Polish Nationalism: An Ideology that Comes in Waves

This article is the first in a series of 3 examining the state of Polish nationalism from the perspective of ASW.

By Zofia Ciolek

A young man makes his way down the front steps, smiling as he sees his two friends standing at the gates of his apartment building. He doesn’t know that they’re here not just casually, but to warn him: rumours have been going around town that he’s friends with a man named Piotrowski. And nothing would be wrong with this friendship if there wasn’t one little detail. This man, Piotrowski, is a Jew.

This young man who got scolded by his friends in the sixties for being friends with a Jew was my grandfather, back then a Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish army, whose reputation could be harmed if people were aware that one of his close friends was a Jew.

Inspection of Armed Forces, 1978, including the author’s grandfather, standing top left. The sign in the background reads, “Our power in socialism, brotherhood in arms, ideological unity.”

During November of last year, Polish nationalism became a hot topic because of marches, racial slurs, and other regrettable actions that became a worldwide sensation.

Patriotism and nationalism are not the same thing. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, nationalism is “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.” Patriotism, on the other hand, is simply a devotion to one’s country and its people.

Though nationalism in Poland has become more visible now than it had been a few years ago, Polish nationalism has a long history stretching back to World War I. During the war, it didn’t matter if one had more nationalistic or patriotic views, all that mattered was that everyone supported the one cause, winning the war and having Poland become an independent country once more.

However, as soon as this wish was granted and the Rzeczpospolita Polska reappeared on the maps, the divide between patriots and nationalists started to arise.

T. Kaźmierowski, the founder of the Identitas Foundation, said in an email, “Interwar Poland was created in a huge measure thanks to a huge patriotic effort. Patriotism (which is not nationalism), was then later promoted in schools, civil services and in the army. Of course, what also developed (…) was Polish nationalism. This ideology was represented by the Narodowa Demokracja (National Democracy) party, as well as ONR or Falanga.”

Kaźmierowski went on to say that, “Unlike in Germany, Italy, and many other countries, in Poland the National Democracy party from time to time could be found in the ruling coalition. However it was never able to play the lead role, especially when, after 1926 and the May Coup), the loyal to Piłsudzki organisation BBWR (which consisted of many people, from socialists to people with more conservative views) didn’t allow the National Democracy party into any coalition. Nevertheless, this party had some type of affect on part of the population, especially promoting anti semitic messages (which were not exactly what we consider anti-Semitism today) as well as anti-German ones.”

This means that Polish nationalism had been suppressed for many years by more democratic and at the times popular parties in order to keep them out of the government. However, after the war, due to the fact that Poland was under socialist rule and didn’t have a purely democratic government, these hateful ideas again began to arise from old wounds or general assumptions that other ethnicities were worse.

As mentioned before, Polish nationalism had always fluctuated from being invisible to being written about in newspapers worldwide. The next fall of Polish nationalism is clearly evident during the anti-communist movement, when people had thrown away their personal ideas and beliefs in order to reach one common goal – get rid of the communists.

According to Mr. Pan Adam, an ASW Individuals and Societies teacher, during the anti-communist era, even the church, which is now widely known for supporting the right-wing party and having views leaning to more to the nationalistic ones, did not pay any attention to diversity, and only focused of getting rid of the communists. “Although the Roman Catholic Church played a very important role, all of the members of such diverse movement, did not actually pay any attention, or used nationalism as a glue to unite such a diverse organisation or community. So it was more patriotic and the division line was them — communists — and us — patriots and anti-communists.” As he said, in those times nationalism would blend with patriotism in order to face the one common enemy.

After the liberation from the communists, Poland had to find a way to get back on its feet, so much thought on these ideologies was not given until more recent years, when social media platforms have made spreading such ideas much easier than it used to be, which may have contributed to the rising nationalistic spirit. Poland has always had a fluctuating visibility of nationalists. The question is whether Polish nationalism is now on the rise or again about to fall.

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