On my last visit to Poland I took a trip to the shipyard in Gdansk where Lech Walesa led the Solidarity movement to lift Poland out of the iron curtain. I could not help but to feel extremely proud of my heritage. I remember thinking back to Vaclav Havel’s dream of the ‘East’ and ‘West’ stripping back to their geographical meaning instead of being determined by stereotypical connotations inspired by Cold War politics. However, throughout my life I have been exposed to the mockery of Polish people, and I wonder whether any progress has been made since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.
But first let us remind ourselves of the events of November 1989 perfectly described by the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. “When it all started to unfold, I wanted to be in Berlin. I needed to witness what was happening. An experience I shall never forget. Berlin was euphoric, chaotic, confused, excited. For an outsider it was easy to distinguish westerners from easterners. Westerners looked like us, dressed like us, behaved like us. And ignored us. Easterners looked different, dressed different, smelled different, and behaved different. They talked to us, they wanted to know so much, and they wanted to share their happiness. (…) We marvelled at the cheap peroxide job many young women had performed on their hair, at the fake leather jackets many men wore almost like a uniform. The cars stank of Eastern fuel, the men of Eastern cigarettes. I loved it. Two parallel worlds coming together, people speaking the same language with more or less the same Berlin accent - and still almost from different planets.”
The fall of the Berlin wall symbolized new bridges that could be built between people as means of spreading democracy, peace and prosperity. And 25 years later, Europe is missing passion and courage needed to fulfil its role of safeguarding peace. Thus, in order to acquire a clearer understanding of the current European dynamics, one must examine Poland’s position in Europe.
One thing that can be said is that throughout history Poland had no silver spoon. It has been treated appallingly during the Second World War and in the years following the conflict. In 1939, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and 2 weeks later by Soviet Russia, however the people did not surrender. My great uncle flew valiantly in the Battle of Britain along with other Poles who joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF), making a huge difference in the outcome of battles. My grandparents took part in the Warsaw Uprising and along with others they risked their lives trying to save Jewish families. Many people will be queuing up to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s latest movie the “Imitation Game”, however it was the Poles who broke the Enigma code first before handing it over to the French and British. The Polish fighting spirit is unstoppable despite being wiped off the face of maps for over 120 years. A true essence of being Polish is to never give up – and this sense of courage and passion is what Europe needs nowadays.
Yet again, Poland is at the forefront of Western civilization as nothing can anger President Putin more than Poles fiddling in a matter of Russian interests. And with the recent deployment of Polish diplomats from Moscow tensions are rising. To no surprise there is a sense of little international effort to contain the Eastern bully. According to the founder of the Polish-American Foundation for Economic Research and Education, Jan M. Malek, “Like Hitler, Putin does not care about the threat of economic or other non-military sanctions. Those threats are, unfortunately, a laughing matter.” What is more, Piotr Zapalowicz, an international expert in political economics, states that in no time the West will stop paying attention to the Ukrainian events, as Russia will continue to push its Putin-propaganda until it “liquidizes the sovereignty of this country. In the short term it would mean thousands or even hundreds of refugees from Ukraine coming to Poland.”
And of course the relations between Poland and Ukraine have been marked by painful history rather than by common threads. In the aftermath of the First World War, the Polish Army destroyed Ukrainian hopes of independence, while WWII saw both nations enduring massacres. In the modern times, the two countries have grown suspicious of one’s intentions, with Poland being disappointed at Ukraine’s lack of Western progress in policies (e.g. imprisoning the former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko), as well as raiding of Polish firms. However, let’s hope that these brotherly nations can work together towards the idea of common solidarity used against dictatorship.
What is needed is a positive domino effect of creating a pro-Western Ukraine by allowing Poland to work side by side with its neighbor. This could also mean that ordinary Russians who are newly inspired by Ukraine could take action in favor of democratic openness. And just like German unity became a milestone for European unity, Putin’s Russia is testing, but not unbeatable, no matter what pathway Ukraine chooses to go.
Poland is Europe’s golden child and should therefore be used as an example of a fight for civil rights and freedom inspired by idealism of 1989 and Walesa’s solidarity movement. This makes Poland a key political player and an essential ally to Ukraine.
Edited by: Lisa Enocsson