“Until very recently Poles had never given much thought to Islam”?

The Polish historian Jan Gross, the longtime target of nasty attacks by right-wing populists for his work on the Jedbawne massacre, is comparing the Warsaw marchers to the pre-WWII fascists from the anti-Semitic parties led or inspired by Roman Dmowski:

A youth organization that helped organize the march in Warsaw is a descendant of a fascist offshoot of the party, whose members took to the streets in the 1930s to beat Jews and to slash them with razor blades affixed to wooden canes. Those who marched on Saturday are the heirs to this vile legacy.

In spirit, perhaps, but in actual policy? Poland’s interwar fascists wanted a monoethnic country. It so happened that history had granted their wish by the 1970s. If some Poles are crying “for pure blood” now, at least we know they are not calling for purification, merely for the preservation of the status quo. They is little to admire and much to fear about this style of street politics. However, the risks and benefits of admitting a large number of immigrants from the third world are one thing; the general nastiness of ultra-nationalists and the Kaczyński-Macierewicz gang is quite another. The earth would still be round even if scoundrels alone admitted it.

Until very recently Poles had never given much thought to Islam beyond occasionally expressing a sense of historical pride that a Polish king, Jan Sobieski, defeated the Turks in a 17th-century battle near Vienna, thus saving Christian Europe from the infidels.

Poland spent much of the 17th century fighting the Ottoman Empire and its Crimean vassal. The principal business of the Crimean Khanate was supplying Slavic slaves to the markets of Caffa and Constantinople. Its warlords would raid the steppes and the bordering forest-steppe areas of what is now Russia, Ukraine and Moldova but was claimed by the Moscow tsardom and the Rzeczpospolita – the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth – back in the 17th century. Perhaps these regular depredations have faded from popular memory in Poland, especially as they mostly afflicted the eastern regions that are not part of today’s republic.

By the way, Jan Sobieski did not just fight the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna – he spent most of his life fighting them and the Crimeans. As the crown hetman – the commander-in-chief of Polish-Lithuanian armies – Sobieski won the so-called second battle of Khotyn in 1673, ten years before the siege of Vienna. Khotyn (Chocim, Hotin, Khotin), now a small town of around 10,000 in the west of Ukraine, was the site of numerous battles over the centuries. To quote Wikipedia:

The Turks suffered two decisive defeats at Khotyn in the 17th century, at the hands of the army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: in 1621 by Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, and again in 1673 by Jan III Sobieski…

The Ottoman Empire finally seized the fortress from Moldavia in 1713 during the Great Northern War, and held it during the following century as a base for its troops. Another power, Russian Empire, came to claim the region in the 18th century. The Turks amplified and enlarged the citadel, which was besieged and taken by the Russians on four occasions: in 1739 by Burkhard Christoph von Munnich, in 1769 by Prince Alexander Galitzine, in 1788 by Prince Josias of Coburg, and Ivan Saltykov, in 1807 by Ivan Michelson.

It was Münnich’s 1739 victory that inspired Mikhailo Lomonosov’s Ode on the Victory over the Turks and Tatars and the Taking of Khotin, considered the first major syllabo-tonic poem in Russian. Almost 200 years later, Vladislav Khodasevich claimed:

Years have gnawed it out of memory –
Who and for what fell in Khotin –
But the first sound of the Khotin Ode
Became our first cry of life.

Parenthetically, Khodasevich grew up in a Polish family in Moscow. Perhaps no one remembers these things anymore, and with good reason, for the past is all deception anyway.

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