In Honour of Defeatism

Every nation has its own peculiar and particular attitude to life. Some countries thrive on success, competition and energy whereas others flourish on an atmosphere of sadness, mourning and defeat.

Gloomy Verdict
Unfortunately, Poland can be classed as one of the latter. This dark conclusion is not difficult to come to. It is enough to take a look at the history and politics of several European countries and undertake a short comparative analysis.

British Pride
Great Britain, for example, has a long tradition of honouring victory, glory and being the best. Polish culture, on the other hand, glorifies honour, defeat (& honour in defeat) and grief. The two cultures could not be more different. I am convinced that the success-oriented or defeatist attitude of a country plays an integral part in a country’s development.

Polish Traditions
With PiS coming to power, the Polish government has avidly backed any outpouring of national grief. So much so that the President/PM (they are one in the same) has announced TWO days of National Mourning (see previous post). Somehow, I cannot see the UK announcing a National Day of Mourning every time a coachful of people or group of miners die.

Eulogising Grief
It is not that I do not feel sorry for the families of those who died in the recent coach crash in Grenoble or the families of the miners in the Halemba coal mine, but a National Day of Mourning should be something that actually touches everyone in the country and not a feeling that is forced upon the nation. Let us mourn the death of a statesman, a leader but why eulogise the errors and carelessness of others?

Historical Honours
Poland has its fair share of honours throughout its history. So why do Polish people immerse themselves in the negative rather than the positive? The Poles should be honouring those great achievements like the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus (aka Mikołaj Kopernik) or the fact that people like Lech Wałęsa, Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska have all won the Nobel Prize. Imagine a country that had a Marie-Curie Skłodowska Day or a Frédéric (Fryderyk) Chopin Day or even a Stanisław Lem Day? Whatever your political allegiances, you cannot argue with the fact that these individuals have changed the world in which we live.

Defeatist Roll Call
Instead, Poland has a public holiday to commemorate the Warsaw Uprising which was a military disaster and complete failure. Poland also honours the failed Third of May Constitution which, although being an amazing landmark in the history of democracy, came to nothing and heralded the end of Poland as a state for 123 years. I will not be surprised if the Katyń Massacre becomes a sacred state holiday in the years to come. We also should not forget the honour that surrounds All Saint’s Day (see previous post).

Time for Change
It really is time for Poland to embrace all its successes and glory days. This does not entail a headlong charge towards bigotry and right-wing patriotism (although it never harmed the British cause), but it does mean that the Mea Culpa attitude should be supplanted with an atmosphere of success and forward thinking.

9 thoughts on “In Honour of Defeatism

  1. Again, I think this is a generational matter. Those who are wallowing in defeatism are those who experienced nothing but defeat – the ruins after the Second World War, the failure of their ultra-nationalist, hardline-Catholic vision to take the prize after the collapse of Communism, or to convince the public in the subsequent 17 years. (Yes, they’re in power _now_, thanks to 25% of the votes of 50% of the Polish electorate. ‘Victory’?)

    The young are aware of all of these things, but did not live through them; they live in a better, more prosperous, more open Poland than has ever been in the nation’s history. They are aware of themselves as Europeans, citizens of the world, able to communicate with whom they want and go where they want to. Their entire outlook is coloured by this, as opposed to their parents, for whom a trip to a fellow fraternal Socialist state was an enormous privilege. When today’s young reach positions of power, their attitudes will be rather different. That’s why I stay here! 🙂

  2. “…I think this is a generational matter…”
    Jim, of all people you should know this is NOT a generational matter. The Poles have been famed throughout history for their romantic (yet ridiculous) conception of patriotism (compare the Czech view), that is, fight to the last man standing regardless of whether it is a good idea or not. Another analogous point, why did the French not fight for Paris? Not because they were cowards but they saw enough sense to preserve their capital.

    A qualitative change must take place before we can actually begin talking about the new generation being ‘different’.

  3. I know what you mean, mate, but my point is that today’s generation do not live under the fear of the obliteration of their state and their nation for the first time in – pick a figure, 300, 400 years -, and so have no need to feed off such historical myths of noble defeat and martyrs’ suffering, in the way their antecedents did when the threat of extinction (either military or socio-cultural) was real and ever-present.

    We don’t like Vladimir Vladimirovich but he isn’t going to invade Poland any time soon, and no-one sane really believes he would. The Germans are actually showing benign tolerance, understanding and support to the Polish nation, and deal with the Kaczors’ outbursts with weary, patient resignation rather than with sanctions, threats, or tanks at Swinoujscie and Slubice, as they might have done in the past.

