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Polish paramilitaries

Monika Sieradzka, Gdansk / gro
June 12, 2016

Thousands of Poles are active in militia like civil defense associations. DW's Monika Sieradzka went to northeastern Poland to visit a father who trains for war with his children.

Gdansk-area family involved in paramilitary group
Image: Privat

Piotr Czuryllo is a "prepper." He focuses on preparing for worst-case scenarios. Preppers build shelters and store food supplies for future disasters. To Piotr, this is not a hobby; it is a way of life.

The whole family is involved. The Czuryllos live with their two children in a village in northeastern Poland, less than 100 kilometers away from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

On military maps, the area has become an especially sensitive strip of land ever since Poland joined NATO. In the event of a crisis, Russia could swiftly create a "corridor" between Russia and Belarus, thereby cutting off the Baltic States from their allies in the West.

Polish "military picnic"
Polish 'military picnic'Image: DW/M. Sieradzka

Many of the inhabitants in northeastern Poland fear that they would be the first in the line of fire. That is why Piotr Czuryllo became a prepper.

"Our history has shown that a quiet life can quickly transform into war," the 50-year-old explained.

For seven years now, he has been practicing different survival strategies with his family. Almost every weekend seems to be an adventure camp. Together, they collect mushrooms and herbs, go hunting and sometimes sleep outdoors in the forest.

'Poland has been waiting for you'

There are around 50,000 preppers like Piotr in Poland. Another 35,000 are members of organized paramilitary associations. They pay for their own uniforms, weapons and military exercises. Just recently, a rifle association in Gdansk earned enough money in a crowdfunding campaign to buy a machine gun.

Piotr thought that the potential should not be wasted, so he organized a paramilitary congress. The government in Warsaw would like to benefit from this patriotic spirit. After all, there are probably thousands of men who could raise a volunteer army "in an emergency." That is about a third of the current strength of the Polish army.

That is why Polish defense minister Antoni Macierewicz took part in the paramilitary congress co-organized by Czuryllo in the Polish city of Ostroda. Macierewicz scrutinized 1,000 students of what are called "uniform classes" and received applause when he said that they were "the future of the modern Polish army."

There are now 300 schools in Poland that offer "uniform classes." They teach advanced courses on military training, sports, history and patriotism. "The fatherland has been waiting for you," declared the minister of youth. His spokesman told public television, "Security is now 'in' and Warsaw intends to support this trend."

Reward for patriotism

The ministry plans to support this growing military enthusiasm in Poland. After national defense structures are reformed, every registered volunteer will be eligible to receive the equivalent of 120 euros per month. "We have never seen anything like this," Piotr said, excited about the idea hatched by the nationalist-conservative PiS government. It signalizes to people that it pays to be patriotic - and prepared to fight.

Poland taking part in NATO "Anakonda" exercises
Poland is an enthusiastic member of NATOImage: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/M. Wlodarczyk

Selected paramilitaries are already allowed to practice with the pros. Volunteers in Poland are taking part in a NATO exercise for the first time. "Anakonda" is the largest NATO war game in Poland since the end of the Cold War.

"We expect around 500 volunteers," said the new government plenipotentiary for the volunteer militia, Waldemar Zubek, in an interview with DW. Starting in the autumn, the paramilitary forces will regularly train alongside the Polish army.

New laws for emergencies

In Warsaw, emotions are running high. Just ahead of the most important event in recent years - the NATO summit in early July - policies enabling quick NATO assistance are being prepared for emergencies. The alliance's founding North Atlantic Treaty provides that each member can rely on the support of the others if attacked. The Poles want to simplify this and are working on a new law, which will comes into force before the NATO summit.

The legislation would ensure a quicker arrival of NATO troops in emergencies. The president is to decide on the law at the request of the Polish prime minister without having to involve parliament.

If the Sejm were to be involved, we would only lose time, Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski said. "We need to plan so that no little green men show up here," he said, alluding to the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.

His rhetoric matches the mood of the country: Only one-third of Poles believe that NATO would immediately help their country in an emergency. Two-thirds are doubtful or undecided.

Skilled survivors

Piotr Czuryllo is among the skeptics. When the official delegation left the congress in Ostroda, he rushed home. He exchanged his business suit for outdoor gear and went to the forest together with his family.

"We will build a camp in the woods again," Piotr said, proudly recounting his latest parenting success. "My ten-year-old daughter can already eat raw deer meat and is learning to prepare meals made out of herbs." He says she is not as pale and weak as the other girls her age and doesn't spend her time with her smartphone or on her computer.

His three-year-old son already knows how to use a bow and arrow. Piotr Czuryllo believes that the children's natural instincts should be cultivated. "Our family would survive any war," he said.

For how long? "As long as there is water."