Ciechocinek lies about 200 kilometers northwest of Warsaw, near Torun, the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, in the Kujawy-Pomorze (Kuyavia-Pomerania) region. It is a spa and resort town of about 14,000 permanent residents, known for its unique titration towers—large wooden structures with thick layers of bramble, through which water from nearby salt springs is filtered into the air, producing a healthy microclimate, which approximates that of sea air.
I have flown into Warsaw from Toronto on a direct flight from Polish Airlines LOT on the night of June 4, 2004. A female relative is waiting with a compact but elegant Peugeot 206 to take me directly to Ciechocinek.
We drive from the airport through most of Warsaw, which is again a beautiful city, despite the depredations of World War II. Warsaw was virtually destroyed by the German occupiers, in the wake of the tragic Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Over 240,000 Poles died in the uprising, and the remaining population was deported to concentration camps. Unlike the situation during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, when the Soviet front was several hundred miles away and all of Poland was being ground down under German occupation, Soviet forces had reached the east bank of the Vistula River (Warsaw is on the west bank) in August 1944. Most historians believe that Stalin deliberately suspended all Soviet offensive operations until October, to allow the Germans to crush the uprising at leisure. In the wake of the uprising, the Germans methodically reduced the city to rubble. The city was painstakingly rebuilt after the war, brick by brick.
The months of August and September have been very solemn in Warsaw this year, the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (launched on August 1), and 65 years since the beginning of World War II (on September 1, 1939). The war proved a horrible catastrophe for the old pre-war Poland, the Second Republic—which had arisen in 1918 after 123 years of Partition (occupation by czarist Russia, Prussia/Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire—punctuated by numerous desperate uprisings). Over five million Christian Poles perished during World War II. Countless cultural treasures were destroyed or plundered. Poles fought Nazi Germany in virtually every theater of the war and made a huge contribution to the war effort—for example, in the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940 (the Polish pilots); at the battle of Monte Cassino, the May 1944 assault on the “impregnable” German positions that finally opened the road to Rome; as well as at the battle of the Falaise Gap (in August 1944), where the Polish First Armoured division fought very bravely. In the aftermath of the war, Poland lost large territories in the east while, at the same time, gaining lands in the west at the expense of Germany. The new frontiers—roughly similar to those of early medieval Poland—were designed by Stalin to bind Poland forever to a pro-Russian orientation (because of Polish fear of German revanchism). Hard-line Soviet communism was imposed on the new Polish People’s Republic as the Soviet armies moved in. A civil war raged until the late 1940’s between the remnants of the Polish national underground and the emerging communist security apparatus. After the Stalinist darkness, the comparative liberalization of the communist system took place after 1956. The insensitivity to or lack of knowledge of these various dimensions of Polish suffering and valor among many in the West today is hurtful to Poles.
After a hard drive of about three hours, we reach Ciechocinek, home of the spa called “Pod Tezniami” (“By the Titration Towers”), which has won awards as one of the best spas in Poland. I thank my relative profusely and then quickly check in, settling into my comfortable room.
Having previously visited Ciechocinek in fall 2003, I am familiar with the town and the rhythm of life in the spa, determined by the light “curative procedures” (“zabiegi”)—such as automated hydromassage and dry massage—that are available. Each procedure costs about 20 zlotys (about six dollars). Accommodation at the spa (including excellent meals served buffet style) cost about 150 zlotys per day (about $45).
Poland, while emphatically Western, has conscientiously preserved her traditionalist, conservative, and nationalist aspects to an extent unparalleled elsewhere in the West. It could be argued that the surface politics of Poland—largely dominated by the “postcommunist” social democratic parties and continual scandals—are just a minor overlay on a society that is far, far sounder and healthier than most other Western societies. Radical feminism and sexual politics have simply failed to make major inroads. Polish society is about 97 percent ethnically Polish. Roman Catholicism is still a major force—if not the major force—in Polish society. Exciting intellectual, cultural, local, and regional diversity can exist in an ethnically and religiously homogenous nation.
