Over the Christmas holiday I read “Poland, a history” by Adam Zamoyski.

The book was published in 2009, and thus predates the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It offers very up to date insights into the vulnerabilities and fears of all the peoples (Poles, Belarussians, Prussians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Lithuanians, and Polish Jews) who live, or lived,  in the area that is now, or once was,  Poland,

It is an area that is witnessing  the most severe and prolonged war conditions in Europe since 1945.

Some centuries ago, Kiev, Lviv and Kherson (now Ukraine) were all actually part of the then Polish/ Lithuanian Commonwealth.

At the time, many western European countries, such as France, were absolute monarchies.

 But the Polish/ Lithuanian Commonwealth was different. It was a limited monarchy, where the King was elected from among  people who were either notable Poles or Lithuanians, or  were  members of the royal family of another European country.

 For example, James, the Duke of York, who went on to become King James the Second of Britain and Ireland, was considered as a candidate to be King of Poland at an earlier point in in his career.

There was no permanent state apparatus in the Commonwealth , and the King could only get things done by operating through the elected Sejm, where unanimous agreement was often needed for big decisions.

 This veto system worked surprisingly well, as long as there was a broad consensus among the Polish and Lithuanian peoples. But when the consensus broke down, the veto was exploited by outside powers , and by over ambitious Poles who wanted to paralyse the state. This eventually led to the carving up of Poland by Russia, Austria and Prussia.

The Commonwealth was designed to limit state power, in line with ideas that popular during the Enlightenment of the 18th century. These ideas of a limited state still find favour among some conservative Republicans in the US.

The current Polish government, which has tried in recent times to limit the independence of the Polish judiciary, is thus pursuing policies that are contrary to Polish democratic and constitutional traditions.

The same Polish government, having freely joined Germany as a fellow member of the EU in 2000, now wants to sue Germany for damages caused by the German invasion and occupation of Poland in the Second World War. This is shocking.

This war was over well before the EU was formed. If Poland was serious about this claim for World War Two damages, it should have made resolving the issue, a requirement of Polish membership of the EU . It did not do so.

 Now, too late, it is exploiting historical grievances to whip up nationalistic sentiment in Poland. This is deeply destructive. If we go down this road the EU will not survive for long.

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