An Open Letter to the Polish Media

Poland, a dear Polish friend of mine recently said, needs a daddy. The United States currently fills this role, or hole. If so, then we are dealing with a serious Oedipus Complex, as it so now seems the Polish national psyche wants to kill and become its father, and sleep and be-come its erstwhile malevolent maternal occupier, Russia. How did Poland arrive in such a place? What terrible traumas were unleashed upon the nation that have left it without a decently functioning intelligentsia or artistic avant-garde? Well, the Nazi invasion of 1939 destroyed most of nation’s Jewish population, eviscerated its intellectuals, condemned its leftists, and killed off or sent its avant-garde abroad. The the cold, stultifying dead hand of Stalinism planted itself over the nation from 1945 to 1953. Afterwards, the grey, increasingly xenophobic and creaky USSR ground out what was left of the thinking population. In 1968, most of the remaining Jews, a very, very small group, were forced out. Intellectuals fled to the West.

After the fall of the USSR, and the advent of democracy, the newly elected Solidarity-backed government instituted a series of neoliberal ‘shock doctrine’ policies in the early 1990s. This led to rampant insecurity, naturally, and a feeling, once again, of social breakdown. The urban middle-classes began to blossom under the aegis of privatizations, pauperization of the rural populations, and Western aspirational ‘professionalization.’ Out of this already desperately aspirational, new middle-class came a deep inferiority / superiority complex. Inferior to their Western counterparts, yet superior to city paupers and their rural fellows, these anxious urban petit bourgeoisie and their children would largely come to be the ‘center-left.’  Ingratiating themselves to Western companies, ideals and money, they lacked the social or cultural will to challenge the changes of neoliberalism. And the poor, more Catholic, rural masses would eventually strike back.

From 1989 until Poland’s entry into the European Union in 2004, this situation described above continued: privatizations, pauperizations, Western ingratiation, NATO membership, and the Pole’s American daddy’s protective missile(s) deployed throughout the nation. American phallic ‘missile defense’ is a hot topic in contemporary Polish discourse, for reasons some stemming from military practicality and some from more psychological, protective desires. Post-EU Poland is the recipient of quite of bit Western aid, leading an EU vice commissioner to say that the EU is a community of nations, not just a ‘cash cow’ to be ‘milked’,

“First and foremost, there’s the cash: the country received £56bn in development funds between 2007 and 2013, money that was used to build hundreds of kilometres of highways and express roads as well as youth sports facilities, modern sewerage systems, kindergartens and pre-schools.

Add to that the £60bn earmarked for Warsaw in the EU’s 2014-20 budget and the country will have enjoyed a windfall equivalent to roughly double the value of the Marshall Plan, calculated in today’s dollar figures. And that does not take into account the tens of billions of pounds that Polish farmers continue to receive in agricultural subsidies from Brussels. What we are witnessing is, without doubt, one of the largest wealth transfers between nations in modern history.” (How the EU transformed Poland, Remi Adekoya, The Guardian, 2014)

Despite these massive inflows of cash, jobs, record unemployment and so on, the aspirational liberal urban classes cannot seem to catch a break. I mean, two ski holidays a year just aren’t enough, don’t the Swedes get four? Poland’s national identity has no real artistic or intellectual response to its contemporary crises, namely the rise of far-right nationalism. In fact, the very people and institutions one would expect to be unsettling the racist, xenophobic status quo are, in fact, just as bad. From a well-known, somewhat respected (in Poland) feminist artist performing Blackface (and other atrocities against art) for adoring audiences over Chianti and Cabernet, to a drag queen performing the same odious practice (and complaining that ‘they [the makeup people] didn’t get the n***** color right’]. That person was – to my surprise – defended by an erstwhile socialist, and the first transgender MP, and most of the Polish LGBTQ community.

