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Review of the Kosciuszko Chair Spring Symposium by IWP supporter John Czop

Date: May 2011

Approximately one hundred participated in The First Annual Kosciuszko Chair Spring Symposium, “Current Issues in Polish and Central – Eastern European Affairs” at  The Institute of World Politics (IWP) in Washington, DC.  Located in central Washington, IWP is both home of the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies, and convener of the symposium. 

On Saturday 21 May the symposium took place in the principal building on the IWP campus, the historic Marlatt Mansion.  The event began with lunch at 1:00, followed by a keynote lecture, then three panel discussions, each with a questions and answers period, and concluded with a general discussion.

The Adam M. Bak Foundation treated participants in the symposium to a delicious lunch.  Though they have participated in many IWP events, Ava and Adam Bak, who was born in a small village in the Beskid Zywiecki region of Poland and then studied at the Academy of Economics in Krakow and went on to establish Adamba Imports International based in New York City, were unable to attend the symposium.  Adam and Ava Bak are leadership level supporters of the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies and have done much to match Lady Blanka Rosenstiel’s revocable challenge grant in the amount of $1 million, in order to encourage others to contrbute a like amount to raise a total of $2 million to endow the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies by the end of this year. It is important for a broad base of Polish Americans to contribute to the establishment of the Kosciuszko Chair at IWP, a graduate school devoted to patriotic public service which specializes in training future national security experts.  The history of  Poland, and especially of the Res Publica, or Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, is relevant to their training to meet tomorrow’s challenges.   Please visit IWP’s website to see how you can help to endow the Kosciuszko Chair.   

Professor Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, the first and present incumbent of the Kosciuszko Chair at IWP, presided at the symposium which included informed comments on the course of state-to-state relations between the United States and Poland.  Chodakiewicz is the author of Between Nazis and Soviets:  Occupation Politics in Poland,1939-1947 (Lexington Books:  Lanham, Maryland, 2004), and After the Holocaust:  Polish-Jewish Conflict in the Wake of World War II (East European Monographs:  Boulder, Colorado distributed by Columbia University Press, New York, 2003),  and several other books which he has either written, edited, or co-edited.  His articles on contemporary events and reviews of books are posted on the IWP website.  

Moreover, Professor Chodakiewicz served as a Presidential Appointee, United States Holocaust Memorial Council (2005-2010).  He is the most persuasive proponent of the lucid, but unpopular, view that Communism did NOT collapse in Poland, instead it was transformed.  Professor Chodakiewicz has shown that continuity from Communist times outweighs change in Poland, as it does elsewhere in the former Soviet space with but two exceptions: the former German Democratic Republic, which disappeared from the map after it was absorbed by a western state, the German Federal Republic, and Estonia where the private property of the pre-war elite was restored, and this formed the social base for the power of Estonian democrats who challenged and prevailed against transformed  Communist upper level civil servants in the power struggle following the implosion of the Soviet Union.

The symposium at IWP was held just five days before President Barack Hussein Obama was scheduled to visit Poland on 26 May.  The sense of the comments at the symposium was that pressuring the Polish Government promptly to enact legislation on compensation for World War II era German Nazi despoiled and then Communist nationalized private property on the territory of the conquered Second Polish Republic, and especially for that portion of this World War II era private property (which amounts to approximately 20% of the total), that formerly was owned by Jews, will be at the top of President Obama’s agenda when he meets with President Boleslaw Komorowski and Premier Donald Tusk in Warsaw on Thursday 26 May.  If all claimants receive compensation for World War II era private property at the same rate that the Holocaust Industry is demanding as a “rough justice” settlement for property formerly owned by Jews in the amount of $50 billion, then the toal bill Polish taxpayers will be asked to pay will amount to $250 billion, while Poland’s GDP in 2008 was approximately $550 billion.

