Trump in Poland: It’s history, stupid!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

US President Donald J. Trump. Warsaw, 6 July. [President Donald Trump Live/YouTube]

Donald Trump’s visit to Poland is a fulfilment of the Law and Justice’s (PiS) wildest dreams. In his speech, Trump lavished Polish politicians with praise. Smiling Polish leaders, scorned in EU corridors and plenaries, now finally found their true ally and friend, writes Karolina Zbytniewska.

Karolina Zbytniewska is the editor in chief of EURACTIV Poland.

Finally, the Polish government feels its policy is legitimised by a power that counts – Poland’s eternal ally, America. Donald Trump delivered a speech that sounded as if closely coordinated with Law and Justice’s (and de facto Poland’s) chief, Jarosław Kaczyński, with some touches from Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz.

America loves Poland!

Trump’s speech was a long tribute to the brave Poles who, as he explained, have never lost their spirit and committed their lives to freedom and sovereignty, persisting in their hope and faith in God.

He mentioned four great Poles who enriched the history of Western civilisation – Copernicus, Chopin, Jan Paul II and Lech Wałęsa. The first three received cheers from the crowd, while the last one – the famous Solidarity leader and former president who received the Nobel Peace Prize – was hissed. Trump continued, unaffected.

“America loves Poland,” he concluded.

This major theme of Trump’s speech was on the one hand a beautiful gesture towards war heroes. However, on the other hand, it was exactly what the Polish government wanted to hear – history-driven nationalism that legitimises government policy. We are the great country, we bow to our heroes, and we will not stumble and fall against some laws imposed by former rotten political elites not to mention the European Union – so the story goes.

Threats: Terrorists, Russia… European Union?

The second theme of the speech was the tribute to “our civilisation” that is under siege. Trump mentioned three major threats that we must face together: 1) Radical Islamic terrorism, 2) Russia, which was a surprise to be mentioned by name, and 3) some ambiguous entity described as “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people”, by which he meant the European Union and its multiculturalism. Trump further explained: “The West became great, not because of paperwork and regulations, but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”

Article 5? Probably, but “Europe must do more”

This precious “our civilisation” deserves effective defence. The Western world is still waiting for Trump to admit that this defence is also ‘collective’, fitting with the famous Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Some hoped he would speak to that commitment in Poland, neighbouring Russia. Trump kind of did: “The United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defence commitment,” he said.

Still he complemented it with his typical transactional mode, which puts the above into question: “Words are easy but actions are what matters. And for its own protection — and you know this, everybody knows this, everybody has to know this — Europe must do more. Europe must demonstrate that it believes in its future by investing its money to secure that future.”

Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Trump’s cyber security advisor, commented that it is “a big surprise” that Trump is the first American president to blame Europe for not meeting its financial commitments to NATO. While speaking at the Global Forum conference in Warsaw organised by the Atlantic Council and the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs, Giuliani also expressed his pride for the president who is the one to “endorse the Western civilisation, as in this relativistic reality we live in, no one teaches any more. We wouldn’t have democracy if it weren’t a part of this Western civilisation (…). I am glad we have an American president who stands up to it”.

Historical stamping

Trump’s speech was delivered in Krasiński Square, a historically significant venue. He was speaking next to the Warsaw Uprising monument that depicts the Polish fight against the Nazi occupation, with over 150,000 lives lost, which Trump elaborated on in his speech.

Most of the people gathered in the square were carefully selected, as Poland’s leaders had promised Trump a warm welcome, unlike what would have awaited him in the UK. Most of the cheering crowds were people brought in from all around Poland, who during pauses in the president’s speech chanted “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”

Agata Duda

Trump said, “We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success.” Poland’s first lady decided to turn these words into deeds. After the speech, during the handshake part of the event, Donald Trump wanted to shake the hand of the Polish president’s wife, Agata Duda. However, she visibly avoided Trump’s outreached hand, choosing to shake hands with his wife Melania, instead.

The gesture was noteworthy following Trump’s pushing aside of Montenegro’s premier at the NATO summit in Brussels. Duda later shook the president’s hand.

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