Here we are again. 11th of November. Polish day of Independence.
My first ever article for Blisty.cz was an attempt to explain, how is it that Poles celebrate their independence by rioting on the streets of Warsaw. I explained how Jarosław Kaczyński and his party are responsible for rise of extreme right in Poland. Six years later, and Poland celebrates its centenary of independence with Jarosław Kaczyński ruling the country through his subordinates. During their race to power, PiS was criticizing previous governments for “politics of shame”, saying that Poles don’t need to apologize for their sins or look up to others, but instead Poland should stand proud of its history and heritage. When they won elections in 2015, they promised that the 2018 celebrations will be great like no other before. Expectations were great, many Poles remember, that in 1966 to celebrate a millennium of Polish state (the year 966, when king Mieszko I got baptized and married his Czech wife is considered to be first day of modern Polish state), the communist government has built a thousand schools (and a few hundred more in following years). They promised a lot. How is that then, that three years later the major event was a march organized by radical right, where Polish soldiers were marching side by side with fascists from Forza Nuova?
Chapter one: EXPECTATIONS
They promised a lot. The newly created Polish National Foundation, together with the minister of culture, boasted about their plans to
Ok, it’s quite nice, but some noticed, that Palace of Culture and Science, Polish capital’s most famous building, that happened to be a Stalin’s gift to Poland, has been digitally removed from the panorama of Warsaw. Nothing new here, PiS is known for their attempts to change history. Others criticized the choice of Mel Gibson –
The movies were not the only big project of the foundation though. They also planned to spread a message about Poland by sailing a luxury yacht around the globe. The project ended in a disaster after a smaller foundation run by an Olympic sailor Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Polish National Foundation argued about money, and then blamed each other for stealing its project. The PNF came victorious (no wonder, with backing, also financial, of the government) and announced that project will go ahead anyway under the different name and with the different crew. Somehow, though, the balloon was already busted and the interest is gone. I trawled the media and failed to find even the information if the big voyage has already begun as planned…
Apart from that, it does not seem that the foundation is doing any significant work. But, luckily, the government itself was also working on preparing the centenary celebrations. A special institution was established in 2016, with a budget of over 200 000 000zł, the big announcements were made, hopes raised and then… It all went quiet. Of course, here and there were some leaks about the big preparations – Mateusz Morawiecki even announced, that he invited Angela Merkel to take part in the celebrations, but with the 11th of November drawing closer, there was still not a sign of any events to happen. Poles started to wonder if anything was organized at all. The government tried to save face with a claim, that instead of one big event, they plan to organize 1000’s of events all across the country and quickly developed a website with a map of everything that is going on in connection to the celebrations. It indeed looked impressive until you went deeper and realised, that most of the points of the map refer to some small, local events, organized by schools, local councils or other grass-roots organizations, that would happen anyway.
Chapter two: PREPARATIONS
[In order to fully appreciate the following part of the article, I suggest the reader would play suitable soundtrack in the background: click here]
The challenge was big. First of all, it was too late to make it international. Even assuming, that any significant world leader other than Orban would like to come to Poland, 11 November also happens to be Armistice day, so all European leaders would celebrate the end of the Great World in Paris. “But that’s OK” – though PiS – “we just announce that all world leaders are coming to celebrate Polish independence in December. After all, they are coming anyway, as the UN summit for Climate Change is going to take place in Katowice”. Phew, that was close call, but the government managed to dodge this one.
Now, something for the president to do. Usually on such days president gives people orders and medals. But here lies a problem: more and more people decline to take medals and orders from the hands of a president who breaks the constitution. He could keep giving medals to friends of PiS, but on that side, everybody and their dog already have some, that would look stupid to give them more, or to honour some random nobodies. Luckily, they came with a great idea. Why not make this day great by giving the highest medals to the most important Poles in history? Nobel laureates Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Władysław Reymont, Janusz Korczak – legendary educator and pedagogue, who accompanied orphans from his institution to death camp, Stanisław Banach – one of the most important XX century mathematicians and many, many others – nobody would protest against giving them medals, right? And the fact that they are a long time dead would help to ensure, that none of them would make any scenes like making speeches calling for the constitution to be observed… So that’s another problem sorted.
