Is Wałęsa Poland’s Hero?

March 9, 2016

On the backdrop of what has been happening recently in relation to Lech Wałęsa, I was reminded of a post I wrote almost eight years ago. I’m re-posting it for your enjoyment…

Get WałęsaThe political climate in Poland is abubbling, afrothing and afoaming due to the imminent publication of SB a Lech Wałęsa (the Secret Police and Lech Wałęsa) by Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk. The authors of the book, two historians who work for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), claim that the former President of Poland and legendary leader of Solidarity Lech Wałęsa was in fact a communist agent (Polish TW = tajny współpracownik = secret agent) with the pseudonym “Bolek”. A double agent, no less. This has sent shock waves across the Polish political landscape causing an incredible polarisation of an already divided political scene.

Bolek or Not
WałęsaThere are in effect two camps. Those who believe Wałęsa is the now mythical “Bolek” and those who believe there is no way on God’s Earth that the leader of Solidarity, the man who defeated communism and a devout Catholic could have played for both sides. The “Bolek” camp is headed by the terrible twins, wannabe Machiavellis, Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński who very early on in their political careers made it clear that they thought Wałęsa was “Bolek”. Interestingly, they only made their opinions known when Wałęsa threw his former aide Lech Kaczyński out of his office and decided he was unfit to work in politics and when Wałęsa decided to put an end to the ill-fated government of Kaczyński buddy Jan Olszewski (as well as Antoni Macierewicz).

Campaign of Dishonour
WałęsaThe truly annoying thing about this campaign to discredit the Nobel Peace Prize winner is that Kaczyński and Kaczyński have quite literally pulled out all the stops to besmirch Wałęsa. The IPN is loaded with Law and Justice (PiS) cronies who have not yet been cleared out by the government of Civic Platform (PO). Several days ago, Polish National Television (TVP) broadcast a so-called documentary which provided ‘hard evidence’ that Wałęsa was “Bolek”. Actually, this ‘papumentary’ was more an advert for the book. TVP is of course headed and managed by a whole slew of PiS sympathisers casting a dark shadow over the journalistic credibility of the programme. What is more, the now infamous book is an alleged history based on IPN documents. It is odd that a history book posits a thesis at the beginning rather than look at the facts and then draw a conclusion.

What if…?
Man of the YearThe question on most people’s lips is what will happen (or become of Wałęsa) if it turns out that he did collaborate with the SB. Those people who survived communism know full well that a large majority of people did collaborate. So what? They did so to survive. I suggest the younger generation go out and watch the poignant Das Leben der Anderen which shows how communism was never truly black and white. We are rarely confronted with true, pure evil in life and people usually come in shades of grey. If Wałęsa did collaborate (which I severely doubt) then I’m sure he did it to protect the fragile, embryonic democracy that he was trying to nurture. If he did collaborate why doesn’t he admit it? Life is never black and white and to point the finger and to name names would do no good now. The facts are that Wałęsa did more for freedom than most men do in their whole lives and that can never be taken away from him.


Wojtek the Soldier Bear

December 14, 2013
Hero Bear

The Soldier Bear

Reblogged from Newzar (by Kamila Kulma)

The Wojtek Memorial Trust will erect a statue of the famous Nazi-battling brown bear that became the pride of General Władysław Anders’ Army. The bronze statue will stand in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 2014. “It will be a symbol of friendship between Poland and the United Kingdom,” said Robin Barnett, British Ambassador to Poland. Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear, was found in Iran by a local boy in April 1942. He sold the bear cub to soldiers of the Polish Army stationed nearby for a couple of cans of meat. As a cub, Wojtek had problems swallowing so the little bear was fed condensed milk from a vodka bottle. Later, the soldiers fed him fruit, marmalade, honey and beer, which became his favourite drink. Wojtek became the mascot of all the Polish units stationed nearby and was taught to salute. He enjoyed smoking and eating cigarettes. When the Polish Army was later deployed in Europe the only way to keep Wojtek, also known as the ‘Soldier Bear’, was given a rank and number. Consequently, Wojtek was officially drafted into the General Anders Army and listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. Together with the soldiers, firstly as a rank-and-file soldier and then with the rank of corporal, he moved from Iran to Iraq and then through Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Italy. An image of Wojtek carrying an artillery shell became the official symbol of 22nd Company. As the end of the WWII approached, the future of the Polish Army was uncertain. Many soldiers who served in the same unit as Wojtek were from eastern Poland. This territory was invaded by Stalin in 1939 and the Yalta Conference legitimised the Soviet territorial smash-and-grab leaving many Polish soldiers with no homes to go back to. Most of them remained in exile, including Wojtek.

