Victims of Their Own Making

The Victim Complex
The Victim Complex

For a number of years now there has been a growing trend within right-wing Polish politics which is particularly perplexing. Right-wing politics is often equated with patriotic and nationalist sentiments, glorifying past (and present) achievements as well as demonstrating the greatness of one’s nation. However, attitudes within right-wing (and liberal) circles in Poland seem to be advocating a different approach. This approach reached its apex when Law and Justice (PiS) came to power in 2005.

Christ Nation
The Christ Nation

Together with the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) and populist Self-Defence (Samoobrona), this approach became entrenched and particularly visible in Polish foreign policy during the PiS years. Polish politics (heavily influenced by the Catholic church at the time) embraced an almost ‘Christic’ and/or ‘martyrological’ approach to their own history. Poland was seen by these politicians to be both the saviour and martyr of Europe, the ‘Christ’ of European nations.

The German Invasion
The German Invasion

When arguing for Poland’s God-given right to have more votes in the EU’s then new system of voting, one of the Kaczyński brothers said that had it not been for World War II, Poland’s population would be greater and so they deserve more votes in the EU. This attitude continued throughout their term in office and continues today. Certain politicians feel Poland ‘deserves’ more because it suffered so much. This attitude of Poland being the ‘eternal victim’ is extremely dangerous for a number of reasons.

The Destruction of Self
The Destruction of Self

Firstly, with it comes a large whiff of misplaced arrogance which, to the outside world, is particularly irritating when the only arguments that can be heard coming from the Polish camp are that Poland deserves more because it had to live though both Nazism and Communism. Secondly, when such a victim complex becomes entrenched its proponents begin to genuinely believe it. So much so that extolling the virtues of being a victim turns into a form of flagellation or even historical and political self-mutilation.

The New History
The New History

Recently, there has been much talk about historical revisionism. Russia particularly has been found guilty of practising the re-writing of history. However, is Poland’s victim status also a form of revisionism? Believing that Poland is forever Europe’s martyr is useful as it absolves the nation of crimes previously committed, such as Jedwabne or Operation Wisła. How can the victim have ever been the tormentor?


25 thoughts on “Victims of Their Own Making

  1. The right always somehow illogically tried to combine self aggrandizement and victimization. We are not only a great nation and Europe owes us, but also we are poor little Poles who constantly get a whipping from big bad bullies. Europe and the world should be in awe and feel pity for us, all at the same time. Now all we need a stab in a back and the circle will be complete.

    Oh wait, 17th was not even two weeks ago……..

  2. I’ve always wondered how Poland’s political and cultural dominance over Lithuanians, Belarussians and Ukrainians avoids comparisons with Poland’s own domination by other powers.

    Kulturkampf in Old Prussia: Bad.
    Polonisation in Belarus: OK.

    The latest ‘Przegląd’ has an article about how Belarus sees the 17th of September. For them, it marks the unification of Belarus, previously partitioned between Poland and USSR.

  3. When it comes to anniversaries the rule seems to be:

    Tragic defeat? Yes please.
    Uplifting celebration of achievement? No thanks.

    To find out about a recent anniversary which was completely ignored, I humbly draw your attention to the latest translation at the Czarny Kot blog.

  4. Czarny, muchos dziekos for the heads-up (your article) and the comments. 🙂 I too find it irritating how Polish politicians seem to avoid talking about the subjugation of the Lithuanians and Ukrainians…

  5. Because we never did, The Polish-Lithuanian Union was a benevolent state that benefited all. We saved those people from themselves. Any and all uprisings were by malcontents and criminals as that great historian Sienkiewicz so vividly has shown in his works.
    This is why we are so loved by all our neighbours. Only some of the ungrateful ones fail to see the way they benefited from us. If they could, I am sure, most would want to be re-unified under Poland.

  6. Two things:

    1. Jedwabne is a really bad example. Jewish murdered many of Poles in 1939. It is an unfortunate conflict and on our land. Blame Americans for holocaust on Indians or blacks or English people for their bloody crusades around the globe. It’s more interesting.
    2. Spiking of historical mutilation you should mention Jews who make fortunes and gain political and economical power on their everlasting, intentional flagellation. More detestable are their arbitrary accusations of anti-Semitic activity on anyone who would dare to disagree with them. There is more and more article on this subject in US. Perhaps you should write about this because accusing Polish nation of flagellation is no constructive critic. It sounds like subjective political bias in somebodies favour. But whoes? I don’t want to know. I would be politically incorrect.

  7. Wow, someone has been reading up on Radio Maryja forums.

    Lukasz. Please, a few books, some sense, historical reflection, thanks.
    Why is Jedwabne a bad example? Because this time we killed Jews and not just watched?

  8. Hey Dave I’m looking really good. You haven’t seen me so don’t say anything yet 🙂
    Maybe we read different history book
    The bottom line is I think history have shown how duplicitous England, France and Germany are comparing to Poland.
    Rlisu don’t spit in my face bro. Poles saved thousands of Jews risking their own families. I know it from my grandmother. I can tell you are a hater and feed your mind on this stories of Jedwabne. Well, read this lecture and quench your thirst for blood.
    I’m no hater because I know that hate is a highway to nowhere.

  9. Speaking of hatred, thanks Lukasz, but no more Nowak articles and books for me, a few were too many.

    Yes we saved thousands of Jews, we also did not save many thousands more. Remember 90%, over 3 million, of Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust while most of Poles just watched.
    How am I a hater mate? Because I don’t hate Jews? Because I am a proud Pole? Just because I admit to our collective sins, and we have quite a few on our conscience? Is that why? Are all our compatriots saints?
    Perspective my friend, is something that you lack. Relax a little, admit to our failings, while remembering the good we have done, you’ll feel better, and wont be so bitter.

