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Regarding Russia, Poland Needs to Grow Up

It is past time for the Polish political establishment to implement the vision of Roman Dmowski for a mature foreign policy.
Regarding Russia, Poland Needs to Grow Up

It would seem that the hour has arrived for the Polish ruling elite, which, in the words of the great professor Bronisław Łagowski, constantly dreams of “another anti-Soviet uprising,” to prove to the world their anti-Russian bona fides.

Poland has been near the forefront of the current war in Ukraine from day one. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who seems to believe being patted on the back by Joe Biden confers some sort of elevated political status in international relations, is essentially calling for a prelude to all-out war with Russia, by trying to push the limits of the already de facto proxy war in Ukraine, going as far as stating that collective punishment of the Russian people is a justified course of action. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who for the past month has been acting as the unofficial vice president of Ukraine, is demanding more weapons transfers to Ukraine. The Polish mainstream media are outdoing themselves in fomenting pro-war and anti-Russian hysteria, with one prominent media personality claiming “there is no such concept as ‘Russian culture’.”

The cherry on the cake of this twisted dynamic, however, were the words of the spokesperson of the Polish Foreign Ministry, Łukasz Jasina, who said, commenting on Volodmir Zelensky’s response to potentially sending NATO peacekeepers to Ukraine: “Here we are the servants of the Ukrainian people and their requests.” Poland acting as a “servant of the Ukrainian people” did not ring especially well with many Poles. But apart from two eccentric and, in this, brave members of parliament who have not joined Ukraine’s amen corner—the libertarian Janusz Korwin-Mikke and arch-Catholic traditionalist Grzegorz Braun—pretty much the entire Polish political and media complex is in lockstep when it comes to arming Kiev and calling for a more aggressive approach to Moscow. At the same time, they are reproaching other E.U. members, including former allies like Hungary, for not playing along. In short, what we are witnessing in Poland is America’s “Freedom Fries” dynamic on steroids.

In the midst of this pro-war fever, it is amusing to hear supposedly conservative and right-wing Polish politicians talking about how Ukraine is defending “Western,” “European,” and “democratic” values. When you ask if those “values” include Transgender Day of Visibility, celebrated by the leader of the “free world” who just days earlier literally called for regime change in Russia during a speech in Warsaw, one usually gets the silent treatment. Everyone knows this is the package of late-stage liberalism that Western elites want to implement in Ukraine, it is just that few conservative Poles have the courage to say so out loud. The mainstream Polish right seems to agree with the sentiment made public by Piotr Skwieciński a few years back during a debate about the effects of Euromaidan, which I had the pleasure of moderating: “I would rather have a gay Ukraine than a pro-Russian Ukraine.” The main issue right now is focusing on hating Putin and Russia and making Volodymyr Zelensky an object of veneration. Who cares about culture, when the Russkies are at the gate.

To an outside observer, it looks as if Poles are getting ready for a brawl and want nothing more. After all, transferring weapons to Ukraine through Polish territory, which in the end only prolongs the conflict, gives Moscow an excuse to reach for more spectacular courses of military action, which would make the strike on Yavoriv look like a walk in the park. Moreover, those weapons very often end up in the hands of pro-Russian and Russian forces themselves, and the transfers do not meet the standard of genuine diplomacy geared towards achieving a lasting peace. As of this writing, President Duda has not deemed it necessary to speak to Vladimir Putin by phone, despite his allies from NATO—the German chancellor and the French and Turkish presidents among them—maintaining lines of direct contact with the Kremlin. This, despite the fact that according to an IPSOS opinion poll conducted in early March on the question, “Should Poland and NATO intervene militarily in Ukraine?” some 60 percent of Poles answered in the negative. The message is clear: Poles do not want to be engaged in somebody else’s war.

