Polish (and other) politicians’ active meddling in the events currently taking place in Belarus inevitably brings to mind Warsaw’s recent policy vis-à-vis its neighbors – Belarus and Ukraine. Why has Poland been and still is a factor of foreign influence in Ukraine? Why is Warsaw so actively engaged in what is going on in Belarus, and how has it been setting the stage for a cultural and ideological intervention in that country?
Historically, Poland is one of the few European countries, including Hungary and Germany, whose cultural heritage transcends their national borders.
Warsaw has long been attentive to the preservation of Polish cultural sites in Belarus and Ukraine, which it sees as part of the cultural and civilizational heritage of the Rzeczpospolita, and which have not lost their ideological potential for Polish politicians. According to a special report, prepared by the Center for the Study of “Eastern Territories” (Ośrodek Studiów Wschodnich), Ukraine and Belarus feature very prominently on the so-called “museum map” of Poland.” (1)
To keep stock of and restore all these sites, Poland has established the National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad (POLONIKA). Much to its workers’ regret, however, the sociological studies they carried out in 2018 found the Poles to be largely unaware of their country’s cultural heritage abroad, as 92 percent of respondents could not name a single Polish cultural site in other countries, and 73 percent did not know what a “polonik” really is (“polonik” is an object related to Poland and Polish history). (2)
In an effort to change this, POLONIKA is working hard to improve the people’s ideological and cultural education, and not only in Poland.
In 2008-2018, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the POLONIKA Institute for the preservation of cultural monuments had the Senate allocate for this purpose €10.5 million for Ukraine, and €2 million for Belarus. And this is not just charity, because Polish cultural sites in the “eastern lands” of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth are viewed by Warsaw as ideological objects. Here the POLONIKA Institute is working closely with the Department of Cultural Heritage Abroad and the Registration of War Losses, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance and the Council for the Protection of the Memory of Struggle and Martyrdom – the country’s most ideologically tied-up state institutions, writing a “new history.”
This is why sites with a great propaganda value, such as the sacred objects of the Roman Catholic Church, the residences of Polish tycoons, as well as military and civilian cemeteries, are the first to be restored and their use for propaganda purposes has become the hallmark of the outlawed Union of Poles in Belarus, led by Angelika Borys. Visits to cemeteries on the centennial anniversary of the 1920 Battle of Warsaw, on the 76th anniversary of the skirmish between the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) and Soviet troops near Surkont, on the anniversaries of the Polish uprisings of the 18th-19th centuries (3, 4, 5) – are equally instrumental in instilling social discord and anti-government sentiment, as the organizers of such acts declare that the Poles in Belarus allegedly fought for the Polish land. Official Belarusian historians dismiss such allegations as slander against the Polish people’s noble historical mission. Some people in Warsaw now even say that “in the event of the collapse of Belarus” Grodno should become part of Poland.
In their “study” of the historical borders of “Greater Poland,” Polish historians go even further portraying the Polish gentry and tycoons as the first bearers of Ukrainian and Belarusian statehood, and linking the genealogy of this statehood to the Polish state.
And still, Polish cultural sites are treated differently in Belarus and Ukraine. In the former, they are interpreted as Belarusian as part of an ongoing “Belarusianization” of the Polish heritage and its indirect incorporation into the ideology of the modern Belarusian state. Polish cultural figures and politicians are declared Belarusians and the clans of Polish tycoons – as Belarusian clans. Although their contribution to culture is recognized, it is still described as a contribution to Belarusian culture.
In Ukraine, the attitude is ambiguous. Even though the Polish cultural heritage is interpreted as local and domestic, the Poles’ contribution to Ukraine’s cultural advancement is either denied or assessed negatively as an episode of suppression of Ukrainian culture during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. While Belarus absorbs and ideologically “digests” the Polish heritage, Ukraine absorbs it, but does not “digest,” and ideologically sometimes even rejects it. The reasons for this are well known in the history of Polish-Ukrainian relations.
