In the nineteenth century, the poet Adam Mickiewicz dramatized the theme of his suffering Poland as the “Christ of Nations” and, in an image used by many others, Poland was crucified in the twentieth century between the two thieves of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. It was not the West’s proudest moment when President Roosevelt complained to Stalin at the Yalta Conference that “Poland has been a source of trouble for over five hundred years.” Pope John Paul II lamented Yalta in the encyclical Centesimus Annus. That will resonate in the annals of papal teaching more than recent magisterial concerns about the responsible use of air conditioning and the like.
On July 6 in Warsaw, the President spoke of a culture with which a generation of “millennials” have been unfamiliar: “Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”
Comfortable journalists, for whom the “Christ of Nations” is an enigma, resented “a tiny speech, a perfunctory racist speech,” “xenophobic” and “a catalogue of effrontery,” and a comparison was made with Mussolini. Solzhenitsyn once was pilloried for similar themes, and Reagan was advised by his Chief of Staff and National Security advisor not to tell Mr. Gorbachev to take down the Berlin Wall.
The Warsaw speech mentioned three priests: Copernicus, John Paul II and Michael Kozal. The latter was the bishop of Wloclawek who was martyred by the Nazis in Dachau along with 220 of his priests in 1943.
Among the irritations in the Warsaw speech were these words: “We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives.” As that was being said, the parents of a gravely ill child, Charlie Gard, in London were tussling with government officials who did not want to release their infant to them.
A Polish philosopher, Zbigniew Stawrowski has written: “The fundamental cleavage is not the West v. Islam or the West v. the rest, but within the West itself: between those who recognize the values of Judaeo-Christian, Graeco-Roman culture and those who use terms like “democracy,” “values,” “rights” but pervert the latter. So it means democracy of the elites, values of secularism, rights to kill Charlie Gard, marriage that has nothing to do with sex, sex that … is a “private” matter to be funded by the confiscatory state and your duty to support this incoherence…”
The Polish king Jan III Sobieski rescued Christian civilization at the gates of Vienna in 1683. That was one of the “troubles” that Poland has caused in the past five hundred years. We survive because of such behavior.