Silesian autonomists are blatantly pro-German. While questioning Silesia’s Polishness, they show boundless sympathy for every manifestation of Germanness. They usually have a hostile and contemptuous attitude toward Poland, and despite the fact that they do not enjoy much support from the public, they find surprisingly large groups of supporters among mostly leftist or far-left academics and politicians.
(Andrzej Krzystyniak is a Polish historian from Silesia who has written several books about today’s Germanophilic separatist trends in his region and regularly publishes on the subject in the Do Rzeczy weekly.)
Poland faced enormous economic difficulties after regaining its full independence from the Soviet Union in 1989. The transformation of an economic model that was subordinate to the USSR into a free market economy led entire regions and social groups to ruin. This contributed to the rise of pro-German separatism in Silesia, based on the German national sentiments of a sizable number of inhabitants of this region of Poland.
The organizations that arose at the time, which brought together people who were mostly hostile to the Polish state, took advantage of Poland’s weakness during those difficult times. The leading organization demanding that Silesia be granted autonomy in the broadest sense, as well as recognition of those identifying as Silesians and denying any connection to Polishness, is the Silesian Autonomy Movement (Ruch Autonomii Śląska, or RAŚ).
RAŚ has been a member of the European Free Alliance (EFA) since 2005. EFA has 45 members, which are parties and associations from 18 European countries that describe their regions as “nations without states” and demand autonomy or independence. It currently has 12 deputies in the European Parliament. 14 affiliated organizations govern or co-govern the regions from which they come.
The European Free Alliance’s member organizations operate in the territories of seven EU countries. These member parties are the Galician Nationalist Bloc, Alsace’s Our Land, the Party of the Corsican Nation, the Breton Democratic Union, the Savoy Region Movement, the Republican Left of Catalonia, Basque Solidarity, the Frisian National Party, the New Flemish Alliance, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party, The Olive Tree – Slovene Istria Party, the Hungarian Alliance of Transylvania, the Latvian Russian Union, the Free Sicilians, South Tyrol Freedom, the Bavaria Party, the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, the Moravian Land Movement, and others.
The primary goal of RAŚ and its allies is to undermine the Silesia region’s cultural links to Poland, as well as those of the lands granted to Poland after 1945. This organization, which operates under the guise of regionalism, demands, besides autonomy for Silesia, the recognition of Silesians as a national minority with full minority rights.
Although it has limited support among the public, it seems to be extremely effective in disseminating its theories. RAŚ finds a surprisingly large number of people who support its activities among scientists, historians, and politicians of the left and far left. Silesian “autonomists” are at the same time blatantly pro-German. While they question Silesia’s Polishness, they often show boundless sympathy for every manifestation of Germanness. They also typically have a hostile and contemptuous attitude toward Poland.
RAŚ Chairman Jerzy Gorzelik, who is a lecturer at the University of Silesia, makes no secret of his contempt for all that is Polish. In the historical field, this extends to the Silesian uprisings, and he calls the Silesian insurgents “terrorists.” In his eyes, Polish culture in Silesia is based on looting.
The autonomists attach particular importance to denying Poland’s right to Silesia, which they believe was forcibly taken from the German state in the three Silesian uprisings (in 1919, 1920, and 1921). In their view, these uprisings were nothing more than armed interventions by Poland that had no support among the indigenous population.
According to the autonomists, the claim that these were cases of Polish intervention is sufficiently evidenced in a book published several years ago by Prof. Ryszard Kaczmarek under the title Silesian Uprisings 1919 – 1920 – 1921: The Unknown Polish-German War (Powstania Śląskie 1919 – 1920 – 1921. Nieznana wojna polsko–niemiecka). This book presents an overtly pro-German point of view, overlooking and omitting many facts that do not fit the thesis that there was Polish aggression aimed at annexing Upper Silesia to Poland after World War I. It therefore fits perfectly into plans to cut Silesia off culturally from Poland.
The hand of the German state and the support of the Polish far left
Since 1989, the German state has used a number of foundations to develop activities aimed at “supporting” Polish scientists by funding scholarships, publications, and scientific research. This has resulted in the rise of scientists, historians, political scientists, and others who are willing to serve German aims in Poland.
The autonomists’ aspirations have also enjoyed increasingly active support from left-wing politicians in recent years. The leading left-wing activist from Silesia, who is actively involved in this type of Silesian regionalism, is an MEP from the Spring party, Lukasz Kohut. Spring is part of the New Left alliance, which could soon be part of a new government coalition led by Donald Tusk.
Kohut does not shy away from linking “regionalism” to social issues, for example by comparing Silesians to sexual minorities. Here is how he explained what Silesianness meant to him in 2019: “Silesians are like LGBT people, overlooked by the Polish state and abandoned somewhere on the borderland.”
But this is not the most interesting or significant thing linking left-wing politicians with autonomists who are demanding the independence of their “Silesian homeland” from Poland. Indeed, given that Silesian autonomists believe that Poland has squandered Silesia’s potential, in their opinion only full independence can allow for this still-backward region’s civilizational development.
Asserting a moral equivalence between crimes committed by Germans and Poles during World War II
The statements of Left-wing politicians fit perfectly into the rhetoric of the Silesian Autonomy Movement and its allies, which do not hesitate to refer to Poland as a country occupying Silesia. Another leading left-wing politician from Silesia, Maciej Kopiec, tweeted his unequivocal stance in August of last year, reacting to the Polish state’s demands for reparations from Germany: “Residents of lands lost by Germany after World War II should demand reparations from the Polish state for destroyed industry, infrastructure, and architectural monuments.”
MP Kopiec later explained his post by saying that it emerged out of a “concern for the Polish residents of the neglected western lands.” It turns out that his was not an isolated voice among the representatives of the left when it comes to the idea of “paying reparations to Germany for wasting the potential of the lands lost to Poland.”