Now, it would be nice to unveil something. What a shame, that Józef Piłsudski museum in Sulejówek, originally planned to be opened in December 2017, even despite heroic attempts of the construction teams, has no chance to be ready for 11th of November 2018. But you know what? Let’s celebrate Piłsudski achievements by overshadowing his monument with
But we need a place that would be prominent enough. So far, unlike 140 or other towns and cities, Warsaw successfully managed to avoid having Lech Kaczyński monument placed in a prominent location. This difficulty had to be overcome. Luckily, the government had already taken over one of the Warsaw’s main square – Piłsudski square, where military parades happen and the grave of the unknown soldier is located. The government took over this square from the Warsaw’s mayor, quoting requirements of national security, and a monument to victims of the crash have already been placed there despite widespread protests. So why not place a monument of Kaczyński there as well? There was already a competition, and while the best project had been appreciated by experts, for PiS the statue of Kaczyński walking through several walls was too modern. They like something that shows the true greatness of the beloved leader, so they went for a different concept. They looked for inspirations and they found one in distant Turkmenistan: the Kaczyński monument is very similar to that of the
At the beginning of November a new passport has also been unveiled, causing controversies with the fact, that it bears the
But then – a disaster! Someone realized, that 11th of November is not only Armistice day. It also falls on Sunday. Poles won’t be able to celebrate properly if they won’t have a day off. Therefore PiS decided to give them an extra day off. The relevant bill has been pushed through the lower chamber of the parliament in express mode and went to the Senate, which returned it back for some amendments. That did not bother Andrzej Duda, who, being Andrzej Duda, announced that he is going to sign it before the final version even existed. And so, on 7th of November, it has been announced, that 12th of November is a day off for everyone. Except for doctors. And some other people, who have work. And shops, maybe. Or maybe not. And then, if one is a doctor, but his children have a day off school, who is going to take care of them? What with courts, that had a sitting scheduled for months, and now have no chance to properly inform anyone about them being cancelled due to that new National Holiday? In other words – a total disaster estimated to cost the economy over 6 billion zł, before even taking costs of that chaos into consideration.
Meanwhile, Poles started to realize, that the centenary celebrations are really going to be a total failure. It was obvious that PiS was desperate to come with anything at all. Mishaps and fail starts were happening all the time. The prime minister’s office announced that there will be a concert involving some second class bands. Strangely enough, some of the bands themselves denied any knowledge of such
Something had to be done. Luckily, there is still that annual march organized by nationalists in Warsaw. It used to end in riots, but since PiS came to power, the nationalists have it good as never before, so now, it is a march of victory of the radical right, in which they celebrate the fact, that in today’s Poland they became mainstream. But this is good since there will be no riots, perhaps we could simply hook up to it and claim, that this is a march of unity, in which all Poles can march together?
President Duda issued an open invitation to former presidents and members of the opposition to march together. Somehow this appeal was not met with
Soon the president Duda himself announced, that he himself is not going to walk in the march that he invited others
So now, with just a few days to spare, PiS had to organize their own event from scratch. Sadly, nationalists already booked the most important route in Warsaw. And it was impossible to remove them, as they took advantage of the new law introduced by PiS to protect their monthly Smoleńsk celebrations. The law says that regular events have priority, and the nationalist march is a regular – annual – event. PiS tried to argue, that government events have priority, but had no backing in law for that, so they had to step down. It was a total
Luckily, the ban has been overturned in court. Meanwhile, PiS already announced that they are going to march the same route. So now, their only option now was a hostile takeover.
The problem was, that the policemen were on strike. And since they are not allowed to strike, they took doctor’s leave en mass (which says something about Poland, as everyone is able to go to the doctor and say “I need a few days off” and get a doctor’s leave). With up to 46% of Police officers off duty in some cities, police chiefs were desperate to get them back to work – they begged and threatened, tried to bribe them with 1000 zł extra for coming back to work – to no avail. Finally, the government decided to meet trade union demands, stroking the deal at all cost, but even this beneficial deal failed to meet expectations of regular police officers, who felt betrayed by trade union leaders. So the government had no choice, but to bring the army in.
Yes, the army. The plan was simple – since the army is already participating in international NATO exercise, a detachment of armoured vehicles will be diverted to Warsaw and parked on Dmowski square, the march planned start point, thus making it impossible for nationalists to gather there. It was also said, that military police will be deployed to guard order, which caused further chaos due to legal issues. And so, two days before the big day, the only thing was chaos and disinformation. Nobody knew anything, and it was quite likely, that Warsaw will see riots as never before. In the anticipation of such event, the government again fenced off half of Warsaw city centre using preparation to unveiling Kaczyński’s monument on a Saturday as a pretext.