Naturally enough, the Belarusian approach appealed to Warsaw more because although the Polish heritage is recognized as Belarusian, it is still viewed within the historical framework of Polish statehood and, allegedly, as part of the national consciousness of Belarusians, which can be construed as Belarusian culture having developed freely in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
In Ukraine, the idea of Polish statehood is perceived as hostile, hence the Ukrainian ideologues proceed from the assumption that Ukrainian culture in the Commonwealth survived in spite of, and not thanks to, the Polish state. Therefore, in their “research,” Polish experts admit that Warsaw’s efforts to preserve the ideological potential of Polish cultural sites in Ukraine will prove short-lived and will have no traction until the cultural and political heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth becomes part of the ideology of Ukrainian statehood, which, in my opinion, is not going to happen any time soon. (1)
Warsaw hopes that at the end of the day, its efforts to “preserve” the Polish cultural heritage in Belarus and Ukraine will result in these two countries’ transformation into a civilizational and ideological appendage of Poland, its geopolitical clone. The emergence of ideologically and culturally “Polish” states around Poland is fully in line with the strategic goals of Warsaw, which wants to play the role of the custodian of Eastern Europe. Therefore, Poland’s offer to act as a mediator (along with Lithuania and Latvia) in the social standoff in Belarus can hardly be seen as a purely humanitarian gesture.
From our partner International Affairs
A leaderless ship: The Bulgaria’s political crisis and the storm to come
Internal and international tensions
Politics tends to develop in a complex conundrum in all Balkan countries. Thus, never can observers take their eyes off the ball, investors feel completely safe or international partners express enduring satisfaction. In effect, this is the case also for bits of the region that have joined the European Union in the last decade. Recently, Bulgaria has been the most interesting hearth of, popular outrage, institutional instability and international tensions amongst the latter countries.
Actually, the atmosphere began simmering back in Summer 2020, when thousands of people took to the streets for several weeks. Arguably, the combination of the umpteenth high-echelon corruption scandal involving andthe pandemic-induced recession was only the most immediate cause. Swiftly, dissatisfaction led to vigorous calls for the Prime Minister’s and the Attorney General’s resignation and early election. Even the President of the Republic, Rumen Radev, broke with his supposed non-partisanship and joined the protestors gathering vast support. However, the winter suppressed street protests and Boyko Borisov, the Prime Minister, exploited the pandemic to justify his indifference.
In the meantime, the cabinet embroiled Bulgaria in a dispute which the country had refrained from ever since 1991. The so-called ‘Macedonian question’predates the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s independence, but only then turned into a crisis. Indeed, the hardest-fought issue was that surrounding the use of the name ‘Macedonia’, which Greece opposed until the Prespa Agreement. But the newly named Republic of North Macedonia has failed to acknowledge the deep historical and cultural connection with Bulgaria. Eventually, the former’s lack of real cooperation led Sofia to veto the opening of negotiations on EU membership. Thence, scholars have criticised the country’s government while foreign politicians tried to persuade Borisov to lift his veto.
Against the background of such a delicate, multifaceted domestic and international circumstances Bulgaria celebrated regular election on April 4. The country needed everything but being left leaderless, but this is exactly what happened.
Election results: Who to form a cabinet?
The most recent elections speak volume about the difficulty in understanding Bulgarian politics and understanding what the popular sentiment is. For a start, GERB, Borisov’s party, lost about 300,000 votes falling from 33.65%in 2017, to 26.18% this year. Moreover, the nationalist collation United Patriots, GERB’s reliable allies, split up and failed to clear the 4% threshold. Thus, with his 75 MPs in the 240-seat Parliament Borisov had no more a majority and desperately needed a partner.
At the same time, the elections produced an unusually hostile environment for GERB. In fact, a number of new leaders and formations emerged — all of which declared GERB a “most toxic party”. Still, opposing Borisov’s “model”, as they use to say, was not enough to form a government. Neither the protest party There is such a people (ITN) nor the establishment Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) even tried. Therefore, the two smaller protest parties – Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and Stand Up! Bastards Out (ISMV) – and the Muslim Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) had to accept new elections in July.
