the ONR-led gathering in Wroclaw yesterday (photo © danielchadzynski.pl / YouTube)

Emotions Continue To Run High Over Warsaw Uprising

Much has been said recently about how a clash of disparate worldviews has strongly divided Poland as a country. The Warsaw Uprising is no exception to this trend, and emotions continue to run high when the historical event is commemorated.

While it is true that the overwhelming majority of the country have the upmost respect for the men, women and children who lost their lives in the valiant battle for freedom, differences of opinion do exist on whether the Uprising should have been attempted in the first place (if you are unfamiliar with the story of the Uprising, please see yesterday's article).

Some historians believe those behind the Warsaw Uprising decided to go ahead with their plans even though they knew the city would be crushed, a move that killed hundreds of thousands and brought about the total destruction of the city. Others claim that the insurgents were cheated by the Soviets and cannot be considered as anything other than patriots and heroes.

It is not necessarily this debate that is stoking the current divisions however. Most people who share either the former or latter opinions still pay their respects every year and recognise the bravery of those who fought for their country in the face of Nazi tyranny. 

Instead, sparks are flying over the legacy of the Uprising and how it is remembered and commemorated. There are plenty of examples over the last few days that are representative of this.

To begin with, one of the things that has riled some Poles is the commercialisation of the Warsaw Uprising. This has been on the increase lately as companies look to broadcast their patriotic values to potential new clients.

Not everyone has been impressed by this trend however, and state energy provider PGE came under fire earlier this week for producing a poster that tried to tie in their business with the efforts of the insurgents. The poster used the slogan "Sacrifice is a great energy" as well as listing the fact it sponsors the Warsaw Uprising museum and provides electricity, gas and heating. Some social media users claimed to be "speechless" after seeing the ad, while others showed their approval. 

Another hot topic is the overuse or misuse of the iconic 'Polska Walcząca' symbol that is synonymous with the Warsaw Uprising. This symbol has been used on countless products in recent years, some of which have been deemed most inappropriate.

In response to the patriotic merchandise craze, last year the Warsaw Uprising Museum, in collaboration with the special Polish military unit JWK Lubliniec, decided to launch an awareness campaign about the appropriate use of patriotic symbols.

In a special video uploaded to YouTube, the campaign encouraged people to think carefully about where and when they wear clothing adorned with slogans such as Polska Walcząca. During the 20 second advert a man is heard saying ""I do not wear it going to the store or at the bar. I do not wear it for fun".

According to the people behind the campaign, the aim is to "draw attention to the improper and excessive use of the Polska Walcząca symbol." The campaign also added that the symbol frequently "appears on clothes and also during demonstrations; often situations that have nothing to do with the message of Polska Walcząca."

When it comes to how the Uprising should be commemorated, there are also two camps with very different opinions. In recent years, hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of people have snubbed the official commemorations in favour of the demonstrations held by extreme right groups like the ONR. One such gathering was organised on pl. Dominikanski in Wrocław yesterday. 

In some isolated cases, slogans that have nothing to do with the Uprising are uttered by the organisers, some of whom adorn clothing that embraces the look of Nazi uniforms. This has reportedly upset some of the war veterans who took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

When asked about the possibility of ONR organising a Warsaw Uprising demo, Eugeniusz Tyrański, the Vice-President of the Warsaw Uprising association, was quoted as saying "Unfortunately, we can not do anything about it. We maintain our condenmation about such an idea."

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This criticism of the ONR's commemorations is best encapsulated by the cartoon above, which depicts some nationalists lighting flares while shouting "we remember". In response, a wheelchair bound war veteran is pictured saying "you pricks don't remember" (or words to that effect). 

Those who attend the demonstrations naturally see things differently – as far as they are concerned they are only paying tribute to the heroes that have defended Poland. 

The official commemorations have not passed without controversy either. Unlike some other countries in Europe, where political differences are put to one side at war commemorations to show national unity, Poland sometimes has trouble getting its opposing politicians to even look at each other – nevermind shake hands.

An example of this was captured on video yesterday when Andrzej Duda (the President of Poland) and Hanna Beata Gronkiewicz-Waltz (the President of Warsaw) completely blanked each other.

As you can see, it seems that Poland is long way from having the vast majority of citizens feel the same way about the Warsaw Uprising. Its magnitude in Polish history is nontheless unquestionable.

If you are foreigner looking to form an opinion about the Uprising and its legacy, we would advise delving into the history books and speaking to a variety of Polish people from different walks of life. That way you can learn the facts and see the different points of view before coming to your own conclusions.

About Gregor Gowans

Gregor Gowans
The founder and editor of Wroclaw Uncut, Gregor has been running the website since its inception in 2012. A Wroclawian for almost 10 years, Gregor writes on a wide variety of topics including, food & drink, nightlife, local news and politics. He is also a regular guest on Radio Ram's Sunday lunch programme.