Polish War Hero

Brothers-in-arms

In 1946 the Polish bear sailed together with his brothers-in-arms of the General Anders Army to Clydes and were then transported to Berwickshire. A year later Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he spent the remaining years of his life. He was often visited by journalists and his Polish friends from the army who tossed him sweets and cigarettes. Wojtek continued to react to words spoken in Polish. Sadly, Wojtek died in December 1963 in Edinburgh Zoo. “Wojtek deserves to be called a War Hero who moved soldiers’ hearts,” said British Ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett. “He was a soldier who helped strengthen the friendship between Brits and Poles. As the beloved mascot of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps not only did he boost morale but he also supported his fellow soldiers on the fields of combat. He took active participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino during which Polish soldiers played a major role,” said Robin Barnett. In his opinion, the story of Wojtek is inspiring and has great historic significance. Dorota Gałaszewska-Chilczuk of the Office of War Veterans and Victims of Oppression emphasised that Wojtek made important contributions to winning WWII. She added that he served and was paid like every other soldier. In his case the salary were increased portions of food and beer as a bonus. He was very close with his fellow soldiers and lived with the other men in the same tent. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Wojtek transported ammunition and never dropped a single crate. He also carried heavy mortar rounds. “The Soldier Bear took part in the liberation of Ancona and Bologna,” said Galaszewska-Chilczuk. She also added that Wojtek became very popular among civilians and the press when he arrived in Scotland.

Brothers-in-arms

Hero among Heroes

The Polish-Scottish Association made Wojtek an honorary member. “In order to pay homage to the Soldier Bear,” said Krystyna Szumelakowa, of the Wojtek Memorial Trust, “the story of war and friendship will be immortalised with a bronze statue”. The Wojtek Memorial Trust hopes that the life-sized statue will be unveiled in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. “The statue will be cast in Poland and given to Scottish authorities as a present from Poland,” explained Szumelakowa. Thanks to the efforts of the Trust a special tartan has been created in honour of Wojtek. Deirdre Kinloch Anderson, senior director at Leith-based kilt and Highland dress experts Kinloch Anderson, the designers of the Wojtek tartan, said she was “extremely proud” of helping to design the tartan dedicated to Wojtek. The story of Wojtek was popularised by former soldiers of the Polish II Corps, Wieslaw Lasocki, author of the book, “Wojtek from Monte Cassino – the Story of an Amazing Bear”, published in 1968. Writer Aileen Orr, whose book “Wojtek The Bear – Polish War Hero” was published in 2010, heard the story of Wojtek from her grandfather, a King’s Own Scottish Borderers colour sergeant who met the bear in Egypt and Palestine before he met him again later in Scotland. There is now a plaque dedicated to the legendary bear in Edinburgh Zoo. There are also plaques commemorate Wojtek’s war efforts in the War Museum in London, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and in the Sikorski Insitute in London. In March 2009, the Scottish Parliament organised a reception to honour Wojtek. Every Remembrance Day, Scottish people gather at the Polish Memorial Garden in Edinburgh, many of them with teddy bears, which later are donated to charities for sick children.


Bizarre Polish Place Names

January 4, 2013
Ho, Indeed!

