[NOTE: Recently, a number of Polish artists have been questioning the ideas of national identity through their art. The singer Czeslaw Mozil released a song titled “I hate you, Poland”, followed by a YouTube experiment “The Book of Migrants”. However, these “unpatriotic” statements have met with intense and often violent attacks from the conservative media and online commentators. Most recently, however, female artists have taken up the topic and continued to challenge conventional perceptions of loyalty to the Polish state. This article, published recently in Polityka Magazine, explores the reasons for this clash of ideologies.]
First Maria Peszek, and now Anna Mucha. Both these female artists are rebelling against moral blackmail, inherent in the concept of Polish patriotism dating back to the 19th century, which is when national mythologies and struggles for independence raged in our country. A patriotism understood as readiness to shed blood in times of war and the giving of dues to hierarchical power structures, which include the Catholic Church, in times of peace.
In her wonderful new song, Maria Peszek sings: “Sorry Poland, I wouldn’t surrender to you, Poland, a single drop of blood. Living is horrific enough. A living citizen beats a dead heroine!”.
And most recently, Anna Mucha, a young actress (I can still see her appearing as a child wearing a raincoat and glasses in 1992’s Schindler’s List), had the courage to say: “My primary obligation is to protect my children, my family, my closest ones. At all costs. And I couldn’t care less about ‘God, honour and homeland’! The survival of those I love is more important.”
And so two brave, wise female artists have spoken, throwing these bold words back in the face of the god-national patriarchal dominator types, words about living, breathing, vital values, in the context of which killing for a free fatherland and the preservation of our forefather’s faith systems starts to appear ethically suspect. Thus the simpleton figure of Ares, although draped in all sorts of holy insignia, comes to a grinding halt and starts spitting and screaming in impotent anger. What’s up, Ares, going to fight some girls, are you?
And so we have one female singer declaring that she detests the idea of violence, and in times of trouble she’d like to do everything possible to help her loved ones live on. And that this is more important to her than the fate of the nation, than whether the ruling parties will be made up of fellow pure-blood Poles, rather than some damned foreigners. Certainly, this second aspect may be extremely important, but the life of children, parents, siblings is to her of primary value. And no one can be expected to discard these on some bonfire of historical vanities. And now a second actress has added that true loyalty to a homeland means respect for the state and the duties of a good citizen, not the vile screaming of football hooligans. Dedication to hard work, the paying of taxes and commitment to social causes – these are the true measures and hallmarks of patriotism.
And I mean to tell you that they both have every express to hold these opinions, and what’s more they both deserve respect for the guts to airing them in public – even from those who do not share those opinions.
Besides, it’s not all that easy to debate with these points of view, seeing as there is nothing obvious about the assertion that it is better to kill thousands of people for the sake of sovereignty, rather than by losing it save those same thousands. The truth is neither here nor there. What is certainly disgraceful is that for some people in Poland the very posing of such questions is cause enough to unleash waves of aggression. Still, these come from cowards, those who lack the guts to consider opinions and discuss them calmly, or even formulate precisely their own position. Go on, let them state just how many millions of human beings are the equivalent of the value of Polish independence?
And thus the question of the price worth paying for the highest good remains to be answered. And wise people go on debating it, while the dumb go on believing that silence and straying away from complex issues is something akin to duty. Lovely! We actually have words for such “duties”: denial, hypocrisy, duplicity, and of course cowardice. He who gags others, burning with holy, yet misguided fire, casting aspersions, and at the same time shying away from every offer of dialogue, he – as it was said in olden days – soweth discord among brethren.
