Patriotism

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” So said Samuel Johnson, according to Boswell. The line was not, of course, as has become widely believed about patriotism in general, but rather a criticism of what Johnson regarded to be the false use of the term patriotism by William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham and his supporters. Be that as it may, a healthy dash of patriotism is a good thing, especially if you are the defence minister.

Thus, what could be more appropriate than for Polish defence minister Antoni Macierewicz to receive the first “Patriot of the Year” award presented on by the Biały Kruk religious publishing house in Kraków. “It is a great privilege to be able to serve my homeland, an independent Poland,” Macierewicz said during the award ceremony at the Kraków Opera. Janusz Kawecki, a member of the National Council for Radio and Television, said that: “There is no freedom without truth. The fight for truth is service to the Fatherland. Antoni ‘dared to be wise’ from a young age.”

And, a few pages earlier in the dictionary, is paranoia, a small dose of which is also no bad thing in a defence minister, one might well think. There is as yet no award in this category, but Macierewicz remains ever vigilant of the security of Poland, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in his close monitoring of the nefarious deeds of Brother Putin.

On Thursday, the defence minister told the Polish parliament that two mistral helicopter carriers, originally commissioned by Russia in 2010 but subsequently sold by France to Egypt when the sale was cancelled by President Hollande, following Russia’s excursion into Ukraine in 2014, had in fact now been sold to Russia by Egypt for just one dollar. On Friday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Macierewicz’s comments were “total nonsense”, and that the Polish minister’s sources were “not good”. Polish defence ministry spokeswoman Katarzyna Jakubowska told the PAP news agency on Saturday that Poland expects a clear position on whether it went ahead with this deal. Needless to say, it subsequently transpired that the story had been made up by a Russian troll. Which, as the minister might well say, simply proves you can’t trust the Russians.

No matter, for leaving no stone unturned, nor body buried, the families of the victims of the 2010 Smolensk air crash have recently been informed that the bodies of the crash victims are to be exhumed. According to the National Prosecutor’s Office, the exhumations will enable new autopsies to be carried out, since earlier ones by Russian experts contained “many irregularities.”

This follows in a logical albeit unsettling progression the conclusion of the 2014 Macierewicz commission, which commission was drawn mainly from politicians then in opposition, that the Polish president’s aeroplane had been brought down by an explosion. Earlier official Polish and Russian military reports had, while cataloguing each other’s contributory failings, concluded that the accident was a result of pilot error while trying to land in dense fog at an airfield lacking ground identification radar. A commission set up to carry out a new investigation into the crash last week of a Polish presented findings which it said cast doubt on earlier official reports by Poland and Russia.

Although the Polish authorities have said exhumations can be carried out without families’ consent, more than 200 family members of some of those who died have signed an open letter addressed to the Polish authorities and Catholic clergy, appealing against the decision. The letter said: “Six years after those terrible days we stand alone and helpless in the face of a ruthless and cruel act: our loved ones are to be taken out of their graves…We, the families, have for months unsuccessfully expressed our objection to the announcement of this incomprehensible and unjustified venture.”

Cardinal Nycz, the archbishop of Warsaw, said that he is “spiritually and empathetically absolutely on the side of the families”. For him, the government has not made clear why the exhumation is necessary, what it can change, nor what new details it can bring. Indeed, a recent poll found that only 10% of the public think the bodies should be dug up against the wishes of the families.

But when one is patriot of year, and responsible for the defence of the fatherland, nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of rooting out the truth. After all, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.

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