In the relations of the United States with Poland, issues of the past, especially restitution/compensation of World War II era private property, loom larger than do present day defense concerns vis-a-vis a resurgent Russia, or Poland’s accession to the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program.  Readers recall that on 17 March 2011, Premier Tusk announced that the Polish Government, because of financial woes, WILL NOT, over the near term, consider enacting legislation on compensation for World War II era property, but may again consider such legislation should economic conditions improve in the future.  Just after Premier Tusk announced this news, Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski categorically observed in a more polemical way that the United States missed its opportunity to help Polish Jews in 1942 when most of them were still alive following Jan Karski’s briefing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the mass murder of Jews by Nazi Germans on conquered Polish territory.  Sikorski believes that today it is too late for “rough justice” compensation through legislation, but encourages claimants to seek compensation for World War II private property, or its restitution, through the Polish judicial system.

Though the symposium closed by considering how the past continues to inform the future, the event opened on an upbeat topic about Poland’s bright future possibilities in the exciting field of nuclear energy.  The keynote lecture was delivered by Dr. Adam Szafranski, who this semester is on leave from the Faculty of Law and Administration of Warsaw University and is a research fellow at The Institute of World Politics.  He is working on a comparative study of the relationships between national governmental authorities and  private, or semi-public, energy companies in several countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Readers recall that on 25 March 2011 the Polish Government announced that it will proceed , with help from France, to build nuclear power plants in Poland.  The gist of Dr. Szafranski’s speech showed that through the production of electrical power on Polish territory generated by nuclear energy Poland will no longer be dependent on Russia for oil and gas and Poland will be able to earn much needed revenue by selling electrical power to countries east of Poland, like Germany for example.

Although Dr. Szafranski did not mention it in his lecture, the building of nuclear power plants on Polish territory has obvious implications for the creation of a nuclear arsenal for Poland.  In the very recent past, Poland was repeatedly threatened by the Kremlin with nuclear attack if Poland persisted in supporting the Bush II administration’s project to station missiles on Polish territory as part of the missile shield to protect Europe from a hypothetical Iranian missile attack.  Moreover, in October 2009 the Kremlin trotted out tactical nuclear weapons in the war games played near Russia’s borders with Lithuania and Poland for the purpose of intimidating those two countries.

The first panel discussion on “Property Restitution in the Post-Soviet Sphere” featured:  Professor Chodakiewicz, who presented the case of property restitution in Poland, Professor Juliana Geran Pilon, who is Director of the Center for Culture and Security at IWP, who discussed Romania, and Dr. Tania C. Mastrapa, Secretary of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) and a Director of the Cuba Corps, who provided a comparison of Eastern Europe with restitution/compensation claims against the Communist Cuban Government and with the evolving situation in Venezuela.

Professor Pilon delivered a moving account of her Jewish family’s story.  Most of the members of her family were killed by German Nazis in slave labor or death camps located on conquered Polish territory.  Romania was of course an ally of Germany in World War II.  Her father, who recently died at the age of 96, succeeded in escaping from Romania and said that he did not want restitution of the family’s large property where 50 poor families now live.  After remaking his life in the United States, Dr. Pilon said that her father wished to have nothing to do with Romania.  She showed us a photo of her family’s former elegant country house in Romania.

Professor Chodakiewicz and Dr. Mastrapa underlined the importance of private property as the cornerstone of liberty.  In the case of Poland’s transformation, the former Communist upper level civil servants tranformed themselves into overnight capitalists by buying Polish State property in sweetheart deals arranged for then by their junior pals still working in government.  Dr. Mastrapa noted that Venezuela’s strong man Caesar Chavez is doing gradually what the Castro brothers did rapidly — confiscate private property in the name of helping the poor and the oppressed.  By moving slowly and selectively in his confiscations,  Chavez is able to eviscerate a united oppostion by property owners, each of whom fears to take action in the belief that his property might be spared , or that by taking action he will provoke Chavez.

Next, a recent alumna of IWP, Ms. Lucie Adamski, who is now a PhD. candidate in the field of political theory at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC, presented a paper on aspects of the oppression of the Polish minority in Lithuania by the government of that country.  She emphasized two of the three grievances articulated by Lithuania’s Polish minority, who became Lithuanian citizens not by choice, but by Stalin’s command, when the dictator imposed borders to suit Soviet policy on the peoples of East Central Europe.