In effect, once the elections results became clear, no one nurtured many hopes for a stable government. The BSP had offered it external, conditional support to an ITN cabinet as the DPS and even GERB did. Perhaps, members of DB and ISMV could have joined the project to ensure wider representation. But all attempts failed in front of ITN’s leader, the showman-turned-politician SlaviTrifonov, display of “political fearfulness”. The ultimate result of these developments was the shortest parliamentin Bulgaria’s two-century history.
What the parliament produced
Without a fully-functioning political government and with a lame-duck Parliament, Bulgaria is traversing a difficult period. The legislature has yet to approve the Recovery and sustainability plan towards which the EU has granted €6bln ($7.3bln). Without these funds, it will be harder for the country’s economy to rebound after the last recession. At the same time, no one is in charge of managing the ongoing feud with the Republic of North Macedonia. Hence, Sofia can neither substantiate its claims and pretences vis-à-vis Skopje nor backtrack and let membership negotiations start. Finally, in the last weeks tensions between Bulgaria and Russia have risen with mutual expulsion of several high-ranking diplomats. In fact, Czech authorities have found out about a “Bulgarian connection” in the incidents allegedly blamed on Russian security services.
On the offense: ITN, DB and ISMV against GERB
Yet, the parliament has found not time to address any of these really pressing issues. As it often happens after the elections, foreign policy has disappearedfrom the order of the day. There was no discussion of either the bilateral relations with Russia nor the North Macedonian issue.
Representative from ITN, DB and ISMV wrapped up the Recovery plan into their wider attempt to publicly discredit GERB. Thus, they refused to let the competent executive official introducing the bill and pretended Borisov himself did it.
Meanwhile, the three parties and the BSP also forced a vote on the cabinet’s resignation. Hence, the government is officially in charge only of managing current affairs: it cannot update the budget or adopt new economic measures. The opposition also blocked the automatic renewal of key concession for Sofia’s airport and some highways to Borisov’s closest allies.
So-called ‘Protest parties’ also formed a parliamentary commission to investigate Borisov governments’ misdeed. However, the legislature will soon dissolve, so nothing will come out of it besides some gossipy kompromat. The only real change is a new electoral law,remedying to some of the previous legal framework’s most evident fallacies. The hope is that it will curb the purchase of votes and other instances of fraud.
Wait-and-see: Borisov’s unkind defence
Borisov’s loyalists in the government, in the Parliament and, more importantly, in the media are repelling this frontal assault vehemently.
Figure 1 Acting Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called the Parliament “a show” in a video on his Facebook page.
Acting foreign minister Ekaterina Zakharieva has spoken out against the supposed attempt to make 850,000 GERB voters ‘disappear’. The chair of GERB’s parliamentary group, Desislava Atanasova, accused other parties of having “failed to fulfil society’s interests”. Borisov himself went out for the biggest prey: President Radev.On Facebook he declared
I hope that Radev is not proud [of the result of last year’s protests …]: This parliamentary show costs 19 million [leva, €9.5mln] a day. It is better that they closed it because we would have gone bankrupt.
The opposition motto offers no way forward behind the idea that “What GERB did must be cancelled”. Yet, GERB is not less destructive in its agenda. Currently, Borisov’s clique is challenging both the moratorium of concessionsand the electoral reformin front of the constitutional court. According to many experts, the justices could strike down or rescale at least one of these two measures. Hence, all hopes for a real democratic change will likely evaporate as long as GERB holds the levers of power.
Forecast: A leaderless ship in a stormy sea
Some have been talking about the rebirth of parliamentarism. But partisanship, anger and personal hatred currently dominate Bulgaria’s politics. Thus, a disenchanted observer could only see the dismaying polarisationand personalisation of the mainstream political discourse. At this time, Bulgaria is like a ship whose crew has mutinied, but whose captain refuses to jump off. Fortunately, the peaks of the economic and sanitary crisis seem over — for now. But the international setting conspires against the vessel. A storm is mounting from the East and the West. Winds of reprisal spire from Russia, whereas the EU is increasingly discontent with Bulgaria’s management of the North Macedonian issue. Assuming that the next elections will produce a working government, either the mutineers or the old captain will be just in time to manage the gale. But should this not happen, the country may soon regret the current lull.
