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Poland offers a venue for the Middle East security conference and ends up double-crossed by its partners

Poland is a member of the European Union and NATO; it also makes up the Visegrád or V4 political group that combines also Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary. On 13-14 February it hosted a U.S.-led Middle East security conference in a bid to strengthen its position on the international stage, play up to Americans and Israel and show its independence of Berlin and Paris. From Warsaw’s point of view the conference was everything but a success.1)In Warsaw, Pompeo urges Poland to pass Holocaust restitution law, Times of Israel 2019-02-14; Poland’s problem with a 3-letter word, Politico 2019-02-16.

The European Union was having none of the warmongering against Iran – because such was the conference’s target – and only sent low-ranking delegations, not much of prestige that Poland was after. American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the public case for the restitution of Jewish property that was lost on Polish territory during the Second World War, Andrea Mitchel from CBS informed the American audience of the Jews rising in arms against the German and Polish regime(!) during the war and to add fuel to fire Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a statement in which he said that the Poles were complicit in persecuting the Jews during the same hostilities.

The Polish government had no choice but to protest vehemently so much so that it is facing upcoming elections and Polish society is sensitive to seeing its government being humiliated or downgraded. Warsaw’s reaction was not confined to verbal acts but included its withdrawal from the V4 conference that was slated to be held in Israel, of all the places. In a word, in a bid to please the United States, the European Union and Israel, Warsaw received three slaps in the face:
(i) the European Union showed no consuming interest in endorsing Israeli and American diktat aimed against Iran;
(ii) the United States rather than making promises of strengthening its military presence on Polish territory, raised the issue of lost property, exclusively Jewish;
(iii) Israel showed its true attitude towards Poland, straining the friendly relations that have been artificially upheld for some time now.

The rough treatment that Poland got from Berlin and Paris is nothing new: it was French President Jacques Chirac, who told Poland to shut up when it came to the discussion of the war against Iraq;2)Chirac Upsets East Europe by Telling It to ‘Shut Up’ on Iraq, New York Times 2003-02-18. and Warsaw was sidelined from the talks that were held between Paris, Berlin and Kiev.3)Has Germany sidelined Poland in Ukraine crisis negotiations? European Council on Foreign Relations 2014-08-27.

Washington has long been known as the advocate of Jewish interests worldwide, of which the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 20174)Congress.gov, 115th Congress (2017-2018). and the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 20175)Full text, Congress.gov. are the moist recent examples.

It was under Israeli and American pressure that the Act on the Institute for National Remembrance penalizing slandering the Polish Nation passed by the Polish parliament was scrapped within twenty-four hours on 27 of June 2018 with a humiliating televized show in which Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki had to eat humble pie, at first appeasing Benjamin Netanyahu in English and then reassuring his compatriots in their mother tongue to the tune of saying that defeat meant victory.6)Poland Holocaust law: Government U-turn on jail threat, BBC 2018-06-27.

(For the record: the law envisaged prosecution for unsubstantiated accusations levelled against Poles for their alleged complicity in the persecution of Jews during the Second World War.)

Poland’s unrequited love for the West has a long history, as long as long is the history of Polish-Jewish difficult – to use the politically correct vernacular – relations. To this day the Polish people resent the fact that Polish troops saved Vienna from the Turkish onslaught in 1673 in reward for which Poland was partitioned a century later by the three European powers including… Austria; that the Polish army defended Europe against the Bolshevik assault in 1920 and received no support for all practical purposes; that the nation as the first stood up to the Third Reich and was left to its own devices, with the Tehran and Yalta conferences selling it out to the Soviet sphere of influence. Poles have always been looking to the West – emigrated there – and expected something in return.

Jews were trickling to Poland throughout the Middle Ages, as slave traders and financiers, minting at a time the nation’s money with Hebrew(!) inscriptions and being employed by the princes and kings as tax collectors and later acting as an intermediary between the country’s gentry and peasantry. For a long time they had a separate parliament and separate fiscal system. They settled in small towns or ran village inns. They preserved their language and most of them either spoke broken Polish or no Polish at all. Whenever the country was in dire straits they would embrace the invaders to save their businesses or remained neutral for which they were resented bitterly. As they did not participate in Polish national uprisings against Poland’s oppressors, and consequently were not exposed to reprisals, they could amass fortunes and get university degrees. They were very much over-represented in the leftist and communist parties, and as internationalists they viewed Poland’s prospective independence as unnecessary or even harmful. They would welcome the Bolshevik and twenty years later the Soviet troops moving into Polish territory. After the Second World War they staffed to a larger degree the communist authorities and the political police, combatting Polish patriots and the Catholic Church.

Now, Mike Pompeo in his speech unwittingly(?) alluded to one Franciszek or Frank Blaichman as an example of the Polish resilient spirit, which sent shock waves among the knowledgeable audience because Frank Blaichman was a Jewish officer acting in the post-war communist police that was suppressing patriotic underground. The Jewish representatives in Poland (the Gazeta wyborcza neswpaper) or outside (Jerzy Kosinski, Jan Tomasz Gross, writers) are busy convincing the Poles and all of the world about Polish groundless and shameless anti-Semitism and the Western world is buying into it lock, stock and barrel. In a word, there was no love lost between the two nations. Benjamin Netanyahu’s words may have been an infelicitous expression but they may also have been said on purpose. Have your pick.

Poland offered a venue and catering and lost on three counts, spurned by her EU’s partners, scolded by the United States and insulted by Israel. Will Poland’s rulers amend their ways? Will they be wiser after the event? That remains highly doubtful. A Polish proverb says that a Pole is none the wiser also after the event.

References   [ + ]

1. In Warsaw, Pompeo urges Poland to pass Holocaust restitution law, Times of Israel 2019-02-14; Poland’s problem with a 3-letter word, Politico 2019-02-16.
2. Chirac Upsets East Europe by Telling It to ‘Shut Up’ on Iraq, New York Times 2003-02-18.
3. Has Germany sidelined Poland in Ukraine crisis negotiations? European Council on Foreign Relations 2014-08-27.
4. Congress.gov, 115th Congress (2017-2018).
5. Full text, Congress.gov.
6. Poland Holocaust law: Government U-turn on jail threat, BBC 2018-06-27.

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