Two missiles hit a Polish village killing two farmers. The psychological barrier has been crossed here in Poland. The war in Ukraine is no longer just about refugee waves, fighter planes buzzing overhead and high energy prices. The Polish government said it was a Ukrainian air defense missile that fell on a Polish village near the Ukrainian border. This, understandably, has upset Ukrainians, even though Russia is ultimately responsible.
There will be misunderstandings between Poles and Ukrainians. Friendship isn’t just about nice words and gestures. That’s fake friendship. A true friend is painfully honest when he needs to be. Poland and Ukraine share a stormy past but when we work together, we are unstoppable. For the sake of our alliance, it’s beneficial for Ukrainians to better understand how Poles see themselves and the world.
Russian obsession with Poland
Russia is obsessed with conquering Poland. Their obsession goes way beyond territorial gains, and borders on the mystical (psychotic). Why? Poles often joke that Russians need us to survive. We’re way smarter than they are. Behind the mask of jingoism is an insecure and servile Russian. I still remember the name of my first Russian textbook, “Dobroye Utro.” I was ten at the time. Such strange letters! I was intrigued. Some parents in my elementary school didn’t want their kids to learn Russian. Hardly surprising. The memories of Russian imperialism were still fresh.
When we were wiped off the map by Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1795, we championed the cause of freedom around the world. Tadeusz Kosciuszko took part in the American War of Independence. He was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson. To pay off the honor debt to Poland, a group of Americans formed a Polish air force fighter squadron in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet war. The American volunteers were called the Kosciuszko Squadron. Interestingly, they didn’t all have Polish heritage. Speaking of Polish heritage, Polish-American ties go way back to Jamestown.
A belief in Poland’s special mission in the world (messianism) mixes with martyrdom, romanticizing death for a noble cause. Countess Emilia Plater, who fought Russians on horseback in the November Uprising of 1830-1831, exemplifies both messianism and martyrdom.
Trump called us ‘‘great people and allies,’’ but he just wanted to score political points. Still, Trump knew how to stroke our collective Polish egos. Poland will do what it can to convince the U.S. to continue supporting Ukraine if need be. A strong and stable Ukraine is in our Polish national interest as well.
The Polish mind is a bundle of contradictions where superiority mixes with inferiority in mysterious ways. For example, we are highly critical of each other, yet, we’re nice to foreigners. We prefer to be among foreigners. You could be talking to a Polish person and not even know it. I once met a Polish girl who was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey. She spoke perfect American English. Our accents don’t always reflect our identity.
Germany and Russia: the disastrous duo
There’s this scary synergy between Germany and Russia. It always ends the same way for Poland and the world. Death, destruction and displacement. I’m glad there are U.S. bases in Germany in case our German friends start getting ideas again. I read a New York Times piece called, ‘’Teaching Germany to grin and bear cheerleading.’’ Great idea! Why wage war when you can cheer?
Romanticism versus realpolitik
Have you heard of Operation Paperclip? Not many people have, apparently. Nazi-German scientists were brought to Texas and New Mexico after the Second World War. No visas, no papertrail. The Germans worked on U.S. missile development. They were excellent scientists. Realpolitik leaves no space for sentimentality in securing national interests. Otto von Bismarck said: ‘’You can’t destroy the Polish national-consciousness or Poles on the battlefield, but if you give them power, they will destroy themselves.’’ Polish political thinking needs less romanticism.
Julien Bryan – the American hero
We Poles are grateful for the work of Julien Bryan, an American reporter who alerted the U.S. public to Nazi-German war crimes in Poland. The Nazi propaganda machine could no longer effectively whitewash the German war crimes. Julien Bryan witnessed the “master race’’ in action many times in September 1939:
Photographer Julien Bryan comforts a ten-year-old Polish girl named Kazimiera Mika, whose older sister was killed in a field in Warsaw during a German air raid.
The Germans attacked civilians from low-flying aircraft known as strafing. Sounds familiar? It should. History is repeating itself in Ukraine today. If you aren’t angry about it on some level, then you’re likely a psychopath.
A nation betrayed
Don’t get me wrong. The U.S. betrayed Poland in the past. The Yalta Conference in February 1945 put Poland in the Soviet sphere of influence for nearly fifty years. Poland was open to the Marshall Plan after the Second World War but Russia said ‘’nyet’’ and forced us to accept ‘’Russian aid’’ instead. Some aid it was, let me tell you. Look, Russia, just get it through your thick skull: we Poles aren’t your ‘’Slavic family,’’ a fictional state or whatever nonsense you come up with next. Leave Poland alone, please!
I have no illusions. As long as Russia exists, Poland will never know peace. Doesn’t matter if it’s Tsarist Russia, Soviet Russia or Putin’s Russia. Wouldn’t it be nice if a curse turned Russia into Swan Lake Federation, a nation of ballet dancers and wonderful weddings? Maybe in some other reality. Sadly, here we are, stuck with a bunch of maniacs hellbent on wiping Ukraine off the map and forcing millions of Ukrainians to flee to Poland.
Russia is a terrorist state? Russia is much worse than that. It’s a death cult. We Poles are experts on the Russian psycho, I mean psyche. Trust us.
Given the eventful Polish history, Poland has surprising connections around the globe. We have excellent relations with Japan and South Korea. Even our relations with North Korea are pretty good.
And then there’s Iran the troublemaker. Iran took in more than 116,000 Polish refugees in the Second World War. It was a different Iran back then, of course, not the theocratic regime we know today. Polish President Anrzej Duda held a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart to express a very clear stance amid reports Iran was supplying drones for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Iran denied supplying the drones to Russia, of course. A theocratic regime where forced sex change operations are used as a weapon against dissenters’ lies to the world? Imagine my shock. No wonder Iran loves Russia. Same mentality, different dictator.
Zbigniew Brzeziński on Ukraine
Dr. Zbigniew Brzeziński, an esteemed Polish-American scholar, wrote an article for the Kyiv Post in 2007. His words are hauntingly relevant today:
”Ukraine has succeeded as a nation-state and is here to stay. There’s no doubt that Ukraine is part of Europe. That is an enduring reality, to which everyone has to adjust. And in adjusting, rid oneself of ignorance.”
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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