When in Poland during the communist era, a programme from the series “The truth of Time, the Truth of the Screen” was announced on television, everyone knew that one-of-a-kind propaganda rubbish would be broadcast, no truth whatsoever. Poles watching reports from their Independence Day in the Western media, are experiencing a feeling of weird déjà vu.
The grand March, which took place in Warsaw on the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, is an event showcasing what great troubles these Western media and politicians have in describing and understanding Polish history as well as the current politics being a result thereof and what flimsy stereotypes and propaganda they use.
While on November 11th on the anniversary of the end of the Great War, the French President Emmanuel Macron said in front of 70 leaders from around the world that nationalism is the negation of patriotism or even its betrayal, on the streets of Warsaw there were 250-300,000 Poles taking part in the huge Independence Day March. These hundreds of thousands walked under national flags, singing patriotic songs, their flares enveloped Warsaw in a red glow. Pictures and reports from this march – an events of unprecedented scale in global terms – travelled all around the world.
The very fact of attachment to tradition, to national colours and symbols, to a nation understood as a political community, not an ethnic one, and to celebrate that fact, is enough to spew the hardest of accusations. There is no worse accusation in Western Europe today than to be a nationalist. Nazism, fascism and racism are understood under this notion. It is nationalism that is responsible for both world wars, so it is necessary to watch out for it. Seeing hundreds of thousands of people under national banners evokes the worst memories from Mussolini’s Italy or the Third Reich. And so they project their anxieties and phobias onto Poles celebrating independence. They use a limited set of concepts that may be suitable for describing the situation in their own countries, but not in Poland. Fascism or Nazism cannot be reborn in Poland, because they simply weren’t present here. No story about some pre-war, completely marginal groups will change the fact that there has never been a problem of Nazism or fascism in Poland. Therefore, Poles do not feel threatened that 70 years after the war and the terrible experiences associated with it, this Nazism suddenly would be revived in Poland. There is nothing to be revived from.
Former Belgian Prime Minister and Member of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has the right to be sensitive to Nazism, because his country collaborated with the Germans and had their own SS division. Similarly, the French president Macron. Yes, the French may have a problem with Nazism and can be afraid of its rebirth, because the government of Marshal Pétain collaborated with the Nazis, his administration sent over 70,000 of French citizens of Jewish descent to death, and the French SS division Charlemagne was one of the last units fighting in Berlin under siege by the Russians. Those were the Dutch that found the Nazi ideas delightful and who issued three of their own SS divisions. Yes, the Spanish too may have internal problems or identity problems with fascism and Nazism, not to mention Italians, Austrians or Germans. Poles are free of these issues, as they never identified with Nazism and fascism and, unlike a great part of Western Europe, they did not accept these ideas. Poles in World War II didn’t fight against some criminal ideology, but with an invader – Germany. For Poles, there is no connection between patriotism, nationalism and Nazi crimes, because unlike in the West, Poles didn’t partake in these crimes in the name of an ideology.
The March – the largest patriotic manifestation in Europe in the 21st century – has been presented in many Western media not only as a manifestation of Nazism being revived, but also as a dangerous event that may result in the demolition of the city, street riots and clashes with the police. Several embassies even issued warnings to their citizens residing in Poland, so that they would avoid going out on the streets of Warsaw that day. In previous years, there were indeed clashes with the police and acts of aggression. They were often provoked, for instance, by Antifa guerrillas from Germany who had come to Poland to block the march. After the lesson that the participants of the march and the Polish police gave them, they haven’t shown up any more, but the pictures of street brawls remain in the archives and are remembered every November 11th.
For many years, however, the March has gone on without any incidents. This year, “the most despicable event” was the burning of the flag of the European Union – of one flag. It is hard not to dismiss such opinions and alerts as irrelevant, if you compare the Polish Independence Day and the march of hundreds of thousands of people even with the national holiday of France on the anniversary of the destruction of the Bastille. One Union flag was burnt in Warsaw, over 900 cars burnt in Paris.
The West is as sensitive to Nazism as Poles are to communism and socialism. With socialism, we have a problem just like the West with Nazism, because several million Poles were seduced by it over the past decades. It was obviously an ideology brought on Soviet tanks, but this doesn’t change the fact that a part of the society recognised it as their own. Maybe not on a scale comparable to the Italians and fascism or the Germans or Austrians and Nazism, but they did nonetheless. We ourselves created our own repression apparatus, we built prisons for political dissidents, we denounced, we organised political trials, we destroyed civil rights and the freedom of speech. Sure, it was done on behalf of the Soviet empire and by a Soviet-protected minority, but it was our minority. The same minority used such expressions as fascists and Nazis to describe their political opponents. The so-called Nazis were not only soldiers fighting against the Soviets who introduced the communist order, but also Solidarity activists. The term “fascist” or “Nazi” is treated by Poles not only as an insult, but also a primitive propaganda operation that distorts reality and makes it impossible to talk to political opponents, to argue with them, but serves to destroy them and deprive them of their right to exist, not only in public life.
The March is proves how completely Western traditional media lost touch with reality. No wonder they enjoy such little trust. The reaction of each of the hundreds of thousands of people to what they saw in these media can only be one: I was there, I saw it, these are lies and manipulations. Traditional media no longer have a monopoly to show what the world is like. It is impossible to ignore the hundreds or thousands of first-hand accounts on social media. And even if traditional media put on repeat one picture showing the presence of a dozen or so activists from the Italian, fascist but legal, organisation Forza Nuova and show it a thousand times, this will not overshadow other images that reach millions of people around the world who use social media. And these will be pictures of a march of several hundred thousand people where hand in hand, national organizations, club supporters, parents with children, grandmothers with grandchildren, laughing nuns, disabled in wheelchairs with their guardians, soldiers, musicians from folk bands, 90-year veterans walked all together, along with foreigners, who know more about Polish patriotism than their respective national media.
Author: Dariusz Matuszak