First,  the Lithuanian Government is robbing the Polish minority of the right to spell their Christian names and their surnames as they choose.  The Lithuanian Government wants to carry-out the Lithuanianization of Polish family names.  This is a violation of human rights. 

Second, the Lithuanian Government wants to close many public schools which teach the Polish minority’s children and wants to limit the scope of teaching in the Polish language.  This even extends to the teaching of courses in the Polish language for the Polish minority which the Lithuanian Government wants to see taught in Lithuanian as the language of instruction.

Time did not permit Ms. Adamski to expose the third grievance:  unequal standing before the laws of Lithuania for the Polish minority on the issue of World War II era private property compensation/restitution.  Some seem to think that the Lithuanian Government would like to see the Polish minority leave Lithuania, and this is why Poles are discriminated against in property restitution procedures.  Some Lithuanian officials most probably hope that if Poles in Lithuania do not receive private property compensation, or restitution, then perhaps they will leave Lithuania.  Ms. Adamski is charming and intelligent and her dissertation involves a long overdue fresh look at the anti-Communist policies of the top civil servants who administered Vichy France. 

The last and best panel of the symposium, “Smolensk:  The Air Disaster of April 10, 2010” had three components.  First, Mr. S. Eugene Poteat, a retired senior CIA Scientific Intelligence Officer, who earned several patents for his work on covert communications techniques, strongly believes that President Kaczynski’s plane was bugged by Russian military intelligence and that President Kaczynski’s plane did not crash but exploded.  Had the President’s plane crashed, it would have crumpled up like a crushed tin can instead of parts of the plane scattered which is consonant with an explosion.  Moreover, it is impossible to document this hypothesis because the Kremlin closed off the site and did not protect it from contamination.  Mr. Poteat found the official Russian MAK Report inadequate and incomplete.

Second, Mr. Pawel Piotr Styrna, a dynamic young historian, who was born in Zabrze in 1983 and went on to earn an M.A. in modern European history from the University of Illinois at Chicago and who is now Research Assistant to the Kosciuszko Chair at IWP and a student in IWP’s international relations program, presented a very well organized lecture on how the disaster at Smolensk on April 10, 2010 has become the sharpest political crisis in Poland since the transformation of 1988-1992.  Styrna described with telling details how the Government of Premier Tusk has assumed a subservient stance with regard to asserting Poland’s rights as a sovereign state that requires the facts about the disaster and not a whitewash report from the Kremlin that claims pilot error caused the crash at Smolensk Military Airfield. He concluded his powerful presentation by reminding the audience of Pope John Paul II’s observation:  “The truth shall set you free!”, which has become the slogan of pro-independence, pro-national sovereignty forces in Poland who oppose the languid position of the Tusk Government on Smolensk. 

During the questions and answers period Mr.Witold Dzielski, First Secretary for Political Affairs at the Polish Embassy in Washington, did his duty and defended the performance of the Tusk Government which has been praised by Washington for eschewing confrontation with the Kremlin over the Smolensk disaster.  Readers recall that the priority of the Obama administration is to reset relations with Russia and Poland can expect little from this.

The third component was “Letter from Poland”, a powerful contemporary documentary which featured Professor Andrzej Nowak as well as Russian democrats who hold the Kremlin responsible for the Smolensk disaster and who put the disaster into the context of Putin’s so far successful efforts to restore the former Soviet Empire. How much sense does it make for America to reset relations with Putin’s Kremlin?

Unlike mainstream media reports based on information coming from academic establishments which believe the “propaganda of success” that Communism collapsed and all is well in today’s Poland which has acceeded to NATO and to the EU, IWP presents the unvarnished and unpleasant truth about the world in which we Americans need to elaborate our foreign policy. 

The existence of The Kosciuszko Chair at IWP assures us Polish Americans that the truth about what goes on in Poland and in East Central Europe will continue to be accessible to our foreign policy and national security policy makers.  This is why we must support The Kosciuszko Chair at IWP.
                                                                John Czop
                                                                May 25, 2011