  10. “Poland was seen by these politicians to be both the saviour and martyr of Europe, the ‘Christ’ of European nations.”

    It’s nothing new. It’s the idea of the Polish nation under the 19th century partitions, created during Romanticism.

    Surely it’s not the best way of seeing oneself in times of peace, but I see no reason why one couldn’t be a victim and perpetrator in the same time. How many kids from toxic families are later said to create toxic relations in their own marriages?

    However, I don’t think that Jedwabne or the Operation Wisła are good examples of crimes committed by the Polish nation. As hideous as they were none of them was committed by the nation or its representatives. Poles cannot take blame for communist crimes, and the entire nation cannot be blamed for crimes committed by a band of criminals. We can take blame for something we embraced, at least the majority of us, so something our democratically chosen government did. It’s better to look for such examples in the interwar era.

      1. The end of your post states:

        “Believing that Poland is forever Europe’s martyr is useful as it absolves the nation of crimes previously committed, such as Jedwabne or Operation Wisła.”

        Of course those were Poles who committed those crimes, but there’s a difference between Poles and the Polish nation. How many Americans raped women last week? Would you say that the American nation is guilty of those crimes? The women too?

        There’s a difference between the nation and individuals. Nations aren’t biological organisms joined by a single mind. Their decisions can be only collective. I can feel responsible for Piłsudski, the Government in Exile, or Polish troops in Iraq, but not for a band of thugs, or for communists who terrorised the nation against its will, whatever their own nationality. I cannot feel guilt over the private decisions of my neighbours, but I can feel responsible for the government the Polish people choose. I have some influence in the latter case, even if limited.

  11. Those atrocities weren’t committed by any nation. They were committed by people who didn’t represent a nation. In one case they were a bunch of individuals, in the other they were representatives of an illegally imposed terror. No nation had chosen them. I’m not defending those to blame, they were Polish criminals. But it is wrong to blame the entire nation for actions that weren’t approved by it, or even were directed against it. Should I blame Russians or Georgians for Stalin’s crimes? Is the Jewish nation guilty of the Operation Wisła? Is the Polish nation guilty of expelling its own heroes to Siberia or of imposing the Stalinist terror in Poland, or the martial law for example? Are Poles to blame for Churchill and Roosevelt’s decisions in Tehran and Yalta? Can’t you really see how wrong it is?

    Is the British nation guilty of these?,uk_recession_increases_hate_crimes,3499.html

    If so why the queen doesn’t apologize to Poland?

    And if we equate crimes committed by individuals or organized terrorists with those committed by nations, what difference there will be? Why should nations stop short from committing crimes if their blame will be the same anyway? If a cousin of mine kills a man, will I have to serve his time in prison, because my whole family will be blamed? Finally, what will be the difference between a war or imposed state terror, and organized terrorism or street fight?

    You’re applying collective punishment for individual crimes.

    If you want to blame the Polish nation pick up crimes committed by the government chosen by the nation. I’m sure the interwar period will provide you with good examples to choose from, or at least find crimes committed by AK. If the Polish nation had a direct control over an institution or people who committed a crime, then the nation is to blame.

      1. Just as with any other country. I’m asking for equal treatment, so it shouldn’t make a difference which nation is brought as an example.

  12. The Polish Commies were the authorities then, so any actions like Operation Wisla, while under Soviet guidance, were officially sanctioned and are now ours. Its that simple. The Germans these days would love to say they did not start WWII cause its was the Nazis, but no, they did, the Nazi were German, how hard is that to understand.
    When people commit individual crimes we judge them individually, even when those crimes occur often like you rape example. But when groups act, we label them. Simple really. What are you having trouble with Sylwia? You seem confused.
    Like it or not (and I do NOT like it) the Red bastards were Poland’s rulers, so anything they did meant that Poland did it. Sure we can put an asterisk, but it changes nothing.

    1. The Nazis came to power via democratic elections. They weren’t imposed on the German nation from the outside. That’s why we say the Germans did it. But, at the same time, we speak of the Soviets and not the Russians. There was a Polish-Bolshevik War, but not a Polish-Nazi War etc.

      Just as the Commies were the authorities back then, the Nazis were the authorites during the war. Does it mean that we get to share their responsibility too?

      I’m surprised that so many people here seem to be confused. It’s a common terminology, applied by any respectful historian. Only somehow the standard for Poland differs.

      1. So wait. Unless it was though choice and democracy it does not count? The Turks routinely had overthrown their govt, yet whatever they did it was Turkey not a few generals. Are the Chinese people not responsible for the Cultural Revolution?
        And what? Your Nazi point makes no sense. We had no official govt that collaborated with the Germans. So no we are not responsible for the actions of a foreign occupier that oppressed Poland. We are however responsible when we as a people participated in govt and collaborated with the Red bastards. As i said, you can put an asterisk but it wont change a damned thing. Poles did it. Polish communists. And Polish people.
        And I interchange Soviets and Russians, as the USSR was dominated by Russia. And so what if historians don’t use it. Not everyone is a professional historian. Those same historians have a few things to answer for anyway seeing as many of them change their tunes according to the wind. And its not only Poland as I pointed out. You’re just arguing for arguments sake, in the end its semantics.

  13. Hmm, you’ve just proved my point. There’s a double standard: for the West (Nazi Germany, Vichy France etc.) and for the East (Poland, Russia, Turkey, China).

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