Friday, August 22, 2008

Poland and Polish People for Georgia Freedom

Poland and Polish People for Georgia Freedom

WARSAW — The bustling streets of downtown Warsaw, increasingly filled with gleaming new automobiles and lined with Western boutique stores, seem a world away from downtown Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, where jittery residents this month faced the once inconceivable threat of Russian tanks advancing down Rustaveli Avenue in the center of the city.

Poland’s sense of security did not occur overnight. It was a result of nearly two decades of assiduous work to burrow as deeply into Western institutions as possible, leaving behind the Russian sphere and taking what leaders in this largely Roman Catholic country had long argued was its natural place in the West.

Times Topics: Missiles and Missile Defense SystemsAlso setting it apart is the lack of a sizable Russian minority, which so worries officials in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Of Poland’s 38.5 million people, 97 percent are ethnically Polish.

In signing the deal on Wednesday to allow American missiles to be based within its borders, Poland is being true to both its tortured past and its present as a new European power. It is allowing the missiles, but on its own terms: the deal says that the United States will also contribute a Patriot missile battery that will be operated by American troops for the time being, binding Poland and the United States in a way that increases both the risk and the cost of confrontation with a newly emboldened Russia.

Poland is not just relying on allies like the United States for its defense. The country is in the process of revamping its military, ending conscription and modernizing its professional army. Among the former Communist nations now integrated into NATO and the European Union, Poland has grown into the role of outspoken advocate for countries like Ukraine and Georgia that are still in Russia’s orbit.

“Poland will be a normal European country when it has normal, democratic, free-market countries on both sides of its border,” said Mr. Sikorski, the foreign minister, adding, “and that includes Russia, by the way.”

In many ways, this assertive country, aided by Western allies and institutions, is a model of what can be achieved with Western support, but also of exactly what Russia does not want Ukraine and Georgia becoming on its southern flank.

Public support for the missile deal was far from universal on the streets of Warsaw. Some residents said the threat was being hyped by leaders for political gain, and others maintained that any steps that might provoke Russia were a mistake.

“It’s the dumbest thing we could have done,” said Slawomir Janak, 72, a retiree. “This decision is going to have its repercussions on Poland for a long time. It might even lead to the third world war.”

But most said it was a necessary step.

“If the Western nations don’t defend such a strategic target as the pipelines in Georgia, why should they defend Poland, which is less strategic?” said Szymon Chlebowski, 22, a student from Gdansk out for a stroll down Warsaw’s grand boulevard, Krakowskie Przedmiescie. “In the perspective of five years, I see a real threat for Poland, starting in the Baltic nations, north to south first, and then Poland, with the same lack of reaction by Western nations.”

“As in the Second World War,” said Joanna Skicka, 22, who was with him. “The story will repeat itself.”

Mr. Chlebowski said he and his friends had started discussing where they would go if Poland were attacked. In a sign of Poland’s orientation to the West, they said they planned to escape to Italy or Spain.
Times Topics: Missiles and Missile Defense SystemsBut the events in the Caucasus, and threats of an attack by a Russian general after the announcement of a deal to place an American missile defense base on Polish soil, have cast a pall of doubt over this country, which, flush and confident, has taken its place in the West, specifically on the side of America, as an ally rather than as a vassal.

As the United States and Poland formally signed the missile defense agreement on Wednesday, over vociferous objections from Moscow, polls in the daily newspaper Dziennik showed public opinion swinging sharply in the last month, from opposition to the missile base to support.

“Before the Georgia invasion, I was against the installation of the missile shield in Poland,” said Julian Damentko, 26, a student out for a walk in Saski Park here earlier this week. “But now, after the events there, I feel threatened from the East, and I don’t regret the decision.”

Poland, where the Solidarity trade union hammered the first cracks into the old Soviet bloc, has been feeling its strength as a leader of the New Europe of former Soviet-sphere states. But since the Georgia crisis, this largest of post-Communist European Union members has moved to cement its relationship to action-oriented America and not just the tentative bureaucracies of Europe and NATO.

The Russian invasion reminded Poles once again how quickly and dangerously Eastern Europe can divide. Poland is struggling to show that it will not fall behind the faint old lines of the cold war, which may have seemed foggily forgotten in the West since the Berlin Wall fell but are remembered all too well here.

