What are the consequences of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Putin's current aggression against Ukraine for the relationship between the military and civil society in Poland? Dr Bettina Bruns from the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography is currently investigating this question in a research project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.
Leipzig. Russian aggression against Ukraine is stoking fears in many places. Concerns about an expansion of the war are particularly great in Poland. There, the number of people who associate patriotism with a willingness to defend their country militarily is growing, notes Dr Bettina Bruns of the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL) in Leipzig. In her research project on the "Paramilitary Production of Security in Local Social Contexts in Poland", she is investigating current militarisation trends in Polish civil society. Thereby, her research focuses on two important actors: the Territorial Defence, which is part of the Polish army, and independently acting so-called shooting associations.
Bettina Bruns has already conducted interviews with members of such paramilitary organisations. The associations of volunteers are primarily aimed at young people and combine military training with patriotic content. "They see themselves as a kind of youth club that keeps the adolescents away from the streets, alcohol and drugs and instead teaches them values such as discipline and loyalty," says Bruns. In addition, weapons training has been on the timetable for students aged 13 and older since September, and more and more "classes in uniform" are being set up.
In the private sector, security companies offer shooting training and paramilitary exercises for paying customers. At the same time, a growing appreciation of the Polish armed forces is to be observed. In particular, their territorial defence army is currently receiving more applications than ever before. Initial results from the project indicate that the popularity of these troops also has to do with the long tradition, which this part of the Polish army emphasises in public discourse.
However, according to Bettina Bruns' findings, these units contribute to national security less through their military strength. She considers the narratives of territorial defence, which emphasise the feeling of solidarity with the home region and the state, to be more important. Historical references are also recognisable in this, for example to the Polish Home Army, which fought in the Second World War to liberate Poland from the German occupying power. Such narratives serve as models for today's security production of territorial defence.
Further field studies and interviews will shed light on the relationship between state and non-state military actors and the role emotions play in shaping and perceiving their security practices.
The research project "'We want to be prepared' – On the paramilitary production of security in local social contexts in Poland" is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation within the framework of a Schumpeter Fellowship with around 300,000 euros for the period 2020 to 2024. The first results will soon be published in the journal "Canadian Slavonic Papers".
Dr Bettina Bruns is a senior researcher and deputy coordinator of the research group "Geographies of Belonging and Difference" at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography. Her research focus is on critical military geography and in particular on the topic of security and border, mainly with a view to Poland and Belarus.
Dr Bettina Bruns