quinta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2016
Poland turns history into diplomatic weapon
Poland turns history into diplomatic weapon
A Polish-Jewish historian comes under fire for questioning Poland’s historical record.
By JO HARPER 2/19/16, 5:30 AM CET
WARSAW — In a campaign to give a better gloss to Poland’s history, President Andrzej Duda launched what he calls an “offensive,” and the first target is U.S.-Polish Holocaust historian Jan Gross.
Duda is mulling whether to strip Gross of one of Poland’s highest honors for suggesting that during World War II Poles killed more Jews than they killed Germans. The assertion, which Gross backed up with numbers in an interview with POLITICO, strikes at the heart of Poland’s national narrative — that it is a nation uniquely harmed by history and for that reason should have a louder voice on the world stage.
It’s a key component of the worldview of the country’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party.
“Historical politics should be conducted by the Polish state as an element of the construction of our international position,” Duda said at a recent conference dedicated to the country’s revision of history.
“The majority of Poles grew up on the myths of Polish knighthood, conspiracy and struggle and this majority is unwilling and unlikely to change its mind” — Jan Muś, an academic from Lublin.
Duda’s efforts are part of a broader campaign by Law and Justice to use the wrongs of the past to fend off criticism of the present.
The party has come under international censure for recent steps undermining the functioning of the constitutional court, politicizing the civil service, combining the offices of justice minister and prosecutor general, and putting state media under tighter government control. Officials like Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro have been especially sensitive to any disapproval from German politicians, quickly bringing up Germany’s bloody wartime occupation of Poland.
Ziobro is also behind a push to punish publications that refer to “Polish death camps” in reference to wartime Nazi concentration camps on Polish soil. The previous center-right government would send angry diplomatic letters to newspapers and magazines which slighted Poland in that way, but Ziobro wants miscreants to serve jail time for the suggestion.
“This will be a project that meets the expectations of Poles, who are blasphemed in the world, in Europe, even in Germany, that they are the Holocaust perpetrators, that in Poland there were Polish concentration camps, Polish gas chambers. Enough with this lie. There has to be responsibility,” Ziobro said.
The government isn’t just focusing on World War II.
One of the central narratives of Law and Justice, strongly promoted by its leader Jarosław Kaczyński, is that the end of communist rule in 1989 was in large measure a trick that allowed communist elites to enrich themselves with the help of corrupt leaders of the pro-democracy Solidarity labor movement. That means Poland’s independence over the last quarter century has been a sham.
A central part of that account is that Lech Wałęsa, the Solidarity leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish president, was in fact a communist agent.
This week fresh allegations arose that he worked for the communist secret services in the 1970s. He was cleared some years ago by the Institute of National Remembrance, a body that investigates Nazi and communist crimes, but documents seized this week from the house of recently deceased General Czesław Kiszczak, a communist-era interior minister, suggest Wałęsa had been issued with the a codename ‘Bolek.’ Wałęsa has admitted to an “incident” with the secret police in the early 1970s, but has adamantly denied being an informant.
“You aren’t able to change the real facts with lies,” he wrote on his blog.
That’s not the view of Sławomir Cenckiewicz, an anti-Wałęsa historian, who issued a statement that Wałęsa’s past “had a crucial meaning” in the way he ran Solidarity and “on the shape of reforms after 1989.”
Mateusz Morawiecki, deputy prime minister and development minister, told Poland’s TVN television that it was “obvious” that Wałęsa was a communist-era agent.
A carnival float featuring the leader of PiS party Jaroslaw Kaczynski oppressing Poland, at Duesseldorf's Rose Monday parade
While Wałęsa’s reputation is crucial to PiS’s internal Polish narrative, the most sensitive historical issue for the new government outside the country is Poland’s wartime reputation.
Gross angered many Poles in 2015 by denouncing Poland’s reluctance to take in asylum seekers and in particular pointing out Kaczyński’s reference to refugees as disease carriers, saying it could be traced back to Polish treatment of Jews during World War II. The government prefers to refer to the country’s fierce resistance during the war, and to the heroism of thousands of Poles who saved Jews from death.
“PiS itself is not overtly anti-Semitic,” Gross said. “But … it feeds on associations with anti-Semitic rhetoric. The language used about the refugees is sinister, these strangers in our midst that carry disease.”
He especially agitated nationalists by contending that Poles had killed many Jews during the war.
Controversial wartime record
“About 17,000 Germans were killed during the September  campaign, about 5,000 during the Warsaw Rising of 1944 and another 5,000 during the German occupation in Poland,” he said. “Many more Jews were murdered.”
Auxiliary Polish police, fire brigades and ordinary people killed Jews running away from the ghettoes when the Germans were rounding Jews up for deportation to extermination camps, Gross said. “Of the 200,000-250,000 Jews that were alive after the liquidation of the ghettos many were killed by Poles, so that only about 40,000 survived the war.”
Gross is best known for his 2001 book “Neighbors,” which describes the 1941 massacre by Polish villagers of 1,600 Jews in Jedwabne, a small town in north-eastern Poland. He says there were many more other “Jedwabnes that we haven’t heard about.”
Another book of his, “Fear,” described a 1946 pogrom by Poles against Jewish Holocaust survivors.
“The language used about the refugees is sinister, these strangers in our midst that carry disease.” — Jan Gross, historian.
Gross was born in Poland, but left in 1969 during an anti-Semitic purge by the communist authorities. He was awarded Poland’s Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit in 1996 for his academic work and support for the democratic transformation.
Duda told a television station his office had received 2,000 letters asking him to withdraw the medal. He is awaiting the opinion of the foreign ministry on the matter. Wałęsa has also weighed in, calling on Gross to hand the medal back.
“PiS is obsessed with stimulating a patriotic sense of duty,” Gross said. “And given that most Poles do not know their own history very well, and think that Poles suffered as much as Jews during the war, the new regime is playing into a language of Catholic martyrology.”
A central theme in this version of the national narrative is of a morally clean nation that has witnessed horror but not been an active collaborator in it. “The majority of Poles grew up on the myths of Polish knighthood, conspiracy and struggle and this majority is unwilling and unlikely to change its mind,” said Jan Muś, an academic from Lublin.
While the government attacks Gross, he also has defenders. A group of Polish academics signed a petition supporting him. U.S. historian Timothy Snyder, who has long sympathized with Poland and written about the wartime suffering of its people in his 2010 book “Bloodlands,” said he will return his own Order of Merit if Gross loses his.
“Whether the Polish government and president decide to strip Jan Gross of the Order of Merit will not make a difference to Jan Gross,” said Anita Prażmowska, professor of international history at the London School of Economics. “What the government should be doing is focusing on a proper debate of Polish history and on fostering an understanding of it. What this petty act will do is discredit the PiS government and consolidate the international perception that it is driven by a narrow nationalist agenda. It’s a shot in its own foot.”