Ho, Indeed!

Inspired by several polls, lists and tables of ludicrous, embarrassing and rude English place names, I have decided to compile a similar list for Poland. However, before we get down to the polski equivalents, let’s delve into the most bizarre English ones I have been able to unearth. The Mirror and The Telegraph both have wonderful ‘top tens’ but my personal favourites, my top ten, if you like, has been put together using other lists, place name websites, and a host of other wonderfully funny sources. Here are my British favourites:
10. Zeal Monachorum, Exeter.
9. Burton-le-Coggles, near Grantham.
8. Durdle Door, Dorset.
7. Wide Open, Newcastle upon Tyne.
6. Wetwang, near Bridlington.
5. Bullyhole Bottom, Monmouthshire.
4. Cuckoo’s Knob, Wiltshire.
3. Cocklick End, Lancashire.
2. Loose Bottom, East Sussex.
1. Dancing Dicks, Essex.

Give It to Me Here

Give It to Me Here

Not sure that the Polish ones can match the British ones but let’s have a go. Many humourous British place names seem to revolve around the countless fun that can be had with sexual connotations – endless knobs, countless bottoms, the odd fanny and a splash of dick now and again make for japes all around. The funniest (or rather, strangest) Polish ones I have been able to find seem to revolve around odd word/phrase formations. I’ve also included my own personal gloss/translation of each place name just to help all of you non-Polish speaking souls. Here is the list (and just a sample of the fun you can have with place names):
10. Koce Schaby (Cat’s Chops), in the Province of Mazovia. 
9. Zgniłocha (Rottenness), Warmia-Mazuria.
8. Biały Kał (White Faeces), Lower Silesia.
7. Krzywe Kolano (Bent Knee), Kuyavia-Pomerania.
6. Koniemłoty (Horses’ Hammers), Świętokrzyskie Province.
5. Kukuryki (Cock-a-doodle-doos), Lublin Province.
4. Kłopoty Stanisławy (Stanisława’s Problems), Podlasie Province.
3. Młynek Nieśwniński (Small non-pig-like Mill), Wielkopolska.
2. Jęczydół (Moaning Pit), Western Pomerania.
1. Gnaty Wieśnaty (Bumpkin Bones), Mazovia.

There are, of course, countless others and this list could go on ad infinitum but that’s where I leave the rest to you. If you have any more interesting ones, please let me know. All of these place names have their etymological, geographical reasoning and it’s always interesting seeing new ones.


Lost Polish Tribe in Turkey

October 5, 2010

November Uprising Failure

November Uprising Failure

Few people know that the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the only major power to not recognise the Polish partitions and final dissolution of the state of Poland in 1795. What is more, Constantinople (now Istanbul) was the only capital city in the world to retain a Polish ambassador throughout the 123-year period during which Poland literally disappeared off the face of the map.

Czartoryski (and sons) - Founder of Adampol

Czartoryski (with sons) - Founder of Adampol

With these conditions in place, it made it easy for a Polish community to be set up in the Ottoman Empire. After the failure of Poland’s November Uprising in 1831 against the Russian Empire, a group of Poles decided to escape to the generally pro-Polish and anti-Russian lands of the Ottoman Empire. It is at this point the wonderful story of the establishment of a Polish settlement in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) begins. The village of Adampol (then known as Adamköy in Turkish, ‘the village of Adam’) was founded in 1842 by, and named after, Prince Adam Czartoryski, the head of the Polish National Uprising Government. The initial plan was to make Adamköy Poland’s most important emigration and expatriate hub after Paris. The plan was an ambitious one and was soon implemented by Czartoryski.

Adampol - Polish Colony in Turkey

Adampol - Polish Colony in Turkey

Prince Czartoryski dispatched his aide Michał Czajkowski (who later converted to Islam and became Mehmet Sadık Paşa) to Turkey. He purchased a large forested area on which Adamköy was founded. It was initially settled by only a handful of people but quickly swelled after the end of the Crimean War and with emigrants from Siberia. Adamköy-Adampol’s population seemed relatively stable for a period of years. Following the end of the first World War and the re-establishment of Poland, however, many of its inhabitants decided to ‘return’ to Poland.

