The old chestnut

Who do the Poles hate (dislike, mistrust) the most – Russians or Germans?

I thought I would give this question an airing, just to save you the time when you visit! :)

I’ve asked this a few times, not so much recently, and I’ve never really felt I got a straight answer. I have certainly not been able to answer the question. The nearest I can come is “Both (or neither), but it’s a very personal thing”.

<please read the following comments>

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5 thoughts on “The old chestnut

  1. It’s so many uears after the war, it’s a too general qestion to ask

    I’m sure many Poles mistrust the government of Russia but not the Russian people.

    Germany is another story. They acknowledged (most of) their faults, changed very much, now there is another generation, which thinks different. Why would you hate Germans?

    My grandmother, who used to be a slave labourer for the Germans during the war, always said that there are good and bad people in every nation. And people should be judged along these lines, not by nationality.

    During the war she met Germans who were eager Nazis, and Germans who tried to remain human in those circumstances.

  2. It’s quite late for this one, but it’s a good question so I’ll give it a try. On the personal level really no one, and it’s very unlikely that a Pole would be rude or prejudiced against a person on the basis of their country of origin, although we may be favourably biased. There are nations that we like more than others.

    On the national level we distrust both. We don’t believe any smooth talk or promises, but it should be added that after our last alliance with the UK, France, and later the US we don’t trust anyone, not only Germans and Russians, although we may be more sensitive towards their moves.

    As Poland was divided between Russia and Germany during WWII, it’s natural that those who share family memories from German occupation only will be set against Germany stronger, and those who were occupied by Russia more against them. It’s significant that the 19th century partitions left similarly unfavourable memories of both occupants, while Austria is seen as a mild irritant. There’s also a difference in our seeing their way of action. We think that Germans will always abide the law, so the only thing we have to worry from their side is a bad law. While Russia will disregard any law they have, so we’re likely to suspect them of anything. At least those are our experiences. However, we also remember that Hitler won democratic elections, while no Russian government was freedom loving. Our memories of Wehrmacht and Red Army are similarly unpleasant.

    Our respective attitudes towards Russia and Germany differ mostly on the cultural level. We might not love Germans but we still esteem them for some things. We like their philosophers and composers. There were many Germans who made good things in Poland. We do remember about it. With Russia it’s exactly the opposite. Their artists, even if good, are few and far between. So generally we don’t esteem them for anything, and in some cases we may think that they have no culture at all. They didn’t have any before the 1830s. All Russia does is linking their origins to Kiev, which is as absurd as claiming that Shakespeare was a great Australian writer. I.e. there’s no folklore that we’d know about. The only dance ever linked to Russia that we’re aware of is Kazaczok that is a Cossacks’ dance = Ukrainian.

    Russia is a very young country from our POV, so they weren’t around long enough to impress. There are many words in Polish borrowed from German, but little from Russian, and mostly only because they refer to Russian things. Similarly, we used to take some things from Germans because we wanted to, while the things we got from Russia were imposed on us, and we were only too happy to get rid of them. They didn’t have anything to offer that would be tempting otherwise, while they were influenced by us in many cases. Additionally, although we don’t always understand Germans, their motives and ways, we’re able to imagine that they like what they have, while our image of Russia is such that no one would ever want to live there if they had any choice, at least almost every Pole would be happy not to, so we mostly pity them. From our POV Germans abide rules too much, while Russians are too suppressed. We differ from both. This picture may be very wrong, but then it’s the nature of stereotypes. ;-)

    On the personal level you’ll find both people who have friends in Germany or Russia, and people who are very interested in either of the countries.

  3. I can see that responding to Sylwia is going to become a full-time job! We may have to employ a special department to deal with her erudite comments ;)

    If I may:

    It’s kind of surprising from a British point of view that Poles don’t have stronger prejudices against the Russians or the Germans; the former subjected you to imperial domination for forty years and the latter killed millions of your citizens. I, for one, am always astonished at how relaxed Polish people seem to be about this.

  4. I know. It seems that we’re much more relaxed than French or Dutch, or at least so I was told by some German people. It’s also interesting that while we hate all of the German land-claimers, at the same time we’re genuinely sorry for their being expelled (real expellees, not just those who have the status in Germany). Two wrongs don’t make one good et al.

    I think that it comes from two things. One is that Poles really aren’t an ethnic group but a mixture of all of the nations that ever happened to visit, so we don’t see nations as being born to be evil, but rather as groups that embrace different interests. There are so many Poles who have German names. Many of those expellees were our neighbours before WWII. (We all like Wedel’s chocolate). Non-ethnic Poles made for some 40% of Polish citizens before the war, while the rest weren’t ethnic Poles really, only genuinely polonized, or, in other words, Polish speaking Catholics. Similarly, in the 19th century, Polish Prussians were likely to support Poles (and many simply polonized), contrary to those Germans who were brought from Germany proper. Neither Kant nor Schopenhauer embraced Prussia’s politics. There were Germans in the Polish army, just as Polish Tatars fought along Sobieski against the Ottoman Empire. No one questioned their loyalty. I think that the less the ethnic-centred thinking the better, and, on the whole, Poles really have been above it. The German minority in Poland have German associations, German schools, Lutheran churches, and guaranteed places in our parliament. It’s as it was before the war. And, I think that Poles are more glad that there’s a German pope now than Germans seem to be embarrassed about it. ;-)

    I have an American friend whose mother was an ethnic German, and yet she can’t speak German because using the language was strongly discouraged and not allowed at schools. I’m happy we’re not like that. The communists were of course, but not our democratic governments.

    The other is our education. The first book Polish kids read when it comes to the WWII literature is Niemcy (Germans) by Leon Kruczkowski which is an attempt to look at things from the other side. We also focus on the difficulty of making personal choices, and our own attitudes. Many war novels show some good Germans, or at least present them in situations that seem rational. They show bad Poles too. I was taught that a German mother suffers similarly to a Polish one. We also read Grass, Rilke, Mann or Brecht. We don’t demonize Germans like Hollywood does, we try to understand them. It’s obvious that we could hate them as much as we wish and no one would protest, but it just doesn’t serve anyone, and certainly not ourselves. Resentment is paralyzing and forestalls progress (we took the lesson from Nietzsche ;)). We become defensive only in response to what we see as their attacks. The funny thing is that as much as Germans try to be nice, they don’t even realize when they become arrogant. They really don’t know. Many repeat old mistakes and apply old stereotypes without any malicious intentions.

    It’s not a problem that Donald Tusk is part Kashubian and part German (unless someone wants to hate him, but then any reason is good), while I once saw on some internet forum some German people genuinely disturbed by a mention that Merkel has some Polish roots. They found it derogatory. Well, they have a problem, but I’m still happy to be free from it. However, I think it might help to study some Polish books in German schools.

    When it comes to Russians it’s really difficult to blame them for Stalin or Catherine the Great. We just would really like to see them sober. There’s so much happy propaganda going on there. But then we read Solzhenitsyn and like it!

    There are also our more local and complex relations like between Poles and Ukrainians that seem to develop really well on both sides, even though they might be more painful. Likely because our respective attitudes are similar. We share some culture after all, not only history, and we talk from the position of partners.

    “I can see that responding to Sylwia is going to become a full-time job! We may have to employ a special department to deal with her erudite comments ;)”

    I’ll slow down when I catch up. :-D

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