Artillery Row

Ongoing lessons from the Battle of Warsaw

After the Miracle at the Vistula, a Miracle at the Oder?

The overwhelming majority of Western Europeans have never heard about the Polish-Soviet War, let alone the “Miracle of the Vistula”, since their knowledge of Eastern Central Europe is still conditioned by a worldview in which “real” Europe ends somewhere in the middle of Germany, whereas what Milan Kundera called the “kidnapped West” is considered a part of Asia. And yet: had Poland, reborn just months before its war with the Soviets after more than a century of German, Austrian and Russian rule, and still haphazardly organised with shifting borders on all sides, not mustered all its strength to roll back the Soviet attack in 1920, the history of the twentieth century would have been fundamentally different.

Indeed, in the 1920s, the communist leaders of Russia were still very far from Stalin’s ulterior fusion between Marxism and Russian imperialism and thus surprised that the “world revolution” had started in one of the least industrialised countries of the modern world and not, as predicted by Marx and Engels (on a side note, not a relative of mine), in Germany, France or the United Kingdom. They thus expected that very soon, the revolutionary verve would reach Berlin and galvanise the German working classes. Given the very unsteady situation of Germany, which had not only just lost the Great War, but also all faith in its traditional order, she might indeed have quickly joined the world revolution – and with her the rest of Western Europe could have tumbled after. If that had been the case, much of Europe could easily have become communist long before it did in 1945.

The destiny of Poland is to be both the perpetual victims and perpetual spoilers of Western and Eastern expansionism

Poland, by defending its newly won independence and by withstanding the Soviet steamroller, not only protected its freedom and managed to secure its Eastern border, but also created a barrier that helped Western Europe find a new equilibrium after the upheavals of WWI and the post-war chaos; a feat for which it has never been properly thanked. To the contrary, after WWII, the Western Allies, which had entered the war to defend Poland’s independence against the German (and, though never explicitly stated, the Soviet) aggression, left the crippled and much-reduced Polish state in the power of one of its former aggressors, bringing Poland for another half century into the orbit of Moscow.

The destiny of Poland and of the Poles, since the 18th century, is to be both the perpetual victims, but also the perpetual spoilers of Western and Eastern expansionism. This has never been clearer than in the last few years, where Poland is facing a new endeavour to subject the country to an extremist ideology, although this time, it is not the fully-fledged classical communism of the East, but rather “political correctness” from the West, though it does share some similarities with the former.

As socialism, “political correctness” is ultimately universalist, as it claims to apply to all humans; materialist, as it wants to ban all forms of spirituality from the public sphere; internationalist, as it rejects the fundamental importance of regions, nations and civilisations; multiculturalist, as it endeavours to blur identities and quell opposition by shifting and mixing whole populations; socially constructivist, as it considers all forms of social (and even biological) behaviour as artificially conditioned by “patriarchal” elites; collectivist, as the State is considered as ultimate guarantor of equality; totalitarian, as this ideology is not restricted to the political domain, but has become all-pervasive thanks to the modern media; anti-European, as Western culture is seen as the ultimate culprit for “imperialism”, “colonialism” or “fascism”; proletarian, as all expressions of high culture are considered as elitist and most often creations of “old white men”; and fundamentally intolerant, as all competing worldviews are considered as “right-wing” and “extremist”. Even its allegedly “liberal” economy seems gradually jeopardised, as the mass consumer culture is increasingly financed through the redistribution of middle-class income, while only the elites manage to escape taxation and, as is the case with, for example, the business beneficiaries of big data, fully support and financially benefit from the current cultural revolution. Their stake in the system is obvious to them and they defend it with gusto, using all the social media tools at their disposal.

As in 1920, Poland, with its Visegrad allies in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is at the forefront of the fight against this new dispensation. For the moment, as has been shown by the last presidential elections, where the conservative candidate Andrzej Duda won despite a powerful press campaign orchestrated by, in particular, the German media, and by a broad alliance by all opposition parties, the resistance is holding its ground – but for how long? Should Donald Trump, one of the most important defenders of the current Polish government, lose the next elections, Poland could quickly find itself in an uncomfortable position. However, a comparison between the world-wide chaos created by the coronavirus-quarantining and Poland’s relatively unharmed situation, between the growing inner disintegration of established Western countries such as France and Poland’s social stability and security; between the ever-mounting debt-crisis of the Eurozone and Poland’s impressive economic growth rates may still give Warsaw an excellent window of opportunity to construct its own alliance system before it is too late. As Piotr Glinski points out, ‘Western civilization has already fallen once … The Roman Empire collapsed not only as the result of a barbarian invasion, but also because it lost self-confidence.’ But not so in Poland, where projects such as the Visegrad alliance or the broader Three Seas Initiative show the extent of the country’s ambitions and geopolitical perspectives – and also the possibility of using these positions to one day “strike back”.

Exactly as Poland managed in 1920 to protect Western civilisation from the Soviet attack, it may very well be that, a century later, it could become the heartland of all those wanting to uphold the traditional values of the Western world, such as Christianity, the traditional family, free speech, patriotism and a free market economy – and, once it becomes obvious that the path taken by the West will ultimately lead Europe to disaster, a basis for its reconstruction. Can a new “Miracle of the Vistula” be hoped for?

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