The works forced a Historic Picnic, an event organized by city of Warsaw, to be disbanded on the grounds of health and safety, as it was impossible to carry on with heavy trucks and equipment working amongst the crowds…
Chapter three: SCHRÖDINGER”S MARCH
Luckily, it all ended well. The government somehow managed to come to the understanding with the nationalists. They decided, that they will march together, although in two separate marches. For the government it was kind of Schrödinger ‘s cat case: if the thing ended in riots, the government could blame the nationalists and claim that there were two separate marches. If all went well, then they could claim they managed to achieve national unity. Meanwhile, the nationalists were able to march a couple of
With no major rioting, the government announced a march of unity to be successful. Unlike the one in Wrocław, where radical former priest Jacek Międlar ignored the fact that the local march had been deemed illegal due to several breaches of law and from the stage located on the market square continued with his raging speech full of racist and anti-Semitic crap, abusing the city president and “other Jews and whores, enemies of Poland”.
He was cheered by a bunch of aggressive skinheads, who just a moments before attacked a small counter manifestation, hurting two participants and a police officer.
On that backdrop, the march in Warsaw really looked quite harmless, so PiS announced it to be a great success. But perhaps a bit too early, as soon pictures and footage started to emerge, showing, that for nationalists in Warsaw, despite government attempts to arrest the most radical ones, it was also business as usual. Celtic crosses and other symbols of the radical right were visible:
There were no doubts about the political views of the marching, they were chanting slogans such as “Poland only for Poles” or “Europe only for Europeans”.
It was pretty clear that they are not supportive of the government immigration policy, they were filmed singing “
Later, the crowd chanting “Down with European Union” burned its flag, chanting “the rag is on fire”. The organizers were proud of that achievement:
Despite assurances of the organizers (both government and right-wing), not everyone was welcome. A journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza was attacked by a masked man.
As usual, also the law regarding pyrotechnical materials was totally ignored. Despite them being illegal during mass events, the flares, that are indivisible with Polish right, due to its roots in football hooligan culture, were set on fire by everyone, including firemen and paramedic on duty:
The government knew that the things went too far, especially after the only message visible in foreign media was, that Poland’s top political figures marched together with the radical right. They needed to distance themselves from all that, so they decided to act, and so a police hunt for the people photographed with burning flares has begun.
A bounty of 5000 zł on the head of the man, who burned the EU flag was also announced. Soon a treasurer of Młodzież Wszechpolska, one of the radical right organisation turned up at the police station reporting, that it was their chairman who did it and demanded to be paid for the information. They then ridiculed the government, saying, that even if they will have to pay a fine for burning the flag, they will still land at a profit and that they are going to use bounty money to fund their nationalist activity. So far, police deny paying off, but it does not really matter – this was a mere flick in the government’s nose. The radical right is victorious in any way.
– they managed to organize the biggest event for the centenary of the Polish independence
– they avoided government hostile take over, and still managed to have it their way
– due to the failure of the government side, Poles, who felt a need to celebrate this day, had no choice, but to join the radicals in their march, as there was virtually no alternative. Now the organizers can claim, that with over 125 000 participating in the march, they enjoy a wide support.
The government-controlled media pump the narration, that the march was an overwhelming success. But it does not matter. Pat and Mat from the animated series also usually end the chapter with their signature gesture, believing that a disastrous outcome of their mischief was “excellent”. But the truth is: it’s a total disaster. Kaczyński’s Golem is on the loose. The Jinn is out of the bottle. It does not look good for PiS, as they are now caught between a hammer and a hard place – with the rampaging nationalism on one side, and the fierce opposition of the majority of Poles on the other. But what is even worse, it is a tragedy for Poland. Because in the times, when European humanity faces such big challenges like crumbling European Union and Global Warming, we will have to work on fixing the country that is broken in half. This can take decades.
In that context, the song sung by Ewa Farna during the finale of the special concert becomes even more significant:
This song was written in 1988 and speaks about German capital divided by the Berlin wall. But today, those words seem to describe Poland even better:
“My street is divided by the wall
The right side is lightened with neon lights
The left side is totally dark
I watch both sides, hidden behind the curtain”.
This is how many of us feel now.
This piece was written for Britske Listy.
Picture: Public Domain