion makes all the difference," said Inglot.

Given his passion for his research, it is not surprising that Inglot already has another project in the works: a collaborative study on family policy, specifically policies affecting working mothers and childcare in Romania and Hungary. No doubt his second book will cement his status as an international expert—and extend the impact of his own portentous history.


Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919–2004 is available at Minnesota State Mankato's Memorial Library: Tomasz Inglot, Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919–2004. New York/Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.