Behind Trump’s Trip to Poland

Before visiting many key U.S. allies, including either Mexico or Canada, President Trump traveled to Poland last week, getting a friendly reception from another nationalist politician, President Andrzej Duda, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Perhaps the most overlooked part of President Donald Trump’s trip to Europe last week was his 18-hour visit to Poland as the guest of political ally and fellow nationalist, President Andrzej Duda.

President Donald Trump, speaking in Warsaw, Poland, on July 6, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

I interviewed Ronald Cox, a professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University, about the significance of Trump’s decision to make an early visit to Poland. Cox is author or editor of numerous books including Corporate Power and Globalization in US Foreign Policy. I spoke to Cox on July 6.

Dennis Bernstein: Why did Trump go to Poland? What’s your overview? And then let’s talk about what we understand might have happened.

Ronald Cox: Trump is essentially continuing in Poland what he’s already doing in the United States. He’s extending militarization, and support for those countries that are thoroughly militarizing their economy, as well as political parties that are in favor of unleashing a further militarization and policing of the domestic population, which Trump approves of, not only at home but in a country like Poland.

DB: Say a little bit more about that, doing the same thing there as he’s doing here? Give us a few more details on that.

RC: Okay, so the first two aspects of Trump’s speech are worthy of note. The first aspect is the support for Poland’s increased military spending toward NATO. Poland has been one of five countries that have surpassed a 2% threshold, that Trump was urging all NATO member countries to pass regarding 2% of military spending… 2% of GDP. So Trump celebrated that aspect.

The second aspect that Trump celebrated was this particular attitude of a political party — the Law and Justice Party in Poland — which is engaged in a militarization campaign, a policing campaign inside Poland that has strong consequences domestically. Because one of its targets is Muslims. And one of the targets is what is labelled Islamic Extremists, but oftentimes with a broad brush is simply painted – the Muslim population. So there’s been increased harassment of Muslims, increased attacks against Muslims that have been, essentially, endorsed by this government.

And it’s a mistake to consider the Law and Justice Party a new development in Poland. They’ve actually been a dominant opposition party for some time. They were previously in a position of power, in Poland. So they have a lengthy history that coincides nicely with what the Polish state has done over the past 15 years, which essentially is to implement a set of neo-liberal policies which includes privatization, which includes deregulation.

In fact, aspects of their program are quite compatible with what is typically labelled neo-liberal economic policy, even though they’re often referred to as a far-right, nationalist party. But in this case, nationalism is being geared towards supporting a further emboldening of the private sector, a further emboldening of the security forces, the police and the military, as a way to protect a defined population in Poland.

If you note an important aspect of Trump’s speech, he talked about the importance of defending civilization. He didn’t talk about the importance of defending democracy. He didn’t talk about the importance of popular participation, other than equating popular will with a vision of civilization. This is sort of straight out of the Steve Bannon playbook, which pits white civilization, particularly white Christian civilization, against other types of civilization.

So, in that sense, Trump in his speech was directly, sort of, calling forth this clash of civilizations narrative. Which, I think, feeds into his administration’s support for far-right regimes.

DB: And it did appear, at least it appeared that he had strong support from the folks on the street. That these were very strong and powerful supporters of the government of Poland and of Trump, in this context. Would that be a proper perception?

Logo of Poland’s Prawo i Sprawiedliwo?? party, translated as Law and Justice. (Wikipedia)

RC: Yes, except I would qualify it in the following sense. What helped catapult this party to power is the fact that the neo-liberal policies have come with a growing problem in Poland, as elsewhere. You have a massive gap between rich and poor. You have one-fifth of the country which is in poverty. And this is particularly true in the eastern part of the country. So you see workers there, you see small farmers there who gravitated towards the Law and Justice Party because, frankly, there’s no left alternative in Poland.

So the Law and Justice Party was able to drive a wedge between popular frustration at not having a better social page, or better access to welfare, that we protect them from declining income, and declining access to good jobs, and anger at the state itself. So, they’re redirecting that anger towards immigrant populations, in particular the Muslim population.

DB: And there would be, in the context of the forced migrations coming out of the wars in the Middle East, where Poland is much more on the front line. And they’ve had a rather militant response, wouldn’t you say?

RC: Exactly. Poland has announced, this is not just a Law and Justice Party but this is other major parties in Poland, have announced that they’re simply not going to accept the European Union’s stipulation that countries take in a certain percentage of refugees, corresponding to their population and their status. Poland has basically said “We’re not going to do it.” They’re not the only country that has taken that position. Certainly Hungary took a very strong position. They also are led now by a far-right government.

