Wednesday, August 1, 2012

NPR, Romney's Poland Trip, and Bieganski

"Bieganski" shows that the Brute Polak image is pervasive in American culture. It is disseminated by elites like President Barack Obama; it is disseminated by average, everyday folks via social media like Facebook.

The Bieganski the Brute image is so pervasive and so accepted that it can be disseminated almost wordlessly.

Yesterday morning I was listening to NPR coverage of US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's visit to Poland. Renee Montagne and Eric Westervelt, two NPR stars, were chatting with each other about the visit. Montagne asked Westervelt why Romney visited Poland. Westervelt implied that he had no idea, that no one had any idea.

Nothing overt was said. Neither Westervelt nor Montagne told a Polak joke, or referred to "Polish concentration camps."

What happened? The tone was dismissive and baffled. The overt message was that there is no good reason why any serious, decent person would go to Poland.

Montagne referred to Solidarity leader, former Polish president, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa as "someone who might seem very important." Yes, she really said that.

Montagne asked, her voice strangling with feigned confusion, "Why [pause] was [pause] POLAND [pause] part of this three-country trip?"

Westervelt responded in a tone that implied that what Romney said was not valid. Romney, Westervelt said, praised Poland as "an important US ally and economic success story." But Westervelt quoted a Pole as saying that it was "Impossible" that "such an important person" would visit "such a small country." Westervelt cleverly placed his own contempt for Poland in the mouth of a Polish person.

Is this Bieganski? Yes. Again, nothing overt, just a dismissive, snarky undertone, which becomes overt only in isolated phrases that segue back into polite prose whose snarky tone is audible but not replicable in a written transcript.

Sometimes, of course, NPR's play of the Bieganski card is more overt, as mentioned here and here.

Breitbart reads NPR's treatment of Romney's trip to Poland as much more inflammatory. You can read Breitbart's coverage here.


  1. Whatever the exact motives of Romney's trip, it was clearly political. He must be trying to get Polish-American votes. This is a mute testimony to the fact that, although Polish-Americans are politically weak, and do not vote as a bloc, they nevertheless have enough clout to avoid being ignored by politicians.

    My 13 year-old self heard 1968 Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey speak to a large Polish gathering at Humboldt Park in Chicago. Even then, I figured that his lauding of Poles and Poland was probably insincere, but was happy in the fact that he considered Polish Americans to be worthy of being courted politically.

    In the 1992 campaign, I heard President Bush speak at the Taste of Polonia in Chicago. I then felt the same way.

  2. I think there may be two elements--one is courting the Polish vote and the second is confirming continued Polish support for an Israeli or American attack on Iran.

  3. Thank you for posting this fresh news on US media slurs. Even though some of NPR's ignorant venom can be attributed to it being the "wrong" Presidential candidate who selected Poland for a visit, the slur was clear. I don't think we'll ever get to see President Obama do something similar in Poland but you can be sure NPR would find some respect for Poland in that case.

    Jan is right though. There seems to be about a 10% Democratic Party and 2008 advantage for Obama as well as a sizeable "independent" registered bunch among Polish origin Americans. I personally believe those numbers would look more Republican among those who have received citizenship since 1983. Still, 10% within a group and lots of independents is tight, compared with many other US groups, so its clear why a candidate would be wise to go after the Polish Amercan vote anyway they can. I also think Romney made a symbolic statement of acknowledgement of Poland's importance to the US and NATO. Correct me if anyone knows I am mistaken but I don't think Romney visited the political opposition leadership, something that was targeted by those supporters in Poland. I suppose that was a missed opportunity to at least do a drop by as he did meet Miliband in the UK as precedent.

    I can just hear those two American toffs on NPR putting down Poland though....I do also suffer through NPR. I wonder how many NPR types can suffer through a Rush Limbaugh show? Just a thought.


  4. MB, you can actually hear the NPR toffs online. I re-listened to the show online before posting, just to make sure I heard what I thought I heard.

    I wish more Polonians were aware of, and were united, organized, and active around, this sort of thing: stealth Bieganski. No money shots, no "Polish concentration camps," just a tone that communicates everything that needs to be communicated, with a few choice phrases like that Lech Walesa would seem to be an important person, and that even Poles mocked Romney for visiting their unworthy country.

