What Makes Poland So Special?

Fearless and courageous loyalty to Christ and his Church has made Poland the heroic heart of Europe.

Anonymous, “Portrait of John III Sobieski,” ca. 1675-1700
Anonymous, “Portrait of John III Sobieski,” ca. 1675-1700 (photo: Public Domain)

There is something special about Poland. This, however, is saying nothing special. There is something special about every nation. Each nation is a unique cultural flowering of a people’s shared collective heritage. Each nation is a beautiful and unique flower in God’s multicultural garden. This is why the globalist goal of imposing a single monocultural brand on the peoples of the world is a crime against humanity. It is a crime against cultural diversity in all its multifarious splendor.

And yet, the foregoing notwithstanding, there is still something special about Poland beyond its mere uniqueness as a flowering of culture. It might be said that Poland is not only special but extra special, or especially special. 

Why is this? What makes Poland so especially singular? 

Ironically, or paradoxically, its singular place in the garden of nations can be compared to the singular place of England as expressed by William Shakespeare, in the words he places on the lips of the dying John of Gaunt in Richard II:

This precious stone set in a silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England …

The irony is to be found in the radical difference between England and Poland that these lines illustrate. Unlike England, Poland is not “set in a silver sea which serves it in the office of a wall, or as a moat defensive to a house.” Poland has no such sea or moat to protect it. It is hemmed in by neighbors which have all too often been enemies and, as often as not, conquering enemies. It has been besieged and attacked by the Russians in the east and the Prussians in the west, and by the Swedes in the north and the Austrians in the south. Whereas the English are an island people, conditioned by the “moat” that separates them from mainland Europe, the Poles are an iron-forged people, shaped into a sword of faithful resilience in the heat of battle, caught between the anvil of warfare and the hammer of conquest.

Furthermore, this faithful resilience has been shaped by the resilience of the Faith, the indomitable adherence of the Polish people to the Catholic Church which is the defining attribute of the nation itself. It is this fearless and courageous loyalty to Christ and his Church which has made Poland the heroic heart of Europe.

Many examples of Poland’s fidelity could be cited but a few will suffice. It was Poland’s famous “winged hussars,” under the command of King John III Sobieski, which won the decisive victory in the Battle of Vienna in 1683, saving Europe from the Islamic Ottoman Empire. In the heroic defense of their homeland from the communists in the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1919-20, the Poles saved Europe from Marxist imperialism and totalitarianism, at least until the betrayal of Europe at the Yalta Conference in 1945, which handed half of Europe, including Poland, over to the terror of the Stalinist Soviet Union. It was Poland, inspired by the Polish Pope, St. John Paul II, which began the overthrow of the Soviet Union. Inspired by Pope John Paul’s visit to Poland and his call for courage, the Polish people began a campaign of civil resistance to communist rule which would spread to all the other Soviet-controlled countries of Europe, including, ultimately, Russia itself. These few, these happy few examples of Polish heroism, will serve to confirm Poland as Europe’s heroic heart.

Such an understanding of Poland’s importance was encapsulated by G. K. Chesterton. “If Poland had not been born again,” he wrote during a visit to Poland in 1927, “all the Christian nations would have died.” Echoing this viewpoint, Hilaire Belloc wrote at the outbreak of World War II that “the test is Poland”: “The determination to save Poland, which is a determination not only to defeat Prussia but to oust the vile and murderous Communism of Moscow, is the moral condition of victory. If we waver we are lost.”

Shortly after his return from Poland, Chesterton gave a talk in London which was advertised as “What Poland Is.” He thought the title unfortunate. “I should be very sorry if any brilliant Pole asked me what England is. … [Y]ou can’t define a living thing, least of all such a living thing as Poland, one of the most living things in the world, because nothing can be so living as a thing which has risen from the dead.”

Although he couldn’t have known it, Chesterton was stating something more profound and more prophetic than he could have imagined. In the following decades, Poland would die twice more under both German and Soviet occupation, only to rise again from both deaths. Today, Europe’s heroic heart is again being attacked, this time by the forces of globalism. These are powerful enemies. Perhaps they might succeed in killing Poland once again. If so, those with faith will return once more to the catacombs to wait patiently and prayerfully for the next resurrection. 

This essay first appeared in the St. Austin Review and is republished with permission.