DB: And how have they actually treated… it’s been pretty violent treatment of the refugees….

RC: Yes.

DB: …those fleeing war. Could you talk about that?

RC: Yeah. Sure. So, what you have in Poland is, and this is not only the tacit, but the rather open and blatant acceptance by the dominant political parties in Poland, in targeting refugees immigrants, you know, quite openly, as enemies of civilization. The term civilization that Trump invoked is broadly used to suggest, “Well, we are at war with people different than ourselves.” It’s interesting how the Law and Justice Party if you read them carefully, they actually deny that they’re nationalists. They say “No, nationalism is not a good thing.” They don’t have the leaders in the party on record as saying this.

And I think if we’re going to translate what they’ve been saying into a sort of larger framework for what they believe, they really do believe, “Well, it’s not strictly a nationalist Poland that is reacting against foreign threats, but it’s a broader sort of Catholic Church Christianity which embodies a certain set of values, that are reacting against threats that are different.”

DB: Trump is supposedly going to sit down with Putin during the G20 meetings. How would you say Putin and the Russians would evaluate Trump’s policy and stance towards Poland? How would that work?

RC: One of the interesting developments that took place just today [July 6], just about 12 hours ago, as a matter of fact, is that Trump officially approved the sale of a Patriot Missile System to Poland. Which indicates Trump’s close ties to our own military industrial complex, and essentially a continuity of a policy that the Obama administration had already started. The Obama administration had already facilitated the delivery of the beginnings of a kind of defense missile system in Poland. So Trump is essentially continuing and expanding upon that policy.

So, that brings me to Putin, because Putin is not happy about that. He’s already indicated that he’s unhappy about this sale. He was unhappy about the expansion of NATO, obviously, to the Russian border. Which in my view, he has every right to be unhappy, because the expansion of NATO is very much an unprovoked expansion. In fact, it was the West that actually expanded NATO before Russia did really much of anything. Trump actually mentioned what Russia is doing in the Ukraine, which fits into a dominant sort of establishment narrative.

Jets flyover NATO Headquarters, where NATO members gathered for a meeting on May 25, 2017, in Brussels. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Which, I think, brings me back to my first point that there is a tendency to exaggerate the difference between Trump and the establishment. And that certainly is true in some areas. But I think in the case of foreign policy, it’s interesting to see the extent to which Trump has embodied a lot of establishment orthodox, in terms of announcing his support for NATO, announcing his support for further missile protection for Poland, announcing his support for further militarization of Poland in relationship to what’s perceived to be a Russian threat.

DB: And Trump is a… you would say a real strong representative in this context of corporate power in American foreign policy, and military policy?

RC: Yes, I think that’s definitely true. If you look at his campaign, the single biggest benefactor for Trump at a key moment, strategically, in his campaign, when his campaign was really threatening to sort of go off the edge, so to speak, was Robert Mercer, who is a well-known Libertarian multi-billionaire who made his money on the hedge fund circuit.

And this guy, basically, has a radical idea about deconstructing not only the United States government, but deconstructing, as Steve Bannon also puts it, other governments. And participating in a broad sort of alliance with the far-right. Which I think Mercer sees as complementary to wealth accumulation. Because wealth accumulation, from this perspective, comes through stripping the states of assets that are public assets, selling those off to the private sector. Which, of course, the government in Poland certainly endorses this despite their, sort of, nationalist label.

DB: So, I guess you can bet that in one way or another, Putin is going to raise these issues in this meeting with Trump? Or at least hint at what’s in it for the Russians versus this stance.

RC: Exactly. I think Putin certainly liked the fact, it’s been pretty well documented, that Putin hoped that Trump would come into power within the U.S. presidency. But he may have gotten a bit more than he bargained for, in terms of the continuity of U.S. policy.

However, what he also got, which I think he was also counting on, is someone who’s terribly inexperienced, who is not simply a president in the mold of previous presidents, but one who really doesn’t seem to have the first clue about how the office actually operates: how to conduct foreign affairs, or how to read signals from foreign leaders, or how to conduct diplomacy. So, all of these things have to be taught to Trump.

And, basically, from what we’ve seen so far, people are not having much success controlling him and controlling his impulses that brought him to such trouble in certain aspects of the campaign despite the fact that he won the election. So, I think Putin and Trump meeting together is going to be interesting to see.

