Monthly Archives: November 2010

Polish special forces live the legacy of their WWII predecessors

In 1941, the Polish Government-in-exile in London authorized the creation of a top-secret special operations unit which existed for the sole purpose of parachuting into Nazi-occupied Poland to aid the fight for freedom. These highly-trained paratroopers were to assist with the planned uprising of the Polish underground resistance movement. They were called the Cichociemni –  which literally translates to “silent and unseen”. Their emblem was an eagle holding a wreath encircling the symbol of the Polish resistance movement, a combination of the letters PW (“Polska Walcząca” – “Poland Fights”):

Many Cichociemni did parachute into Poland in the final years of the war – but it was not enough. You can read more here.

In 1995, the newly created special forces unit GROM (which means thunder in Polish) – adopted the insignia and traditions of their WWII predecessors:

I love seeing the symbols, old and new, side by side.


A Magical Poland in the 1930’s

This video juxtaposes Warsaw’s carefree interwar years with the destruction that immediately followed.  This video, which depicts one of the most charming periods in Polish history, is well done and includes much original footage I hadn’t seen before – including young ladies walking the streets in the 1930’s followed by horrific scenes of the beautiful city on fire:

Poland’s Special Forces Here To Save the Day

I recently came across an article published in the early stages of the Iraq war,  which provided one of the most candid and colorful looks at Poland’s Special Forces GROM unit I have yet seen. Victorino Matus, writing at The Weekly Standard, interviewed General Slawomir Petelicki – the founding father of GROM, about how it all began:

“The need did arise in 1990, following Operation Bridge, in which Poland helped Soviet Jews enter Israel. Intelligence reports indicated that Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were planning reprisals inside the Polish border. Then-Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki recognized the threat and approved of Petelicki’s plan for a new counter-terror force.”

Details on training tactics:

“GROM operators practice “killing house” entries (with commanders often serving as hostages), storm hijacked commercial airliners complete with mannequin terrorists and bullet traps, and lead raids onto ships and offshore platforms. All of this is done with live ammunition. The commandos are trained in paramedics and demolitions and many are SCUBA experts.

GROM operators are said to be martial arts experts and capable of “cold killing.” “We created our own style of martial arts,” says Petelicki. “I have an old friend who is a master of karate and jujitsu and is a sixth degree black belt. He created the style with other specialists–it is most similar to what the Israelis do.”

And what about “cold killing”? Asked if the ominous term refers to garrotes or piano wire, Petelicki replies “Yes.” Pausing to choose his words carefully, he explains, “Many things. For instance, we can create a weapon from . . . well . . . many things.”

Live ammunition? Piano Wire?  Their own form of martial arts? Brutal.

Interestingly, toward the end the article cites Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski expressing his hopes that this cooperation be the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Polish relations:

“Sikorski thinks this could be the beginning of a special relationship with the United States, akin to the one shared by Great Britain, but warns “it is still in the very early stages and much will also depend on America’s staying power in the region, its willingness to remain interested in Central Europe.”

This article was written in 2003 and clearly the jury is still out on the success of the special relationship.

Read the rest of the article here.

Poland Pleased with NATO’s New Direction

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich recently said he was happy with the proposed new strategic concept for NATO. At the upcoming Lisbon Summit on November 19-21 in Portugal, NATO will officially adopt a new  “Strategic Concept” which will be the organization’s strategic guiding light for the next ten years.

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“Talking to reporters after his return from the United States, where he met with Secretary of Defence Robert Giles[sic], Klich said that the Americans are trying to maintain a balance between NATO’s obligations to defend its members’ territories and the alliance’s expeditionary missions.

“[The concept] corresponds to our expectations. There are provisions in the project that reinforce the traditional character of the North Atlantic alliance, which means NATO remaining a defensive alliance,” the minister said.”

Klich is of course referring to NATO’s Article 5, which ensures mutual self-defense and is much more of a priority to Poland than some other, older member states.

Poland and China Moving Closer

On November 3, China and Poland signed a declaration of economic cooperation designed chiefly to increase Poland’s exports to China. The agreement will also help Poland and China move closer in other ways by supporting  Polish firms in the Chinese market, and establishes other new connections between the two countries. More from the AP:

“Poland’s economy minister, Waldemar Pawlak, hailed the agreements as an engine for job growth and a new chance for Chinese investments in Europe to flourish. The deals were signed during a four-day visit to Warsaw by Jia Qinglin, the Communist Party’s fourth-ranking leader, and included the sale of Polish copper to China and long-term cooperation by the countries’ electronics and chemical companies.

Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Economic Minister Waldemar Pawlak and Chinese Deputy Trade Minister Jiang Zengwei signed the declaration in a Warsaw ceremony attended by Jia Qinglin, the chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“Poland may be the place where Chinese investment in Europe will develop in a dynamic way,” Pawlak said after the signing ceremony. “It gives us an opportunity to create new, interesting jobs.””

Earlier last month Chinese Central Television interviewed Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski about the future of Poland-China relations. They discuss a broad range of topics including Poland’s potential withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014:

The Problem of Polish Translations

The WSJ had a post this week describing how Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski may have cut corners in the process of hiring a speech-writer, in favor of quickly getting someone on board who spoke “idiomatically flawless English.”

Having a fair and competitive hiring process for government positions is always the goal, but I understand Sikorski’s rationale, as  does WSJ writer Marynia Kruk:

“And yet, as someone who has worked as a translator in Poland, I can sympathize with Mr. Sikorski. Most Poles can’t distinguish a good English translation from a bad one. Most of English translations of Polish press releases are mediocre. English translations of museum piece descriptions are worse, filled with spelling mistakes and awkward sentence structure. Since most of the decision-makers who commission translations don’t speak English well, they can’t see the point in spending a little extra on a native speaker.

Mr. Sikorski, having spent many years in the UK and the U.S., can tell the difference. On the other hand, it seems hard to imagine the ministry not having a whole department of top-flight translators, and I can’t comment on the quality of their work.”

In my research I have found the translations on the various sites of Poland’s military to be wanting. Example here, and I’m particularly nonplussed that their ISAF contingent only sporadically translates their news items into English (and even then not always completely, and certainly not in “idiomatically perfect English”).

Why is Poland falling short in the world’s lingua franca? It’s especially confusing because in my travels throughout Europe I always considered Poland to be one of the places you’re most likely to find English speakers with near-native proficiency. What’s going on Polska? Where are you hiding all these smart multi-lingual kids and why aren’t they translating Poland’s work and accomplishments into English for all the world to share?

Presidential Airplane Wreckage Decays on Russian Tarmac

This video dated September 20 is taken at the site of the Polish president’s plane crash in Smolensk, Russia. The caption below the YouTube video suggests that the wreckage is exposed, unprotected and unguarded, laying on the tarmac like discarded refuse five months after the crash.

There were two especially poignant moments for me: First when the videographer realizes he can make out the words “epublic of P” on a piece of the wreckage – and zooms in on it (min 0:52). Second, when he realizes what the dark red stains at the bottom of the cracked window are (min 1:45). I’m sure this will unsettle some.