The Trouble with Poland

Demographically and strategically, Poland is by far the most important of Europe’s new members. But the country's significance, as well as its real achievements since 1989, are being overshadowed by the resentful, intolerant discourse and behavior of its current leaders.

“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 14th. For on Bastille Day, a small Polish contingent marched down the Champs de Elysée 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.