Geopolitics of Europe and the Third Wave
With hospitals filling up across the continent, new variants of the virus proliferating and vaccine shortages biting back, Europe can be seen to be under the third wave of the COVID crisis. This wave has been a confused sea across Europe in which some national epidemics are worsening, some are reaching their peak and some are declining. Although lockdowns have eased as vaccine drives make headway, the end of state emergency does not undermine the inevitable long-term consequences of the crisis. COVID has brought to the forefront new geopolitical dynamics and created risks for the foreign policy of the European Union on several fronts. Beyond the epidemiological challenge of the impending health calamity, economic, political and geopolitical challenges are also plenty.
The crisis has held up a mirror to the Western countries as their effectiveness in managing the pandemic has been distorted and has brought about de-Westernisation of the world. As globalisation is under strain, the crisis is bound to redraw the borders between the state and the markets in democracies such as the Member States of the EU. Such an environment is likely to emphasise on national initiatives to the detriment of international cooperation. In a post-COVID world, the EU may have to deal with its geopolitical problems with less external credibility as well as internal solidarity among its member states.
The potential geopolitical consequences of the virus can be identified by extrapolating those trends that were taking place before the onset of the virus. Amidst evolving global scenarios, there has been a constant push from the EU to establish itself as a relevant geopolitical actor to realise its global power aspirations. In this context, it becomes important to note the two areas of concern raised by the crisis consist of questions on the internal cohesion of the EU and Europe’s ability to adapt to the increasing rivalry and competition among other global powers.
The EU as a player derives its identity from its supranationalism. However, with COVID wreaking havoc on the already unequal economy of the Northern and Southern Europe, the downslides of globalisation are being highlighted. This is likely to further embolden nationalist narratives, rather than European solutions. This will lead to the fragmentation of the region into its component member-states part, threatening the very identity if the Union. This has been a challenge to the EU as the Union recognizes solidarity as a fundamental principle as per Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union. With the EU is facing the increasingly centrifugal ‘member states first’ approach put forward by the European capitals, the European integration project is under threat.
Further, with the pre-existing tensions between US and China, the European Union has been facing heat from both the sides of the Pacific. While the EU has put forward its own Indo-Pacific Strategy in order to constructively engage with the region, it continues to be challenged by America’s confrontational foreign policies and also being apprehensive of China’s refusal to open up their markets at a time of dwindling global economies, China’s assault on Hong Kong’s independence as well as China’s growing support towards the populist parties of Europe. The EU has come to perceive China as a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance with this perception largely being shaped by China’s revisionist challenge and its alarming nationalist narrative.
It is important to understand that coronavirus is not here to kill geopolitics. However, the European Union will have to strengthen their efforts towards ensuring that the pandemic does not kill the EU as a geopolitical force. The European Commission must step up its efforts to broker the Multilateral Financial Framework (MFF) among member states which was long pending even before the pandemic struck the continent. It would enable the Union to act collectively in funding recovery efforts in a post-COVID reconstruction of the economies. Further, the EU should focus on shortening their supply chains pursuing a policy of strategic autonomy such that EU’s external dependencies are diversified. The need of the hour is to rebuild an economically sound healthcare Europe while at the same time working towards a more geopolitical Europe. This will require EU to continue investment as a full-spectrum power in military as well as other security capabilities along with assistance and aid to the neighboring countries to rebuild their resilience in a geopolitically volatile environment.
The EU needs to defend and promote the European model which is struggling to stand amidst the global battle of narratives along with maintaining its strategic autonomy in health, economic and other sectors. At the same time, the Union needs to bolster existing and forge new alliances in order to fill the gap on multilateralism. It needs to locate a strategic edge to resist the external pressures and protect its presence in the global scene and continue being relevant in the changing global order with its extraordinary transcontinental presence of soft power.
How a Democracy Can Be Undermined: Some Lessons
Democracies have an inbuilt flaw when their own processes can be employed to undermine them. It is what has happened in Hungary in the last decade, and Hungary is not alone.