Yes, I will be called a US imperialist. My observations of Poland’s sickly state have been compared to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; surely this is a bit of a, shall we say, overreaction? I suppose several missives and articles going ‘viral’ is akin to being bombed, invaded, raped, pillaged and occupied for decades, but who I am to judge? In any case, the Polish artistic, activist and intellectual milieus can no longer claim national ignorance, although everything is run through the locus of national grievance and any criticism ‘from the outside’ is met with a circling of the proverbial wagons, regardless of what said criticism actually is. This intentional, willful idiocy is drag on the Polish psyche, one that wishes – and this can never be enunciated – to be as rich as America (daddy) but as a ideologically stultifying as mother Russia. Yet, even Russia with its troubling nationalism has managed to give birth to likes of Pytor Pavlensky. No such figure exists here in Poland, where the most ‘radical’ art is a white woman painted in Black or kitsch drag queen complaining that the n***** color of their make-up isn’t ‘right.’ One wonders where all of this will lead a nation so deeply in need of a sexual and cultural evolution? Without a real avant-garde in the arts criticizing a nation’s deepest fears, tropes and unconscious biases, a sort of collective brain-death sets in, and it has.

Yesterday, I was told to leave, at the threat of being removed by the police, from a pro-LGBTQ dance party and demonstration in the center of Warsaw. I came, in solidarity, as a gay man with a Rainbown flag during Pride month, to be, with my kin. But someone recognized me as the person who’d penned an article that stated that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, and this purple-haired, crypto-authoritarian said she knew what I stood for, without answering the question, what do I stand for? I was told to leave at threat of arrest. Yes, I have written, based on numerous scientific studies and the growing scientific consensus that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, just like heterosexuality or bisexuality, etc. I also condemned all forms of child sex abuse. It was a nuanced article, rooted in neuroscience. Despite this, purple-hair was having none of it. I left, only after saying she was just as bad as the people who hate her.

I was wrong, she is far worse.

. . .

10 comments

  1. Kind of a harsh article, but with merit to it, obviously.
    In defence – 4 years is really little time to come up with a response to the sudden rise of far-right sentiment. Believe me, nobody had seen it coming, not even the far-right itself. But naturally, the attitude of mainstream has somehow encouraged it.
    And secondly, You misrepresent strategic defensive decisions, better or worse, as a fetish. The “American” is emphasized to convince the people that we do indeed have some allies (despite the hype) but the “protective missiles” are in my opinion precisely the opposite of the “daddying” You write about
    These missiles are o u r s, we have bought them from the big fella’ and can do things on our own. If any illusion is present here, it’s the one of maturation, not of having a big daddy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maciek,

      I hope this finds you well.

      Thank you for your comments. They are appreciated. Indeed, the article is slightly acerbic, intentionally in order to demonstrate the more acidic nature of Polish nationalism. What I have noted here, unlike Mexico, the United States, Britain or elsewhere, is that almost every conversation happens through the lens of ‘national unity’ – regardless of whether the speaker is on the far-left, the left, the center, the right or far-right. When Poland is rightly critiqued, the almost immediate reaction is to unite – left, right and center – around ‘nation’ (one that is, because of reasons mentioned, incredibly homogeneous).

      What I am curious about is this, you talk of the post-2015 period as though this were an anomaly, yet we know – from Trump to Orban etc – that these forces always existed, and more importantly, the discursive field must have been imbued with nationalism prior to PiS’s election and solidification of power. Correct? Virulent Polish nationalism perhaps goes back perhaps to collapse of (incredibly pluralistic for its time) Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth? Did the partitions, and – as I noted in the article – the Nazi Occupation and Soviet-control plus the post-1989 International Monetary Fund administration of Poland lead us here?

      As for the psychoanalytical metaphors I employ, yes, I would agree with you that the illusion of maturation is quite real in Poland. Although there is a deep uneasiness, on all sides, about ‘what it means to be Polish in 2019.’ As though the nation is in a sort of temporal dissociation. Again, one does not see this is more ‘self-assured’ nations of the United States, despite the deep divisions, most of the population – though not all – accept a kind of futurity with a bit cynicism, one that comes out of being inside an Empire. Here is where ‘daddy’ presides over the world with its/his missiles, and whilst the Polish government has purchased said missiles, they are daddy’s missiles, they are made by daddy and granted to Poland by daddy (or denied, as with Obama in 2009).

      Interesting discussion. Feel free to comment a reply,

      Best wishes,

      Tony

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I forgot to thank You for the good read as well!

