Rage Over “Polish Death Camps”

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Big mistake: President Obama marred his White House ceremony last Tuesday evening, during which he presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bob Dylan, Madeline Albright, and other notables, with three fateful words: “Polish death camps.” These he uttered while awarding that medal to a representative of the now-deceased Jan Kozielewski, who during World War II actually had himself smuggled into and then out of the Warsaw ghetto and one of those death camps in order to report to the rest of the world what was going on there. Yes, they were “death camps,” but they were “Polish” only to the extent of being located in Poland. A better adjective is “Nazi” since they were set up, owned, run and operated by Hitler’s regime.

Poles around the world, most especially Polish government representatives, were distinctly displeased by the President’s remarks. No surprise, then, that one of the leading Polish papers, Gazeta Wyborcza, has put out a run-down of what has been done – and not done – in their wake, apology-wise:

Biały Dom: To była pomyłka. Przeprosiliśmy. I tyle http://t.co/If6a3o7M

@gazeta_wyborcza

Gazeta Wyborcza.pl


Translation: “White House: It was a mistake. We have apologized. And so on.” As in: “So don’t bother us about this anymore.” Yes, there is a palpable sub-text here of the American authorities trying to run away from the controversy, trying to downplay it. Why? Because this is an election year, silly, and so any (alleged) Obama error is sure to be pounced upon by the opposition. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Consolation-Prize Polish Missiles

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

You may recall how George W. Bush had big plans for a Europe-based anti-missile shield, mainly aimed against anything that might come flying from Iran. The radar and control installations were to be based in the Czech Republic, while the interceptor missiles themselves would be in Poland. But then Barack Obama became President, considered that such a set-up would be too expensive – and would also probably rile the Russians a bit too much – and so canceled the whole plan, on the symbolically-important date of 17 September 2009.

(Symbolically-important only to the Poles, as that is the anniversary of their invasion by forces of the Soviet Union, back in 1939 when they were already trying to fight off German forces attacking from the West, that effectively sealed their fate and sentenced them to five years of brutal occupation. Apparently not so symbolically-important to, say, the US State Department, which must be suffering from a shortage of anyone with an awareness of modern Polish history.)

So too bad, that’s it then, right? Not so fast, as this recent tweet from the leading Polish national daily Rzeczpospolita reminds us:

Ustawa o ratyfikacji umowy ws. tarczy antyrakietowej podpisana: Prezydent Bronisław Komorowski podpisał ustawę u… http://bit.ly/eJo9DW

@rzeczpospolitaa

Rzeczpospolita.pl


This tells us of the recent signing by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski, following ratification by the Polish Parliament, the Sejm, of the US-Polish agreement initialed back on July 3, 2010, to let Poland station some US-made, US-controlled interceptor missiles after all. For when it comes to US allies and American missiles, everyone is a winner and all must have prizes! (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Sneaky Soviet-Style Switcheroo

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The past weekend was a bit of a traumatic one for Poland, and on the surface it’s easy to understand why: Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic plane-crash at Smolensk airport of the Polish government airplane that was carrying President Lech Kaczynski and almost 100 other members of government or other prominent VIPs to ceremonies meant to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Massacre, in which the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) executed in the deep woods near that city around 20,000 members of the Polish intelligentsia captured in the German/Russian invasions of the previous fall. But it’s even worse than that: whereas the tragedy understandably united the Polish nation in grief, a year later that effect has worn off and instead the deceased president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw – who happens to head the opposition political party Law and Justice – is now trying to make political capital ahead of elections later this year by hinting at a Russian conspiracy to kill his brother, and by denouncing what he sees as the current government’s subservient attitude to the Russians.

You would think that, for its part, the Russian government would welcome the improvement in relations with Poland that was the initial result of the tragedy and the common investigation both nations’ authorities then undertook, and so would try to prolong that any way possible. Or maybe not. For an article in one of the leading national newspapers Rzeczpospolita now informs us of a piece of trickery – petty trickery, at that – which would have elicited an approving nod from the likes of Lavrenty Beria, long-time head of the NKVD under Stalin.

What’s worse, it took an on-site inspection by no less than Poland’s First Lady, Anna Komorowska, to reveal the transgression. Last Saturday she led a ceremonial delegation to the Smolensk memorial site, now meant to commemorate not only last year’s crash but the Katyn atrocity that indirectly led to it. There, the delegation discovered to their horror that a change had been made to the memorial plaque that had been placed there shortly after last year’s tragedy. Those of you out there who would like to try out your Polish can click here to see the before-and-after for yourselves, otherwise let me just inform you that the original Polish-language tablet was gone and replaced by a bilingual Russian-Polish one. OK, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, except that space had been created to fit the Russian in by deleting the text in the first plaque which had mentioned the Katyn atrocity, cited as “genocide” (ludobójstwo)*, together with the Russian government’s admitted responsibility for that.

Naturally, the Polish government had never been consulted – because it would never have approved. The Russian authorities apparently just went ahead and made the change. Actually, it would have been more appropriate to consult the “Association of Katyn Families” since that was the name on the original plaque, responsible for putting it there. Instead, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski will have a chance to “consult” with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev today on a number of things, including – one would expect – this plaque affair.