  5. Danusha, I will likely hear it on the radio here in Korea tomorrow. The stereotype is everywhere. Hard to defeat but it needs to be identified and understood as a first step. As an example of its freshness today, I just saw a Disney youth TV show the other day with two over-the-top characters of an ambiguously portrayed nationality that is undoubtedly Bohunk. This program is aimed at young teens with the show's characters of supposedly high school age. I spotted the characters and explained their meaning to my son. I even hazarded a guess about some potential "side splitters" he could expect coming up from the "Bohunk" teens. It did not take long to hear that their father was a butcher "in the old country" and made sausage...(I predicted sausage but never guessed he'd be an actual butcher) other foods offered to the two idiotically normal "American teens" by the Bohunk parents were of course equally inedible (probably contained garlic), etc. The Bohunks are regular characters on the Disney show.

    I read a lot of Polish press over the Romney visit. Firstly, there was really not much coverage to be found. I don't think it rated top of the fold (internet style anyway), in any paper. Opinions and views expressed were diverse, mostly based on what paper it was in.

  6. Sadly, its true. The Poland=Ciemnogród ( along the lines of a backward,sinister place filled with Catholic bigotts) stereotype is quite strong. To be honest, there was a time when I felt,well,ashamed,kind of, about being Polish.Then,I realized several things
    -one of them was,that I have met Turkish people who are, while being perfectly integrated into Society,speaking without a foreign accent,proud and honest about being Turks-although most Western Europeans think of Turkish people as being somewhat less civilized (without realizing that there are two Turkeys-the european-like part and Anatolia).I was like-how do they do that? Ill Imitate them-Its worth a shot. Besides, what do Poles have to be ashamed of? I cant even think of one thing,seriously. Also, Turkey has never aknowledged the Partition of Poland."Civilized" France and Britain did.

    The second was that Ive realized that f.e Italians,who are comparably religous as Poles dont get spat upon.How come? (perhaps its the bad neighbourhood.Im starting to think of it as a continuation of the German anti-Polish Kulturkampf (and similar from the Russian Orthodoxy) ,against the Catholic church in Poland as it was a stronghold of Polish national identity the Reich was seeking to destroy.Today,it continues as a meme,without apparently anyone realizing where it came from-its just fine to have s.o to kick). So, although I dont consider myself a Catholic I have gotten extremely annoyed by "modern" Western Europeans pointing out the Catholic (Polish only,of course) anti-Semitism, the backwardness,the homophobia blah blah blah. I have travelled Western Europe extensively and have realized one thing-the West has lost its soul and spirit,and seems to be damn proud about its "modernity"-while at the same time being unable to assimilate the growing number of non-European immigrants,seriously considerning euthanasia ect. Looking at certain cities and suburbs in France,Britain,Spain,Germany, the eventual downfall is imminent. Not having this kind of "modernity" therefore is nothing to be ashamed of.

    Third: Virtually everything that is thrown in our face is not true-starting with Poland being viciously anti-Semitic to being a harbour for stolen goods,a stronghold of religious extremism ect. I have studied Polish history quite a lot so I realized that its actually a lot less shameful than the history of many other countries.

    Therefore I started to not say that "Im from Poland" but "Im a Pole".Takes some guts at first but one gets used to it. And in the end, everyone around also. I think if we could just pull of what the Blacks did (with "Black is beautiful") everyone else would eventually appreciate us,too.

  7. I believe Hanna's points are well stated and ring true over the whole range of issues noted. Failure of immigrant assimilation (and the resignation by governments from even attempting to promote it via the "Multikult" philosophy ) is a central weakness in western nations. Multikult is absent in some of the world's most successful countries and fastest growing economies like China, India and Korea yet only Eastern Europe gets called out as bigots on this account. I don't think individual people can be blamed for lack of initiative to assimilate in countries that bend over backwards supporting Multikult and help destroy that initiative. I don't follow German news closely but I recall Merkel recently calling out the name of Multikult as a failure. Because of Multikult's failure Hanna's self-based solution is a good one as basic self defense against the unfair application of Multikult political correctness where one must accept multiple wives and a separate criminal code as reasonable but being Roman Catholic can be over the top. In this too I must thank Danusha firstly for the blog. The blog has been a catharsis for me as I can now make the statement "I am a Bohunk", acknowledging that the "Bohunk route" is even more aggressive and broad than "I am Polish-American".

  8. The comments raised by Hanna refer to Poland portrayed as a Ciemnogrod--a dark, backward, bigoted, anti-Semitic place. This is part of the smear campaign emanating from neo-Stalinists, and both Polish and non-Polish leftists.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
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