Trump has been more heavily scripted on recent foreign trips. The Poland speech was effective by his standards, to the extent that he didn’t make any gaffes. And he read from a speech that was very scripted and very polished. So I suspect that we’ll see that same kind of script in his meeting with Putin.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

 

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25 comments for “Behind Trump’s Trip to Poland

  1. Cal
    July 13, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    ” Well, we are at war with people different than ourselves.” It’s interesting how the Law and Justice Party if you read them carefully, they actually deny that they’re nationalists. ”>>>>

    If you’re going to use ‘nationalism’ as a derogatory label please use ‘ethnic nationalism’ which is the correct term for this ‘type’ of nationalism.

    • Patrick
      July 14, 2017 at 2:37 am

      Nationalism is a word that authors use if they want picture somebody as bad or evil. Patriotism is the word that authors use if they want to picture somebody as good and decent. If you see one of these 2 words you should always be careful as the author is trying to influence you.

  2. mike k
    July 13, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    The evil Oligarchs and their schemes to rob, destroy, and enslave the rest of us. The .001% in action. These evil bastards are destroying everything good and beautiful in our world for the sake of wealth and power over others. All they care about the “masses” is what they can get out of them or use them for in their schemes for more money and power. Their obsession with money has erased whatever caring for others was ever in them. These are heartless uncaring monsters out to destroy all of us – and well on their way to do so. What an ugly end to the Human Story that would be. Somehow we must stop them…..

    • Patrick
      July 14, 2017 at 2:41 am

      Clearly some authority issues…depending on your age I would say that they are school or job related.

  3. Joe Average
    July 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    “So you see workers there, you see small farmers there who gravitated towards the Law and Justice Party because, frankly, there’s no left alternative in Poland.”

    This statement isn’t entirely correct. For the poor (small farmers, etc.) there doesn’t seem to be an alternative than the Law and Justice Party, despite the emergence of a new party called Zmiana. Zmiana, as well as the Five Star Movement in Italy, Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece is seen as a threat to the neo-liberal concept. Unlike Syriza, which had been torn apart by Tsipras giving in to the Troika, the leader of Zmiana (Mateusz Piskorski) had to be sent to prison, otherwise that Party/movement may gain momentum.

    • July 14, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Too bad that the whoring Duda has lost any sense of democracy. Here is a Polish dissident, Mateusz Piskorski, whose only crime has been his protestations against Poland’s involvement with NATO. That is, Mateusz is for protecting the independence of Poland: https://consortiumnews.com/2016/06/03/polands-cold-war-ii-repression/
      “Mateusz Piskorski is one of the most important anti-NATO activists in Poland, a political expert and a co-founder of the Polish think-tank, the European Center for Geopolitical Analysis. He was a Member of the Polish Parliament from 2005-2007 and for many years he has spoken out in favor European-continental cooperation and against the NATO and American policy towards Europe and the Middle East.
      Mateusz Piskorski was arrested and is being held for three months of preliminary custody on charges of “spying for a foreign country,” with various media sources hysterically spreading the “unconfirmed reports” that he was employed by the intelligence services of Russia, China “and/or” Iraq.
      Specific charges are unknown, the whole case is being kept secret, thereby preventing anyone related to Mateusz Piskorski from preparing a defense. Instead, the government-controlled media have made a spectacle of hatred and slander, spinning irrational speculation, not only about the detainee but also about so-called “agents of the influence” – a term that de facto covers everyone who proclaims views other than those set down by the Polish authorities.”

      That’s all one needs to know about the “proud” Szydlo & Duda of Poland. Pooches.
      By the way, you cannot find easily this story about Mateusz Piskorski on Google, since Google has been censoring all “inconvenient” material, in particular when the material could offend the ziocons’ sensibilities. They use amazing filters on Google.

      • Joe Average
        July 14, 2017 at 8:35 pm

        Anna,

        thank you for the additional information. I didn’t remember any story about Mateusz Piskorski on consortiumnews. An article on the web site of thesaker made me aware of Piskorski and the harassment he faces.

  4. Bill
    July 13, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    So Poland is bad. Putin is evil, and Trump is stupid? We’re all screwed!

    • Patrick
      July 14, 2017 at 2:46 am

      Putin is evil and Trump is stupid but Poland is just making sure that their society is protected. They are bordering Russia and take defensive measures. Patriot missiles are defensive.