In March of this year, in a televised debate concerning Germany’s payment of reparations to Poland, Paulina Matysiak, a member of the Together Party that is also a part of the New Left Alliance, said that the Polish state “should be open to an honest appraisal and settlement of the issue of the property that Poland seized from the so-called Recovered Territories”
Leading RAŚ activists can only agree with such views, as they fit perfectly with their demands for independence from “occupying” Poland. They never miss an opportunity to accuse Poland of “destroying Silesia and the Recovered Territories” [those territories in western Poland that were German before the war but which were Polish many centuries before, and that were granted to Poland after World War II as compensation for Poland’s eastern territories that were annexed by the Soviet Union, ed.]. They are also very eager to blame Poland for all sorts of alleged crimes.
Communist crimes presented as Polish crimes
On July 11 of this year, on the 80th anniversary of the genocide committed by the Ukrainians against the Polish residents of Volhynia, Lukasz Kohut further accused Poland of displacing and annihilating tens of thousands of people, tweeting: “I am also calling for the victims of another crime to be remembered: The “Upper Silesian tragedy” must not be forgotten. It must find its way into Polish textbooks, because Poland, like any country, has black pages in its history. Tens of thousands of people were reduced to dust, and hundreds of thousands more were expelled – both to the east an west.”
Most observers do not treat Silesian autonomists seriously and simply ignore their activities and demands, believing that their political activity is of no importance given that it enjoys little public support. Proof of this is to be found in their lack of representatives in the provincial government bodies following their defeat in the last elections. They only appear to be weak, however. Groups that consider Poland to be an occupier in Silesia are proving surprisingly influential on many issues.
For many years, the Silesian Autonomy Movement and similar “autonomist” organizations, on the occasion of the commemorations of the “Upper Silesian tragedy” (as the Red Army’s entry into Upper Silesia in January 1945 is called), have introduced the idea of “Polish concentration camps” that were opened following World War II into the historical discourse. According to the autonomists, the Polish authorities imprisoned mainly Silesians and Germans in such camps, and also exterminated national minorities.
It is worth noting that even while they level such accusations against the Polish state and the Polish people, they pretend to ignore Soviet Russia’s role in setting up such camps when it imposed its satellite communist regime on Poland. In the Silesian autonomists’ view, the Polish communist authorities decided to build a “nationally unified” country independently of the Soviets and used terror primarily against other nationalities, including by imprisoning some of them in concentration camps.
This idea of the Polish communists having acted independently of the Soviets in the aftermath of the war is so absurd and contrary to the historical record that the appropriate reaction can only be to shrug one’s shoulders. However, it is not difficult to see that talking about “Polish concentration camps” and a “policy to form a nationally homogeneous state” casts Poles in the role of perpetrators of crimes motivated by nationalism rather than as victims of both the war as well as of Soviet post-war terror.
If Poland is held responsible for the post-1945 displacements and expulsions of minority populations, then this will naturally lead to future demands for compensation for the resettlement of the German population after 1945 – from those lands granted to Poland at the behest of the Allies. One of the goals pursued by these pro-German Silesian autonomists is clearly to put the German crimes that were committed in occupied Poland on par with a “chauvinist, one-nation state policy” that was supposedly carried out by Poland immediately after the end of the war.
“Polish concentration camps”
This alleged extermination of national minorities by the Polish state seems to be one of the Silesian autonomists’ key points of attack against Poland, and obviously coincides with German interests in regard to historical memory. The primary example that supposedly exemplifies the extermination of Silesians is the site of a former communist labor camp in the Zgoda district of Swietochlowice in Silesia. The camp, which was named after the district, is referred to by the autonomists as a “Polish concentration camp.”
In October 2022, thanks to the efforts of the municipal authorities of Swietochlowice and the Museum of Silesian Uprisings, a model of the former camp was unveiled to visitors that includes a plaque informing readers that they are in the area of a former German concentration camp which was turned into a communist labor camp after the war.
On the day of the model’s unveiling, activists belonging to several autonomist organizations showed up at the site holding banners, one of which read: “Silesia remembers the victims of the Polish concentration camps.” But the autonomists who were protesting there were in fact most vocal in their claim that the Zgoda camp should not be called a German concentration camp, despite the fact that this is what it actually was until the Red Army entered Silesia. This greatly displeased the autonomist community, as well as the German minority. Representatives of both communities stated in unison that the plaque should read “Nazi and Communist,” or “German and Polish.”
There could hardly be a better example of this effort to put German crimes on equal footing with the Polish state’s allegedly criminal activities against national minorities after 1945. These accusations mostly come from circles for whom Poland is an occupying power, not the Silesians’ own country.
Regionalisms against nations
The alleged repression after 1945, the talk of Silesia’s occupation by Poland, the demand for autonomy, a radically pro-German attitude, and demands for Poland to recognize Silesians as a separate people are all presented as “regionalism.” But the regionalism label is merely a way to hide their hostility toward the Polish state and the separatist aspirations of the “autonomists,” as we usually call them. The autonomists use the slogan of “regionalism” to justify their activities as a way of nurturing Silesianness, but it is not difficult to see what such activity is really about and what dangers it may carry for the Polish state.
It is also worth noting those actions being taken by the European Union in relation to granting regions greater independence from national governments in their dealings with Brussels. The idea that is currently being pushed, which would allow Poland’s regions, mainly Silesia, to receive EU funds directly from Brussels, thus bypassing the central government, poses a real threat to the country’s territorial integrity. Brussels’ idea in this regard is strongly supported by politicians from Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, including MEP Jerzy Buzek, a former president of the European Parliament. This is evidence of how multi-faceted and intensive the efforts to separate Silesia from Poland can be.