    The times are different, Rafster. History does not repeat itself in unvarying circles. I am sure that many of the intellectual tropes of today will still exist in the Poland of 2107, but they will be polite, meaningless, ossified relics of the bleeding wounds they originally symbolised, just as Guy Fawkes’ Day or ‘Ring-a ring-a roses’ are in England now. A free, unthreatened, unfettered Poland – for the first time since the 17th century – will not need to pick at its scars on a regular basis.

  4. I like what’s on your mind, Jim. You most certainly have a decent enough point, but WWII only ended just over fift years ago. Who knows what will come in several year’s time. I firmly believe history IS cyclical…

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre…
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity…

  5. Wouldn’t it be just peachy to have every Polish person just forget what happend in World War II? Better yet, wouldn’t it be ideal to have them forget that for as long as the oldest of Poland’s citizens can remember, the nation has been at odds with Germany and Russia?

    You seem to ignore the fact that Poland’s so-called “defeatism” and “twisted romantic” view of patriotism has been fueled by a desire to live free of foreign rule, because, much as modern philosophers would like to tell me the contrary, it IS better to breath the free air, to live a life of your own and not be some other’s dictatorship. That is why Poland was extremely optimistic on the 1st of September, 1939. Poland was Optimistic that the beautiful words of it’s so-called allies would turn to real aid. Instead, a month passed whilst the French scratched their collective arses and England Protested. It’s hard not to have a defeatist attitude when your allies leave you to the wolves. Better yet, not a single of Poland’s allies would even consider any kind of diplomatic action against the USSR.

    For years Polish blood ran on the battlefields of Europe, for a continent that would not only turn a blind eye to the rape of a nation in who’s name WWII was initiated. It’s hard not to see black everywhere when that is in-fact what you see.

    Now, Poland is expected to bend over backwards and be grateful that it was given the honour of a membership in the European Union. Germany reminds Poland of that fact every time they meet, the same Germany which raped the land utterly, killing off the intelligence, razing the industry and doing all manner of things save for salting the land. The rest of the union seems to agree that Poland, after it’s stint in the blissful Utopia of the Iron curtain should just forget the past and look to the future. How convenient, that Poland should wipe it’s collective memory and exhonorate the very same people who sold it into utter slavery and now demand that Poland comply?

    Why does Poland celebrate the Warsaw Uprising? Because these people deserve it, they gave their lives for their nation, for 63 days they faught against the worst criminals the Nazis could muster, to clense the city. For 63 days they faught on, without provisions, without hope, without ammunition and without allies, none expected them to survive a week, and yet, they lasted 2 months. How dare you question the reasons for honoring these people? By what right do you judge Poland’s outlook towards Europe and it’s hypocritical ways? By what right do you Judge Poland, and it’s citizens and, with thinly-veiled remarks, equate them to cry-babies? At worst, they are stubborn, at best, they no longer trust any of their so-called “friends” and they won’t apologize for something that anyone else would do.

    You see, Poland’s much viellified twins are tackeling Poland’s problems head-on, it just happends that Poland’s problems lie in the past and are intricatly intertwined with a bitter history in which England, Germany and France do not make for a good triplet of friendly faces. To compound the problem one has to realise that the Polish nation was lead by an illegal assembly, imposed upon the people and elements of which are still prevelent in modern Poland, having taken on positions of power, priviledge and authority after the collapse of the communist apparatus. These people have never been brought to justice and much as the present day so-called intelligencia would like for the matter to be swept under the rug, it has to be settled as most of them, like then, are still corrupt and their loyalties can be bought by the likes of a modern resurgent Russia, fuelled by their increassed income. So as anyone with half a brain will see, bleeding-heart liberals and human rights activists can go and shove a certain body part up an other body part because the intrests of the nation should outweigh the interests of the individual when it comes to national integrity and justice.

    So much as you would like to compare Poland to other European nations, you simply cannot make any kind of comparison unless you compare it with the Ukraine and any other Eastern Block country, in which case you will see that their outlooks are generally very similar. Do not compare France, which has gotten fat off the blood of other nations with Poland, which has been raped like no other nation in modern History.

    As for the Grenoble incident, had you been more informed, it is customary in Poland to have a period of mourning for this kind of event, so it would be rather impolite of you to suggest that a nation’s customs are stupid.

