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East Goes West: The EU and Poland

Date: June 27, 2005

Research Professor of History Marek Chodakiewicz delivered the following paper at a Heritage Foundation conference on June 27, 2005:

East Goes West:
The EU and Poland

There is a discernable difference in attitude toward the European Union between the elite and the people. The EU project is entirely elite driven. The people remain apathetic and reactive. After all, what is there to fight and die for in the EU? The Euro (ecu) fails to ignite the imagination.

In the new member states of the EU in central and eastern Europe there is an analogous synergy between elite and popular attitudes to the EU. The dominant elite tends to lean toward centralization, embracing etatism, if not outright socialism. As always, the people tend to accommodate the system. However, at least a part of the elite and some of the people are market oriented, in Poland in particular. And Poland is important because, as the largest and most populous player in East Central Europe, it is the regional trend-setter.

Poland’s Euro-Elite

Poland’s elite remains Euroenthusiastic. The Euroenthusiasts span the spectrum from the left to right. They support the EU but with less zeal than it was the case before the accession.

Generally speaking, the left is Europhoric. It is positively entranced by the opportunity to participate in yet another social engineering scheme on a gigantic scale. The leftists view the EU as a panacea for all ills. They cherish the prospect to crush nationalism once and for all as well as discard Western tradition as retrograde. They love the Brussels bureaucracy, in particular if they can find employment within its bowels. They also enjoy the prospects of cultural and social changes looming on the horizon, including the obligatory public celebration of homosexual preferences. These politicians also rejoice in the specter of allegedly endless subsidies from Brussels to be divvied up among their obedient constituents.

Among the leftists, the post-Communists are additionally enthused about subordinating Poland (and other ECE countries) to the EU because the membership guarantees them a virtual impunity for their past crimes. The EU likes to get worked up over General Augusto Pinochet, while it swoons over General Wojciech Jaruzelski. Further, the post-Communists see the EU as a dialectical fulfillment of the theory of convergence: Communism (thesis) and liberal democracy (anti-thesis) becoming one as the Eurocracy (synthesis). Last but not least, the post-Communists understand Brussels to be an avatar of Moscow, albeit a more benign one. The EU expects obedience and awards the faithful handsomely: the post-Communist kleptocrats need not fear the Soviet wrath anymore and can enjoy Western standard of living which far surpasses anything that the Kremlin had enticed them with for half a century.

As for the right-Euroenthusiasts, their support of the EU is rather tepid. In fact, they have always been Eurosceptic pragmatics. Radek Siokorski put it best: “Hold your nose and vote for the EU.” Conservatives like Sikorski opted for the EU because of their concern for Poland’s security. They viewed the EU extension as a logical step following the nation’s NATO membership. The conservatives also hoped that the EU would be a free market bonanza. Last but not least, the Polish conservatives were looking forward to associating with their European peers in a pro-American, Atlanticist foreign policy milieu that was firmly rooted in Western, Judeo-Christian tradition. They have been rather disappointed.

The Franco-German liberal leadership of the EU scorns the United States, preferring to cuddle China and Russia. The EU elite discarded the Judeo-Christian tradition long ago in favor of virulent secularism that, nonetheless, because of its embrace of multiculturalism, encourages Islam and other non-Western creeds. Thus, logically, the Invocatio Dei could find no place in the EU constitution. As far as history is concerned, European intellectuals pay lips service to the struggle against Nazism and the Holocaust but largely as a tool to blackmail the right through the ever-flexible reductio ad Hitlerum maneuver and to criticize Israel through false analogies with the Third Reich. The opposition to Communism, on the other hand, barely registers as evidenced in the recent refusal by the EU leadership and the majority of Euro-deputies to honor the Polish officers murdered by Stalin’s secret police in Katyn in the spring of 1940.

Hence, unsurprisingly, Poland’s erstwhile right-Euroenthusiasts have turned increasingly and openly Eurosceptic.

The Dissident Elite

The born-again Eurosceptics are yet to join forces with the principled Eurosceptics, not to mention Poland’s Europhobes. The principled Eurosceptics never voted for the EU for they correctly foresaw the serious flaws of the project. Nonetheless, the Eurosceptics would not mind a European union, provided it was based upon free market principles, a parliamentary democracy of nation states affiliated within a loose confederation, and firm Atlanticism.

As for the Europhobes, they tend to favor protectionism and nationalist solidarity verging on socialism, albeit with a Christian face. They are rather suspicious of the United States as an alleged purveyor of “globalism”. They also are inherently mistrustful of the Soviet Politbureau-like structure of the EU’s leadership and its secretive practices. The Europhobes positively loath the EU’s civil engineering and its rejection of Western tradition as well as the corollary cultural excesses and pathologies.

