Putin's Polish Pals

Sympathisers of Putin's Russia are not all cut from the same cloth. They are a bewildering conglomerate of organisations of various hues and political backgrounds who, probably not without reason, have not long taken hold in the larger groupings and political circles. They themselves see this as an advantage and proof of their anti-systemic nature.

The Polish Anti-War Movement is an initiative of Leszek Sykulski and Sebastian Pitoń, always seen wearing a hat associated with the Polish highlanders from the Tatra mountains. Who are the two men?

Sykulski is a popular political scientist and geopolitician who has for some time argued that Poles should withdraw all aid to Ukraine. He argues that the price for it could be death, and the war is being fought in the name of American, not Polish, interests. He calls Poland's eastern policy “aggressive”.

Pitoń is an architect by trade. He became famous for his "Highlander Veto" campaign, during which he demanded the complete lifting of Covid-era restrictions, as he did not believe in the pandemic. He was also famous for his peculiar view that a father, as head of a family, has the right to kill his child. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, he began to argue that friendship with Russia was possible. And it doesn't matter that Russian officials still threaten Poland with an armed attack. On Facebook, he once asked, “Russia turned off the oil tap to Poland. Why only now?”

On May 1, the Polish Anti-War Movement organised a march in Warsaw, attended by perhaps all friends of Putin's Russia, from the far right to the extreme left.

Banners flown at these events read: “This is not our war,” “No more war,” and “Let's not go to that war.” There were also overtly anti-Ukrainian demands. They oppose refugee aid and demand a reckoning for Volyn [a region where tens of thousands of Poles were murdered by the nationist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the mid-1940s - ed], "coincidentally" just now, when the Russians are murdering Ukrainians. However, it was impossible to find slogans stigmatising those who started this war, namely Putin's Russia.

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The march's message was almost 100 percent in line with the Kremlin's propaganda, although the organisers distorted the facts. They claim that it was Ukraine that in fact “provoked Russia” and caused the war. In their narrative, Poland is even guiltier than Moscow, even though it is not involved in the armed conflict. Russia is never the recipient of calls for peace and an end to the war, even though the Kremlin should be made to stop the murder of Ukrainians. Leftist circles in Western Europe frequently employ this type of hypocritical rhetoric based on false pacifism.

Sykulski, along with Pitoń, does not seem to intend to limit his political activities at organising marches. Their ambition goes further. Following the demonstration, Sykulski posted a photo of himself on social media shaking hands with Russian Ambassador Sergei Andreyev. The same Russian official who called the crimes in Bucha and Irpin "staged events." The photograph was captioned with the question: “Is it time for a political formation in Poland that will say YES to good relations with Russia? Yes to cheap fuel, electricity, and gas? Yes to the New Silk Road (Taiwan is Chinese!)?”. So is the march supposed to be an event that initiates the formation of a new movement?

Sykulski once ran in the elections for the right-wing Konfederacja grouping. However, now he is often seen with the controversial Grzegorz Braun, as the other leaders of this grouping keep some distance from him. Together with Pitoń and historian Lucyna Kulińska, Sykulski thus orbits around the circles of the anti-government extreme right, and it is there that they all seek a platform to proclaim their views. They are united by ‘Polish Thought’

Their marches are often attended by journalists and readers of "Myśli Polska" (Polish Thought). This is a newspaper with links to National Democracy, a nationalist party active pre-WWII. Its contributors today include Dr. Jan Engelgard, who is sympathetic to national political thought, and editor-in-chief and publisher Przemyslaw Piasta, who is president of the Roman Dmowski National Foundation. Pitoń is also a contributor to the publication, but also – from the other extreme – Mateusz Piskorski, former Samoobrona MP and leader of the pro-Kremlin Zmiana (Chnage) party. We will discuss him later in this article.

  The publication refers to the historical tradition of National Democracy advocating the maintenance of good relations with Russia, as well as specifically understood “realpolitik.” However, there doesn't seem to be much reality in the message; instead, wishful thinking and illusions that Russia will one day treat Poland as a partner dominate it.

Getting acquainted with their journalism is not an easy task. As part of the fight against content that replicates Kremlin propaganda, Poland's authorities have blocked access to their website. However, when accessing their Facebook channel, you are struck by such article titles as “Feral, or in other words… Poland.” This is a reaction to preventing members of Russian diplomatic missions from paying tribute to Red Army soldiers on Victory Day, which is celebrated in Russia on May 9.

On May 9, 2023, members of the Polish Anti-War Movement laid wreaths at the Mausoleum at the Cemetery of Soviet Soldiers in Warsaw. Photo Wojciech Krynski/Forum
Mateusz Piskorski was a guest at the demonstration that Sykulski's movement organised, as I previously mentioned. In 2016, he was accused of spying for Russia and China and was detained for more than two years. The Polish Internal Security Agency asserted that Russian agents founded the Zmiana party (founded in 2015). journalists found emails that suggested Russians were behind pickets organised by Zmiana. One of them was to create the impression that Poles supported the annexation of Crimea (2014). Piskorski, who acted as the "coordinator of observers," participated in the illegal referendum following the Putin regime's seizure of Crimea.

And these are not the only extreme-leftist traces among Polish Kremlin sympathisers. Standing next to Sykulski on May 1 was Dr. Włodzimierz Gorki, who recently announced the formation of the niche Polish Leftist Movement (Polski Ruch Lewicowy, PRL). The initials match those of the ​​Polish People’s Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, PRL). Gorki said that this was not coincidental. He was once a candidate for the Sejm running with the Democratic Left Alliance party, but now distances himself from the parliamentary left because of its pro-Ukrainian course, but speaks highly of Sykulski, the Polish Anti-War Movement, and the “Myśl Polska” fan clubs. He announced that members of all these initiatives appeared in Warsaw on May 1 “above the divisions.”

