Nationalism and Communism in Poland

It is an old truth that in the long run the foreign policy of any country is determined less by ideological forces than by the facts of geography and history. And so it is in postwar Poland. The striking feature of the political scene in Poland today is that, while Communist ideology has failed to take any firm roots among the Polish people, the government's foreign policy is endorsed by an increasing number of Poles. The explanation of this apparent paradox is that since 1945 the gap between Communist goals in the international sphere and Polish national interests has considerably narrowed.

Poland's foreign policy always has been exceptionally sensitive to the facts of her geographic position. Squeezed between Germany and Russia, with no natural borders to protect her, she has been repeatedly threatened by powerful neighbors ready to deprive her of her very existence. Had it been otherwise, Poland might have achieved the status of a middle power, to which her human and material resources entitle her. Power in international politics being relative, by virtue of her location Poland has been reduced to the status of a small country.

Yet the Poles themselves are to a great extent responsible for the vulnerability which has so consistently plagued them. When opportunities existed to gain advantage in relation to the Germans or the Russians, the Poles failed to exploit them. At times they won brilliant military victories, but neglected to translate them into lasting political successes. As a result, at the turn of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries Poland's power dwindled to the point where she was no longer a match for either Russia or the German states. At that stage of European history, Poland was not the only great power on the decline. Her case was, nevertheless, unique. While the countries located on the periphery of the European continent, such as Sweden, Spain or Turkey, all suffered loss of territory, they retained their independence; but Poland, because of her central geographic position, was totally dismembered by her neighbors. Having lost their state, the Poles strove to save at least their existence as a nation. Against successive waves of Germanization and Russification since the end of the eighteenth century, the Poles have waged a desperate battle to preserve their national identity.

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