      • July 14, 2017 at 3:15 pm

        Is destroying the WWII monuments to the Soviet soldiers that died for Poland also defensive? (The US-installed junta in Kiev supports neo-Nazi parades. Splendid. Don’t we like our veterans and hate hitlers – but only when this is convenient for ziocon policies). Have your parents ever mentioned the Cuban crisis? Longing for a hot war, Patrick? https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/cuban-missile-crisis
        Mind that the Cubans needed protection for real: “After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.”
        Take a look at a map: http://archive.larouchepac.com/node/30420
        http://archive.larouchepac.com/node/30423
        What is the distance between the US and RF? What about Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria…? – Do you believe that the US has been waging defensive wars there? Eretz Israel, Patrick?

      • Stan
        July 21, 2017 at 7:44 pm

        It’s very defending feeling to be under nuclear hammer :-)

  5. Justice
    July 13, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Hey;

    Did you hear about the pollack who went to the outhouse and took an Allah?

  6. Joe Average
    July 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Justice,

    the tradition of Islam goes far beyond the recent refugee crisis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Poland). Maybe those Polish Muslims will appreciate your sense of humor.

  7. Abe
    July 13, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    “Atlantic Council, the Washington-based think tank de facto of NATO strategy, is the public driver of the Three Seas Initiative to try to push Russian gas out from the former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Ironically, Germany and other Western EU countries back the Gazprom Nord Stream II already in construction, putting them in conflict with Poland’s Three Seas Initiative.

    “In May the Atlantic Council held a conference in Washington on the Three Seas strategy. Former Obama National Security Director, General James Jones gave a keynote speech in which he pushed the strategic importance for the Trump Administration to back the Three Seas Initiative on energy ‘independence’ from Russian gas. In his remarks Jones stated that the purpose of the Initiative is to reduce or eliminate the ‘Kremlin’s strong hand’ in the European energy sector. Trump’s July 6 speech to the Three Seas Initiative in Warsaw could have been written, and maybe it was, by General Jones himself. Strategic geopolitical Washington policies are not penned by Presidents, at least not since the CIA assassination of JFK in November 1963. Making Poland an energy hub along with Croatia for import of very expensive US LNG natural gas is Washington geopolitical strategy against Russia.

    “New EU Fault Lines

    “In addition to taking aim at Russia energy influence in the eastern and central European EU states, the Trump policy on LNG gas to Poland and potentially Croatia is aimed at hitting the dominant influence of Germany and France over EU affairs. The latest US Senate economic sanctions against Russia take direct aim at the companies involved in backing the German-Russian Nord Stream II pipeline expansion across the Baltic independent of Poland transit. If passed by the House of Representatives and signed by Trump, it would impose severe economic sanctions on EU companies involved in energy projects with Russia, such as Nord Stream II.

    “The governments of Germany and Austria immediately registered vehement opposition to the latest possible US sanctions for obvious reasons.”

    The Fatal Flaw in Washington’s New Energy Strategy
    By F. William Engdahl
    https://journal-neo.org/2017/07/13/the-fatal-flaw-in-washingtons-new-energy-strategy/

  8. Abe
    July 13, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Gas is very much behind Trump’s trip to Poland, and the Atlantic Council’s vigorous efforts to distract, deceive, and destroy any and all efforts to resolve the armed conflict in Syria.

    Back in April, shortly after the Khan Shaykhun false flag chemical incident, ZeroHedge discussed the real “cross-fire hurricane” ravaging Syria:

    “On 21 September 2016, Gareth Porter headlined ‘The War Against the Assad Regime Is Not a ‘Pipeline War’, and he pointed out some errors in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s account that had been published under the headline ‘Syria: Another Pipeline War’. Porter argued: ‘It’s easy to understand why that explanation would be accepted by many anti-war activists: it is in line with the widely accepted theory that all the US wars in the Middle East have been ‘oil wars’ — about getting control of the petroleum resources of the region and denying them to America’s enemies.’

    “But the ‘pipeline war’ theory is based on false history and it represents a distraction from the real problem of US policy in the Middle East — the US war state’s determination to hold onto its military posture in the region. Porter ignored the key question there, as to why the US war state has a determination to hold onto its military posture in the region. Opening and protecting potential oil-gas-pipeline routes are important reasons why. Clearly, Kennedy’s documentation that the CIA was trying as early as 1949 to overthrow Syria’s secular government so as to allow to the Sauds a means of cheaply transporting their oil through Syria into Europe, remains unaffected by any of the objections that Porter raised to Kennedy’s article. The recent portion of Kennedy’s timeline is affected, but not his basic argument.