        I’d imply, that the homogenity of the nation is rather a visual (or vulgarly racial) misconception and it’s precisely what’s behind the strong political division. The difference in prosperity after 15 years of EU membership is seen with a naked eye in medium and large cities – the economic opportunities are there and are followed by a first-hand exposure to western culture. On the other hand, You have many places where the impact is mostly theoretical, the opportunity exists only in the form of a better road (only a road, not a railway) leading to Warsaw and I’m pretty confident that between 1/3 to 1/2 of Poles today have not even once seen a person of color in person. What’s also worth mentioning is that even in the biggest agglomerations, there still are people (mostly the elderly) who basically form their views by listening to the priest on Sunady mass.

        Here’s where the further poitical right enter – the political and media mainstream for years have practically completely neglected these differences and that’s what backfired. To give You a hint of the instancy of this shift – the infamous (mostly unjustified) Independence March which takes place in Warsaw every year had a couple of hundred participants (extremists only) yearly until 2009. In 2019, the attendance was estimated at around 250,000. And make no mistake, it’s not that suddenly so much people has become extremists, it’s that other groups have shifted slightly towards soft nationalism and this is the only platform available for them. To sum this up – no, the discursive field was not imbued with nationalism for the past 80 years. It had existed only on the fringes, just as everywhere else on the planet. The only significant trace are the years 1918-1939, when the country faced radically different problem, than now (around half of the population weren’t Polish then) and it’s this legacy that all of a sudden has become present in the mainstream.

        In the face of further integration with the EU, yes, the history of partitions and occupation is pretty much alive in the debate and is probably logically justified. The common references attributing some blame for the Holocaust and II WW to us, even by French and German journalists have only added fuel to the discontent and point at a need for caution in relations with countries who supposedly were our closest allies. The legacy of II WW is the strongest pillar of the far right ideology in Poland and a n y hint at their being somewhat right is catastrophic.

        This importance of the United States in our politics – I think You underestimate the (nuanced) context of bordering the Russian Federation, which have invaded another of our neighbours, Ukraine, just a couple of years ago. In this context, the US is simply a reliable choice, with both advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the choice of the English, French, Japanese or Israeli products. The bet on strenghtening the American ties is a logical decision, not a realisation of some national Freudian complex.

        All the best to You Tony

        Liked by 1 person

      • Maciek,

        Thank you again for your detailed reply.

        Yes, we both agree that a large segment of the contemporary Polish population has probably not seen someone from a place more ‘remote’ than Hungary or Germany, maybe Ukraine, in the rural and exurban areas. This isolation leads to a kind of paradoxical fear of the Other, who is turned into an Object of Abjection – precisely because of their Absence. The Absence of the Immigrant is the Ever-Present Presence of the ‘Specter of the (non-white) Immigrant.’ And this type of parochial isolation leads to a manifold of symptoms: paranoia, obsessions, compulsive behaviors (like Rosary Bead prayer-tours at the Polish borders to ‘keep them out’), etc.

        EU-money coming in, along with the trade and re-industrialization of Poland because of the single-market, has definitely benefited both the urban middle-classes (who I give no especial or nice treatment to) and the rural, exurban working-class. Roads, railways, building projects, warehouses, factories, entire sectors that wouldn’t exist – jobs that wouldn’t exist – have made Poland the most dynamic economy in the EU. It’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and unemployment is at a remarkable low. Unfortunately, the money isn’t being used to improve services that the poor and working-class rely on, namely healthcare and education. These two are dramatically underfunded, and have been for some time. PiS does offer its ‘populist’ measures: a trim on the tax bill here, 500zl+ for some children there, a little money for a cow here, etc. But they are not paying living wages to two of the arguably most important parts of any society: doctors and teachers. This is leading to an intellectual outflow, further causing the nation to bifurcate. My landlord’s son is a doctor, after six years this is his first time working in a hospital as a full-time doctor, he makes 1700zl after taxes a month, in Warsaw. This is absurd, and if it weren’t for my landlord’s ability to subsize his son’s income, the doctor would probably be making €45,000 a year in the German countryside at the moment, or somewhere in Ireland making even more. This government is pushing the social and health services into the ground.

