The Great Polish Exodus

17 March 2016, Olesnica, PL

by Marcin Rozycki

On the 3rd of March, RMF FM (the most popular radio station in Poland) reported an “exodus of generals” from the General Command of the Armed Forces. Later on that day the information was confirmed by the spokesman of the Ministry of National Defence. The exodus included five generals from the Armed Forces General Command: the Chief of Staff Major General Ireneusz Bartniak, the inspector of the Land Forces Major General Janusz Bronowicz, the Inspector of the Navy Admiral Marian Ambroziak, the Chief of Mechanized Infantry Brigadier General Stanisław Olszański, and the Chief of Airborne Forces Brigadier General Andrzej Kuśnierek. Together with the generals, as Wprost magazine reported, there were dozens of colonels who also decided to leave the General Command.

Polish troops from the 6th Polish Airborne Brigade get ready to move out after an airborne drop outside of Sulecin, Poland. The jump was part of Immediate Response ’04.

The departure of five generals out of twenty-three in the General Command is hard to ignore, especially when the Ministry of National Defence learnt about the fact from the media. It was bound to have political repercussions even though the decisions were allegedly made for personal reasons.

“It was not the case that their terms of office were coming to an end, or that they were old and tired. They didn’t retire” – said Juliusz Ćwieluch, a journalist with Polityka magazine. “We can only speculate why they are leaving (…) in my opinion it was a symbolic gesture”, he added. Similar opinion was expressed by Michał Jach – the chief of the Parliamentary National Defence Commission – “it looks like a demonstration”, he said.

Jach believes that the whole thing was politically motivated. The timing is also very sensitive. The generals’ resignation was a shock to the MoND especially when later this year in June Poland will host the biggest NATO military exercise in the region Anconda-16 (27 thousand soldiers will participate), and in July Warsaw will hold a NATO summit, of which Polish elites have very high expectations for changes in Poland’s regional security policy. The generals’ exodus serves as an additional blow to the ruling party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), alongside its already suffering reputation in the EU due to the functional paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal at home.

The daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported in an article “The generals are running away from Macierewicz” several possible reasons for the generals’ decision. The newspaper sees the “exodus” as a symptom of a much wider problem within the military. One possible reason is the manner in which the new MoND Antoni Macierewicz is treating the military staff that was, at some point in their career, before 1989, schooled in Moscow. Not many of them are still on duty, but the Minister’s antipathy towards anything that is, in one way or another, related to the communist era is often viewed as unacceptable by the military personnel.

MoND Antoni Macierewicz is infamous for his controversial WSI Report. Back in 2006 – the last time PiS was a ruling party – Macierewicz (at that time he was a deputy secretary of state in the Ministry of National Defence) prepared a critical report on the Polish Military Intelligence Services (WSI) right after its dismantling. The report was published in 2007 by President Lech Kaczyński. It was highly controversial because it revealed numerous wrongdoings inside the WSI (including Russian infiltration), as well as its operational practices, people, connections and expertise. Some commentators were furious as they argued that the report is a menace to state security and to Polish military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Others viewed it more favourably believing that it would paradoxically strengthen Poland’s security since it would clear the way for establishing new, more reliable intelligence services.

Officers of the Polish Military Police.

In December 2015 Macierewicz ordered a general audit in the Ministry of National Defence. The report is completed, but has yet to be released. However, Macierewicz already announced that its conclusions are appalling. As an institution MoND is allegedly ridden with corruption. The upcoming report might add another perspective on the reasons behind the “Generals’ exodus”.

Another reason for the exodus is likely the legislative reform which will allow the Minister to nominate officers for command positions who are even two ranks lower than they should be. This would give the minister additional power over higher military command. Some officers also don’t appreciate the way the Minister is revising some of the military contracts (e.g. purchase of French Caracals) signed before PiS took power last year in November. Many within defence circles may feel their competences are being undermined. Some officers also seem to dislike the way the army is used for propaganda purposes in current politics (e.g. Smoleńsk tragedy ceremonies) and so-called politics of memory (e.g. the Cursed Soldiers). Last but not least, there may as well be a more practical reason for leaving the army now, namely, an upcoming reform in the retirement system, which is going to cut current send-off benefits equal to an annual salary.

To sum up we can say there are many reasons for the “exodus” that we can speculate about, and the way it was done does have significant political implications. However, the whole “scandal” seems to be far from destabilizing the command of the Polish Army, as some might view it. It took Antoni Marcierewicz three days to nominate new generals, and their CVs are quite impressive. Having used the occasion, Macierewicz also dismissed two other important generals: Major General Wiesław Grudziński, the commander of the Warsaw Garrison, and Lutenant General Edward Gruszka, the Chief of Inspectorate for Armed Forces Support. According to Wprost magazine the generals’ exodus was a loss for the General Command, but the Ministry wasn’t trying to stop them, and the soldiers are not going to miss them. Wprost reported one high rank officer saying: “Finally, for the first time in many years, a genradme (equivalent of a US military police officer) became the commander of the formation, a trueborn logistician became the chief of the Inspectorat for Support. And what was before that? A chemist at the Gendarmerie, an armor officer in logistics, etc.” Websites and journals devoted to military affairs were much less enthusiastic about the whole thing than the popular media. When congratulating the newly chosen generals their nominations Antoni Macierewicz, who remained silent during the initial storm, said: “I am sure you will fulfill your duties very well (…) Changes in the Polish military are necessary and will proceed systematically. The Polish Army faces great challenges. I hope not threats. But you know better than anyone else that the one who stays safe is the one who is preparing for threats. (…) Army counts on you, Poland counts on you.”

 

Feature Photo: “WARSAW, Poland (June 29, 2009) Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is welcomed to Warsaw, Poland by Gen. Frankciszek Gagor, chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, with a full honors ceremony” – Polish Ministry of National Defence, 2016

Inset Photo: “On Wednesday, March 16, in the presence of Undersecretary of State for Defence Bartholomew Grabski ceremonial transfer of responsibilities from the Commander of the Warsaw Garrison. Fig. Maciej Nędzyński / CO MON” –Wikimedia Commons, 2016

Inset Photo: “Officers of polish military police” –Wikimedia Commons, 2016. c/o Polish Ministry of National Defence

DefenceReport’s Analysis is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here are the author’s own and are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.