    Had you also been better informed, Poland’s present constitution also heavily borrows from the initial constitution, even though it did speed up the innevitable end of the Commonwealth, it was still a land-mark in freedom, something that HAS to be set in stone. Unless you are a person that doesn’t like freedom and personnal liberties, in which case I would understand why a celebration of such a day would not interest you.

    Thank you and have a good night.

  6. Arthur,
    I appreciate your comments, but let me add my thoughts to what you have written:

    “Wouldn’t it be just peachy to have every Polish person just forget what happend in World War II?”

    No one in their right mind thinks that anyone should forget WWII. My case, Arthur, is not that we should stop celebrating these heroic achievements, but also focus on the things that we can all look upon with pride. No one would argue against Poland doing more than most countries in the fight for freedom, but let us also celebrate those great people who positively changed the face of the world.

    As for the allies who turned their back on Poland. Agreed, they did, but sadly Poland has never been important for these so-called allies, as history tells us. Poland, like the Czech Republic, Hungary or Slovakia has never been and never will be in the forefront of the minds of the West. A sad fact, which the EU will probably not change.

    But this is not the point of my comment. You believe, Arthur, that I’m painting a “cry-baby” view of Poland; a Poland that should forget all the wrong-doings of its neighbours. No. Not at all. Polish people should never forget these things. And never will, I hope. I believe that basing one’s whole ideology on these sad facts of Polish history is simply one-sided. Poland has a much richer history than the partitions, the Warsaw Uprising or WWII. Poland contributed as much to European culture, literature, the arts, freedom, philosophy and the sciences as most other EU states.

    All I wish for, Arthur, is a richer, positive and more open view of Poland’s contribution to history.

  7. Raf,

    I agree with some of both what you and Arthur say. It was also very interesting to read Jim’s views on this. I thought you’d spent a few years in the UK though? 🙂
    I think the British rather like to wallow in glorious defeat themselves. What about “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “The evacuation of Dunkirk” in 1940. The anniversary of the first day of the battle of the Somme makes the newspapers every year. And what about Manchester City supporters? Turning up week after week without hope of victory…

    I think the key common denominator, at least in the historical events above, and the reason why they are celebrated, is the acts of sheer heroism involved. Walking slowly into a barrage of shrapnel from artillery (incidentally, this is now thought to have caused more casualties than the machines guns, as the British were a bit sloppy and didn’t bother to deal with the German artillery adequately before the battle) plus machine gun fire is an act of almost inhuman gallantry that amazes us when we think about the bravery required by ordinary people like us. Likewise the other two defeats I mentioned. It doesn’t matter whether they were poorly planned, or were defeats militarily (in fact one could argue on an attritional basis that the Somme was at least a draw, taking the whole campaign into account). Although a more sane view is perhaps that everyone lost. In terms of heroism the Warsaw Rising is right up there with the 3 events I’ve mentioned that the British routinely commemorate every year. In fact you could argue it’s even more heroic due to the sheer length of time for which the heroism was required. Yes, I think the Warsaw Rising should be celebrated.

    It also seems to me that the issue of your celebration of the constitution is akin to our celebration of the Magna Carta. Things got much worse again before they got better, but the Magna Carta is, in some ways, recognised as a good start.

    I take your point though, that it would be good if the positives were also celebrated. Chopin and Marie Curie are famous the world over. I also believe that when it comes to politics and leadership it is important that we learn from history where the lessons are useful, but there is no need to make history our master. Yes, justice is important, but there is a balance to be struck I think between dealing with past injustices and not allowing bitterness/desire for retribution to sour the future. Poland needs to do what is best for Poland in the future. Despite my own leanings towards nostalgia and great interest in history, it’s the future that matters, not the past.

    BTW, the French Resistance did liberate large parts of Paris in 1944. The reason Paris wasn’t badly damaged by this (such that we see little evidence now) is twofold, partly de Gaulle (unlike Stalin) insisted on arriving ina timely manner, and partly because the German garrison commander, von Cholitz, disobeyed Hitler’s order to destroy the city (although his motivation may be controversial):

  8. Andy,

    As always, reading your comments is informative, enlightening and enjoyable. Yes, I suspect you are correct in saying that the British also celebrate losses. As you know, I’m a Derby County supporter. 🙂

    History is also a love of mine but you are right in saying that we should recognise that it’s the future that really counts and I think it’s that fact that must endure.

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