I have a few more bits of bad news for our “fellow patriots”. Choking on paroxysms of pride and high-minded outbursts are not some sort of emotional kitsch, which can be excused without any real challenge, but is clear anti-patriotic practice. You are not a patriot if you imagine your nation is above all others, as more brave and more dignified than any neighbouring state. Wrong is he who has no time for the subtle shades of historical fact and the complexity of past tragedies and hence imagines that his nation was always as pure as a freshly shed tear, while imagining its leaders to have been personages free from blemish. Wrong is he who would reserve for himself, and for those like him, the right to judge who is or isn’t a real Pole, what Poles should or should not believe, and what opinions they should hold dear. Such folk might have been mistaken for patriots two bloody centuries ago, when on the backs of tribal unity, the fearing of “others”, upon superstitions and insecurities we created the myths and propagandas of a unified body politic, which was meant to bring together “lords” and “commoners”. This was hard work, this marrying of fire and water, and any method was considered valid. Even the pretence that our Church, although Vatican and Rome-led, was somehow Polish, or even hyper-Polish. Back in those dark days, this was understood and accepted. Without a mass use of propaganda – created by politicians, writers and men of the cloth – Poland as such would not exist today.
Yet who in the 21st century of today, caring nothing for the formation of a real, mature, civic Polish nation, still wallows in this infantile, para-nationalistic mythology, created for revolutionary and warmongering purposes, thereby damaging and destroying the very same nation? Dragging it down to their own childish, warped version of anachronistic tribalism and xenophobia.
Today, this is not on. Today this equals the denial of patriotism.
And yet the curators of this ideologically pseudo-patriotic (and hence how aggressive and arrogant!) museum are never in short supply. Why? The answer is simple.
The pact between the Throne and the Altar still stands. Political parties benefit from creating chauvinistic & fanatical sentiments, for they have great mobilising power, power related to the pleasure principle which is amplified by feelings of pride, self-pity, grandeur and uniqueness. This is good manure with which to sprinkle the political landscape, hence we shouldn’t be surprised that government propaganda spin maintains this course, adding little to the rehashed slogans and posters from the 19th century. The ruling party benefits, the Church benefits too, developing an enhanced role of God’s governors in this damned theatre, receiving from the powers that continue to be tax breaks and additional tributes. All it has to do is continue to pretend it is somehow “Polish”, though of course it is anything but, being historically designed and governed by the likes of the Vatican, Rome, the Hapsburgs, the Teutonic Knights and every other damn “other”, as and when needed, on top of being “ours”.
And it really is hard for millions of us not to fall prey to this brainwashing, seeing as we are fed a diet of it from cradle to the very grave. This is how the Polish nation continues to erode itself. This is what hinders the formation of a truly free and independent, global-minded, pluralistic society – a modern Polish state. Those who scream “Nation! Poland!” are most often its stragglers and vandals. They still don’t know what it means to be a Pole. But we, eventually, will teach them the error of their ways.
All sorts of myth-makers and “nationalists” consider themselves to be patriots, and they look down upon all those who aren’t like them, denying them their Polishness and their right to patriotism. They only have insults for those other than themselves, “lefties” being the tamest. Has anyone ever heard them speak about those different to them in a tone containing anything other than contempt or hate?
Meanwhile, the truth is quite the opposite. Patriots are us: Peszek, Mucha, Hartman. Along with millions of other, open-minded, tolerant and decent Poles. Patriots are us because we respect the state and the law. Because we respect our own democratic citizenship. Because we don’t spit upon and reject freely elected leaders. Because we know that civic duty is not about going to mass while wearing jackboots, but a daily existence of hard work, engagement in social activities, the propagation of culture and order. Because we respect diversity within our own borders and ranks and are repulsed by the idea that every Pole must be just like us, be it believer or non-believer, or in any way “the very same as all other Poles”.
Because we want Poles to be free, and hence also inherently varied. Because we care about the truth, even if it is often painful, and always complex, rather than the easy substitute of cheap chauvinistic myths. Because we are angry when a drunken thug waves about a red-and-white banner and screams his oratory of pride, spreading fear of the unknown and hate for all things which do not originate from his own tribe. To them we say – learn from us! Be, as we are, legitimate Poles – it doesn’t have to hurt.
Translated by Marek Kazmierski