At this stage, when all reasonable discussions of alternatives to the current position of Warsaw are dismissed out of hand as, you guessed it, “appeasement,” we would do well to remember the words of the founding father of Polish nationalism and one of the architects of Poland’s independence, Roman Dmowski. Writing in the 1920s, Dmowski observed: “It would be foolish to expect an idyll between us and Russia in the future. Conflicting interests and misunderstandings will always exist. But it is also certain that the main, essential interests of Russia do not lie on the Polish border, just as Poland’s main tasks do not lead her against Russia. And there are great matters for which the cooperation of both nations is necessary.”

Dmowski expanded on this theme in later writings, by stating:

The future arrangement of our attitude to Russia is the most important task of our entire politics. This is the most difficult of the tasks of our politics, not only because of the past, but also because, in view of its importance for our future, we face here the greatest number of obstacles from foreign, hostile influences, both at home and in Russia. Our attitude to Russia in the future, what we do in this field, will be more than anything else a test of our political worth, of our ability to direct the fate of our own state.

In short, the point Dmowski was making was that Poland will either abandon its anti-Russian obstinacy, which has long been anachronistic, and undertake the effort of serious diplomacy with Russia, or will remain a “sucker of Europe,” incapable of tending to its vital interests—which are not identical with Ukraine’s—lacking in calculation, intuition, and elementary logic, an unbearable screamer proclaiming platitudes in the spirit of Adam Mickiewicz’s not bowing before “the idol of interest,” because in foreign policy it is supposedly moral clarity that counts. As if securing the well being of your own citizens by staying out of a war, not consciously damaging your economy, and preventing the transformation of Poland into some hybrid binational Ukrainopoland, is not laudable and patriotic.

Dmowski wanted to see a mature foreign policy vis-à-vis Moscow, worthy of a mature nation-state, which he wished ardently for Poland to become. And he wanted this foreign policy to be immune from outside influences, always eager to manipulate delicate Polish sensibilities and historical memory in the service of vile political ends.

A dispassionate approach to foreign countries, especially ones we are naturally expected to hate due to historical traumas, devoid of emotions and hubris, is an asset not a liability. It is a truism to state that the current policy being pursued by Warsaw is anything but dispassionate. Cheered on by Washington hawks, who never see a crisis with Russia that can go to waste without Poland’s active participation—her economic interests be damned—and by European liberals, who for the time being have put away their anti-Polish diatribes due to Warsaw’s eagerness to confront the, after all, anything-but-woke Russian president, the Polish ruling elite marches ever closer to something more than just a war of words.

Andrew Korybko got it right when he observed: “In exchange for stopping the hybrid war against Poland, PiS has made Poland the leading anti-Russian NATO vanguard state and sacrificed its own internal conservative-nationalist principles, agreeing to become a multicultural state by massively absorbing more than two million Ukrainian refugees into its previously homogeneous society.” In short, anything can be sacrificed, even logic and political consistency, if the aim is showing Putin the middle finger. This reminds me of the sentiment expressed in my presence in 2017 by none other than Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Poland’s ruling party, PiS, about how, with the election of Donald Trump, he hoped personal lecturing by American ambassadors on Poland’s internal affairs would cease. One can be sure that in the current circumstances, where Poland is outdoing itself in its attempts at rallying the West to adopt an ever more aggressive approach to Russia, the American ambassador is fully onboard and has Kaczyński’s back. After all, one cannot expect anything less from the son of Brzezinski.

Dmowski was correct when he wrote that arranging our attitude toward Russia in the future is the most important task of our entire politics. The most important and, indeed, at the same time, the most difficult. So far, Poland has completely flunked the “test of our political worth, of our ability to direct the fate of our own state.” But one does not need to search for inspiration for political realism in the words of great statesmen or political minds. After all, it was President Duda himself who stated during the NATO summit in London in 2019 that “Russia is a neighbor with whom we do not agree on everything, but we need to create opportunities to improve relations between us, because no country deserves to be ruthlessly isolated.”

Those were the days.

Michał Krupa is a Polish historian and commentator. He has published in various Polish and American media outlets, including Chronicles Magazine and the Imaginative Conservative. His Twitter handle is:@MGKrupa.

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