God, honour and fatherland

God, honour and fatherland
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Over the last 18 years, Poland’s state schools have been developing a military education programme (also known as uniformed classes) for students aged between 16 and 19 years old, although some schools allow students to matriculate at the age of just 13. This “innovative” programme is taught within the framework of the “education for security” course. It is not officially recognised, as such, by the National Education Ministry, but is receiving ever-increasing support from the Polish Army, particularly since the ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party came to power in October 2015.

The first classes of this kind were offered in 1999 but attracted very little interest. The trend has, however, changed significantly in recent years and seems to be on the rise. “Almost 560 schools were offering this type of education in Poland at the beginning of 2017, which allows us to estimate the number students taking part at around 57,000. But no one has access to the exact figures,” says an employee (who wishes to remain anonymous) working for Sortmund, the company supplying the majority of the uniformed services and the schools offering military studies in Poland. The figure is impossible to confirm, as the National Education Ministry has no figures in this respect.

Since the communist regime collapsed in 1989, the changes in Poland have come at a dizzying pace. The country’s rapid economic development has not evenly benefited its citizens and the workers have been left totally unprotected. Many of the youngsters who opt for military studies see the police and the army as the country’s most stable employers and hope to find work thanks to the programme.

How the classes are organised is left up to each individual school, which is free to determine the content of the course. The Polish army, other state security bodies or private paramilitary organisations conduct the practical exercises.


Students from the military course attend a history class at High School II in Brzeg. The uniformed classes were introduced at this school in 2011. Some classes, such as this one, are attended by students from different courses.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

Many of the teenagers who choose military studies see the course as an adventure or are fascinated by military paraphernalia, but for the majority, the main appeal is the employment prospects it offers.

“It doesn’t matter how much you study here, if you don’t have contacts you won’t find work,” says 17-year-old Paulina, who follows the uniformed classes at High School II in Brzeg. “A lot of people leave the country, like my cousin, and do not intend to come back. If this country could have been built from scratch, work would have been my priority,” she adds.


Malgorzata Baranowska talking to a pupil from the military course. Baranowska, who teaches history and “education for security”, introduced the uniformed classes to the high school in Brzeg. She was also one of the main figures behind Unit 3060, a paramilitary organisation that works with the school.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

The paramilitary organisations that have been flourishing in Poland for years bring together soldiers and military aficionados and are governed by conservative values, linking patriotism and national identity to religion. They glorify discipline, physical fitness and the ability to survive in any environment. They are also calling for the liberalisation of private arms sales and promote the idea of being combat-ready at all times.


A group of students undergoing training with two instructors from Unit 3060, a paramilitary organisation set up in 2015 (with High School II in Brzeg as its legal headquarters). The Unit operates as an independent body, and its instructors are soldiers or former soldiers.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

The paramilitaries who work at the school are not required to demonstrate their teaching skills. The criteria are, rather, military experience and availability, since their services are often provided on a voluntary basis. They offer a variety of activities, ranging from first aid, topography and physical education to military training, survival camps and combat tactics.


Students from the high school learn urban combat tactics. Replica firearms from private collections are often used during the activities with the paramilitaries. The cost of a replica is between €360 and €710. The average (gross) salary in Brzeg is €660.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

“It is general training,” explains Sebastian Lipinski, an instructor in charge of Unit 3060. “The students learn things that can be useful in life. Not all of them will necessarily want to go on to become soldiers, but they will already have gained a degree of experience. I think everyone should know how to use a weapon. Owning one is a personal matter. Some people collect cars, others collect weapons. There has to be some kind of rules, of course, but it should be facilitated rather than obstructed.”


Students from the high school learning Krav Maga moves with inspector Kamil Zielinski of Unit 3060. Krav Maga is a martial art used by the Israeli defence and security forces. Zelinski is a former soldier, currently employed by a security firm, whose name he did not wish to disclose, but is comparable to Blackwater.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

The objectives of the paramilitaries are in keeping with the policy laid down by the present government, as reflected by the Shooter’s Manual published in 2016 by the Polish Ministry of National Defence for paramilitaries organisations and schools offering military education. The manual, which is not available to the general public but is sent directly to the relevant schools and paramilitary organisations, sets out the basic framework of the education programme, with a view to standardising it across the country. The publication covers three main areas: logistical training, military combat training and civics and the promotion of patriotism.

“The values we want to transmit can be summarised in three words: ‘God, Honour and Fatherland,’” explains Sebastian Lipinski. “We are promoting integrity, taking the “Unbreakable Soldiers” as an example. The students each choose one of the soldiers as a role model, learn his biography and put his military nickname on their uniform.”

The “Unbreakable Soldiers”, also known as the “Doomed or Cursed Soldiers”, were members of the Home Army, the armed wing of the Polish secret police during World War II. Persecuted by the communist regime, they have now been raised to the rank of national heroes. Some, however, were involved in the murders of Polish civilians of Belarusian descent, committed in northeast Poland, 70 years ago. Whilst many in Poland avoid any mention of the issue, the government is downplaying the magnitude of the crimes committed and questioning the veracity of certain testimonies.


Students during military training with Sebastian Lipinski, the instructor in charge of Unit 3060. According to Lipinski, military training and discipline are very important. Military rules are even followed in the language used: the word “order” is used instead of “email” or “information”.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

Patriotism, in the sense of the moral obligation to defend one’s country, is currently being reasserted as the highest value in Poland. The government is coupling national identity with religion, placing emphasis on Christian values even in the Army. At the same time, liberal lifestyles are presented as immoral, dangerous and imposed by the West. This discourse, which has been present in military circles for years, is starting to bear fruit.


A 17-year-old girl from the military education course during manoeuvres with the Army. The students use real firearms during these manoeuvres. In June 2017, High School II in Brzeg was selected by the Ministry of National Defence to pilot a programme aimed at standardising military education throughout the country. The main objectives of the programme are to train future national military reserves, to foster patriotism and ensure combat readiness.

Photo: Hanna Jarzabek

“Poland urgently needs to rebuild its national identity,” says Szymon Kozieja, a student who has been following the military education course for two years. “We have moved away from religion and patriotism. We have developed a more Western lifestyle, based on individualism and consumerism. We need to return to our Christian roots and develop a more collectivist logic. The West cannot impose its values on us. This country belongs to us and we are the ones who should dictate the rules.”

This article has been translated from Spanish.