Polish press expresses support for Ukraine

WARSAW, Poland—In this week’s edition of the Polish Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, editor Adam Boniecki wrote that given their history, “it’s hard to find reasons why Ukrainians would like Poles”. Poland ruled large swaths of Ukraine for centuries and as recently as the 1930s when it suppressed expressions of Ukrainian identity. Many Ukrainians, meanwhile, collaborated with the Nazis and massacred thousands of Poles during World War II. In recent years, many of these personalities have become national heroes in Ukraine, which, unsurprisingly, has put a strain on Polish-Ukrainian relations.

“How much that changes now,” wrote Boniecki, who is also a priest. “In place of the old bad memory, a simple human compassion emerged…our hearts were opened for those who sought shelter, safety and human understanding in our country.”

The entire cover of the magazine, front and back, displays the Ukrainian flag and bears the words “We are with you, Ukraine”. The magazine calls him a “symbol of our support for the Ukrainian nation” in a note to readers. “Let our neighbors to the east see that we support them.”

WARSAW, Poland—In this week’s edition of the Polish Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, editor Adam Boniecki wrote that given their history, “it’s hard to find reasons why Ukrainians would like Poles”. Poland ruled large swaths of Ukraine for centuries and as recently as the 1930s when it suppressed expressions of Ukrainian identity. Many Ukrainians, meanwhile, collaborated with the Nazis and massacred thousands of Poles during World War II. In recent years, many of these personalities have become national heroes in Ukraine, which, unsurprisingly, has put a strain on Polish-Ukrainian relations.

“How much that changes now,” wrote Boniecki, who is also a priest. “In place of the old bad memory, a simple human compassion emerged…our hearts were opened for those who sought shelter, safety and human understanding in our country.”

The entire cover of the magazine, front and back, displays the Ukrainian flag and bears the words “We are with you, Ukraine”. The magazine calls him a “symbol of our support for the Ukrainian nation” in a note to readers. “Let our neighbors to the east see that we support them.”

Since March 2, more than 500,000 refugees have arrived in Poland from Ukraine. Since the day of the Russian invasion last week, Poland has opened its borders to anyone fleeing, setting up welcome points along the border to provide arrivals with hot drinks and food.

This is a policy implemented and supported by the government, but Polish society has also stepped up to help, with people across the country donating food and other essentials, offering their homes as shelter and helping refugees move away from the border. “Everyone – ordinary people, supporters of law and justice, opponents, lay people, bishops and simple priests, civil servants and local bureaucrats – came together in solidarity. And in this terrible time, solidarity is most precious,” concluded Boniecki.

The reaction of the media from all political backgrounds reflected the unity of action of the Polish people. Jerzy Baczynski, editor of the centre-left weekly Polityka, praised the response of ordinary Poles to the humanitarian crisis. In this week’s issue, whose cover is titled “Putin’s Stalinist War”, he wrote that Poles “faced the war in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster and the crowds of refugees pouring into Poland with a extraordinary response: solidarity, abnegation”. This, he wrote, is not due to the national government but to “local governments, social organizations, businesses and individuals”.

It is largely thanks to Russia that so much is changing now. Since the early 2000s, Poland has helped Ukraine on its pro-Western path, sympathizing with a neighboring country trying to escape Russia’s imperial grip. “Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic States and later, perhaps, the time will come for my country, Poland.” Those were the words of then Polish President Lech Kaczynski in a speech he gave in the main square of Tbilisi, Georgia on August 12, 2008. It was the last day of the invasion of the Georgia by Russia, the implications of which were already clear to many. Eastern European countries therefore, even if their Western counterparts refuse to accept it: Russian imperialism did not die with the Soviet Union.

As Russian missiles rained down on Ukraine and troops entered the country, this fact became impossible to ignore. Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 led to more than a million Ukrainians traveling to Poland to work and study, bringing the two nations closer than they had been for many decades. The tensions that existed between the two were erased almost overnight, on February 24, when Russian troops began their assault on Ukraine. Since then, excerpts of Kaczynski’s speech have been broadcast across Poland on Polish state broadcaster TVP, reminding Poles of the prescient words of their former president, the twin brother of the leader of the right-wing ruling Law and Justice party. . The message is unambiguous: if Poland does not help Ukraine today, it may be next.

For years, Poland and other NATO members from Eastern Europe have warned of the dangers Russia’s autocratic President Vladimir Putin poses to the region. Now they feel justified, but also terrified. A recent poll showed that 78% of Poles are now afraid of war, with 64% also fearing that Poland’s territorial integrity will be affected.

The pro-government right-wing weekly Do RzeczyThis week’s cover simply read “Aggressor,” above Putin’s steely gaze. Its editor Pawel Lisicki wrote that the most important conclusion to draw from the current crisis is the importance of “strengthening the Polish army as soon as possible, especially its rearmament”. Two days before the Russian invasion, the Polish government sent to parliament an “internal defense bill” aimed at significantly increasing the defense budget. Now the government may already be looking to go further in strengthening the Polish army.

Meanwhile, the editor of the even more right-wing pro-government newspaper Gazeta Poland, Tomasz Sakiewicz, wrote an article entitled “For Putin, there can be no more forgiveness”. He lamented that Russia had never gone through the process of “de-imperialization” that Germany had known and wrote: “if we forgive [Russia] again, in a few years, an even greater war awaits us, which this time will reach Poland.

Baczynski, center-left Polityka, sees less of a direct threat to Poland, as it would be “far beyond the economic and military potential of Russia”, but he pointed out that “after the vassalization of Belarus, Poland has already become the line of NATO front”. It is a position that Poland has tried to avoid for decades by supporting Ukraine’s Western orientation. But with the shockwaves of Russian rocket attacks already being felt in Poland, it’s clear that a new strategy is needed. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, for his part, wrote in an opinion piece for the FinancialTimes that “Russia can only be stopped by Western solidarity with Ukraine”.

This feeling and message of solidarity has overwhelmed Poland in recent days. On TVP, the presenters all wear ribbons in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, and the phrase “In solidarity with Ukraine” in the colors of the Polish and Ukrainian flags floats on the screen on all TVP news, or not. Round-the-clock coverage celebrates Ukraine’s fight against Putin’s ‘banditry’, as well as Poland’s humanitarian mobilization to help hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Poland.

The Polish opposition press has been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Poland’s current Law and Justice government, which has been siding with pro-Russian EU politicians for years while being “at war with the ‘democratic West’ itself. That’s what Newsweek Poland editor Tomasz Lis wrote, adding that Law and Justice’s Poland is not “an official ally of the Kremlin, but a poor ally of the West.”

Baczynski also concluded that it has never been “clearer than now that Poland’s security depends on Western values ​​and their two most important existing forms: NATO and the European Union”, criticizing at length the how the Polish government undermined the latter while flattering a US President, Donald Trump, who threatened to destroy the former. For years, the Polish government has fought with Brussels over the rule of law, LGBT rights and, ironically, migration and refugees, to the point where the country has become one of the black sheep union with Hungary.

Poland’s largest centre-left daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, added a Ukrainian flag at the top of the mast, accompanied by a quote from Polish Pope John Paul II which serves as his slogan: “There is no freedom without solidarity”. Solidarity is certainly not lacking in Poland. But will that be enough to stop Putin’s westward march?

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