Polonezköy - Polish-Turkish Village

Polonezköy - Polish-Turkish Village

One might even claim that Adampol, now known as Polonezköy (Turkish ‘Polish village’) is a ‘Polish-themed’ village. Even though only one third of Polonezköy’s inhabitants are of Polish descent and of its 1,000 inhabitants only 40 people speak Polish, the head of the village is traditionally chosen from amongst the Polish community of Polonezköy. Unlike the ‘lost Polish tribe of Haiti’ (mentioned in a previous post), Polonezköy still retains a Polish flavour and due to its unique character has had the honour of hosting a variety of distinguished guests including Turkey’s national hero and President Atatürk (in 1937), the future Pope John XXIII (in 1941), Turkish President Kenan Evren as well as Polish Presidents Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski.


Death of Solidarity

August 31, 2010
Spotlight on Poland

Spotlight on Poland

Nobody could have envisaged that the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of Solidarność (in August 1980) would turn into a farce and sound the death knell for Poland’s first trade union. It is fair to say that the anniversary celebrations symbolically, yet unintentionally, brought about the end of the heroic Solidarność of August 1980. The Janusz Śniadek-led politically-distorted Solidarity of 2010 has absolutely nothing in common with the Solidarity of 1980 that brought together people of varying views, opinions and political allegiances. Lech Wałęsa’s refusal to attend the celebrations was a clear cutting of the umbilical cord and demonstration of the fact that the legacy of Solidarity 1980 is to be found elsewhere, not in Solidarity 2010.

Tusk Called For Solidarity But Was Booed

Tusk Called For Solidarity But Was Booed

What was shocking about the celebrations was the reception that Prime Minister Donald Tusk got from the trade union members. Tusk, a former Solidarity member and activist, was hissed and jeered at when he asked the audience what had happened to the old Solidarity which brought together religious people, atheists, opposition activists and communists alike all for the good of the country. There was no room for hate. To this the hall erupted in a chorus of whistles and boos. Likewise, President Komorowski was greeted with hostility. It was only when PiS head Jarosław Kaczyński took the stage that the hecklers finally settled down giving him rapturous round of applause.

Kaczyński Giving Tusk 'The Evils'

Kaczyński Giving Tusk ‘The Evils’

Why was Jarosław Kaczyński giving a speech in the first place? He neither espouses to the ideals of tolerance and solidarity nor was he an integral member of the original movement. His place at the anniversary celebrations was misplaced, misconceived and misguided. He had neither the authority not the right to stand up and talk about ‘solidarity’ with the views he holds. In his speech he talked about manipulation and lies whilst looking straight at PM Tusk. Unsurprisingly, he talked about his patriotic brother Lech Kaczyński who, he alleged, had struggled with Tadeusz Mazowiecki (Poland’s first non-communist post-war Prime Minister) and Bronisław Geremek (Minister of Foreign Affairs) who were ready to give up the fight.

Henryka Krzywonos Strikes Back

Henryka Krzywonos Strikes Back

A hurt and shell-shocked Mazowiecki confronted Kaczyński afterwards telling him that what he had said was a complete pack of lies to which Kaczyński replied that he had a different view of what had happened. Mazowiecki retorted: “This has nothing to do with anyone’s views. It is about the facts and what happened. Gemerek’s no longer with us. How could you?! The facts are completely different”. However, what really rocked the celebrations was Henryka Krzywonos’ impromptu speech.

