Russia and PolandThis article was first published by Sputnik News/The Voice of Russia in December 2014 in the Polish language. It is a practical foreign policy reflection on Polish-Russian relations and a blueprint for their improvement. Americans often consider foreign conflicts as impossible to mend without American intervention (be it diplomatic or military). This thinking leads to many unnecessary foreign interventions. This essay should be of interest to Americans because it demonstrates a scenario whereby the citizens of two foreign nations attempt to mend relations on the basis of their own ideas, interests and diplomacy. Americans have become so accustomed to the reflexive notion that no problem in the world can be solved without the United States. This essay, whatever its merits or demerits from the point of view of Russians and Poles, serves as an example that independent Polish-Russian relations are possible.

“Must the voice of reflection really fall silent in the heat of battle?”[1] With this question, the eminent Polish patriot, Major Henryk Krzeczkowski, commenced his essay, dated 1981, considering Martial Law in Poland. The pace of the dramatic events at the time seemed to have forced Poles to choose—not for the first time in their history—between two necessary virtues: freedom and order. The tension between freedom and order is the essence of all politics. This tension bears good fruit in strong republics. In weak republics, this tension precedes their collapse. Henryk Krzeczkowski, a nationalist in the sober sense of the word, was an opponent of rushing headlong towards remedies worse than the disease. He taught that the art of statesmanship and excellent citizenship demanded prudence under circumstances when the temptation to quick, destructive action rears its head. “It was unnecessary,” he wrote, “for Poles to let themselves be provoked into uprisings in 1831, 1863, and 1944, but it was a matter of temperament.”[2]

Conservative temperaments are not excited by visions of street demonstrations presaging utopia. License tempts us because it is easy. Freedom is often cruel because it is a hard duty. The temptation of every revolution is the ease with which it unmasks the delicacy of men and of human institutions, so readily turned to dust by the strength of the tumult. The duties associated with liberty are, in turn, an individual calling and always entail consequences. Freedom is an individual domain, not that of the tumult. The head of state, like the head of a family, enjoys the duties associated with freedom. The tumult runs away from these duties and into unlimited license wherein no one is responsible for anything. The revolution in Ukraine, the heat of battle facing our generation, demands that we pose Henryk Krzeczkowski’s question anew. However, for the causes of this battle, it is necessary to look to American politics.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the United States justified their illegal invasion of Iraq through the overall pretense expressed by Cicero’s maxim silent leges inter armes.[3] One immediately recognizes how lacking in reflection Americans were when undertaking this invasion, which was an evident overthrow of an imperfect order in favor of a revolution which has consumed its own children. Cicero’s maxim actually meant the exact opposite of its American usage. In his pro Milone speech, Cicero argued in favor of using force—even against the law—in defense of order against the tumult. Cicero did not argue for using force against the law to overthrow order in favor of the tumult. Defending the illegal killing of Clodius by Milo, Cicero argued that Clodius and the tumults he commanded were a threat to law and order in Rome, and thus dangerous to Roman liberty. The effect of America’s lack of reflection is contemporary Iraq, governed by tumult, not by the rule of law.

Government by the tumult, known in our day as democracy, is contrary to the republican ideals of America’s Founding Fathers who created a constitutional order aimed at guarding against the omnipotence of tumults, dangerous individuals, and small groups of powerful men. According to American constitutional thought through at least 1912, only the House of Representatives was meant to be elected directly by the people. Senators were chosen by state legislatures and were meant to represent the states, not the people. To this day, the American President is not elected directly by the people, but through an electoral college charged with the protection of America’s executive office from being transformed into the servant of one region against other regions. Nevertheless, this same United States wages a messianic world crusade for unlimited democracy; a democracy America herself refuses to practice. A democracy that, were it effected in America, would never have allowed the United States to have succeeded in becoming a global power. This crusade has now come to Ukraine.

