The Pandora’s Box of nationalism unleashed during Ukraine’s EuroMaidan now seems to be moving west and infecting Poland. Virulent nationalism is taking hold of thousands of Poles and creating a long-term problem for the country and its neighbors.
Right-Wing Hate In The Streets
Thousands of Poles turned out Tuesday night to commemorate Poland’s rebirth after World War I, but the celebrations quickly turned violent as flares were thrown, benches and pavement slabs hurled, and nationalist slogans filled the air.
It took the police hours to quell the commotion, eventually having to resort to water cannons and riot control squads to break up the pandemonium, arresting over 200 people in the process.
Tuesday’s riots weren’t the first time Polish nationalists created chaos in Warsaw. The violence during last year’s Independence Day march created an international scandal, as enraged mobs marched on and attacked the Russian Embassy. They threw fireworks and bottles at it, set a guard’s station on fire, and tried to scale the security fence to attack and possibly occupy the building.
They were beaten back by riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas and over 70 people were arrested. Russia later demanded and received an official apology for the disgraceful acts. Up until that point, only the Libyan Embassy had been attacked in recent years.
Russophobia had been on the rise in Poland for the past couple years already, and Polish nationalists attacked Russian football fans during Euro 2012 in Warsaw.
The Maidan Migration
The past couple years’ warlike scenes in Warsaw were a harbinger of things to come in neighboring Ukraine in November 2013, when the Maidan marauders utterly devastated Kiev and eventually forced a coup against the democratically elected president a few months later. The rabid nationalists resorted to such tactics as throwing explosive devices at police officers, crafting homemade assault weapons, and occupying government buildings.
Many of them were also loyal followers of World War II radical nationalist and Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose affiliated forces massacred over 100,000 Polish civilians in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia from 1943-1944.
This Ukrainian nationalist hate now appears to have emboldened its Polish counterparts and migrated west. Instead of learning from the violence they unleashed during last year’s riots, they were set to repeat it yesterday, possibly in reaction to the events of the Bandera radicals during EuroMaidan and afterwards. These Polish right-wingers idealize the time of the Second Polish Republic which existed between the two world wars.
Just like their Ukrainian counterparts, they also blindly blame Russia and the Soviet Union for all of their historical misfortunes, neglecting to take ownership for their own political shortcomings that led to certain tragic events. Last week, Russian President Putin, addressing Polish historical revisionism, said that “They accuse Soviet Union of dividing Poland. Well, what did Poland do when the Germans entered Czechoslovakia? It took part of Czechoslovakia. That’s what it did. And then they got a hockey puck in their own goal.”
Prodded On By Politicians
EuroMaidan also unleashed nationalism in the Polish political class, whose actions encouraged Tuesday’s rioters. Former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski was one of the architects of the EU’s Eastern Partnership that forced Ukraine to make the tragic civilizational choice that eventually led to its Civil War. He showed his sway over EuroMaidan when he ordered its leaders to accept the February 21st so-called ‘peace deal’ or “you'll have martial law, you'll have the army and you will all be dead”. A day after it was signed, he then reneged his responsibilities to uphold the agreement and pledged his backing for the coup that overthrew the president.
Poland’s determination to keep interfering in Ukraine’s domestic politics likely comes from its imperial history of controlling half the country nearly 300 years ago. This policy is still active in the halls of power, with current Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna insisting that “Talking about Ukraine without Poland is equivalent to talking about the issues of Libya, Algiers, Tunisia and Morocco without Italy, France or Spain.” Clearly, the Polish government believes that Ukraine is its former colony and that it reserves some kind of right to decide matters for it. With Warsaw actively promoting such neo-colonial thought, it’s not hard to see why radical Polish nationalism is spreading like wildfire.