    “Furthermore, any military strategist knows that the US war state is intimately connected to the U.S. oil-and-gas industries, including pipelines (oilfield services) as well as marketing (Exxon etc.). And Porter got entirely wrong what that connection (which he ignored) actually consists of: it consists of U.S. government taxpayer-funded killers for those U.S. international corporations. […]

    “America’s military is in service to U.S.-based international corporations in their competition against those of Russia, Brazil, China, India, and anywhere else in which “rising middle classes compete with us”. Those places are what Gareth Porter referred to as ‘America’s enemies’.

    “Economic competitors are ‘enemies’. Obama thinks that way, and even a progressive journalist such as Porter doesn’t place into a skeptical single – quotation – mark – surround, the phrase ‘America’s enemies’ when that phrase is used in this equational context. On both the right (Obama) and the left (Porter), the equation of a government and of the international corporations that headquarter in its nation — the treatment of the military as being an enforcement-arm for the nation’s international corporations — is simply taken for granted, not questioned, not challenged.

    “RFK Jr. was correct, notwithstanding some recent timeline-errors. Syria is ‘Another Pipeline War’, and Obama is merely intensifying it. […]

    “Another portion of Porter’s commentary is, however, quite accurate: America’s ‘Defense’ (or mass-killing-abroad) industries (such as Lockheed Martin) are not merely servants of the U.S. government, but are also served by the U.S. government: ‘”the US war state’s determination to hold onto its military posture in the region’ is protection of the major market — the Middle Eastern market — for U.S. ‘Defense’ products and services. It’s not only America’s firms in the oil, gas, and pipelines, industries, which benefit from America’s military; it is also America’s firms in the mass-killing industries, that do.”

    Russia, Iran Warn U.S. They Will “Respond With Force” If Syria “Red Lines” Crossed Again
    By Tyler Durden
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-04-09/russia-iran-warn-trump-they-will-respond-force-if-syria-red-lines-crossed-again

  9. July 13, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Interesting article…I find here a contrast with Hungary, also regarded as a far-right state by the MSM. Yet, i don’t think neoliberal ideology has invaded Hungary, at least not nearly to the same extent. Both Poland and Hungary are chided for not taking in refugees but one only needs to look at the problems this unregulated influx has brought to Western Europe to see reason for caution. Not all “far right” candidates come from the same mold. Marine Le Pen, for example, was addressing some serious problems brought on by the burden of undocumented and scandalously documented immigrants in France but I never heard her talk about dismantling France’s generous welfare system. This article on Hungary’s Orban was taken from Offguardian and may exaggerate a bit, but I believe it makes a valid point.

    https://off-guardian.org/2017/07/11/hungary-paradise-for-liberals/

  10. Patrick
    July 14, 2017 at 2:51 am

    The biggest push for NATO expansion is not coming from the West but from Putin himself. First rule in international politics is to respect the borders. Obviously European countries are now applying to join NATO.

  11. Herman
    July 14, 2017 at 9:05 am

    So, which country will be among the first too be obliterated if war breaks out. The picture of historical Poland, whether it was Poland or something else, is a people who are tramped on from the east and west. Go back further from the north and south, also. Sounds like the new guy is another Colonel Beck who stood up to the Germans. Now we have a new Colonel Beck defying the Russians. History is not a good teacher. Trusting your friends, be they Churchill or Trump is not a good idea.

  12. Michael Kenny
    July 14, 2017 at 10:51 am

    Trump’s speech was the Hollywood-kitsch version of European and Polish history but it struck a note with Poles. Historically, Rusia has been the biggest threat to Polish independence and sovereignty. Poland once ruled over a large territory stretching from modern-day Lithuania, through western Belarus down into Ukraine as far east as Kiev. Little by litte, the Russian got control of all that, with Poland disappearing completely in 1795. Stalin invaded Poland in 1939 and kept what he’d got by shifting the whole country westward in 1945. The Poles know that the EU and NATO are the only alternatives to the return of the Russian tanks and a beligerent Putin exacerbates that. What they wanted to know was whether Trump was willing to defend them against Putin. He appeared to say yes, but how much is trump’s word worth?

    • Abe
      July 14, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      NATO’s kitsch “the EU and NATO are the only alternatives to the return of the Russian tanks” definitely strikes a chord with defense ministers and weapons manufacturers.

      A very brief general account of the political-military history of Poland appears below.

