If Europe yields to Russian nationalism, imperialism and colonialism, it will cease to be the continent we know today. It will become a Europe that is defeated and barely able to spread its wings and keep abreast of global players.
.History has accelerated. We find ourselves at one of the most important pivotal points since the Second World War. We expect those who are responsible for state policy to make the right decisions and show determination, courage and valour.
During over one thousand years of Polish history we have faced both challenges and opportunities. The first serious opportunity to move from the economic periphery occurred in the second half of the 16th century. We missed it, hampered by the institutional weakness of the Polish state. It was then that the executionist movement emerged for the first time, promising to overhaul public finance, treasury, the army and the judiciary. We could have built a genuine super power. However, the Polish state was fatally unable to understand the specific national setup of the Commonwealth. It was an entity made up of not two, but at least three nations. Crucially, all three enjoyed equal rights. Failing to understand that resulted in our national tragedy remembered today as the Khmelnytsky Uprising. We could have prevented it. There had certainly been a lot of warnings in our history. It is enough to mention the insurrections led by Kosinski, Nalyvaiko, Pavlyuk, Ostryanyn and Hunia that had preceded Khmelnytsky’s great rebellion. These were followed by many other uprisings and revolts up to the Paliy Uprising in the early 18th century.
The then elites of the Commonwealth of Two Nations missed a historic opportunity. Today were are offered it again, albeit under different circumstances. We owe this to the brave Ukrainian nation which fights a heroic battle for their and our freedom, defending the Ukrainian and European raison d’état.
Today, Europe must snap out of its geopolitical slumber if it does not want to forfeit its future. In order for Poland to be indeed a great project, it must be embedded in an equally great European project born out of Christian ideas as well as Roman and Greek traditions.
The war waged beyond our eastern border redefines the way we understand Europe and the world. The Kremlin takes from history all that is worst: nationalism, imperialism and colonialism. As for nationalism – Putin still enjoys huge support from the Russian population. This is not the result of propaganda alone, although being aware of propaganda and combating it must be part and parcel of our decision making process. It is a mighty weapon that must not be ignored.
Putin does little to hide his imperialist designs. He says openly that he intends to recreate the former empire based on two traditions. One is the myth of the Great Patriotic War. That myth fuelled the Soviet Union which is remembered with nostalgia by a large part of today’s Russian population. The other tradition is the heritage of tsarist Russia, the great empire that continued to expand in all directions from the late 15th century. Referring back to these two traditions, Vladimir Putin resurrects the ideas of Great-Russian imperialism. To that end, he wants to destroy the Ukrainian nation whose aspirations we ourselves were not willing to take on board in our common project 400-500 years ago.
Putin wants to destroy the Ukrainian nation, using terms such as denazification or even de-Ukrainization. The official press agency of the Russian Federation calls for the destruction and annihilation of Ukraine. The crimes being committed in Ukraine bear the hallmarks of genocide.
But it is not only nationalism and imperialism that pose a threat. Today’s Russia also draws on the tradition of colonialism. There is little discussion today in Poland and the West about the (bloodless) struggle in the areas of technology, margins and the economy. Poland does not play a major role in that respect. The root of the problem may lie in historical mistakes made when creating state institutions and a coherent tax system as well as in various privileges granted to the nobility, including the Koszyce privilege. We failed to develop the competitive advantages that are being fought over today. Incidentally, even today some of our partners want to condescend to us. It is in their interest that we remain on the periphery, where we play an assigned provincial role in production chains rather than one that would match our potential. Our political group tries to oppose this.
Coming back to Russian colonialism, we must remember that it may have different faces. On the one hand, it manifests itself in the form of Russian aggression against Ukraine. On the other, it aims to implement the Russkiy mir and a system of brutal economic exploitation. If Europe yields to Russian nationalism, imperialism and colonialism, it will cease to be the continent we know today. It will become a Europe that is defeated and barely able to spread its wings and keep abreast of global players.
History teaches us that those who are ready to make sacrifices and are more determined come out victorious. Ukraine can win the war even though its military potential is smaller than that of the Russian Federation. Ukraine’s victory is within reach thanks to the incredible determination and courage of its entire society. However, a different scenario is also possible. Europe, the West and NATO may well have an enormous technological and technical advantage, but if we are not determined, we may yet lose.
When Vladimir Putin starts wars, he is prepared to wage them for years. The Chechen War lasted ten years. The war in Syria has continued since 2015; the one in Ukraine – since 2014. Russia has a lot of patience buttressed by strong Russian ideology. This determination is often lacking in Europe. In Poland, we are aware of the historic moment the whole continent faces. This is why our task is to jolt Europe out of its slumber. It is critical that we remain steadfast in our efforts to impose more sanctions on Russia and to provide weapons to Ukraine so that it can survive and win.
Henry Kissinger, who recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, advised Ukraine to cede some of its territory and restore the balance of power. I have no doubt that, if Kissinger had been in Gdansk in the August of 1980, he would have tried to persuade the striking workers to get back to their overhead cranes and workshops. “Don’t fly too close to the sun!” he would have said. We also had our own Kissingers who preferred a slow process of forging agreements with communists rather than a determined break with their historical heritage which still casts a long shadow on our development prospects.
.As a young boy, I was part of the team publishing Biuletyn Dolnośląski, one of the most important samizdat periodicals. One of the issues contained a poem by Jerzy Narbutt who wrote:
Whoever you are, standing here
Whatever the life you have led
Remember – you can only live without fear
Once you’re afraid, you’re as good as dead
Let’s hope that Europe will know how to be fearless and courageous. Courage does not die.