This is not the first such crusade. The Ruski Mir has known many such crusades, some coming from foreign worlds. Napoleon and Hitler were the two most extreme cases testifying to the propensity for the West to metamorphosize into a crazed, dangerous force ready to annihilate everything, as if under the spell of the Devil who, in Dostoyevky’s Brothers Karamazov, advocated even anthropophagy, justifying it to Ivan with the statement “everything is permitted.” In the face of this newest Western crusade, Poland should take upon itself her historical role as a fortress protecting European culture and Latin civilization. Major Henryk Krzeczkowski, who fought his way through the entire Eastern front of the world war against Western fascism that is called the “Great Patriotic War” in Russia, was well aware of the tragic weight of this duty. Writing in 1974 about the coming end of the Cold War and the twilight of a world of false choices between Gog and Magog[4] and in favor of a united Europe of soveriegn and free nations, he saw Poland’s role as a defender of Russia. He wrote that “only a soveriegn and strong Poland can become the factor in a united Europe which will temper all eventual attempts to intervene in the eternal affairs of Russia as well as halting all attempts to terminate Russia’s existence.”[5]

Henryk Krzeczkowski in the center above the paper

Henryk Krzeczkowski in the center above the paper

Presaging the expiration of the Yalta order during the years of the Helsinki accords, Henryk Krzeczkowski outlined a realistic view of Polish-Russian relations. He claimed that:

a sovereign, strong Poland cannot be a military threat to her powerful neighbors. Poland would be incapable of resisting an aggressive attack. Poland’s only hope for preservation as a sovereign entity is to find a common interest with those political and social forces within the Soviet Union and Germany which are ready to put the safety of Europe—and therefore their own security—above any temptation to execute troublesome ambitions. This common understanding cannot be effected by way of noble appeals or Cassandric warnings. It is only possible when those who wish to come to an understanding take into account the imperfections of human nature, the reality of national and state traditions, the historical directions of whole societies, and, finally, the subjective imagination of peoples on the subject of their historical destinies.[6]

Those who today undertake to carry out “troublesome ambitions” ought to consider Henryk Krzeczkowski’s warning:

the belief that parliamentary democracy and the pluralistic organization of society are the best forms of political and social organization for our people is based upon our traditions…this should not, however, lead us to conclude that these political and social forms are good for a people which has never devised them independently in their long history, and whose entire spiritual heritage views them as alien. The Soviet Union is generally considered to be the continuation of the Russian State. One can make various judgments regarding the changes that have taken place there due to the Bolshevik Revolution. It is hard, however, to believe these changes to have come about due to a conspiracy between the Elders of Zion and the German General Staff. The role of political and police terror in Russia, before and after the Revolution, is obvious and well known. It would nevertheless be an absurd oversimplification to believe that the Russian state could function without at the very least the passive consent of the vast majority of its citizens. This consent was given above all to the Bolshevik Revolution itself; a Revolution which never voiced the principles of European democracy and never accepted a European hierarchy of values. The peculiar nature of Russian political and social traditions has been verified by each recurrent attempt at modification, or as Westerners call it ‘liberalization.’ The Russian people have only supported those modifications which accord with their peculiar character; only such modifications have ever been effected. Ergo, when advocating an appeal to political forces within the Soviet Union, I am specifically referring to the eternally regenerating ruling elites.[7]

If independent Polish political thought under the Soviet Union was capable of imagining such concepts of Polish-Russian cohabitation, it is blameworthy that a free and independent Poland, facing a Russia shorn of the People’s Republics and separated from its former Soviet states, has conceived of a foreign policy that is both unrealistic and dangerous to both Europe and her own cause. The historic opportunity to resolve the geopolitical challenges which arose following 1989 is now being wasted. The basic ambitions of the Polish people have been fulfilled: Poland is a member of the European Union and of NATO at the cost of rising Russian apprehension with regard to security.

A third Republic of Poland working together with Russia to diffuse the Ukraine crisis would calm these apprehensions. A third Republic of Poland serving as a forward operating base for an anti-Russian Western crusade would only elevate Russian apprehensions. A Poland which would remind the West that Solidarity was only effective because it was peaceful (and not because billions of American dollars stood behind it or because it violently occupied government buildings as the Maidan protesters did) would demonstrate to Russia that Poland is a voice of reason in the European Union and NATO. A Poland which tempered the messianic instinct of Western liberals towards Russia could have informed her Atlantic allies that another street rebellion against a legally elected Ukrainian government would not bring salvation, but more than likely would bring about the disintegration of Ukraine. Had Polish politics followed this course over the past months, the peace talks held in Minsk would have taken place in Warsaw.

The geopolitical location of Poland and her history as the entrance gate to the Ruski mir create perfect opportunities for Polish diplomacy to be the keystone of East-West relations within the European Union and NATO. All serious lines of contact between Poland’s Western allies and Moscow should run through Warsaw.

