1,000 people from the National Movement ready for active participation gathered in Warsaw. The leaders of the movement did not say anything we would not have expected; their comments were also conventional – starting with the sacred indignation and exclamations about fascism in the left wing and ending with a concern about growing radical alternative in the right wing, which was difficult to hide. People can tease and jeer that the ones who vaguely but firmly talked about fighting and the abolition of the “Republic of the Polish Round Table Talks” were acclaimed, and that the speech of Krzysztof Bosak about the economy was boring – but show me a political rally during which delegates do not take a ciggie break when there’s a talk about economy. It is not a problem.
The problem is that we do not want and do not try to understand the phenomenon of the National Movement. It is characteristic of Poland that the radical movement is powered by young people not from excluded, economically or socially impaired environments. They do not comprise veterans or the unemployed, but there is a variety of people there – both the unemployed and resourceful businessmen. There are students and graduates of prestigious schools and universities – in this way the Movement does not confirm sociological theses that radicalism is connected with exclusion and crisis.
The National Movement is not a significant threat to the political status quo and probably it will never be – although it cannot be ruled out that it will gain supporters in representative bodies. Here, the National Movement is only “the tip of the iceberg” and the real threat is something else, namely, the way young Poles perceive the world, the diagnosis of threats and catchy, simple (not to say coarse) reactions to those threats. This problem does not concern only the 1,000 activists of the National Movement – this problem is much further-reaching.
Young people marching with torches, or setting fire to recording vans and fighting on the Constitution Square with the police are not from the outer space – they are graduates of Polish schools.
It is a truism to repeat that in the times of economic development the influence of busy parents on their kids’ attitudes is getting smaller, and institutional influence – mainly that of schools of different levels – is getting bigger. Without assessing whether it is good or not because it is a subject for a different discussion, it should be stated that the role of school has become more important than ever before. Now schools are subject to continuous reforms, new core curricula, which should be loved before they go away and tests with the so called new and secret answer keys.
When it comes to Polish schools though… I am looking through a student’s book for the so called Civic Education. It is full of dull knowledge about international institutions which has to be learnt by heart (I make a bet on a big, 18-year-old Whisky that neither Minister Sikorski nor any official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would list all of them glibly). Later on, we have local government’s organs, which are also to be learnt by heart – without any attempt to explain what they actually are and what they are responsible for. I can list other examples – chapters on the constitution, associations and electoral systems. A student finds out about the procedure of the registration of a political party, but does not find out why such an institution was created and what its goals are.
When it comes to the European Union, students have to learn the dates of treaties by heart without international context. They find out that we get money. The definition of globalisation is without any description. They learn about the EU without the background of global transformations, without the explanation of the idea and European interest. I would not get the message why these treaties were actually concluded and what they are for.
A Polish student reads fragments of national epics, but virtually nothing from foreign literature. How can we expect that they will have open minds and will try to understand other cultures if they are not given any chance to get to know (at least superficially) famous works of world literature?
When it comes to history classes at Polish schools, they are mainly about Polish history and there is not much mention about general history and when there is, then a lot is said about betrayals and harm done to us by the rest of the world.
At Polish schools, catechists are unofficial vice-principals or sometimes even more than that – they decide which film a class can watch at the cinema and whether a disco can be organised on Friday. They define what patriotism, morality and decency are – of course in a Polish, ludic, catholic way. Their special position and the fact that they cannot be dismissed make principals unwilling to hit their heads against a brick wall.
Schools are of course open to outside initiatives. But the most popular ones are pseudo-patriotic initiatives which are hyped but empty inside. When I heard about visits of a partisan from National Armed Forces who focused on “Smoleńsk assassination” and the threat of “Jewish-German EU,” I thought about a duty partisan from People’s Army who 30 years ago told us about benefits from the alliance with the Soviets and a threat connected with imperialism and Bundeswehr (German for “Federal Defence”). By the way – I would like to live to see the day when we understand the obvious truth that during the Second World War there was one legal formation of the Polish state – Home Army, People’s Army and National Armed Forces were the opposition. Today, veterans from Home Army are booed at cemeteries by rabble from the right wing.
A much bigger threat to the state and democratic system than the National Movement is Polish schools, which bring students up in Polish-centrism, xenophobia and oppressive structure which excludes debate and freedom of thought. Here, everyone is to blame – the political class, which disregards schools as the upbringing factor and treats them as necessary evil and nothing more than another budget expenditure. Teachers, who are opportunistic and cut corners are to blame. School inspectors and principals are to blame – they lack professional management of education. The lack of vision of patriotism and historical policy on the ministerial and governmental level is also to blame. At public schools we “pump” young people into narrow-mindedness – and then we are surprised that the National Movement is so popular.
The pre-war para-fascist disturbances in Poland were not caused by state’s policy – they were caused by the lack of it; by the fact that senators gave away schools to national right wing and the church without a fight. Activists from the National Democracy won the minds and souls of young people who later on broke windows in Jewish shops and marked “bench ghettos.” Nowadays, the national right wing has different priorities and other ways of action, but again it has dominated the upbringing at schools – do we have to repeat the same mistake?
Translation: Anita Stradomska