    • July 14, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Why don’t you read a little bit farther into the past about Polish-Russian relationships? You would learn about Polish invasions of Russia (1605 and 1919 . Moreover, you would learn that “In February 1772, an agreement for the partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was signed in Vienna” between Russia, Prussia and Austria (the partition involved three countries). And to alleviate a little your sorrow for the “innocent” Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, here is a statement: “In the 17th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth fought wars with almost every neighbor”

      • Joe Average
        July 14, 2017 at 8:42 pm

        Anna,

        again thank you for your input. With this specific “contributor” you caught someone who is resistant to learning facts. He doesn’t even mention that Poland grabbed parts of Czechoslovakia for itself in 1938.

    • Abe
      July 14, 2017 at 4:36 pm

      The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth launched successful expansionist offensives against Russia in the 17th century.

      During the 14th century and early 15th century, Poland and Lithuania underwent an alternating series of wars and alliances. Several agreements between the two were struck before the permanent 1569 Union of Lublin. The Commonwealth reached its peak of power in the early 17th century. Its neutrality during the Thirty Years’ War spared the country from the ravages of a political-religious conflict that devastated most of contemporary Europe.

      The years of interregnum between the death of the last Russian Tsar of the Rurik Dynasty, Feodor Ivanovich, in 1598, and the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in 1613 are known in Russian history as the Time of Troubles.

      Russia suffered a famine from 1601 to 1603 that killed one-third of the population, about two million.

      During the the Dymitriad wars, also known as the Polish–Muscovite War of 1605–18, Russia was occupied by forces of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and suffered from many civil uprisings, usurpers and impostors.

      A man calling himself Dmitri professed to be the rightful heir to the Russian throne, He attracted support in the Polish Commonwealth and the Papal States. Factions in the Polish Commonwealth saw him as a tool to extend their influence over Russia, or at least gain wealth in return for their support; the Papacy saw it as an opportunity to increase the hold of Roman Catholicism over the Eastern Orthodox Russians.

      Polish forces crossed the frontier in 1603 in the expectation of rich rewards. False Dmitri I made his entry into Moscow in 1605. Before a year had passed, soon after his marriage in the Moscow Kremlin, False Dmitri I and his supporters were murdered by Vasily Shuisky, an ambitious Rurikid prince.

      Shuisky seized power and was elected tsar by an assembly composed of his faction, but the change did not satisfy the Russian boyars, Commonwealth magnates, Cossacks, or the German mercenaries.

      Soon a new impostor, likewise calling himself Dmitri, son and heir of Ivan the Terrible, came forward as the rightful heir. Like his predecessor, he enjoyed the protection and support of the Polish–Lithuanian magnates. After Shuisky signed an alliance with Sweden, the king of the Commonwealth, Sigismund III, seeing the Russian–Swedish alliance as a threat, resolved to intervene.

      During the Polish–Muscovite War of 1605–18, Polish–Lithuanian troops again crossed the Russian borders and laid siege to the fortress of Smolensk. After the combined Russo–Swedish forces were destroyed at the Battle of Klushino, Shuisky was forced to abdicate.

      Before False Dmitri II could gain the throne, the Polish commander, voivode, and magnate Stanis?aw ?ó?kiewski, put forward a rival candidate: Sigismund’s son, W?adys?aw. Some people in Moscow swore allegiance to him on condition of his maintaining Orthodoxy and granting certain privileges to them. On this understanding, they allowed Polish troops to enter the city, Commonwealth troops took Moscow on September 27, 1610 and occupied the Kremlin.

      The Polish king opposed the compromise, deciding to take the throne for himself and to convert Russia to Roman Catholicism. The contending factions were opposed and his plan aroused the anti-Catholic and anti-Polish feelings in Russia. The Swedes disapproved as they were rivals of the Poles on the Baltic coast. They declared war on Russia, supporting a false Dmitri of their choice in Ivangorod.

      Russia was in a critical condition. The throne was vacant; the great nobles (boyars) quarrelled among themselves; Orthodox Patriarch Hermogenes was imprisoned; Catholic Poles occupied the Moscow Kremlin and Smolensk; the Protestant Swedes occupied Novgorod; continuing Tatar raids left the south borderlands of Russia completely depopulated and devastated; and enormous bands of brigands swarmed everywhere.

      Tens of thousands died in battles and riots; on 17–19 March 1611, the Poles and German mercenaries suppressed riots in Moscow; they massacred 7,000 Muscovites and set the city on fire Many other cities were also devastated or weakened. For example, on 22 September 1612, the Poles and Lithuanians exterminated the population and clergy of Vologda.

