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.”
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Polish working-class housing ( Kamil PorembiÅ„ski)
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.