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Poland resurrects a dangerous idea from its troubled 20th century past

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Poland is attempting to resurrect a dangerous plan from the early 20th century in order to attain more influence in Europe.

The so-called Three Seas Initiative is an attempt by Poland to create a working group of nations in central and eastern Europe to rival the traditional Franco-Germanic axis of modern EU power.

The plan isn’t new, it is borrowed from the annals of the Second Polish Republic of the early 20th century inter-war years. Specifically, it is taken from the political programme of Józef Piłsudski who sought to unite much of eastern Europe under a revived militaristic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth style leadership in order to create a military bloc against Soviet power.

As the Duran reported in relation to neo-imperialism in The Balkans

“The Second Polish Republic was dominated by two political rivals, Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski. Although both figures are venerated in contemporary Poland, each man had a radically different idea about what Poland ought to be.

Józef Piłsudski called for a ‘greater Poland’ which would encompass much of the territory of the once vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which once dominated central and Eastern Europe.

Piłsudski was stridently anti-Russian whilst he totally underestimated and even discounted the coming German threat.

He sought to build a right-wing European federation which would rival and dominate the neighbouring Soviet Union. It was this policy which allowed his country to sleepwalk into the Polish-Soviet War which lasted from 1919-1921. It was Europe’s most protracted conflict of the inter-world war period….

…By contrast, Roman Dmowski favoured the settled post-First World War Polish borders and sought an ethnically and culturally homogenous state that would resist German nationalist ambitions whilst not antagonising the large Soviet state to the East.

Ultimately, Piłsudski’s brand of ‘Greater Polish’ expansionism won the day, leaving Poland dangerously exposed to German aggression which cost Poland dearly during the 1940s”.

READ MORE: Albania must take a lesson from Poland to avert another Balkan war

What’s more is that Piłsudski’s ambitions were a proximate cause of the Second World War, a war in which Poland suffered greatly.

Piłsudski’s obsession with Russia led him to dismiss threats of German expansionism as well as anti-Polish rhetoric from the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler.

In 1934, Piłsudski’s Foreign Minister Józef Beck helped cement a German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, years before the British engineered Munich Agreement of 1938, let alone the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939.

Although Poland’s attempts to create a new central/eastern European bloc never succeeded, it did accomplish two deeply unhelpful things.

First of all, because Roman Dmowski’s warnings about Germany were ignored, Poland actually sleep-walked into allowing German aggression against Polish lands which by September of 1939 erupted into the proximate cause of the Second World War in Europe.

Secondly, Piłsudski’s ambitions which he continued to promote long after the USSR adopted the anti-imperialist policy of ‘Socialism in One State’, actually helped to drum up support for militant far-right regimes throughout Europe.

Poor historians leave one with the impression that Hitler’s fascist regime was the only extremist one in central or eastern Europe in the 1930s. The truth is that virtually all of the newly established states of the region had similar regimes, simply on a smaller economic and military scale vis-a-vis Germany.

 

HUNGARY: In the interwar years, Hungary was ruled by an ultra-reactionary government most prominently by Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös. 

LATVIA: Latvian dictator Kārlis Ulmanis ruled with an iron far-right fist throughout the interwar years. 

LITHUANIA: Interwar Lithuanian leader Antanas Smetona helped push the country further and further to the proto-fascist right. 

ESTONIA: Konstantin Päts was something of a softer but still strongly nationalist dictator who effectively killed off democracy

CZECHOSLOVAKIA: Edvard Beneš was the most influential Czech politician of the inter-war years and while less radical than many of his neighbours, he also left an ambiguous legacy of largely authoritarian rule. 

All of these leaders including of course those of Germany and Poland, the two most powerful central/eastern European states during the inter-war years had one thing in common: a hatred of the Soviet Union and Soviet power in spite of the USSR abandoning any ideas of violently exporting revolution as early as the mid 1920s.

It is important to remember that Hitler was not unique. Most leaders of Europe in the inter-war years shared  many components of his ideology and even his ambitions. They were simply not powerful enough to carry out the worst elements of the Nazi programme, not least a unilateral invasion of the USSR.

Today, Germany and Poland while both in the EU, are each offering competing visions for a united Europe. In each case, Europe stands to be united against Russia.

The differences is that where the Europe of the inter-war years sought to conquer the USSR for her rich natural resources, today’s Europe is altogether more hamstrung by its economic dependence on Russia.

Although Europe in 2017 is generally less violent than that of the 1930s, it is in many ways, equally as politically fraught.

Poland’s plans to create a neo-Piłsudski Three Seas Initiative will likely fail leaving Germany to once again dictate Europe’s position vis-a-vis Moscow, just as was the case in the 1930s and 1940s.

Russia is even more prepared for the worst today than it was in 1940, assuming cooler, business minded heads do not prevail in Berlin, Warsaw and beyond.

Poland would be advised to take a position of neutrality from within the EU, one which puts business before ideology and pragmatism over historic tensions. Poland stands nothing to lose by doing this. The question is, can Poland defy US power in such a way?

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