The poor economic situation—with an official unemployment rate of about 20 percent and deteriorating healthcare and other public services—is troublesome, but it ensures that Poland is less likely to be a destination for mass immigration. Poland has undergone a rather infelicitous transformation from state-ownership to capitalism: Many critics argue that the former Communist Party nomenklatura and its favored collaborators in the former opposition seized much of the wealth of the country, while permitting the buying of most Polish industries by foreign companies at fire-sale prices. Meanwhile, many of the truly effective, hardworking small businessmen are harried with high taxes and excessive regulations.
Reflecting on Jean Raspail’s recent article in Le Figaro on the crisis of France, “La patrie trahie par la Republique” (“The Fatherland Betrayed by the Republic,” June 17), I can only be grateful that there are some European countries where that crisis is less acute—Poland notably among them. The Polish state remains, to a large extent, friendly to the Polish nation. For a variety of reasons—among them, the difficulty of learning the Polish language and the discomfort felt by immigrants in living in such a homogenous society—there is very little immigration into Poland. Of course, much of the Polish mass media and political leadership is endeavoring to push Poland in the direction of the multicultural “postmodern paradise” that is supposedly the future of Europe. However, there is great popular resistance in Poland to such notions.
A nonpartisan nationalism permeates Polish society. Many Poles at all age-groups and levels of society have a profound sense of their nation’s heritage. Having struggled so long and so hard for their nationhood, most Poles have far less of a sense of self-hatred than most Europeans. Hence, there are the strenuous endeavors from “progressives” abroad to manufacture a sense of guilt among Poles.
Among the most appealing aspects of Poland today is the attention to family life. Polish women are lauded as excellent spouses—and many are able to combine career and family life without becoming bitter radical feminists. “Friendly relations” between men and women continue to thrive in Poland. Although some abortions are obviously being unofficially performed and the birthrate has fallen, the official abortion rate in Poland is very low.
The right-wing and populist parties in Poland include the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families (Liga Pol-skich Rodzin), led by Roman Giertych, which is essentially a successor to the pre-war National Democracy movement; the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc), which is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, brother of the current president (mayor) of the city of Warsaw; and Self-Defence (Samoobrona), led by the rather demagogic Andrzej Lepper. A moderate, center-right party is the Citizens’ Platform (Platforma Obywatelska), which has recently polled very well. The ruling postcommunist coalition, the Union of the Democratic Left (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej), has split into two main factions. They also have a junior coalition partner, the Party of Labor (Unia Pracy). The Polish Peasants’ Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe), has definite patriotic accents. There are many other (mostly right-wing) parties, some of which have a few seats in the Sejm (parliament).
The chief publications of the Polish right include Arcana (a Krakow-based bimonthly); Roman Giertych’s Nowa Mysl Polska (New Polish Thought); Piotr Wierz-bicki’s Gazeta Polska; the libertarian Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s Naj-wyzszy Czas! (The Time is Now!); and the monthly Nowe Panstwo (the New State). The moderate, center-right mass-circulation newspaper, Rzeczpospolita (the Republic), is comparatively friendlier to the right than Adam Michnik’s politically correct Gazeta Wyborcza, the biggest and most profitable mass newspaper in Poland. There is a wide field of smaller “zines” and newspapers representing a far broader spectrum of opinion than that seen in most Western countries. Two prominent, eclectic ecological/antiglobalization publications are Obywatel (the Citizen), and Zielone Brygady (Green Brigades).
Polish society was especially resistant to the totalitarian ideologies of Nazism and communism, and it is possible that the defeat of the cryptototalitarian, left-liberal, managerial-therapeutic regime will begin in Poland. The West will benefit from having a model of a nation that is passionately attached to its artistic, cultural, historic, religious, and linguistic heritage—but is also emphatically “modern” and Western. Poland and the Poles had played a huge role in the defeat of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union—as well as helping to save Europe from Bolshevism in 1920, during the nearly forgotten war between the newly independent Poland and Bolshevik Russia. In the battle at the gates of Warsaw in August 1920 (called “the Miracle of the Vistula”), the revered Marshal Jozef Pilsudski turned back the red tide. The Poles have often been considered a stubborn people, passionately devoted to their nationhood, and many of them have a special disdain for any kind of cant, falsehood, or politically correct lecturing and hectoring. May Poland remain a bastion of the traditional West—and, perhaps, at some point, become a dynamic focus for a broader Western renewal.
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