In his youth the current prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, was an ardent dissident leading a youth movement, Fidesz, and in 1989 he was calling for the removal of Soviet troops and free democratic elections. Opposition to single-party socialist rule was eventually successful, and he was elected a Fidesz member of the National Assembly in 1990.
In 1998, his party won a plurality, and he served his first term as prime minister until 2002 when the socialists returned to power. However, a landslide victory in 2010 gave Orban a two-thirds supermajority, and with it the power to amend constitutional laws.
Shortly thereafter in 2011 a new constitution was promulgated which gave the Fidesz control of the judiciary, and administrative commissions responsible for elections, media and the budget. Hence Orban’s ubiquitous presence on billboards around Budapest — a consequence of a law regulating billboards that he passed driving his supporter’s competitors out of business. Opposition flyers may now be found posted on poles and trees … and good luck seeing them at a distance.
With the opposition weakened, Hungary became a democracy backsliding to authoritarianism. In 2020, the parliament passed laws that allow Orban to declare an emergency at will and then rule by decree.
All of which poses a conundrum: Anti-democratic laws passed by an elected government undermine democracy yet at the same time can be considered the will of the people, even if they infringe their rights.
If one believes the U.S. is immune, consider elected politicians gerrymandering districts to remain in power. And if we believe for an instant that all of this is a right-wing phenomenon, we just have to glance at Venezuela and Nicolas Maduro.
Freedom House’s classifications of freedom in 210 countries note that Venezuela is not free. Orban’s Hungary is now only partly free in contrast with, say, the Czech Republic, another former communist East European state which is classified free.
In their book How to Save a Constitutional Democracy, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq argue that forces of democratic decay often accompany the appearance on stage of a charismatic leader holding the populace in thrall. They also note three pillars supporting democracy: free and fair elections, freedom of expression and association, and the bureaucratic rule of law. The latter implies the independent functioning of bodies like the election commission, the Federal Reserve, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Administration and so on. This limits the power of the central executive unlike in Mr. Orban’s case.
Fortunately from the Ginsburg and Huq analysis the U.S. appears to be well insulated and employs freedom of association in particular to great effect. There can be chinks in the armor, however, as is happening in Georgia with new voter suppression laws.
Weakness or calculation? How the pandemic undermined the US world leadership
Anyone watching the numerous doomsday movies, happily churned out by Hollywood, will see American doctors saving the planet from space-borne...
Prospects for a Settlement of the Libyan Conflict: Three Scenarios of the Mid-Term Forecast
More than ten years ago, in February 2011, the Arab Spring began in Libya. The armed uprising quickly escalated into...
Discerning the Human Element Amid the Pandemic
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de...
“Kharibulbul” festival represents a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural Azerbaijan
As a country of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan promotes the cross-cultural dialogue inside the country, but also at the regional level. The...
A leaderless ship: The Bulgaria’s political crisis and the storm to come
Internal and international tensions Politics tends to develop in a complex conundrum in all Balkan countries. Thus, never can observers...
Elon Musk’s “City-State” on Mars: An International Problem
The private space industry is booming with companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic all designing spacecraft to transport...
Feminist perspective of the War,Peace and Politics in International Relations
India is a land where Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas of non-violence were born, but it is also the land...
East Asia3 days ago
China’s Navy in the Arctic: Potential Game Changer for the Future of the Region?
Middle East2 days ago
Israel-Palestine Conflict Enters into Dangerous Zone
Europe3 days ago
Serbia’s EU accession: Pipe Dream or Possible Reality?
Energy3 days ago
Is it finally time for hydrogen?
Europe3 days ago
The Idea of Global Britain: A Neo-Victorian Attempt to Define the Place of the English in the World
International Law3 days ago
Basic knowledge about Peace Education and how it is beneficial in resolving conflicts
Eastern Europe2 days ago
Baltic States are the territories of geopolitical games
Defense3 days ago
The Irony of Afghanistan: US Plans Departure amidst Anarchy