        Yes, 11/11 – you will note that I have reported on everyone since 2017. This will be my third year. Last year was frightening. Not only because of the size, but because the government led the march! There was a ‘divider’ but this meant literally nothing from a media, optical point-of-view. The PiS government openly marched with the far-right, and hundreds of thousands of Poles marched alongside the far-right. The public discourse has certainly shifted, but there must have been a ‘private’ sphere of this hatred spewing around before? In the US, the election of Trump is merely, ask any Person of Color, a continuation of a long-legacy of white nationalism, not some ‘aberration’ as white liberals contend. Is the situation different in any way? What radicalized people in such a short time, and if so, what made the ground ripe for their radicalization? And also many of the people I saw at the march were from the rural / middle-town middle-classes, which belies the notion that the middle-classes are centrist (I have seen the urban middle-class 20-something support for Kukiz with some amused horror).

        I would like to note that those Jews *were* Polish. They were citizens of Poland! 🙂

        And yes, I can modulate my thinking on Poland viz. Russia in the context of missile defense out of the psychoanalytical metaphors. I agree there is, as I noted in the article, a practical and pragmatic reason for Poland’s reliance on its US-NATO alliance.

        All the best,

        Tony

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  2. Nice!

    “I would like to note that those Jews *were* Polish. They were citizens of Poland! 🙂”

    At first I thought You were somehow quoting my very recent post but that’s of course impossible.
    Anyway, I’d very much like to say the same and that’s what I’ve argued about too.
    However, I don’t think one can claim that. Firstly, 85% of Jewish population of the II RP were orthodox and thus claimed their nationality as Jewish, not Polish. Jews, with Yiddish and Hebrew as native languages, claiming Jewish nationality and living under specific law in the shtetl and often disregarding which country the territory they had inhabited belonged to. But with Polish citizenship
    I’m talking about a (democratic) majority. Honestly, I’ve come to a conclusion that I can’t, without disrespecting their religion or the people who’ve lost their lives for independce of this country, call them Polish. Keep in mind, that even today the orthodox Jews don’t identify themselves as Israelis and disregard the Israeli government.
    But that’s just trivia, end of spam. It’s nice of you to comment, Maciek.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maciek,

      Hope your Corpus Christi Holiday is well. I don’t celebrate, but it is certainly very, very quiet in Central Warsaw, something that is so rare, it is almost eerie!

      Regarding the Jewish-Poles, you stated “The only significant trace are the years 1918-1939, when the country faced radically different problem, than now (around half of the population weren’t Polish then) and it’s this legacy that all of a sudden has become present in the mainstream.” And that’s why I noted that Jews in Poland were Polish citizens. In fact, many, like the Jewish Bund, were leftists, secular and unionists, although they argued for a degree of autonomy based on a plurality of cultures and, of course, against antisemitism. The Orthodox Jewish population, I must say, I am a bit ignorant about in terms of the interwar period, however, I do know that in Israel a large portion of them participate actively in politics, and are even considered ‘king-makers’ in the Israeli Knesset (the recent Lieberman vs. Bibi fight over Orthodox conscription to the military is case-in-point). Yes, some do reject Israel – mainly on theological grounds because the Messiah, according to their soteriology, must return first. Likewise, in the US, Orthodox Jews are largely supportive of president Trump, although there are of course variations.

      I was wondering if you were aware, on a last note – your comments are definitely not spam, quite intriguing and educational actually – that around the time and after Kristallnacht in Germany, 9-10 November 1938, that the following happened to Polish-Jews,

      “In August 1938 the German authorities announced that residence permits for foreigners were being canceled and would have to be renewed. This included German-born Jews of foreign citizenship. Poland stated that it would renounce citizenship rights of Polish Jews living abroad for at least five years after the end of October, effectively making them stateless.[21] In the so-called “Polenaktion”, more than 12,000 Polish Jews, among them the philosopher and theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and future literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki were expelled from Germany on 28 October 1938, on Hitler’s orders. They were ordered to leave their homes in a single night and were allowed only one suitcase per person to carry their belongings. As the Jews were taken away, their remaining possessions were seized as loot both by the Nazi authorities and by their neighbors.