The most serious challenge the dissident elite faces is its inability to articulate its message. The Europhobes can and do appeal to the true believer but the shrillness of their slogans scares the moderate. The Eurosceptics have somewhat improved their communication skills. However, they are constrained by the near monopoly of the Euroenthusiastic media and by the pro-EU knee-jerk reactions of Poland’s leftist intellectuals who, in congruence with totalitarian Communist practices, disparage and, occasionally, even persecute the Eurosceptics. For example, in May 2005, a dean and his assistant were fired from their posts at the University of Bytom after they dared to invite Vladimir Bukovsky to speak critically about the EU. Bukovsky commented: “This is exactly what would have happened in the Soviet Union.” Granted, the meetings with Bukovsky went ahead as scheduled in other localities but with unemployment at 20% there will not be too many people willing to risk their jobs in the future.

The divisions within Poland’s elite generally reflect similar trends in each of ECE’s new member states (as well as candidate members, including Ukraine). However, Poland’s elite is also different because it represents the most traditionalist, conservative, religious, and pro-American nation of all the post-Communist states (the Czech Republic being the most secularized and the least pro-US).

The People and the EU Cake

Generally, the Polish people have been rather skeptical about the EU project. However, their reaction is usually passive. For example, less than half (45.3%) of eligible voters actually cast their vote for the EU accession in June 2003. Although the turnout was barely 58.9%, the affirmative scored 77.4% of the votes cast. Nonetheless, in some of the provinces, less than 1/3 or eligible voters cast an affirmative vote. 

Well-educated professionals were over-represented among those in favor. Young and liberal chose the EU more often than the old and conservative. Urban dwellers outnumbered the villagers in the “yes” category. More populous provinces sided with the EU more frequently than the less populated ones. Last but not least, the denizens of western Poland were more inclined to vote for the EU than the inhabitants of the nation’s eastern regions.

The voting patterns reflected the levels of hope for a better future, the susceptibility to the EU propaganda, the level of economic development (including unemployment), and the degree of the informal integration with the West. The electoral outcome also resulted from media censorship and oppressive atmosphere fostered by the Europhoric elite. In May 2001, a conservative friend of mine warned me:

It is with a certain degree of surprise that I have learned that, during your next trip to Warsaw, you intend to participate in the EU debate and to take a stance against the integration. I do not think this is a good idea. This is not because I am a great supporter of the EU. Nonetheless, the media-driven power system is clear: whoever opposes the EU must automatically be a paranoid individual, a mad rightist, and an insane populist. You have put too much effort to establish yourself as a solid historian to risk everything with a single show. Please realize that no one will be debating you seriously about the EU. Your anti-EU views will however become proof of your lack of integrity as a professional historian. How can one be a good historian and not support the integration!!!

Thus, one would look in vain for any constructive thoughts on the EU among Poland’s elite. Since then, both the elite and popular attitudes toward the EU have changed.

Before the accession, the farmers were the most vocal group of opponents of the EU.  Now, at least some of the farmers have learned how to manipulate the system to secure EU subsidies for themselves. The people of Poland would like to get as much money from Brussels as is possible, although they are passive at home. The bureaucrats are much more active in this acquisition drive.

Abroad, however, the Polish people have been quite active as individuals. Many Poles have taken advantage of the EU extension quite independently of any officials channels. They simply have done what they have been doing since the late 19th century (with a long break during the Communist times): the Poles have gone West. The young in particular have scurried to take advantage of Western education. They have secured thousands of scholarships and participated in hundreds of educational projects, both short and long term. But the bulk of the active ones has embarked on a job search in Western Europe.

The tradition of working abroad (saksy) is a long one. However, until 2003 most Poles worked illegally in the West. Although there are still employment limitations for them, the Poles have already made a splash in more than a few countries. The Poles work much harder than at home and charge substantially less than their western counterparts. Most Poles work temporarily and return home frequently. Only a few moved permanently to the West. Most hold blue collar jobs.

As far as the white collar posts are concerned, most of them are with the EU and NATO bureaucracy. About 1,400 slots have been assigned to Poland automatically. Besides that, a few other are open to true competition. For example, I know of one high ranking Polish military man who quit his commission and, independently of any official arrangements, secured a civilian appointment with the NATO headquarters. Nonetheless, a number of Polish physicians have found employment in Great Britain, while some Polish computer programmers landed jobs in Germany.

As far as blue collar positions in the service industry, the Poles pick strawberries in Spain, baby-sit in Belgium, farm in Sweden, and clean apartments in Italy. The Polish butchers have almost completely eliminated their German competitors. The Polish construction workers are a hot commodity in Great Britain. And, last and not least, the Polish plumbers have conquered France.