On newsstands, the cover of the mainstream, right-leaning weekly magazine Wprost features an illustration of Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s prime minister, with an instantly recognizable little mustache and sweep of hair across the forehead that make the headline, “Adolf Putin,” redundant. The Polish edition of Newsweek shows the outspoken and at times impolitic Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, in the pilot’s seat of an airplane cockpit under the headline, “You have to be tough with Russia.”

Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister and the government’s point man on missile defense, said in an interview this week, “Parchments and treaties are all very well, but we have a history in Poland of fighting alone and being left to our own devices by our allies.”

It is not a cold war mindset that drives Poland, Mr. Sikorski said, but one that harks all the way back to World War II, when, despite alliances with Britain and France, Poland fought Nazi Germany alone, and lost.

It was “the defining moment for us in the 20th century,” Mr. Sikorski said. “Then we were stabbed in the back by the Soviet Union, and that determined our fate for 50 years.”

As a result, Poland’s foreign policy is stamped by mistrust not only for Russia’s ambitions but also for hollow assurances from its own allies. Georgia’s lonely fight against an overwhelming Russian military served as an object lesson — a refresher that people here said no one needed — on the limits of waiting for help from friends.

“We’re determined this time around to have alliances backed by realities, backed by capabilities,” said Mr. Sikorski, pointing out that all Poland has now in terms of NATO infrastructure is one unfinished conference center.

This kind of strategic thinking was supposed to be on the way out. It was just last December when Poles celebrated the removal of all border checkpoints with Germany and other European neighbors, a powerful symbol of the country’s full membership in the Western club.

The economy has been churning out new jobs and higher wages, allowing Poles to enjoy a standard of living that, though not up to French or German standards yet, is far beyond what everyday people could have imagined in Communist times.

In Warsaw, there remains a sense of remove, if no longer complete security.

“There is a certain climate of safety, that we are already long admitted in the Atlantic alliance, that we proved to be a good member, a good ally,” said Marek Ostrowski, the foreign editor of Polityka, a mainstream weekly news magazine. He said there was a feeling among Poles that “the summer is nice and finally people don’t feel threatened.”
Letter from Frank J. Spula, the President of the Polish American Congress regarding Russia's Threats to Poland

August 18, 2008

Dear President Bush:

As President of the Polish American Congress I am writing to offer my
support for you in the event the need arises for you to support Poland
concerning a statement made last week by a top Russian general, shortly
after he learned of the completion of the United States – Poland agreement
of last Thursday for the deployment in Poland of a missile interceptor base
as part of a defensive system designed for blocking attacks by rogue

On Friday, August 8, 2008 Deputy Chief of Staff, Russian General Anatoly
Nogovitsyn stated: “Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to
a strike – 100 percent”. This remark is abhorrent to Poles and Polish
Americans. It connotes the image of past Czarist and Soviet regimes which
promoted invasion, murder, fear, Siberian hard-labor camps, and
war-terrorism which people living in contiguous states from the Baltic to
the Danube and thence to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea fought against for
centuries. It is apparent that history has a tendency to repeat itself when
it comes to the Russian Federation of our 21st century.

Poland has always been a friend of the United States, dating its friendship
to the Revolutionary War, when courageous Polish men of principle and honor
such as Generals Thaddeus Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski heroically defended
our emerging democracy against British imperialism.

Consequently, it is the hope and expectation of Polish Americans that the
United States will not only sustain its full political and diplomatic
influence for building a world-wide consensus for condemning Russia’s
unprincipled inordinate attack on Georgia, and equally as well for
condemning Russia’s reckless and menacing threat to attack and destroy
Poland, but also if necessary, to deploy American military forces if needed,
to protect the freedom and democracy that Poland has fought so long to
establish and retain.

On behalf of the Polish American Congress representing more than ten million
Americans of Polish descent, I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate
your efforts relating to these current developments and thank you for your
support of Poland, one of America’s most loyal and trusted allies and


Frank J. Spula

Polish American Congress
1612 K Street, N.W. Suite 410
Washington, D.C. 20006
Tel: (202) 296-6955
Fax: (202) 835-1565

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