      The deportees were taken from their homes to railway stations and were put on trains to the Polish border, where Polish border guards sent them back into Germany. This stalemate continued for days in the pouring rain, with the Jews marching without food or shelter between the borders. Four thousand were granted entry into Poland, but the remaining 8,000 were forced to stay at the border. They waited there in harsh conditions to be allowed to enter Poland. A British newspaper told its readers that hundreds “are reported to be lying about, penniless and deserted, in little villages along the frontier near where they had been driven out by the Gestapo and left.”[22] Conditions in the refugee camps “were so bad that some actually tried to escape back into Germany and were shot”, recalled a British woman who was sent to help those who had been expelled.[23]”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht

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  3. Thank You, I did not celebrate as well 🙂
    Yes, “many, like the Jewish Bund, were letists, secular and unionists[…]”, but m o s t, weren’t and a satisfying political solution regarding the balance of integration and autonomy hadn’t been, unfortunately, reached. What I’d stress here is that the orthodox Jews of Poland were an extremely hard group to cooperate with from a perspective of a newly-formed state. What’s more, I did not mean only Jews as the part of the population who weren’t Polish – You’d had significat minorities of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Germans as well. In consequence, the individual’s sense of Polish nationhood had still been under development.
    I haven’t heard about the Kristallnacht Pogrom and I don’t quite see the context supporting its recollection here.
    “The Polish decree did not please the German Government. In 1938, Nazi policy regarding the Jews was heavily centered on emigration from the Reich rather than the mass extermination that would arise in 1942 during World War II. Thus, Nazi officials saw the Polish decree as a hindrance to their attempts at forcing Jewish emigration.”
    The decree prevented 70.000 Jewish people from returning to Poland, which the Nazis were trying to enforce. Considering solely the “Polenaktion”, all the people willing (and surviving) were let in after a year of “waiting”, in 1939.
    Similiar situations (without late happy-ends, though) were happening at the Swiss border. I don’t know how had it worked with Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy, France, Belgium and Netherlands but let’s at least hope it had been better.

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    • Maciek,

      Thank you for your message. I am not sure that the anti-assimilation Orthodox Jewish community was the overwhelming segment of the Jewish population. And, of course, the Polish state was very new, and figuring out how to be a plural, multicultural democracy. The point is that Jews – it seems – in Poland had Polish citizenship (after 1919), and were entitled to the rights and protections afforded to any other Pole. Also, the minority groups you mention, if not new emigres, had Polish citizenship. I think that enfranchisement was quite wide in the interwar period, and that is why I brought up Kristallnacht and the subsequent refugee crisis at the Polish-German border. The Polish government revoked Polish citizenship from its Jewish citizens, an obviously move of discrimination, leaving these Polish Jews stateless, starving and languishing at the border – being sent back by Polish authorities, and then sent back by German authorities. Eventually, some Polish Jews were readmitted, but the fact that Jewish-Poles in Germany had Polish citizenship that was revoked by the Polish government, and that those Jewish-Poles sought their homeland, Poland, as a place of refuge means two things, 1) that they – Jewish-Poles had a connection with Poland, had Polish citizenship and felt that they were Polish, and 2) that the Polish government did not accept that reality of Jewish-Poles, and only after coming under international pressure did they readmit a portion of *their own citizens* to Poland.

      Best regards,

      TR Cochran

      Like

  4. The only thing I can say about your article is: you seem to like writing, and you know how to write. But do you really know Poland and our history? Some of it. Most you don’t understand, at least I doubt you do. Your opinions and judgments are mirror pictures of common media comments. But I’m glad you reveal the truth of the problems inside LGBT movemet caused by LGTB ignorant people. Thanks.

    Like

    • Kris,

      I hope this finds you well.

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your compliment on my writing. I am certainly no expert in Polish history, my knowledge is fragmentary; however, I am aware of that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the most open, inclusive and multicultural states in Europe for its time. I am also aware of many of the conflicting tendencies during the interwar period (1918-1939), the antisemitism of the Polish state (yes, the revoking of Jewish-Poles Polish citizenship, etc), and attempts at creating a more liberal environment (my favorite author is Bruno Jasieński, who wrote “I Burn Paris” an excellent, scathing political novel, and numerous critiques of Poland’s largely narrow-minded society (see his Futurism Manifesto). He found refuge in Western Europe and later, oddly, in the USSR (where he was executed). I am certainly open to learning more about Poland’s history. I have documented quite a lot about its present.

      Best regards,

      Tony Cochran

      Like

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