Can Russia and Poland Just Get Along?
by Peter Strzelecki Rieth
This 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?” 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.”
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. 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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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