Humanitarian Assistance To Syria? Poles Say They Have Their Own Problems

Other stuff on our mind
Other stuff on our mind


WARSAW – When a group of Polish intellectuals, priests and politicians signed a petition for Polish humanitarian assistance to Syria, all hell broke loose on the Internet.

The Polska Akcja Humanitarna (Polish Humanitarian Aid) petition -- signed by former presidents Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski; former Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski and Archbishop of Krakow Stanislaw Dziwisz -- called for action to help provide shelter, food and medicine to Syria.

“Polish Humanitarian Aid should deal with humanitarian problems in Poland – we have plenty of them. There are starving children who cannot count on a hot meal at home, seniors who have to choose between buying medicine or food…” wrote one Internet user.

Another wrote: “These elites should use the money that they have stored away in offshore banks for all kinds of foreign aid. In Poland, the unemployment is huge, young people are fleeing from the country; there is no money to buy medicine for our sick children. Services, rents, energy and food are more and more expensive.”

Polish working-class housing ( Kamil Porembiński)

There are too many of these kinds of posts on the Internet to ignore them. Their authors believe vehemently that Poland is very poor – much too poor to help other countries, and that people and organizations that help these countries cannot be trusted.

Poland does not spend much money on foreign aid. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to allocate 2 million zloty ($612,223) for Syria but no one knows how much money the Polish Humanitarian Aid will be able to collect. Perhaps twice as much? This is not even a drop in the ocean, crumbs for a country with 38 million citizens – a pathetic handout.

Happy to receive, not so happy to give

There are many urgent social problems in Poland but the truth is, we cannot compare mass unemployment or malnutrition in children to the suffering of million refugees who have had to flee the civil war, where 80,000 people have already been killed.

Polish people were happy to receive foreign aid in the 1980s. Who can forget the packages that were distributed in churches, during Poland’s martial law, from Dec. 1981 to July 1983. We were so happy to get these care packages, which were not necessarily from rich people. Today Poland is four times richer than it was in the 1980s, yet Poles still believe that they are standing on the verge on a humanitarian catastrophe.

This schizophrenia obviously finds its roots in political grandstanding. During a vote of no confidence at the Polish Parliament on March 7, conservative MP Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former primer minister, said that there was huge poverty in Poland, and that the country was threatened by depopulation. In the same speech, he also said that Poland deserved a spot in the G20 – the group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies.

Reluctance to help Syria or any other poor country is a side effect of Polish politics. There may be wars and starvation in the world but Polish people will continue to be convinced that they are the most miserable and disadvantaged country in the world and that they deserve a little bit more of attention.

Meanwhile a first plane has already left Poland to give assistance to Syria. It’s a good start.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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