The Spectator

Don’t mention the war!

Don't mention the war!
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Berlin

Mentioning Poland's suffering in World War II is usually a sure way to win sympathy and shut down argument. But this week Polish politicians may have pushed the "Christ of Nations" act a bit too far. Explaining his intransigence over EU vote distribution – which has led to a diplomatic train wreck at this week’s EU summit -- President Lech Kaczynski told Polish radio the past justified the present. "We are merely demanding what was taken from us," he said. "If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would be today looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million," nearly double the current population of 38 million.

The reaction in Europe was, well, disappointed, with clucking from foreign ministers and editorial writers alike. One German newspaper likened Poland to “a rebellious teenager” unwilling to follow house rules; even Estonia, no stranger to WWII-related conflict, gently suggested Poles “stop living in the past.”

The problem is, the past plays well in Poland. Even before they were elected, the Kaczynski twins were making a successful issue of the war. A last-minute rumour campaign accused a presidential opponent’s grandfather of having fought for the Wehrmacht in the closing days of the conflict. And in recent weeks the Kaczynskis have (rightly) twisted Russia’s nose over an Auschwitz memorial retroactively claiming some 1.5 million Holocaust victims as Soviet citizens based on territory seized at war’s end. Less than a third of Poles think they should compromise in Brussels. And the Kaczynskis will profit from nearly 50 billion euro in subsidies in the next six years, even while driving their benefactors crazy.