Has Poland’s ‘Patriotic’ Merchandise Craze Gone Too Far?

Amid an energy drinks company stirring controversy by naming their latest product after Poland's 'Cursed Soldiers', a new campaign is pleading with Poles to "commemorate with dignity" ahead of the Warsaw Uprising anniversary.

Presumably seeking to tap into the heavily profitable market of nationalists and so called 'kibole', the energy drinks firm 8K group have released a new offering named after Poland's Cursed Soldiers.

The concept follows on from the fashion started by the Surge t-shirt company, who have enjoyed phenomenal success with their originally designed patriotic clothing. Such T-shirts have become a regular sight on the streets of Poland in recent years and politicians have been embracing the trend too.

Pawel Kukiz wore Surge branded T-shirts frequently during his presidential election campaign in 2015, while current President Andrzej Duda was also photographed last year wearing a polo shirt manufactured by the 'RED IS BAD' label (ironically on a state trip to communist China).

On top of that, several patriotic films have been produced for the same target market, including the likes of Sierpniowe Niebo and Historia Roja. Small companies have been jumping on the bandwagon too, such as the Husaria Hot Dog stand in the image below. 

Another area the phenomenon has spread to is the Music industry, with nationalist hip hop bands in particular enjoying more popularity than ever before. One such band are Warsaw based Zjednoczony Ursynów, who have publicly declared their desire for Poland to take back control of areas in Lithuania and Ukraine. In one of the band's stickers they also carry the message to "shoot those who cheat us". Zjednoczony Ursynów currently have almost 7 thousand Facebook fans, while their most popular track on YouTube is just shy of 200,000 views.

Given current trends, it comes as little surprise that the aforementioned Cursed Soldiers energy drink sports popular nationalist slogans such as Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna (God, Honour, Fatherland). The drink's can also proudly states its contents are 100% Polish and that some money from its sale will go towards a foundation that "preserves the memory" of the soldiers.

The new 'Cursed Soldiers' drink hasn't been entirely embraced however – even by some groups that the energy drinks company would hope to penetrate. While many nationalists are united in their agreement that the soldiers are Polish heroes, not everybody thinks they should be idolised on energy drink cans.

The staunchly Catholic and nationalist portal Fronda recently published a scathing editorial titled "A betrayal, or just sheer stupidity?", in which one of their writers panned the drink's creators for having no "principles or honour". A contributor on the website nacjonalista.pl also branded the drink as a gimmick, while prawy.pl's Alice Dołowska declared her opposition to the product too.

In the face such criticism, an 8K Group spokesperson told Gazeta Wyborcza that their product "can arouse interest in the subject the soldiers, who stand on the podium in recent Polish history." As far as they are concerned, there is little difference between their products and the patriotic t-shirts seen on Polish streets everyday.

Meanwhile the current craze for patriotic merchandise, which has now spread to include car & laptop stickers, mugs, phone covers, toys and even duvet covers, has caused concern in some circles that historical symbols such as Polska Walcząca (Poland Fighting) are in danger of losing their true meaning.

These fears have been influential in the decision by the Warsaw Uprising Museum, in collaboration with the special Polish military unit JWK Lubliniec, to launch an awareness campaign about the appropriate use of patriotic symbols.

In the first of a series of special videos uploaded to YouTube, the campaign encourages 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."

Despite having the backing of the military, the campaign's message appears to be having some troubles resonating with the people it is aimed at. A quick look at the social media reaction to posts by various portals reveals a visible amount of comments branding the campaign as "leftist", with a noticeable number of Facebook users also saying they'll where their t-shirts "whenever and wherever they want".

Will current trends continue? Can we expect the energy drink to be a hit? Only time will tell. 

For those not in the know about the Cursed Soldiers, they were an anti-communist Polish resistance movement formed in the later stages of World War II. In the aftermath of the war the soldiers stayed on to fight the communist regime via various means. Many Poles see the soldiers as heroes, however others feel differently about the their legacy (please read up on the matter here).

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.

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