Beata Szydlo, Prime Minister of Poland since 16th of November 2016, recently lashed out at the EU. Back in March of this year, she accused the EU of blackmail when they threatened to fine Poland if they did not take a certain number of migrants that have been entering Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Only last month, June 2017, the EU announced to start legal proceedings against Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, for not wanting to cooperate with the EU relocation plan for migrants. The Polish Prime Minister responded to these threats by saying they would rather face EU sanctions than to change their migrant policy.
The Polish here leads a minority of countries within the EU, which fearlessly retaliates when the EU threatens them. How come the Poles are so willing to accept the wrath of the EU? To understand this question, one must first understand the history of the country.
Where did Poland begin?
Poland was founded around a thousand years ago, in 992 AD in the heartlands of Europe. Lacking any strong natural borders there was a constant threat from neighbouring kingdoms and constantly changing borders. Poland, nevertheless, flourished and became a major power in Europe during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Incapable governance and rising powers on their borders, however, led to the partitioning of Poland between 1764 and 1795. Russia, Prussia and Austria divided the country among themselves and Poland ceased to exist for over a century.
Even when faced with enemies on every side, the Poles would not surrender until the bitter end. Testimony of this is the battle of Raclawice fought in 1794 as part of a Polish uprising against the Russians. Their victory in battle is remembered to this day in the panorama painting displayed in Wroclaw.
The Poles remained, even though their country was vanished from the maps for over a 100 years. This did not change until Poland was recreated after the First World War. Practically it was a buffer state between the German and Russian empires. As faith would have it, sadly, the Poles apparently had not suffered enough and in 1939 they were again attacked by a combination of their neighbours.
Prussia and Austria had been incorporated into the German lands and, along with Russia, they once more partitioned Poland. The Poles were unwilling to surrender even when facing such horrible odds and fought with all their might against the two aggressors. The invasion began on the 1st of September and the fighting continued until the 6th of October. The Poles had given it all they had.
Then came the communists…
At the end of the war, Poland was once more established as a nation, but not an independent one. For the next decades, they suffered under Soviet rule, living under communism and separated from Western Europe. Poverty, lack of resources and luxury items was the standard, and the communist era apartments are a common testament to this era. Until 1989 the Poles suffered under communism.
What came next?
Poland was finally renewed as an independent state, the economy started growing and the Poles became more interested in the EU. In 1994 they requested EU membership, for the fairly obvious reason that they wanted to move away from Russia and seek closer contact with Western Europa. Since 2004 they have been an official member of the EU, and the Poles have established diaspora across Europa.
Many have moved west to look for better-paid jobs and escape the Polish poverty. Many have since returned to their home country to use their savings to build a better life for themselves. Every action has a reaction and communism was replaced by shopping malls and materialistic consumerism.
Poland does not bow
One aspect, we can see today, will never change though. Poland will not bow to empires, no matter how great, wealthy, or militarily powerful they are. They do not believe the current EU migrant policy is sensible and it will not be bullied into accepting it. If the Polish will had not been as big as it is, their nation would have never returned to the map and it would be nothing but a distant memory.
The Polish truly prove that the idea of a nation-state is more than a group of people that coincidentally inhabit the same state. They prove that a Polish identity exists. In fact, the identity has proven strong enough to last a century where the state did not exist.
The forgotten Ukrainians
That is not to say that Poland does not take migrants or is unwilling to help those in need. Poland has been accepting Ukrainian refugees and you will encounter many Ukrainians working in Poland at the moment. The Ukrainians form a large group that slowly assimilates. Poland’s borders are definitely not closed. However, when it comes to the EU, these are apparently not the type of migrants that count and they still request Poland takes in thousands of migrants from other areas.
Poland has its own problems
Poland, is unfortunately still a poor country, with many internal issues and poverty to be addressed. It does not have a developed welfare society, it does not have easy hand-outs on which one can comfortably live, and hence they do not feel a responsibility to save the world. Their focus should and does lay on preserving Poland and catching up economically.
The usual EU tactics of bluff and threats will not work on Poland. If the EU wishes to play hardball, it should reconsider its strategy.