“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.” Words of wisdom from Edmund Burke that have never been more apposite than they are today. While the people, great cattle like, silently go about their daily lives wondering why the politicians seem hell bent on destroying the field that is their home, those same politicians have ears only for the grasshoppers that are the NGOs, and, less welcome, the coalition of the thin-skinned, pulchritudophobic and allied trades, troubling themselves not to look beyond the ferns of special interest groups and those with “access” to the wider world. They simply don’t meet normal folk – I have asked.
Thus, to coincide with the UN’s 70th General Assembly in New York – that gathering of 150 world leaders to debate such issues as the refugee crisis, climate change and terrorism with the quiet satisfaction that while they don’t have the solutions, they certainly know how to exacerbate the problems – twelve civil society organisations in Poland have requested that candidates in next month’s Polish general election commit to dealing with urgent domestic and global problems, the neglect of which has in recent months led to mass migration into Europe, they say. NGOs taking part in the action include the Institute for Civil Affairs, the Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business, and the Polish Green Network.
“Developing countries have fallen victim to irresponsible policies of the developed world, including Poland,” said Marcin Wojtalik, from the Institute of Global Responsibility. On Friday, world leaders, including Polish President Andrzej Duda, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at eradicating the problems underlying global poverty, inequality and the violation of human rights. “If the Lower House of Parliament undertakes steps such as working towards terminating tax havens, introducing rules for fair trade, promoting sustainable agriculture, there is a chance that the situation in poorer countries will improve to the extent that people will no longer flee, risking life-threatening journeys to the West,” Wojtalik continued.
Well, that’s all right then, and nobly intended, no doubt. But the continual bashing of the West (for want of a better term) by those states who cause the problems and sit idly by with a vested interest in the chaos, and those of our fellow citizens who should by now have learned to show intelligence, discernment and intellectual rigour, has become tedious. Be that as it may, obligatory sanctimoniousness quotient satisfied, the Polish president was, in his own address to the UN Assembly, able to return to the ever fertile ground of World War II to underline the importance of the rule of law.
President Duda said that safeguarding peace and the rule of law are the two key concepts thanks to which Poland is able understand and to appreciate the role of the United Nations over the last seventy years. “We Poles know perfectly well that peace is not given once and for all,” he said, pointing to the Nazi attack on Poland on 1 September 1939 and the Soviet invasion 17 days later. “But Poles are a proud nation and did not surrender because they cherish freedom above all and fought until the end on the side of the free world”. The Polish president said that one of the first victims of World War II was international law followed by human rights. Duda stressed that whenever one country attacks another, the international community is duty-bound to reject the results of such actions. “On behalf of Poland, I would like to express opposition to a vision which sees a world divided into spheres of influence, and accepts aggression from those who in their own interests ignore international law.”
Would not we all? But that is going to require imagination, cooperation, and standing up – by force if necessary – for those values which our leaders claim to espouse. It will require common sense, pragmatism, and dealing with folk of whose modus operandi we might not approve, but with whom we do have to work to get the job done. And so, for example, the Syria problem will not be solved without working with Russia, Iran and Assad, galling as that might be. After all, even Churchill thought that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”