Wake Up, Poland!

We cordially welcome Dr. Bogdan Kotnis to our group. Dr. Kotnis will be our strategist and a person dealing with the development of the portal and the Kuryer Polski Foundation.

There is an urgent need for Polish Americans and Poles to join in the process of crafting Poland’s short-term and long-term strategy for success aimed to improve her cultural, economic, and political relevance. Polish Americans are part of Poland’s diaspora, often called Polonia. Short-term strategy should describe desired status of Poland five years into the future and identify actions needed to reach that goal. Long-term strategy should span the next twenty-five years. We should include strategic flows and connectivity in this strategy.

Strategic flows can be defined as the movement of information, capital, raw materials, and products throughout the globe. Connectivity is a term used to describe how different aspects of human activity are linked. The global connectivity index is a comprehensive guide used by policy makers and industry leaders to gauge how nations cooperate on various levels, for example the connectivity of movement, information, social interaction, flow of products, and raw materials. If we accept that strategic flows and connectivity are key elements shaping global future, Polish strategy for success should include Polish diaspora as a vital element of Poland’s assets.

Polish diaspora in the world (Source: Facebook)

Currently, rather than carefully balance between global political forces, most of Polish and Polonia leadership invested their trust and meager political capital in the camp of Donald Trump. Since Trump lost the presidential election, Polish elites go through the grieving process. In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist introduced a model regarding the five stages of grief in her book titled On Death and Dying. The steps are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Stages of the grief process may be used to describe the reaction of Polish leadership elites to current American Presidential elections. This reaction has little to do with political pragmatism and foresight but is mostly an emotional consequence of overcommitment to one-dimensional political strategy. It further shows that Poland’s engagement is dominated by tactical needs and not strategic planning. Rather than plan carefully and consider all scenarios (strategy), Polish leaders simply react to events as they unfold (tactics). Poland and Polonia often seem to be one step behind, rather than a step ahead of the developments on the international stage. Regardless of how long the grieving process takes place, Polish elites and Polonia will eventually move past it. The concern is that once Poland processes today’s crisis it might be surprised by the next one lurking around the corner. If she neglects the need for strategic analysis and careful review of possible outcomes, the resulting disappointment is almost inevitable. Let us look beyond current grieving process and consider a way towards proactive and assertive strategy for Poland and her diaspora on the international arena.

Stanisław Wyspiański described the decadence of Polish elites after an unsuccessful series of the 19th century uprisings in his 1901 drama Wesele (The Wedding). His symbolism and commentary aptly describe the state of Poland’s elites today, a century later. As the world is moving on towards a new reality that will emerge from the confrontation of China vs USA and from Covid-19, Poland’s elites, mesmerized by the Strawman (Chochoł), are embraced in a dance of laying blame and reliving the past. The Horn, Wyspiański’s symbol of needed leadership in time of distress, is waiting to be picked up by a brave hero with a vision of what to do next. Alas, precious few seem interested in picking it up at this time. As we all remember from Wesele, the only option left for failing elites then was the hangman’s noose. Today, there is still time to pick up the Horn and chart a way towards prosperous Poland we all yearn for, regardless of identity politics which currently divide us so painfully. Rather than wallowing in self-pity and blame game, we need to engage in the hard work of charting a course for the nave of the country in the turbulent waters of current political strife.

Planning successful strategy for Poland in the 21st century should start from defining the vision that would consolidate fragmented elements of Polish society. Such vision must include Polish diaspora as a vital element of Poland’s array of assets. In the 19th century, Poles did not expand looking for gold or slaves supported by a strong Polish state. Rather, they were scattered around the world in the demographic eruption caused after Poland’s partitions by Russia, Prussia, and Austria at the end of the 18th century. As the result of this demographic explosion, Polonia today lives from Buenos Aires and New York City to Novosibirsk and Tehran. The trauma of national destruction stifled the development of proactive strategy and reduced the leadership elites to tactical maneuvering between overwhelming powers that openly planned Poland’s total annihilation.

Current challenges for Poland are not so much due to her hopeless position. They are mostly due to the lack of strong and sustained strategic planning. Poland seems often surprised and disappointed by the world’s events mostly because current events had not been carefully analyzed before. It is up to the Polish intellectual and political elites to pick up the demographic wealth of combined Poland and its diaspora and weave it into the tapestry of confidence and strength that will protect Poland’s interests for the inevitable global rivalry.

Let us remember that an impressive seven centuries of Poland’s growth between the 10th and 18th centuries was built by, among others … a Lithuanian prince who became Polish king Jagiello, and a Transylvanian ruler who became king Batory. None of them spoke Polish as the first language. Bolesław Chrobry spent his formative years as a hostage of the Roman Emperor Otto I in Germany from 973 to eventually become the first crowned Polish king in 1025. The ontology of Polish cultural identity is anchored in an 1834 epic poem Pan Tadeusz published in France, which starts “Lithuania, my homeland, thou art like health…” Poland never fitted the boundaries prescribed to her by political expediency. Reducing what Poland is today to a geographic space between the Oder and Bug rivers, and the population residing within these boundaries, is an oversimplification of a complex global circumstance. Current map of Poland was imposed on Poland by the colonizing powers and has little to do with cultural needs, demography, or political ambitions.

