The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: Poland

Auctioning off some Russian foreign affairs correspondence

by fpman

This letter, from 1762, is going to be auctioned on November 19 in Paris. In it, the Russian Empress Catherine II (actually a lady of German origin) is writing to her lover, Stanisław August Poniatowski, who would be King of Poland as Stanisław II only two years later. Catherine has just inherited the Russian throne and is in a precarious situation. She is sending some vital instructions to Stanisław to avoid unnecessary trouble. As quoted here (at the end of the article in question):

“You read my letters with very little attention. I’ve told you and repeated that I risk being assaulted from all sides if you put one foot back in Russia.”

Life was to become only more complicated later on…

CatherineIIWords of discontent in the letter…

For about 10 to 12 thousand Euros you may have the rest of the letter as well. And here you find the rest of the private letters written by famous women that will be auctioned on the same day, if you have some more money to spend…

But I wish to stop by the story of Catherine and Stanisław because theirs is a particularly interesting historical case with a view to the role of personal relationships in politics.

It was Catherine’s hope, and of those around her in St. Petersburg, that they would be in control of Stanisław just like they were in control of many other key figures in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth who were their paid clients at the time, including the Hetmans or the Commanders of the Polish and Lithuanian Armies. Palace intrigue played a role in why Catherine and Stanisław came together back in 1755, but they felt genuine attraction towards one another and would eventually consider marrying each other, before the idea became inconvenient (once Catherine had become ruler of Russia). And Anna Petrovna, Catherine’s second child, was possibly their daughter. In 1764, when Stanisław would be elected as King of the Polish noble republic, Russia spent a lot of money on getting him there and even positioned their troops near the site of the election assembly to make sure they got the result they wanted.

In the end, however,

“Stanisław-August, despite his links with the Empress Catherine, was the leader of Reform in Poland: the Empress, despite her links with the Enlightenment, was the paymistress of Poland’s conservative establishment.” (Davies, 2001: 270)

In other words: Stanisław II was independent-minded and attempted to carry out major reform of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including some very progressive and liberal policies, at the same time as he sought to strengthen the autonomy of his state. He was, after all, one out of only four Polish kings out of the eleven elected Kings of the Polish noble republic (the others were foreigners). Yet he was to be the last one.

It was his quest for highly timely reform that resulted in the end in the Partition of Poland. Russia considered the reforms a threat to its control over what it saw as a client state and a useful buffer zone against threats from the West: Prussia and Austria. Russia thus intervened, and once it did so it was forced by the logic of power politics to enter into talks over Poland’s future, resulting in the three-stage, three-way partition of the country at the end of which nothing was left of it, by 1795.

Reference

Norman Davies: Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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Propaganda, from dawn till Tusk

by fpman

In the context of some serious political campaign struggles in Poland in 2005 it came to be revealed, upon much dirtier allegations, that Donald Tusk, who was then leader of the Polish opposition, did have a bit of a skeleton in the closet problem. His grandfather briefly served in the ranks of the German Wehrmacht during WWII. Even this much could have hurt Tusk, given how Germany treated Poland during the world war. But a deeper look into the matter uncovered that his grandfather was forcibly recruited by the Germans in mid-1944 after serving as a (forced) railway laborer first. Mitigating circumstances, surely.

Tusk says he only learned of all this after he came under attack related to this from political forces to the right of him on the political spectrum in Poland (the camp behind the Kaczyński brothers’ Law and Justice party). This is how he spoke of this:

“I have nothing to regret, it’s my family’s biography. As a historian and as a man, I prefer to know the painful truth over a pleasant lie.”

Tusk went on to become Polish Prime Minister (2007-2014) and eventually President of the European Council – he will only take office in December, but his selection was announced at an August 30 European Council meeting.

On various, by all appearances Russia-friendly, English-language sites (see here [niver85.tumblr.com, September 2] and here [tigr.net, September 5]) that effectively function in this context as echo chambers for a propaganda machinery, there very quickly appeared a different version of Tusk’s past, however, accompanied by what was claimed to be photo proof of that version being the truth (with no references as to where the information regarding this was coming from).

According to the “creative” version, Tusk’s grandfather was even happy to serve in, well, not simply the Wehrmacht but the SS rather… To back up the allegation, even a photo was provided showing a young man in the driver’s seat of a car full of SS officers – and the young man appears remarkably similar to Donald Tusk. The similarity cannot be denied, that is for sure.

One Russian-language source spreading the SS narrative is this livejournal user who is referencing a 2005 report by Novye Izvestia that, as part of legitimate reporting of political developments in Poland, cited allegations of grandpa Józef’s SS past that came from Polish sources at the time and which were eventually discredited – though the livejournal post in question is from September 6 and thus cannot have constituted the basis for the above quoted English-language pieces on the subject. Seemingly independently from this, one chain of sources that can be followed backwards is this string of pages, from here [Zarya Novorossii/Dawn of Novorossiya, September 5] to here [Ridus.ru, September 3]. The text in this case is the one that appeared at tigr.net in English, cited above. And finally, independently of these, there is a post here, from 2011 [oper.ru] that already uses the photo purportedly showing Józef Tusk.

As it often happens, even some fringe media in Central-Eastern Europe who are otherwise interested mostly in the chance of breaking through to masses of random readers with a sudden scoop off somewhere, anywhere, transmitted the story. So did the proudly “politically incorrect” Czech news portal Stalo se, at the URL http://www.stalo-se.cz/?=21028 (no longer taking you to their original article), on September 4.

Here are the manipulative pairs of photos disseminated through the above mentioned echo chambers.

The one from Stalo Se:

ManipulativePairingOfPhotos_TuskAndAnSDmember

The one from this Tumblr page:

ManipulativePairingOfPhotos_TuskAndAnSDmember2

And where this gets really interesting is if you, seeing the SD insignia on the uniform of the officer sitting in the back, go to Wikipedia’s page on the World War Two German Sichereitsdienst (SD). There it is that you find the original of the WWII photo used against Donald Tusk and his grandfather. Here’s a screenshot of the Wikipedia image as it appears there once you click on it:

Tusk_WikiSDimage

The caption says: “Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-380-0069-37, Polen, Verhaftung von Juden, SD-Männer.” It is also added that “This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)” and “Created: September 1939.” Nowhere does it mention who these people are.

So how does one stumble upon a photo like that, showing a man, apparently from 1939, who would accidentally – and rather perfectly from the point of view of propaganda needs – resemble Donald Tusk himself so much? This is a great mystery from the magical world of Eastern Europe where devoted propagandists operating in the shadows often invest a significant number of working hours in such projects.

The one source to which I was able to eventually trace back the association-by-allegation of the above photo, showing unnamed individuals, and Donald Tusk’s grandfather is… a bunch of unknown individuals in the town of Wrocław who handed out flyers to people there some time in May 2010. Their flyer had the above photo on it, and the question of whether the person in the driver’s seat is Józef Tusk. The same flyer was also spreading conspiracy theories related to the Smolensk crash of April 2010, targeting Poland’s current president (since August 2010), Bronisław Komorowski. Komorowski is from Tusk’s party – Platforma Obywatelska or Civic Platform – and any propaganda targeting him as well as Tusk at the same time must have been spread by the political rivals of Civic Platform. Which most likely implies circles close to the Law and Justice Party that lost its leader, President Lech Kaczyński, a month earlier – in the Smolensk crash.

Ironic, isn’t it? Some Russian sources are now spreading a lie that was once spread by some of the most anti-Russian political forces in Poland.