As you can see, "Myśl Polska," which publishes texts by Kremlin ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, is a rather important link in this puzzle between pro-Russian activists in Poland and staunch leftists. Communists and one pacifist

In the background is the propaganda website Sputnik Poland, which, like Russia Today, faithfully reproduces the Kremlin's message. Since Polish authorities also restricted access to Sputnik, its editor, Jarosław Augustyniak, set up a YouTube channel.

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Augustyniak is known for stirring up resentment against Ukrainians and calling them "bandits," follower of the WWII-era Ukrainian far-right leader of the radical, militant wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Augustyniak describes himself as a communist and anti-fascist. And indeed, he was previously an activist in the left-wing Polish Labour Party, and wrote for the anti-clerical newspaper “Nie” and the website and, not surprisingly, was vice-chairman of Zmiana.

Today, he boasts that he participated in a brawl with Ukrainians after the Victory Day celebrations, during which the Russian ambassador was not allowed to enter the Mausoleum of Soviet Soldiers Cemetery in Warsaw to lay flowers on the graves of Russian soldiers.

Sykulski publicly thanked Henryk Mikietyn for his involvement in organising the march. This former member of the Communist Party now contributes to the formation of the Polish Leftist Movement. On May 1, he proudly marched with activists of the anti-communist Polish Confederation Crown founded by Grzegorz Braun.

Mikietyn has also had run-ins with the law. He was found guilty of praising the initiation and conduct of the war by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

The leftist grouping is completed by Professor Maria Szyszkowska, once a senator from the Democratic Left Alliance. Today, the professor mainly preoccupies herself with "Polish Russophobia and militarism." She appears at many conferences that Sykulski also attends. Russia is not usually mentioned there as the state responsible for the outbreak of war, unlike NATO and the US. This does not prevent the professor from considering herself a left-wing pacifist and publishing articles in... – what else – "Myśl Polska".

This is how this very publication encouraged its readers to attend a meeting organised by Szyzkowska: "Professor Maria Szyszkowska is organising a Peace Congress in Warsaw on March 7. She wants to unite those Poles who oppose the war and Poland's participation in it in any way." Many representatives of various circles "from right to left" attended the conference, including members of the right-wing "Patria" association.

"Jaszczur" and "Ludwiczek", or Compatriots Camaraderie.

There are also two far-right “pato-influencers”, Wojciech Olszanski known as "Jaszczur" and Marcin "Ludwiczek" Osadowski, who, admittedly, did not appear at the march, but they cannot be far away from these events.

"Jaszczur" and "Ludwiczek" are the founders of the movement “Rodacy Kamraci” (Kamraci Compatriots) with a pro-Russian, anti-Semitic, and anti-Ukrainian agenda. In the right-wing pro-Russian universe, they seem to be the most original, and at the same time, controversial and dangerous characters.

Wojciech Olszański and Marcin Osadowski protested against social distancing rules in 2022. Photo by Adam Chelstowski / Forum
Olszanski was sentenced to 20 months behind bars and handed a fine by a court in Bydgoszcz for calling for the murder of parliamentarians during a demonstration. He, therefore, had to limit his public activity while he was incarcerated.

On the Youtube channel he runs with Osadowski (which has been blocked by the site), he does not hesitate to insult, hurl vulgarities and even threaten one of his viewers with cutting off his head with a bayonet or raping one of his deputies. A united Putinist camp?

How is it possible that people with such different views and backgrounds are brought together at the same marches and conferences, and even work together? Is there a risk that Sykulsky's dreams will come true and the united Putinist camp will gain more popularity?

There are several common denominators that make it possible for them to act together despite all their differences. Certainly, the sympathy for Russia stems from the dislike of everything associated with the West. Right-wingers rally for the decline of the Atlantic-Western world, and see Russia as a motherland of healthy values. On the other hand, communists and socialists criticise the neoliberal tendencies prevailing in Western countries. There are also those who use arguments from the realm of "realpolitik," i.e. that it is not profitable for Poland to enter into disputes with its neighbour.

Russia is, of course, by no means a reservoir of traditional ideas. Social issues such as alcoholism, prostitution, and drug abuse are rife. More often than in Europe, parents in Russia abandon their children and opt for divorce. Social inequality is also greater than in Western European countries. The oligarchy is doing well, the rich pay very low taxes, and a sizable portion of citizens outside the largest metropolises don't even have access to toilets.

Attendance at these kinds of demonstrations in Poland is still relatively small. And in a country afflicted by Soviet communism and modern Russian imperialism, it is difficult to find pro-Moscow sympathies. Apart from sympathies for Russia, these people are differ in almost every other way, so there are conflicts between them. The biggest one occurred after the march: Sykulski declared his intention to lay a wreath on May 9 on the graves of Soviet soldiers. This was probably meant to be a gesture to the left-wing part of the community, as was the organisation of a march on Labour Day. However, this was too much for the right-wing apologists for Russia and Pitoń himself, who decided to end his cooperation with Sykulski.

This does not mean, however, that it is not worth being on guard. There is always a risk of direct Russian inspiration in such movements. This is already happening on a large scale in other countries. "The Washington Post" got hold of documents showing that Russia tried to bring about an alliance between Germany's far left and far right, namely Die Linke and AFD, to influence German public opinion and undermine aid to Ukraine.

– Bartosz Oszczepalski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

–Translated by Roberto Galea
Main photo: Leszek Sykulski and Sebastian Pitoń when they were still active together. Polish Anti-War Movement protest against Poland's involvement in the conflict with Russia. Photo by Adam Chelstowski / Forum
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