Monument Policies (1): Poland

As Poland celebrates 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland, the country’s right-wing government is pushing the country’s European heritage as the EU steps up its criticism, writes Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international media platform. The news article seems to reflect the general angle of the German press on Polish current affairs quite well, although  milder than some German-language reports, even at DW itself, where a headline in February read Polen: Muslime unerwünscht (“Muslims unwelcome”, a choice of words that triggers memories of “Jews unwelcome”, a notice on many German doors, especially once the Nazis had come to power. Dirty German history at Poland’s expense, in only two words.

Coverage on Poland

DW: How ugly of you, Poland

Not all is well between Brussels and Warsaw, as an article by DW correspondent Barbara Wesel reflected in December, after the Polish government’s attack on the country’s supreme court, and its state media:

Polen is the biggest net recipient of EU funding in all of Europe. And Warsaw is wrong if only sees the European capital as the main cashier’s window. From there, obligations accrue, too. The number one obligation is to observe the rules of the club. If Jarosław Kaczyński believes he can impudently defy them, he needs to be disabused. Unfortunately, there are barely ways of imposing official financial sanctions, but maybe all sorts of mistakes can be found in future Polish project proposals… Rudeness like that of the Law-and-Justice party chief needs to be answered with rudeness.

Polen ist der größte Netto-Empfänger von EU-Fördermitteln in ganz Europa. Und Warschau irrt, wenn es in der europäischen Hauptstadt nur die Hauptkasse sieht. Daraus erwachsen auch Verpflichtungen. Erste Pflicht ist auf jeden Fall, die Regeln des Clubs einzuhalten. Wenn Jaroslaw Kaczynski glaubt, er könne sich frech darüber hinweg setzen, muss er eines Besseren belehrt werden. Leider gibt es in der EU kaum Möglichkeiten, offiziell finanzielle Sanktionen zu verhängen. Aber vielleicht finden sich ja allerhand Fehler in künftigen polnischen Projektanträgen… Auf einen so groben Klotz wie den polnischen PiS-Parteichef gehört ein grober Keil.

This kind of creative anger – probably indicative of the general mood among the political class in the City of Brussels – is a somewhat unpleasant sight, especially when Germans wield the financial club. Nothing is forgotten in Poland: no pressure, no words, which above all shouldn’t come from German mouths, will dissuade us, German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Jarosław Kaczyński in January.

Kaczyński’s policies may be facing widespread opposition in Poland by now – but with comments like these, he may be able to reach some of his opponents, too.

Brussels and Berlin seem to understand that. While wide swathes of German press coverage is pulling Polish policies to pieces, German and EU diplomacy remain … well … diplomatic.

And the real dark clouds, from Warsaw’s point of view, are gathering in the West, from the direction of another complicated neighbor. That would be Russia. When it comes to the Katyn massacre, for years, “the blame for the killings was alternately attributed to the Germans and the Russians”, a Radio Poland continuity announcement informed the station’s listeners on Wednesday (7th minute), Poland’s official day of remembrance. The report that followed the announcement was more accurate, stating that the Soviet Union (the Soviet NKVD) had been responsible.

In the same broadcast, German journalist Boris Reitschuster is interviewed (20th minute) about his latest book (to be published on Friday, April 15) about Putin’s Secret Army. (Whatever may be said about the book (in terms of reliability or otherwise), conservative press people appear to be fans, while liberal and leftist publications don’t display nearly as much fascination.)

There was no official mention of the tragedy in Poland during the communist rule nor much was said in the West, which is also guilty of concealing evidence of the Stalinist crime,

Radio Poland said on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s this mood that defines the current mission of Polish remembrance policies: 500 monuments to the Soviet soldiers, who drove the German Wehrmacht out of Poland in 1944/1945, are scheduled to be demolished (CNBC) or removed (Newsweek).

It’s not the first action of this kind, but it is now reportedly the Polish state Institute for National Remembrance (INR) that calls on regional authorities to dismantle the monuments. It could become a comprehensive measure.

And at the same time, Polish media discuss the positive symbols that shall replace those from the communist era. A Radio Poland press review, still on April 13:

Back to Rzeczpospolita now which claims that President Lech Kaczyński, who was killed in the plane crash in Russia six years ago, deserves a dignified memorial in the Polish capital. Having in mind, however, deep divisions in Polish society surrounding the circumstances of the crash, it is not a good idea to erect such a memorial in front of the presidential palace, as is proposed by the Law and Justice Party. The Rzeczpospolita columnist thinks that hospitals, schools and libraries built from public funds and named after the late president would be a better way of remembering President Kaczyński, and of bridging the divides within Polish society.

The presidential palace in Warsaw may have to wait for its copy, but this what the presidential memorial might look like.

____________

Notes

纪念“卡廷惨案”受害者的橡树, CRI, April 14, 2016
Instructions Importantes, CRI, April 12, 2016
Lech Kaczyński, 1949 – 2010, April 10, 2010

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11 Comments to “Monument Policies (1): Poland”

  1. For you, for Foarp and for Mrs. Foarp. But especially for King Tubby, the acclaimed musical critic from Down Under.

    Like

  2. Taide. What sort of lese-majestic is this? Are you recovering from a big night out waving the beer tankard around and slapping the lederhosen.

