Poland is a small east European country that is geographically between a rock and a hard place. In the meaning that it has borders with Germany and Russia. Yes, Poland is in the European Union, but old ideas of borders and identity run deep.
Where U.S. Translates as Freedom
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: December 28, 2003
I found the cure.
I found the cure to anti-Americanism: Come to Poland.
After two years of traveling almost exclusively to Western Europe and the
Middle East, Poland feels like a geopolitical spa. I visited here for just
three days and got two years of anti-American bruises massaged out of me. Get
this: people here actually tell you they like America — without whispering.
What has gotten into these people? Have all their subscriptions to Le Monde
Diplomatique expired? Haven't they gotten the word from Berlin and Paris? No,
they haven't. In fact, Poland is the antidote to European anti-Americanism.
Poland is to France what Advil is to a pain in the neck. Or as Michael
Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins foreign affairs specialist, remarked after
visiting Poland: "Poland is the most pro-American country in the world —
including the United States."
What's this all about? It starts with history and geography. There's nothing
like living between Germany and Russia — which at different times have
trampled Poland off the map — to make Poles the biggest advocates of a
permanent U.S. military presence in Europe. Said Ewa Swiderska, 25, a Warsaw
University student: "We are the small kid in school who is really happy to
have the big guy be his friend — it's a nice feeling."
Indeed, all the history and geography that Western European youth have
forgotten, having grown up in a postmodern European Union, are still central
to Polish consciousness — well after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. "We
still remember many things," said Jan Miroslaw, 22, also a Warsaw University
student. "We are more eager to cooperate with America rather than just say
`no.' [The West Europeans] just don't remember many things — like the wars.
They live too-comfortable lives."
No wonder then when young Poles think of America, they think of the
word "freedom." They think of generations of U.S. presidents railing against
their communist oppressors. There is a huge message in this bottle. In the
Arab world, because of a long history of U.S. support for Arab autocrats, who
kept their people down but their oil flowing to us, America was a synonym for
hypocrisy. In Poland, where we have consistently trumpeted freedom, America
means freedom. We need to remember that. We are what we stand for.
Poland's becoming a member of the E.U. will give the U.S. an important friend
within that body — a counterweight to those E.U. forces that would like to
use anti-Americanism as the glue to bind the expanding alliance and that
would like to see the E.U. forge its identity as the great Uncola to
But as powerful as Poland's bond to America is these days, we dare not take
it for granted. Poland has some 2,400 troops in Iraq. That's the good news.
The bad news is that roughly 75 percent of Poles oppose their deployment.
Polish officials will tell you Poland sent troops to Iraq to help keep the
Americans in Europe. But the public doesn't make such connections, and most
people don't understand what their boys are doing there or what Poland is
getting out of it. (How about a few extra visas for Poles?) If the U.S. ends
up in a mess in Iraq, so will Poland. Many "old" Europeans will then laugh at
Warsaw, and that would be highly corrosive for Polish-U.S. relations.
At the same time, once Poland is fully ensconced in the E.U., its young
people will grow up in that postmodern E.U. nirvana, where anti-Americanism
is in the drinking water. Sadly, many education and public diplomacy programs
the U.S. directed at Eastern Europe after the fall of communism have been cut
or redirected to the Muslim world. Bad timing.
There is now a competition between the United States of America and the
United States of Europe for the next generation of Poles — who don't all have
their parents' emotional ties to the U.S. — "and the U.S. is losing this
competition," says a Polish foreign policy expert, Grzegorz Kostrzewa-
Zorbas. "The new generation in Poland likes American pop culture, but it has
less contact with American high culture — like education. It is so much
easier for young Poles to go to university in Germany or France."
Given Poland's geography and history, there's a limit to how far it will
drift from America. Poland will never be France. But we shouldn't assume it
will remain the Poland of 1989 forever, either, and if it doesn't, that could
have real consequences for America's standing in Europe.
That article by Thomas Friedman still holds true. I observed much change since 2003 which has significantly put Poland ahead since then but the depth of Polish identity remains though if visiting Warsaw it looks more and more like any other cosmopolitan European city. Since the crisis in the Ukraine, Poles remain between a rock and a hard place and if you read the article found on the link just below, you will understand that illustration and or metaphor. BTW, Poles still need a visa to the US. ;-(