The Western reaction has been mixed. The British have been most welcoming, reflecting their free market predilections. The Germans are both uneasy and happy. And the French have been rather hysterical. In fact, the opponents of the ratification of the EU constitution raised the specter of the “Polish plumber” to frighten the electorate to vote in the negative. It worked. (Incidentally, the Polish tourist industry has immediately capitalized on the hysteria. It produced a poster depicting a California-handsome “Polish plumber” against the dreamy background of the medieval city of Cracow, inviting French tourists to Poland.)

The EU in Poland

As for the impact of the EU extension on Poland, it is too early to tell. Neither the pie-in-the-sky predictions of the Europhorics nor the doomsday scenario of the Europhobes have come true yet. However, there are some mixed signals. Poland’s unemployment continues to hover around 20%, suggesting that it is a structural problem inherent in the deeply flawed post-Communist system set up after 1989. Taxes are crippling. The bureaucracy is positively Byzantine. Popular culture reflects the same malaise as in the West. Finally, commercial relations and tourism with the non-EU East European nations have been confusing.

In the public sector the bureaucrats have complained about the insufficient funds from Brussels. That is, however, because they sometimes miss deadlines to file mammoth application forms for the EU handouts. Knowing government bureaucracy one can doubt that the situation will improve soon.

In the private sector, at least a few large manufacturers are closing shop and moving their operations to other nations where labor is cheaper and corporations not crippled by EU regulations and taxes. Some have relocated east, to Ukraine in particular. Meanwhile, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and other visitors to Poland have complained about problems with Polish visas. Most visitors have been coming to work illegally but the EU endeavors to ban them from progressing further west. There are even plans to install German border guards on Poland’s eastern frontier.

There have also been a few snags and complications regarding the incompatibility of Poland’s laws with the EU’s legislation. For example, the German police and Polish bureaucrats have even raided a Polish company on the Polish soil because it subcontracted workers locally and successfully farmed out to German projects at competitive prices due to low cost of Polish labor insurance. However, once the Poles acquire German labor insurance, it will no longer pay to hire them in Germany.

Another example of cross-border tensions involves a Polish printing shop which was commissioned to print a neo-Nazi newspaper. Poland’s secret services stopped the operation. This was embarrassing not only because the printers claimed that they apparently did not know what they were printing, but also because Germany’s neo-Nazis are vehemently opposed to outsourcing and using Polish labor in particular. One can look at this affair both as free market at work and a case of pecunia non olet.

Last but not least, the EU extension has facilitated some revolutionary cultural innovations in Poland. In particular, the drive for sexual liberation has elicited strong conservative opposition. Undisturbed, Polish homosexual activists invited their gay counterparts from Germany and Sweden (as well as prominent Polish leftist and liberal politicians) to stage successfully the first ever “Equality Parade” in Warsaw in June 2005. The demonstrators marched despite the official prohibition by the conservative mayor and several counterdemonstrations, dubbed the “Parade against Pathology,” by the traditionalists and Christian nationalists. Reportedly on the orders from their post-Communist superiors, the police manhandled the counter-demonstrators, while allowing the illegal “Equality Parade” to proceed. Gay power is probably one EU import that the Poles are not yet ready to embrace and celebrate.

Nonetheless, whenever human ingenuity, local self-government, and free markets are able to assert themselves, things improve. For example, a cross-border Polish operation involving printing a German sports magazine directed at teenagers has been rather successful. The same Polish publisher, who happens to be a libertarian conservative friend of mine in his late twenties, also scored well with a papal album directed at the German reader. Likewise, his Polish publishing endeavors have been going well. Another publisher I work with, a kid in his early twenties, has recently put out the Polish translations of Ronald Reagan’s selected speeches and Russell Kirk’s Prospects for Conservatives. His greatest bestseller is, however, Vladimir Bukovsky’s diatribe against the European Union.


Despite some western opposition and bureaucratic hurdles, the Polish people have accommodated the EU. On the one hand, while abroad, individual Poles rely mostly on themselves and their own initiative, usually circumventing the official channels. On the other hand, while at home, they expect to be assisted by the government bureaucrats. They want big subsidies at home and they take advantage of job opportunities abroad. In other words, they’d like to have the cake and eat it too, a situation not dissimilar to that of any voter in any mature democracy, including the United States.

Nonetheless, despite some clear advantages, the Polish people have now experienced the reality of the EU and, consequently, the popular support for the project has dropped significantly. The electorate has also moved seriously to the right. That is coupled with the renewed Europhobic anti-EU offensive as well as the reintegration and reinvigoration of the Eurosceptic bloc.

The Euroenthusiastic and Europhoric elite has duly taken note. The EU constitutional referendum has been postponed. The leftists lay low and wait for their allies in other EU countries to reassert themselves. Poland, although important, cannot affect a comprehensive change on its own. With all due respect to the “Polish plumber,” it will take a concerted effort of all the Eurosceptics under the British leadership to turn the EU into a free market enterprise. And freedom will certainly prevail if the good people of the United States lend their hand to this undertaking.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC
June 27, 2005