      The nation rose together under the leadership of Kuzma Minin, a Nizhny Novgorod merchant, and Prince Pozharsky. After the battle for Moscow in the autumn of 1612, the nearby Polish army was forced to retreat. The garrison in the Kremlin surrendered to the triumphant Pozharsky.
      On November 4, 1612, Commonwealth troops were driven out of Moscow.

      The Russian festival of National Unity Day commemorating this event on November 4 was held annually until the rise of communism, when it was replaced by celebrations for the October Revolution. National Unity Day was reinstated by President Putin in 2005, though few Russians now understand its significance or even know the name of the holiday.

      A Grand National Assembly elected as tsar Michael Romanov, the young son of the metropolitan Philaret. He was connected by marriage with the late dynasty and, according to the legend, had been saved from the enemies by a heroic peasant, Ivan Susanin. After taking power, the new Tsar ordered the 3-year-old son of the False Dmitri II to be hanged, and had Dmitri’s wife strangled.

      The Ingrian Wars against Sweden lasted until the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617. Russia’s Dymitriad wars against the Commonwealth would last until the Peace of Deulino in 1619. While gaining peace through the treaties, both nations forced Russia to make some territorial concessions, though they lost the majority of them over the coming centuries. Most importantly, the crisis was instrumental in unifying all classes of the Russian society around the Romanov tsars and established foundations for the powerful Russian Empire.

      Commonwealth power began waning after a series of blows during the following decades. A major rebellion of Ukrainian Cossacks in the southeastern portion of the Commonwealth (the Khmelnytskyi Uprising in modern-day Ukraine) began in 1648. It resulted in a Ukrainian request, under the terms of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, for protection by the Russian Tsar. Russian annexation of part of Ukraine gradually supplanted Polish influence. The other blow to the Commonwealth was a Swedish invasion in 1655, known as the Deluge, which was supported by troops of Transylvanian Duke George II Rákóczi and Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg.

      Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth at its maximum extent, after the Truce of Deulino in 1619, superimposed on a current political map.

      In the late 17th century, the weakened Commonwealth’s King John III Sobieski allied himself with Leopold I to deal crushing defeats to the Ottoman Empire. In 1683, the Battle of Vienna marked the final turning point in the 250-year struggle between the forces of Christian Europe and the Islamic Ottoman Empire. For its centuries-long opposition to Muslim advances, the Commonwealth would gain the name of Antemurale Christianitatis (bulwark of Christianity). During the next 16 years, the Great Turkish War would drive the Turks permanently south of the Danube River, never again to threaten central Europe.

      By the 18th century, destabilization of its political system brought Poland to the brink of civil war. The Commonwealth was facing many internal problems and was vulnerable to foreign influences. An outright war between the King and the nobility broke out in 1715, and Tsar Peter the Great’s mediation put him in a position to further weaken the state. The Russian army was present at the Silent Sejm of 1717, which limited the size of the armed forces to 24,000 and specified its funding, reaffirmed the destabilizing practice of liberum veto, and banished the king’s Saxon army; the Tsar was to serve as guarantor of the agreement.

      Western Europe’s increasing exploitation of resources in the Americas rendered the Commonwealth’s supplies less crucial. In 1768, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth became a protectorate of the Russian Empire. Control of Poland was central to Catherine the Great’s diplomatic and military strategies. Attempts at reform, such as the Four-Year Sejm’s May Constitution came too late.

  13. Abe
    July 14, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    The former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth once incorporated present-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, parts of Ukraine, and western Russia. Three partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that took place towards the end of the 18th century (1772, 1793, 1795) and ended the existence of the state, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years.

    The three partitions conducted by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria divided up the Commonwealth lands among themselves progressively in the process of territorial seizures. Political and cultural repression of the Polish nation led to the organization of a number of uprisings against the authorities of the occupying governments. Russia, Prussia, and Austria found that the ultimate solution of their “Polish problem” was to simply erase the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the maps of Europe.

    In 1807, Napoleon I of France temporarily recreated a Polish state as the satellite Duchy of Warsaw, after a successful Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 against Prussian rule. But, after the failed Napoleonic Wars, Poland was again split between the victorious powers at the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The eastern part was ruled by the Russian tsar as Congress Poland, which had a very liberal constitution. However, over time the Russian monarch reduced Polish freedoms, and Russia annexed the country in virtually all but name. Meanwhile, the Prussian controlled territory of Poland came under increased Germanization. Thus, in the 19th century, only Austrian-ruled Galicia, and particularly the Free City of Kraków, allowed free Polish culture to flourish.