UPDATE: Poland’s other mainstream national daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, is now reporting that the two presidents have found a solution to try to tamp down the public outrage in Poland over the Smolensk memorial plaque shenanigans. A competition! There will be a competition, run by the Polish Ministry of Culture, to come up with yet another memorial plaque, to be placed at there in time for the two-year anniversary of the tragedy next year – which, we can only hope, will proceed a bit more tranquilly, in both countries.

*Of course the Katyn massacre per se was by no means “genocide.” That word unfortunately has been so overused by those out to make cheap political points that its original meaning and impact are truly under threat – and it is only roughly 67 years old!

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Fast and Loose Polish Patriots

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Wikileaks has now come to Poland: revelations from the massive dump of US State Department confidential cables have now come to the surface which – as has also mostly been the case in other contexts – do much to undermine the rosy picture of US-Poland solidarity usually presented for public consumption. Poles are now in a position to read all about them in summary articles coming out in both of that country’s prestige nationwide dailies, namely Rzeczpospolita (coverage by Wojciech Lorenz) and Gazeta Wyborcza (by Marcin Górka).

Poland had already shown up as a bit player in another Wikileaks dispatch from earlier this week, revealing new NATO contingency plans to make extensive use of that country’s transportation infrastructure to shift troops to the Baltic States should they be invaded by Russian forces. (Polish soldiers would also be heavily involved, in the form of at least one of the nine divisions slated to be included in any such maneuver.) But the only really new element disclosed in that connection by the Wikileaks dump was a certain dissatisfaction among Polish political and military authorities over the plan, since in such a situation Russia would by definition be at war not only with the Baltic States but also with Poland and with NATO in general, and such a commitment of resources would necessarily thin out Poland’s own defences somewhat.

No, the new and notable revelations that have emerged over the past few days have to do with the physical commitment to Poland’s defence made by US authorities in the form of US Army Patriot anti-rocket and -aircraft missiles sent to be stationed there. (Those who want to read an English account can turn to the UK’s official Wikileaks publisher, namely the Guardian, which spreads the story out over two articles here and here.) Recall first of all that those Patriots were stationed in Poland in the first place as an accompaniment to the anti-missile rockets that were also to have been there as part of a “missile shield” system to protect the US from Iran-launched ICBMs that the Bush Administration had worked so hard to establish, but which was then canceled by Barack Obama in September of last year. The Poles were glad to have at least that one sort of partial American military presence in their country even as the other was canceled – for the old, crude reason that having American soldiers in your country heightens the chance that they will also be killed if anyone attacks you, thus making American intervention to do something about that attack much more likely – but they had always been more concerned about threats from Russia rather than from Iran. “Don’t worry,” was the American reaction, “the Patriot can defend your territory against airborne threats from any direction, not just from the Middle East.”

There was one catch, however, as we are only know finding out thanks to the Wikileaks dispatches: those Patriots can defend Poland against airborne threats coming from Iran, Russia, or anyone else only if they are equipped with bona fide live missiles, which for the majority of their presence on Polish soil they have not been. Indeed, these communications make clear that the concept for the Americans the whole time was for the Patriot contingent in Poland (stationed in some patch of wilderness up in the Northeast, near the border with the Russian Kaliningrad enclave) to be only a training post – fly Patriot crewmen in there on occasion just to get some practice in wartime deployment to a more-exotic location to the East, work a little with what amounted to only mock-up equipment, and then get out of there again back to their home unit. Naturally, the level of permanent personnel stationed there reflected this role, usually numbering only around 20 or 30 whereas Polish authorities had expected something more like 110, reflecting staffing for a ready-to-go combat unit.

It’s something, then, but it’s not much – and it certainly is nothing that would stop Russian aircraft or missiles should the need arise. But it was all that Polish authorities found themselves able to get out of the American government, and they did their complaining quietly (e.g. about getting nothing better than “potted plants”) while never letting up on efforts to try to get even more of an American deployment of forces to Poland, and maybe with some actual combat-teeth for a change. Ideas that have arisen along this line are stationing some F-16s on a Polish airbase and/or maybe some C-130 transport aircraft and/or maybe even moving a detachment of Naval Special Warfare troops from Stuttgart to Gdansk. As it happens, Polish President Komorowski will have the opportunity today to discuss such things as he visits President Obama at the White House. But the shine is already considerably off the encounter after these latest revelations of the fast-and-loose behavior American military and diplomatic authorities display towards even the country’s closest allies (e.g. still with its own troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces in Afghanistan).

UPDATE: As a great philosopher once observed, “two out of three ain’t bad”! The Gazeta (Wyborcza) Twitter-feed carries the news coming out of the Polish-American presidential summit:

Amerykańskie F-16 i Herkulesy w Polsce. Od połowy 2013 roku http://bit.ly/hZyovB

So that will be 16 F-16’s (how symmetric!) and 4 C-130’s (all American-manned and -operated; this isn’t an equipment sale) stationed on a Polish airbase starting in mid-2013. And if you click through Gazeta’s link to the article you even can see, amid all that Polish, a nice photo of Komorowski chatting with Obama in the Oval Office.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)