I wish to take the opportunity to offer my sincere and heartfelt apologies to the people of Poland. I was misinformed/not thinking/drunk at the time and I promise it will never happen again. I have yet to do or say anything to offend Poland, but I feel I should get my apologies in now for when the inevitable happens. Apologising to Poland is the new “coming out” or tearful “drug hell” confession; you’re nobody until you’ve done it.
I’m not sure exactly when Poland started demanding apologies from all and sundry but it seems to have become a national obsession lately. I’m assuming there is a Ministry of Outrage somewhere, or at least a Department of Absolution to which they should be submitted, but I can find neither on the Polish government website so I cannot give you precise dates.
Wherever this vital organ of the state is it must be a substantial and well-staffed office. In the past year individuals, institutions and even entire nations have fallen under its baleful gaze. In September, Poland demanded an apology from Russia for invading in 1939, though it was not made clear if the supplication was expected from Putin, the resurrected ghost of Stalin or in the form of a giant “We’re sorry we annexed you” card signed by every individual Russian. Serves them right if the post office lost it and they had to do the whole thing over.
It is, of course, understandable why any nation might expect a few words of contrition for 50 years of oppression. Less obvious is how a nation can be up in arms over a misguided sentence from a foreign celebrity or newspaper. A couple of weeks back it was British comedian Stephen Fry who ended up in hot oil over a rambling and, frankly, absurd attempt to link Nazi atrocities with Poland’s Law and Justice party. Two months before that it was another Brit, motor-mouthed Jeremy Clarkson, who provoked outrage east of the Oder with a fake television commercial featuring Poles fleeing a German car. Before that a U.S. sitcom got in trouble for a joke at the expense of a Polish-American character. The list goes on.
The phrase “Polish embassy demands an apology” is now hotkeyed into every journalist’s keyboard. Are we looking at a neurotic overreaction to harmless slights here or a justified backlash to years of ignorance, contempt, and downright rudeness on the part of the supposedly civilized West? I’m inclined towards the latter. The Poles are a notoriously sensitive people, but perhaps not without good reason. It is too easy to perpetuate stereotypes with a thoughtless phrase or a lazy quip. Maybe having our wrists sharply and repeatedly slapped will teach us to take the issue a little more seriously. It will be interesting to see what happens, of course, when people start demanding apologies from Poland.
Jamie Stokes also writes for Polandian.