Middle of the Pole: Justyna Zajac Explains Poland’s Place in the EU, part 2

This is a continuation of my discourse with George Washington University’s visiting scholar of political science Justyna Zajac. Professor Zajac is a leading expert in Poland’s political transition, spanning from 1980 to today. In this part of the interview, she addresses Poland’s existential questions of territorial strength and national security. To read part 1, click here.

Max Segal: Is there anything to be said for the presence of anti-Russian sentiment within Poland?

Justyna Zajac: The anti-Russian sentiment in Poland is as old as the country. I know it is a common concept in Russia – all Poles have a Slavic solidarity with Russia. This is not true. Since the Foggy Times, there has been bitter tastes towards Russians. Almost all desires of Russian people somehow hurt Poland in one way or another. Of course, over time, this made Poles defiant with Russia.

So is the beefed up NATO presence imposed or organic?

No, no, the Polish people, by the majority, always petition NATO to increase troop presence within Poland. The majority of the country – especially after Crimea – lives in a constant fear that Putin will attempt to take back a chunk of Poland.

Well, you, as a political scientist, understand the chances of this happening are next to 0, right?

I understand this perfectly, yes. Putin has no incentive or interest with Poland. If there is some reason that is seen in Putin’s mind with Ukrainian intervention, I cannot see it with Poland. NATO’s pact of mutual defense, Poland has nothing new – geographically – to offer for Russia. No, I do not think Putin has any interest in invading Poland. But I talk to people, my relatives, my friends, I even watch Polish talk shows. There is genuine fear that Poland’s existence hinges on Russia’s will to not invade. There is a very famous Polish television show – Twosome – that realistically discussed at generous details what the Polish populace must do in case of a Russian invasion. Some people were buying missile silos, some people were buying armor. My family also became agitated with this atmosphere.

The title screen of Poland's most popular talk show, Twosome.
The title screen of Poland’s most popular talk show, Twosome.

Do you think there is a direct influence of NATO’s belligerent rhetoric causing all this?

No, not really. I think it is more of a project of the same lack of national confidence that is to blame for troubles relating to Euro integration. I must also say that Russia is partially at fault for this, as it is untrue if we are to say that there was no aggression onto neighboring countries from Russia. But in general, no. Poles, given their state of national development, is currently an adolescent. They want to blame everyone else for their own problems, they want to find a reason to shout that they are in trouble, and a potential cultural developer, as goes the terminology in political science. Commonly it is said that new nations try to purposefully develop cultural features to survive competition from other cultures. It’s my sworn belief this is what you see in Poland nowadays. I have to run now, sorry to end this right now, but allow me to say that Poland is not as easy as Russian or American medias try to paint the country as. The truth with Poland will always be in the middle.

Dyakuyu, Pani Zajac (Thanks, Ms. Zajac)

Prozshe bardzo! (You’re very welcome!)