In order for this to happen, Poland itself must have excellent relations with Moscow. Polish-Russian relations cannot be based on “resets” imported from the West. They must be the result of a Polish initiative and of Poles rethinking Polish-Russian affairs. The “reset” between Warsaw and Moscow pushed through by President Obama had no chance of success because it was not a well thought out Polish initiative, but a decision dictated to Poland by the United States. Poland cannot afford to base her relations with Moscow on the cyclical highs and lows which have been the defining characteristic of American-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War. Poland must have its own, independent good relations with its strongest eastern neighbor.

Poland will never have independent good relations with Moscow if large quantities of American and German troops are permanently stationed on Polish soil. The presence of large permanent German and American forces under the NATO flag in Poland will make Poland subservient to German and American interests over the next few decades in proportion to Poland’s subservience to the Soviet Union under the Warsaw Pact. The long presence of Russian troops on Polish soil was at least caused by a tragic war. It is the height of dereliction of duty on the part of Poland’s elites to beg the German and American army to occupy Poland under conditions of peace.

A request to occupy Poland with German soldiers was made by the noted Polish liberal, Mr. Sławomir Sierakowski, in The New York Times. More moderate forms of this request for German soldiers in Poland were made by both the current and former Polish minister of foreign affairs; the practical effect of their public pleas for “strong German leadership in Europe” will be a German army in Poland. It is true that the leader of Poland’s largest opposition party has argued for only American forces in Poland, but until the Polish elites understand that Poland can only be free when there is no large scale permanent occupation of the country by foreign armies, then Moscow will never treat a Polish state calling for German troops on its soil seriously.

This understanding can arise if the Polish elites recognize that membership in NATO and the EU signifies alliance and not being held hostage to Western concepts. There is no place in a united Europe of free nation-states for domination of the small by the big. NATO in turn does not absolve each member state of the duties related to military defense. Above all, in practice, Article V, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all members is no security guarantee. It did not guarantee the security of the United States, NATO’s most powerful member, and it will not guarantee Polish security. Following the 9/11 attacks in New York, Germany and France refused to engage militarily on behalf of the United States. The extent of participation in the American “war on terror” by each NATO member was a matter of deliberation and varied from case-to-case. Each case was the subject of political negotiations between allies. History has shown and continues to demonstrate that military guarantees from foreign powers cannot take the place of a well organized domestic defense program, which includes intelligent diplomacy.

There are many reasons for Poland’s flawed foreign policy, but without a doubt a large role is played by the contemporary revival of Promethism, largely due to emigré activities in the West. These Western circles have gained an excessive level of influence on Polish political thought. Mr. Zbigniew Brzeziński, living safely far away from his nation for most of his life, finds it easy to dream up hallucinations about Polish policy aimed at tearing even Siberia from Russia.[8] Ms. Anne Applebaum can play the role of an “expert” on Solidarity and Eastern Europe even though she was, at best, a mere observer of changes taking place in Poland and not a participant in those changes. Professor Tymothy Snyder can write without batting an eyelid about the “genocide” committed by Poland against the people of Ukraine in 1943-1947.[9] However, Poles who have actually lived in Poland for generations, for whom the preservation of national life is not an abstraction, must come to recognize that the fate of Poland will forever remain ambiguous and relative to larger geopolitical goals in the eyes of the powers surrounding her. This is why the political thought of Henryk Krzeczkowski—a soldier and patriot who lived in Poland throughout her tumultuous twentieth century history for good and ill, and who took part in the anti-Communist opposition—should be held in higher esteem by Poles than the thought of Western emigrés and their acolytes. It is after all easy to be a romantic from afar, but necessary to be a realist if one lives in Poland.

We must learn the lessons of our own history and refrain from Western historical interpretations as a reflexive reaction against formerly Communist historical interpretations. We must remember that during World War II, Poland fell victim to Western aggression, and that it was only the initial intentionality of Western aggression that caused Eastern aggression against Poland. Western aggression against Poland took on two forms: active German aggression and passive British aggression. Russian aggression was the result of a broader failure of European politics, which had been plummeting since 1917 towards a confrontation between enemy ideologies. Most importantly for Poland, we must never forget that war is always contrary to ideology and that the effective face of war is dictated by the necessity of survival. Wars are never “Communist,” “Democratic,” or “racially pure.” Wars are wars.

