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Poland Today.

Poland Today.

"We are only demanding one thing, that we get back what was taken from us...If Poland had not had to live through the years 1939-1945, it would be a country of 66 million." Thus spoke Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski on the eve of the last European Union summit, when he sought to gain greater voting weight for his country within the EU by invoking the memory of Hitler's war against Poland.

Kaczynski's words, however, stand in contradiction with what happened in Paris this July 14. For on Bastille Day, a small Polish contingent marched down the Champs Elysees alongside the forces of 26 other EU national contingents, including the Germans, in a display of European unity.

This contrast perfectly summarizes today's confused Poland - a country that boasts one of the highest levels of popular acceptance of the EU among all member countries, yet is the place where defense of the "national" interests is practiced most fiercely. Poland today is no longer "God's Playground," to use Norman Davies's famous phrase. Instead, it seems more like a child's playground: a strange mixture of inferiority and superiority complexes. The problem is that Poland's unjustified lack of confidence is leading to an extremely unpleasant form of intolerance toward others.

To understand what went wrong with Poland, a comparison with Spain might be useful. In the nineteenth century, Europe's southern and eastern extremities were united by common decay. Poland had disappeared as an independent nation, the victim of its powerful neighbors' greed; Spain was a country that no longer mattered. This dual decline was a subject frequently discussed by historians across the continent. They generally emphasized the failure of both countries to adjust their political systems to the requirements of the times.

Today, Spain and Poland both appear to be experiencing a renaissance, thanks to the framework of European unity. Their economies are booming. Democracy has been restored after half-century of dictatorial disruption. Yet the buoyant self-confidence of today's Spain is completely absent from Poland.

Is this because Poland's sufferings were even more terrible than Spain's? Is it because it is more difficult to emerge from a totalitarian regime than from an authoritarian one? Is it because Spain has had 20 more years to be vaccinated by the EU against the temptations of nationalism?

All these explanations probably contain an element of truth. And perhaps there is another factor: there is more pride and less self-doubt in Spanish culture than in the Polish one.

What seems clear is that Poland today can choose among two paths. It can continue to play a "nuisance value" role in the Union. But in that case, it must at least play well. Poland's government cannot simultaneously pretend to resist Russia's energy pressures and yet reject Germany's offers of help. When all things are considered, Germany is a more reliable ally and partner than Ukraine, which some in Warsaw see as a potential counterweight to Russia.

The realities of the present must not be obscured by the burdens of the past. Entering the EU means integrating into a country's politics a logic dominated by the concept of reconciliation. In this sense, Germany, having stifled the evils of aggressive nationalism, remains the most "European" country in Europe.

To deny this, to threaten to undo Polish-German reconciliation, is to harm Poland's fundamental national interests. By antagonizing Germany, indeed all of the EU, Poland is merely encouraging a revisionist Russia. If Poland's current leaders want to re-play nineteenth-century balance-of-power games, they should understand where the real weight of power in Europe lies.

The other path Poland can take is that of Spain. Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, symbolizes the role that Spaniards are playing in building Europe's international identity. Spain's influence is, to a large extent, a result of its national self-confidence.

Demographically and strategically, Poland is by far the most important of the EU's new members. Former French President Jacques Chirac, with his seeming contempt for these new members, is gone. Nobody is out to insult the Polish people gratuitously. Only the Poles can harm Poland's reputation and influence, and one must say that they have excelled at it of late.

In the course of the last five years, while teaching at the College of Europe in Natolin, near Warsaw, I have witnessed at first hand Poland's remarkable progress. Sadly, there is a "disconnect" between Poland's economic progress and the discourse and behavior of its politicians.

The problem is in the eyes of the beholder. If Poland were less unjustifiably afraid of its future, it would be less obsessed with a past that will not pass away. One hopes that this is just a temporary phase, and that comprehension of Poland's real achievements will prevail over the hyper-sensitivity of its current leaders. For the "real Poland" that emerged after 1989 is much more promising than their political incarnation of it.

Dominique Moisi, a founder and senior advisor the French Institute for International Relations, and is currently a professor at the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw.

Re: Poland Today.

Now that is a great article.

Re: Poland Today.

“a strange mixture of inferiority and superiority complexes”

You have to love that comment coming from a French national.

Re: Poland Today.

Never the less what he says rings true.

Re: Poland Today.

" Germany, having stifled the evils of aggressive nationalism, remains the most "European" country in Europe."

presumably he is getting paid to say such drivel

" Poland's government cannot simultaneously pretend to resist Russia's energy pressures and yet reject Germany's offers of help. When all things are considered, Germany is a more reliable ally and partner than Ukraine, which some in Warsaw see as a potential counterweight to Russia."

Interestingly he does not suggest that Germany is a more reliable ally than Russia. In my opinion neither are reliable allies. Poland should look further afield where there are plenty of willing and reliable allies.

This is the age of the global economy and the expanded EU and Poland is most certainly in a position to pick and choose. For various strategic reasons it is important to the EU that Poland is their ally.

I don't understand the comparison with spain or the nonsense about self confidence. You can't sensibly compare the two countries. Their only common tie is the same national faith. It has taken Spain far longer than Poland to reach an economic boom stage.

So what is so great about this article? To me it appears poorly written, lacking in substance or insight and heaped with subjective views, rather than a true analysis. Like a large feather pillow it is full of trapped air.

Re: Poland Today.

Poorly written? How so?

Re: Poland Today.

Poor structure and wishy washy argument.

Re: Poland Today.

The arguments / points presented seem perfectly reasonable to me. The English is also reasonable. The person after all is French.

Re: Poland Today.

"The person after all is French"

ok that explains it....

Re: Poland Today.

Poor structure and wishy washy argument.

Ania you are really great sometimes