    Look, I know you live in JRs barn with his rotten cats, so he probably set you up for this provocation.

    Turning to Mr Foarp, I think we all agree that he is a blog scribbler worthy of major respect ….a fine writer who takes due diligence seriously. However, as a musicologist he leaves a lot to be desired. Really, I feel sorry for his lovely partner, being forced to listen to Oasis day in, day out.

    Now, here is a song worth listening to, taken from the Jim Jarmusch/Bill Murray movie Dead Flowers. And I should also point out, my current ring tone.

    Truly a brilliant song. In fact, if one wants to extend one’s musical boundaries these days, sound tracks from films and HBO box series provide an absolute wealth of interesting sounds. (A question of economics.)

    And a BTW. Its about time that Germany gives Merkel the flick after her truly disgusting performance in the Erdogan business. Next thing she will be flying to Ankara to powder his balls.

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  3. What’s that? A broken Tango?

    Don’t know what Tai De has to say in his defense, but this comes closer to the original:

    You see, that’s Germany, reportedly going to be torn apart between Bänkellieder and Yalamusic.

    Giving Merkel the flick? Should have happened eleven years ago. But why now?

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  4. Merde! Everyone involved in those two videos should be fed to wild dogs. Little wonder the EU is falling apart.

    Re: your Merkel remark. I think most bloggers/commenters tread pretty carefully when it comes to each others political allegiances.

    Like

  5. @Kingtubby –

    “I feel sorry for his lovely partner, being forced to listen to Oasis day in, day out.”

    Whatever. Some might say, don’t look back in anger. Cigarettes and alcohol is probably the solution.

    @JR – Pretty much everyone I know in Poland opposes PiS, several of them attend the demonstrations that now seem a regular feature in some Polish cities. However, public opinion is generally supportive of PiS so they aren’t nearly so unpopular as foreign observers seem to think (based no doubt on their educated and cultured Polish acquaintances).

    Regarding the Soviet war memorials, the one in Wroclaw is on the edge of town and basically a graveyard, and not so different from the Commonwealth war grave that I saw in passing near the Reichswald. In other cities they are much more imposing, and I can understand wanting to remove them. I think I along with many visitors to Berlin wonder at the massive Soviet memorial right in the middle of the city.

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  6. It is perfectly understandable if people in Poland, the Baltic countries and other ex-Soviet satellites want to remove Soviet monuments. When the monuments to be removed refer to the Second World War, on the other hand, and people make false equivalences between the Soviets and the Nazis, I am forced to feel uneasy. Especially when the people doing the removing are avowed antisemites, and glorify the pro-Nazi right-wig nationalists of the forties.

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  7. “the pro-Nazi right-wi[n]g nationalists of the forties”

    Who would that be? Even the far right in Poland basically worships Dmowski, who, whilst a quasi-fascist and an anti-semite, was basically anti-Nazi and died before the war even began.

    Poland is quite distinct in central and eastern Europe in that there was not a collaboration government there during WW2, though mostly this comes down to the policies of the Nazis towards the Polish people.

    As for equivalences between the Nazis and the Soviets being “false”, history itself shows us that the Soviets were effectively German allies of a sort until the Nazis turned on them. It is no stretch for the citizens of a country that was invaded and effectively colonised by the Soviet Union to draw parallels to the other country that tried to invade a colonise them, even if they were not entirely of the same character.

    A Pole massacred at Katyn, or starved to death in a Siberian prison camp, might not see so much difference between their fate and one who was gassed at Auschwitz or worked to death at Bergen-Belsen.

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  8. I think I along with many visitors to Berlin wonder at the massive Soviet memorial right in the middle of the city.

    I think there are several reasons for this – my list will definitely be subjective.

    One is a promise. I don’t know if Germany made this promise formally, but to tear down the monuments decades after the Soviet troops left East Germany would come across as bad faith – to me, anyway, and certainly to many or most Russian people.

    It would also be disrespectful to the thousands of Soviet soldiers it is meant to commemorate. And I seem to understand that this is still the way many Russians (and maybe Ukrainians, too) want to commemorate them. If it is their way of doing it, Berlin is the right place for this. Their monument, their rules.

    There are Germans – possibly a minority, but I’m not sure, as there can be various reasons for this -, who want to keep these memorials, too. What you write about the Polish people, and a majority of them supporting PiS, is true for Germany in some ways, too. The way our elites think isn’t necessarily how other people think or feel, and relations with Russia appears to be one of these issues.

    Whichever way you decide – keeping memorials where they are, or removing them -, your history will remain your history. To try a pseudo Dalai-Lama perspective, I’d say that if something really bothers you, it might be a good idea to look at it for a long time, and to meditate.

    After that, you could throw it all away after all, but maybe some of the coming generations would like to meditate, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. And the Guardian had an other interesting story about text.

    Like

  10. sorry, “text” should be replaced by “rebuilding postwar Warsaw using 18th century paintings”

    Like

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