nato1It was in the name of survival that the Allies used Polish soldiers on every important front of the theatre of war, but never put one single soldier on Polish soil in defense of the second Polish Republic. It was also in the name of survival that the Soviet Union raised a Polish army. However, due to geopolitics, the Russian soldier—if he desired to defend Russia—had to fight to free Poland and the Polish soldier—if he wanted to restore the Polish State—had to begin his fight by defending Russia. The geopolitical location of the Polish and Russian nations will never alter this interdependence, unless one or the other nation-state is dismantled. Russian crimes against Poland have been the subject of numerous publications over the past twenty-five years. It is time Poland recalled the crimes of the West against her people. Henryk Krzeczkowski wrote:

The West, for its part, agreeing without the least bit of scruples, with a sense of relief even, to the elimination of Poland from the family of independent states, in fact acting to make this elimination a reality, nevertheless took care to maintain the illusion of faithfulness to its previous commitments only to that extent to which the West considered it necessary for the maintenance of tensions in Polish society–tensions making it possible to irritate Russia; and to irritate Russia only when the West found an opportune occasion for it which was, at the same time, a safe occasion for the West.[10]

Hasn’t the West just found an occasion to irritate Russia that is not dangerous for Western interests by inciting revolution in Ukraine? Was this occasion not necessitated by, amongst other things, the desire to create a crisis in the post-Soviet sphere with the aim of weakening Russia so that it could no longer project influence in the Middle East? To counter Russian support for Syria and for law and order as against the American policy of democratic revolution? Could it be that Poland, under the illusion that the hour of Ukraine’s “liberation” was at hand, merely served as a pawn with which the West attacked Russia? Did Poland, bellicose and demanding action now, not lighten the burden on German and American centers of power which dictated just such a division of labor: that Poland should shout at Russia in the name of the West in order to allow the West to negotiate with Russia in the name of Poland?

Given the looming prospect of a new Cold War, Poland ought to keep in mind the fact that the basic characteristic of the Cold War was that the United States and Soviet Union never met as enemies on the field of battle. All military engagements during the Cold War were fought by intermediate proxy states; smaller nations exploited by the superpowers do irritate the enemy. Poland, which is a separate civilization from the Ruski Mir, but is also a brotherly slavic and Christian nation, is perfectly poised to be exploited to irritate Russia. All anti-Russian uprisings in the nineteenth century always ended with reduced autonomy for the Kingdom of Poland until its final Russification. Amongst various factors, it is largely thanks to Roman Dmowski’s efforts to temper and halt efforts at another Polish uprising during the Russian-Japanese war that the legacy of Polish political failure was brought to an end and the path was set for a restoration of Polish independence. The matter was no different under Solidarity, which could only defeat Communism through political means, not violence. Conversely, every Russian aggression against Polish liberty always ended tragically for Russia because without a free and strong Poland, Napoleon and Hitler had a clear and open means of attacking Moscow. The physical victims of poor Polish-Russian relations have always been Poles and Russians, Polish and Russian cities. This is why Poles and Russians will always be destined to either fight side by side or die together, backs turned to one another.

Polish-Russian cooperation, contrary to the prognosis of the apocalyptic chattering classes, now enjoys greater prospects than in prior times. Poland is a sovereign state, a member of NATO and the EU and one of the closest of American allies. This gives Poland a host of possibilities to work towards its interests in Europe. It is not a matter of national interest to the Polish state whether or not this or that political configuration dominates in the Ruski Mir by means of Western intervention. It is in the interest of the Polish state for holy peace to dominate the Ruski Mir.[11] With the ultimate extinction of Promethism in Ukraine, Poles and Russians should work towards good permanent relations in the name of European security.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore


[1] H. Krzeczkowski, Scepticism with a pinch of Optimism

[2] H. Krzeczkowski, Poland: A Method for Survival

[3] Hon. William H. Rehnquist, All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime. New York: Vintage Books (1998). Ostatni rozdział nosi tytuł “Inter Arma Silent Leges”

[4] H. Krzeczkowski, Poland: A Method for Survival

[5]H. Krzeczkowski, Temptations & Admonitions

[6] H. Krzeczkowski, Polska, Niemcy i Inni

[7] Tamże

[8] Z. Brzeziński, A Geostrategy for Eurasia, Foreign Affairs, Sept-October, 1997

[9] T. Snyder, To Resolve the Ukrainiane Question Once and for All: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ukrainians in Poland 1943-1947, November 2001

[10] H. Krzeczkowski, Pokusy i Przestrogi

[11] The original Polish was “święty spokój” which is usually translated as “peace and quiet,” but literally means holy peace and was thus a good phrase. My goal was to underscore that being oblivious to political forms does not mean being oblivious to their content.

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