“Patriotism “

(reference to R. Strybel’s article on Patriotism in Poland -Polish Weekly, April 26 – May 3)

By Anna R. Dadlez

For an immigrant to know what is happening in his/her own native country, it is necessary to be in close touch with a trustworthy person living there for many years. We, in the US, cannot really understand the ‘spirit’ of contemporary Poland by just visiting the country from time to time. Therefore, the fact that Mr. Strybel is a reporter based in Poland adds authenticity to the Polish Weekly and makes it even more worth reading. Another necessary characteristic of a foreign correspondent – (apart from being objective)-is to be able to communicate freely in two languages. Such ability (possessed by Mr. Strybel) is seldom seen among the Poles born in the US, where, some time ago, schools did not encourage the study of foreign languages, and teachers actually asked parents not to use Polish at home. (happened to me) However now it is generally acknowledged that an urgent need for bilingual people exists in scholarship, politics and trade and that many problems in the field of foreign relations occur due to mistranslation.
But what about patriotism and its level in Poland?
..Scholars inform us that human nature consists of two main parts, an animal one in which we tend to think and work only for ourselves or those close to us, the characteristic we share with animals; and more seldom displayed , and not seen among animals, a trend toward “big heartedness’, a desire to think and act for others. There appears to exist a constant struggle between the two, and although it could be said that our animal nature is necessary for our survival, religions warn us not to follow our selfish desires too closely.
Patriotism can cover both of the above characteristics. When we say ‘ America first, Poland first, Russia first , we really imply that being American, Polish or Russian makes us superior to others, qualified to be leaders, having a right to correct the “ignorant’ Thus the ‘patriotic’ car stickers and shirt logos are good only if they are not taken too seriously…It has escaped the notice of many people that the fall of all empires in our past has been tied to the kind of patriotism that emphasizes military and/or economic power, aggressiveness and government brutality , which in turn, made some citizens feel important.
Such patriotism/nationalism generally provokes other countries to gather their own forces to resist ‘the bully’, and prevents a development of meaningful partnerships working for the general good.
A friend of mine told me a story from her own experience. She and her husband lived through very difficult time under the Nazi and later under the Soviet occupations. After being finally able to enter the US, they saw the Statue of Liberty and read the inspiring inscription on it. Then, to his own embarrassment, her husband started crying. Trying to control his emotions, he whispered to her: that up to that time he believed that only devastated countries like Poland knew what the suffering of millions meant, that only because their own experience they could understand the importance of compassion, empathy and assistance. But here, a powerful and independent country appears familiar with all the horrors of war, poverty and persecution and actually invites the suffering strangers to settle in America! “Thank God for it.” he said.

Of course, we all know that such ideas have not penetrated to all levels of our society, that even recently the government proposed laws provoked Bishop McElroy to declare that because of them the Statue of Liberty “lowered her torch.” For although the idea of the security of any country is all important, there should also be an understanding that arbitrary rejection of assistance to the people of the predominantly Muslim countries “is rooted in xenophobia and religious prejudice We cannot and will not stand silent” * Still, despite such occurrences, the statue proclaiming welcome to the unfortunate a the forgotten. continues to stand there as a model to imitate.
Has Poland, a Christian country for over 11 c, possessed the Statute of Liberty, it would have probably also lowered her torch, when one of prominent Polish politicians used almost denigrating rhetoric about the refugees fleeing from Syria, Libia and other war torn countries. “Have the Christians forgotten “asks Bishop McElroy “that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression?” Of course, people would say that Poland, after the recent tragic past, is less able to sustain the burden of homeless refugees than other economically stronger countries, and that her defenses against terrorists possibly hidden among the Moslem families, are less adequate. Notwithstanding those arguments, the very fact of refusing to say even a few words of understanding and compassion to the people suffering from war and devastation appears unchristian and un Polish.
In Polish history incidents of ‘big heartednesses are frequent although, unfortunately, they are basically unknown” ** It is interesting to note, that the principle of the ‘union of equals’ (independently of the size, religion or military/ economic development of the members) was not the first such organization established in Europe in 1951 (Treaty of Paris) and developed into the European Union. It was in the 5 centuries old Christian Poland in the late 14th c, that decision was made to form a ‘brotherly pact’ with a pagan and little known country of Lithuania. That happened due to the agreement of the beloved Polish queen Jadwiga (“a perfection incarnate, : in mind, in character, and in form”) to accept as her royal spouse the newly christened Jagiello of Lithuania (“no class, bad Latin in speech and writing, awful table manners”) and thus led to the unification of both countries in freedom and dignity., *** And it was Jadwiga that worked hard for her husband to be accepted by the Polish nobility and even had some of them bestow their coat of arms on the Lithuanian gentry, thus making them ‘extended relatives’. Some szlachta members did it, others said they would rather die.
It was under the Jagiellonian dynasty that” Poland, from 1386 until…1795 was a united commonwealth, in which the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were ruled by one [elected] king and.one [elected] parliament. It stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, from the Oder to the Dnieper, inhabited by a dozen nations enjoying greater liberty than any of their neighbors” ****
In the dark years of Partitions, Poles represented not only themselves but also other nations fighting for independence.in Europe and in North and South America. “For our freedom and yours” and “Free men are brothers” were the ideas that drew many foreigners to Poland, and involved ever greater members of the working class.
There were sparks of similar ideas within the basically non-violet 10 million strong Solidarity movement, that put an end to communism in Poland and weakened its power in Russia.
But it was a girl in her early twenties, Krystyna Wituska, member of the AK (Zolnierz Wywiadu Podziemia) who, even in the face of her death for Poland, would not abandon her ideas of human rights. In a letter to her mother from the Gestapo prison, Krystyna wrote:” I always consider myself first a human being …. On the day that I will die (by guillotine) I would prefer to tell myself that I am dying for freedom and justice rather than just for my own beloved Poland. Consciousness of a universal humanity will comfort me”. ***** .
The better nature patriotism is not, of course, a willingness to let the country lower its defenses, and forget about its material well-being. As a soldier of the AK (the Home Army)
Krystyna testified to it. It is simply an awareness that there are moral aspects in the history of every country, and that it is patriotic to cherish and promote them so that “the noble within us would not perish”

* Catholic News Service, 1/30/2017
**. Why… are Polish heroes largely unknown?” asks the reporter from Cosmopolitan Review.2014, vol 6, No 2. A good question!
*** At the Council of Constance (1414) a Polish delegation led by Archbishop Traba and Chancellor of the Krakow University declared (contrary to the prevailing beliefs) -“that it is wrong to force one’s faith upon others “ and added that pagans have full rights to their identity, religion and property.
****Norman Davies, White Eagle, Red Star. p..20
***** Cosmopolitan Review (above); Krystyna Witulska: Her Life and Literary Afterlife.
Irena Tomaszewski, Krystyna Witulska, 1997
Wikipedia – Wolna Encyklopedia

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