Rather than looking for a protector among the powers that aim at our destruction, we need to develop a strategy of balancing for gain among prospective partners. We have built enough strength since 1945 to look for prosperity and success rather than mere survival.

The fight for cultural identity and political relevance continues, especially now in the era of hybrid warfare where what matters more is the interpretation and presentation of events, rather than the events themselves. The role of Polish elites must be to raise up the Horn of culture and blow it across the world for all of Polonia to hear. If Poland accepts this challenge, the government should focus on investing in the diaspora and building robust connections that lead to the halls of power and wealth in the countries where Polonia lives. We have a chance to build a system of connections and influence that can encompass the whole world.

The history of how the Jagiellonian University served Poland from its inception in the 14th century shows us the way. Long overdue initiative of funding Polonia Departments in each of the major Polish universities should not be put away for later any longer. There also should be considerable funding allocated to prestigious foreign universities that would open Polonia Departments. For starters, it would be nice to have a serious definition of Polonia in Wikipedia. As of today, when typing Polonia in Wikipedia, one gets information on Polonia Wisconsin and Polonia International Airport in Indonesia. This is the disappointing outcome of intellectual labor of the free Polish state since 1989 with all its ambitions, dreams, funds, ministries, and universities.

Poland’s elites should stop dwelling in the past for proof on how weak and unsuccessful we are. There is enough evidence of our impressive intellectual foresight and tenacity throughout history. We need a serious effort that will bring Poland and Polonia into a cohesive intellectual, economic, and political web of connectivity, which is not parochial but global in scope. Talking about 10 million strong American Polonia, we need to accept the fact that most of them do not speak Polish. If we want to activate this demographic potential, we should stop limiting our debate to Polish only. Writing in Polish with the purpose to influence American Polonia makes little pragmatic sense. Secondly, a person talking about Polish issues in English in San Diego is as important in the global debate about Poland as one speaking Russian in Minsk, Spanish in Mexico City, or Polish in Warsaw. If we want to contribute towards positive development of Poland in today’s world, we need to recognize that there is no place for Poland as an isolated island of dreams and legends, which can be sheltered from the hostile world. We need to welcome current Game of Thrones and fight for our place at the global table. Polish backwater syndrome has been discussed long enough to accept that refusing to treat Polonia as an active and contributing part of Polish culture is an oversight.

We are not going to find strength from weakness and division. Many debilitating mental frames used by Polish elites is the result of skillfully executed colonial strategy. One of the main functions of the elites of 1945-1989 Poland was to show the impotence of the country. They were mostly focused on applying blame and reproducing the status quo, in which the Soviet Union was an invincible power. Precious few showed flaws of the system or penetrated for weaknesses in the colonial communist monolith. On the other hand, there were scores of recognized experts on the wisdom of Marxism and Leninism.

An effort of over 20,000 Americans fighting for Poland in Haller’s Blue Army in 1919-1920 was wasted by the Polish 1919-1939 governments as a sacrifice to internal bickering (see January 2021 Kuryer Polski article by Biniecki and Murawska, *The Blue Army and American Volunteers*, November 16, 2020). Rather than building on their effort and sacrifice, this invaluable potential was wasted for the internal politics of Warsaw. When 1939 came around, American interest in Poland and Polonia influence on the body politics in the US was insignificant. In 1941, Sikorski was looking for volunteers in the United States, but Polonia did not respond like in 1918. Today, most of the Polish leadership elites treat American Polonia instrumentally, using it as blind instruments of Polish government. They do not see the potential of Polish Americans mainly because they know precious little about them. If Poland had a clear strategic plan and thoroughly researched its diaspora, the state would invest considerably into the development of Polonia’s assets and influence in the United States. Such investment does not mean throwing money blindly, but drafting a careful strategy managed by clearly defined and measurable objectives. Since, at present, American Polonia has negligible access to the President, Congress, or the Senate, the task must start with assessing on what level of political and economic ladder Poland’s contacts and influence are placed. Such review should not look for those to blame, but to ascertain real position Poland has in the United States at this time.

When Poland was sealed off from the world behind the Iron Curtain, Polish Americans were sending packets with food and clothes to Poland. Now, Poles do not need warm socks or ham. Poland can invest robustly in the Polish diaspora to build relationships in the United States on political and economic levels. How many of the Polish elites who claim to be experts on the United States have direct contacts with — or influence on — American politicians? When Poland was under the Soviet rule, a friend who worked in construction in Manhattan was a good source of information. Now, it is time to seriously invest in the relationships and build Polish presence in the United States on significantly higher levels. Since political lobbying is a recognized fact in the United States, Poland should invest substantial capital in the building of a network of contacts in the USA. Neglecting this aspect of politics is a strong signal to the American leadership that Poland is not a player, but a chip in the game of politics and influence.

Rather than being paralyzed in a trance of remorse and despair, now is the time to re-evaluate Poland’s current position, be proactive and build the future of Poland with Polonia, its diaspora as a vital element of global presence and influence.

Connectivity Potential
Bogdan Kotnis

In her list of priorities, Poland should pay more attention to careful strategic planning beyond current tactical concerns. Poland needs to create a plan of connecting with her neighbors: Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus in a network of connectivity. The plan should also include the analysis of any obstacles to such connectivity development potential.