    The November Uprising that began in Warsaw in 1830 was defeated by the Russians. Poles took up arms in the Greater Poland Uprising of 1848 to resist Prussian rule. The uprising was suppressed by the Prussians after several battles, and the Grand Duchy of Posen was stripped of its autonomy and completely incorporated into the German Confederation. After the failed January Uprising against Russian rule in 1863, Poles abandoned armed struggle and turned instead to economic and cultural self-improvement.

    Despite the political unrest experienced during the partitions, Poland did benefit from large-scale industrialisation and modernisation programs, instituted by the occupying powers, which helped it develop into a more economically coherent and viable entity. This was particularly true in Greater Poland, Silesia and Eastern Pomerania controlled by Prussia (later becoming a part of the German Empire).

    During World War I, a total of 2 million Polish troops fought with the armies of the three occupying powers, and 450,000 died. The Allies agreed on the reconstitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in Point 13 of his Fourteen Points.

    Shortly after the armistice with Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic. It reaffirmed its independence after a series of military conflicts, the most notable being the 1919–21 Polish–Soviet War when Poland inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw. The event is considered to have halted the advance of Communism into Europe and forced Vladimir Lenin to rethink his objective of achieving global socialism.

    As result of the Munich Agreement in 1938, Germany, France, Britain and Italy awarded Poland the small 350 sq mi Zaolzie Region of Czechoslovakia. The area was a point of contention between the Polish and Czechoslovak governments in the past and the two countries fought a brief seven-day war over it in 1919.

    In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact in Moscow known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. A secret protocol to the pact outlined an agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union on the division of the eastern European border states between their respective “spheres of influence”: the Soviet Union and Germany would partition Poland in the event of an invasion by Germany, and the Soviets would be allowed to overrun the Baltic states and Finland.

    In September 1939, World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, followed by the Soviet Union invading Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. German planners had in November 1939 called for “the complete destruction” of all Poles and their fate, as well as many other Slavs, was outlined in genocidal Generalplan Ost.

    After Germany entered the Axis Pact with Japan and Italy, it began negotiations about a potential Soviet entry into the pact. After two days of negotiations in Berlin in November 1940, Germany presented a written proposal for a Soviet entry into the Axis. The Soviet Union offered a written counter-proposal to join the Axis if Germany would agree to refrain from interference in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, but Germany did not respond.

    The Axis Powers commenced Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, on 22 June 1941. The invasion began with the bombing of major cities in Soviet-occupied Poland and an artillery barrage on Red Army defenses on the entire front. Of all the countries involved in the Second World War, Poland lost the highest percentage of its citizens: over 6 million perished – nearly one-fifth of Poland’s population – half of them Polish Jews. Over 90% of deaths were non-military in nature.

    The German failure to achieve their objectives changed the political landscape of Europe dividing it into Eastern and Western blocs. The political vacuum left in the eastern half of the continent was filled by the USSR during 1944–1945 when the Red Army secured Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the eastern half of Germany.

    At the war’s conclusion in 1945, Poland’s borders were shifted westwards. Most of the Polish inhabitants of Kresy were expelled along the Curzon Line in accordance with Stalin’s agreements, and the western border was moved to the Oder-Neisse line. As a result, Poland’s territory was reduced by 20%. The shift forced the migration of millions of other people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews.

    After World War II, Stalin’s fear of any resurgence of German power and his distrust in the former Allied powers contributed to Soviet pan-Slavic initiatives and the Warsaw Pact alliance of Slavic states. Soviet strategic thinking for the next four decades next four decades was designed to insulate the Soviet Union from any possible future attack.

    The Polish People’s Republic was established in 1952. The Warsaw Pact military alliance, created in reaction to the integration of West Germany into NATO in 1955, continued throughout the Cold War. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union “Solidarity”, which over time became a political force.

    In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1989, Poland established itself as a democratic republic. Poined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance in 1999 along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poles then voted to join the European Union in a referendum in June 2003, with Poland becoming a full member in May 2004.

    • July 14, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Abe…thanks for a brilliant recap of Russo-Polish relations. I am not particularly fond of opera but much enjoyed seeing a spectacular rendition of Boris Gudunov twice(once in New York and again in San Francisco) which dramatizes the story of the false Dimitri’s(Dimitri I) entry into Moscow surrounded by Polish troops. I think many people who think they don’t like opera would be mesmerized by the music.

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