The exploitation of a symbol of national suffering in support of a political agenda that seeks to turn Pole against Pole is contradictory to every conceivable notion of patriotism.
My Long Read essay for the Guardian ‘The conspiracy theorists who have taken over Poland‘, has been published in Polish this weekend in print and online by the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, with an extra introduction for Polish readers.
The Polish version of the essay can be found here, and the introduction (in English) is as follows:
Poland is a part of me, but I am not entirely a part of Poland. I am a Polish citizen, my mother is Polish, and my grandparents are buried in Kraków. But I grew up in Oxford, and did not learn Polish as a child.
In the words of [Łódź-born poet] Julian Tuwim, “Ojczyzna-Polszczyzna” [the language is the homeland]. The weakness of my Polish means that there will always be a distance between myself and my second home. I have no problem admitting that.
It means that when I open my mouth, I am quite obviously British. But in moments of calm, when Poles fall silent to commemorate the dead, that is when I can participate, and belong.
This essay is the result of years of silent observation. I watched as the motorcade carrying the remains of dozens of victims of the Smolensk catastrophe and their relatives passed through Warsaw; I watched as the body of Lech Kaczyński left the Presidential Palace on a gun carriage; I have watched when Poles gather at cemeteries to mourn their loved ones, and when they gather in public squares to confront one another on the streets.
But it was Independence Day last year that affected me most, when I attended a Law and Justice rally in Kraków where Law & Justice supporters and their Hungarian allies chanted the name of Victor Orban in front of the monument to the victims of the Katyn massacres. To me, the exploitation of a symbol of national suffering in support of a political agenda that seeks to turn Pole against Pole is contradictory to every conceivable notion of patriotism. If my essay has a sense of outrage, it comes from that moment.
My argument is not that the transition was fair, that its leaders were not flawed (sometimes deeply so), or that Poles have no reason to be angry at the many injustices that resulted from it. It is that the understandable anger and pain of many people is being exploited and perpetuated by politicians who want to rewrite their own place in history. The result is an extraordinary level of hatred, poisoning the soul of a great European nation. I have experienced some of that hatred over the past few days, but I can go elsewhere any time I like. Others are not so lucky.