Henryka Krzywonos Saves The Day

Henryka Krzywonos Saves The Day

The former Solidarity heroine and tram driver hit the headlines when she brought traffic to a standstill and initiated a Solidarity-led strike in August 1980 when she stopped her tram. After hearing Kaczyński and the jeers at Tusk, she ploughed into the audience and Jarosław Kaczyński claiming that the members of Solidarity had worked for the good of everyone and to boo at PM Tusk was simply out of order. As for Kaczyński, she said she did not know what had happened to him but he should stop stirring things up and let people get on with their lives. “It is you,” she said to Jarosław Kaczyński, “who is destroying Lech’s [Kaczyński] dignity”.

Solidarność began life as a movement fighting for the rights of workers. Sadly, this non-violent and tolerant institution, open for all, became embroiled in politics and has since become the lapdog of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS). As Henryka Krzywonos, one of the original signatories of the Solidarity Gdańsk Agreement (pol. Porozumienie Sierpniowe) said, “The name ‘Solidarity’ binds and obligates us”. It certainly does; solidarity obligates us to work together, in tolerance and openness with one another.


The Rydzykisation of Poland?

July 29, 2010

The Good Father Rydzyk

Rydzyk - the Good Father

Jan Wróbel in a recent article in Wirtualna Polska talks about the ‘rydzykisation’ (pol. rydzykizacja) of not only Poland but surprisingly also of Civic Platform (PO). He is, of course, referring to Tadeusz Rydzyk the de facto head of catholic Radio Maryja and catholic TV station TV Trwam. He claims that although ‘rydze’ (pol. red pine mushrooms – a pun on the word Rydzyk) have been growing in the fields of Law and Justice (PiS) for quite some time, PO has now become infested. Wróbel believes the tide is turning. Many people were overjoyed when PiS was defeated in the parliamentary elections and the three-headed PiS-Samoobrona-LPR monster was resoundingly vanquished. However, the Smoleńsk tragedy changed all that and Law and Justice, like a phoenix from the flames, has returned and is ready to do battle.

Kaczyński - King of Conservatives

Kaczyński - King of Conservatives

Civic Platform could have never expected the support with which millions of people endowed Lech Kaczyński following his death in Smolensk. In many ways, he is a martyr… a political martyr. His death has in many ways helped turn around the fortunes of both PiS and his brother Jarosław Kaczyński. Before his death, all polls were showing a landslide victory for Bronisław Komorowski against Lech Kaczyński. Following the tragedy, Jarosław Kaczyński was only several percentage points away from defeating Komorowski in the presidential campaign. Radio Maryja and TV Trwam helped in this campaign but the truth of the matter is that many people were simply fed up with PO’s promises, PR and politicking. They wanted more substance and Jarosław Kaczyński was the man to give it to them.

Palikot - the Real Demon

Palikot - the Real Demon

Even though Komorowski won, Civic Platform wants revenge. It wants revenge for all those weeks of post-Smolensk emotional turmoil, Kaczyński adulation and Kaczyński hero worship. It too needs its Rydzyk, a hate-filled character that can move mountains. Civic Platform has unleashed its biggest monster. PO has unleashed Janusz Palikot. Compared to him, Tadeusz Rydzyk is a cherub. When we talk about a rydzykisation of Polish politics, we are actually talking about a politics of negation, of antipathy and of hate. Rydzyk has perfected this to an art (to the benefit of PiS). Now PO, with all their talk of a politics of love, of positivity and cooperation, are doing the same with Palikot. Is he, as so many supporters of PiS believe, a  harbinger of moral decay, or is he a sobering force in Poland’s emotional-driven political battleground?

rydzykizacja

Happy Birthday Raf!

July 26, 2010

I Wish!

Cake of My Dreams

I know it’s rather self-indulgent but who can blame me! I’d just like to tell you all that today, the 26th of July, is my birthday. Whoopee! And on this wonderful occasion, I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for reading this blog, for all your splendid comments (that are far superior to anything I attempt to regurgitate onto the ‘page’) and for ‘sticking’ with me, despite my thoughts, ideas and views. You have, officially, all made my day. Thanks! I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer.

Raf