No Port News Dept: Where’s Barry?

As noted in Part I of this “No Port News Is Good News” series, the Cape Breton Post reported on Monday that:

[Albert Barbusci] is working with port marketer Barry Sheehy to secure the business required to move ahead with the construction of an international container terminal north of the Sydport Business Park.

Contrast that with what Barry Sheehy himself had to say about what he (and his brothers) are up to these days:

[W]e decided one day, when life was a little slower for us, and we weren’t running around the world on business and other things, that we would come here to Warsaw and we would lay a wreath to the 1st Polish Armoured Division…

That day apparently arrived in October 2018. Eight months after CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke promised us big news (that never came) on the port file.

 

Where’s Barry?

I know that Barry Sheehy was in Warsaw last fall because his trip was captured on video. Thirty-plus minutes of video, posted by the Sheehy brothers’ traveling companion and guide, Aleksander Rybczyński, editor of the online magazine Polska Canada, who published an account of their adventures on January 23.

And not only was Sheehy in Warsaw last October, he was there in military dress (he’s a former member of the Canadian Air Force) as was his brother Matt and for a dizzying moment I thought their “mission” might be to annex Poland to Gabarus.

Paul, Matt and Barry Sheehy. (Source: Polska Canada https://www.polskacanada.com/the-winged-alliance-canadian-journey-to-honour-poland/)

Paul, Matt and Barry Sheehy. (Source: Polska Canada)

But no, he and his brothers (the one in civvies is Paul) — Irish Canadians, all — were there to honor the “250,000 Polish airmen, seaman soldiers and scientists” who played “such a decisive role in winning the Second World War.”

Oh, and they were there to dog whistle.

And boy, can they dog whistle.

 

History

The essence of their mission is captured in Rybczyński’s introduction to the video on the Polska Canada website, in which he says the brothers Sheehy:

…hope that the contacts they have made in Poland will help continue the Canadian-Polish alliance in spreading worldwide the just image of Polish history and in finding and proclaiming the truth in the times of rampant globalization that threatens the cultural and civilizational traditions of the West.

The phrase “just image of Polish history” is fraught with meaning because (recent) Polish history has been the subject of a huge (some say overblown) controversy for a number of years now.

It’s a complicated subject, one I cannot possibly explore properly within the scope of this article, but I think it’s correct to say it blew up around new Holocaust scholarship by historians like Jan Gross  and Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa that has brought to light uncomfortable truths about Polish complicity in the Holocaust. (Stanley Bill provides a very even-handed analysis of Grabowski’s work on his Notes from Poland blog.)

To be clear: the main authors of the atrocities that took place in Poland during the Second World War were the Nazi and Soviet occupiers. And Poland, although it was the only Nazi-occupied country where helping a Jew was punishable by death, has the highest number of citizens honored by Israel for helping Jews. And given that, Poles were (understandably, in my view) tired of people using the phrase “Polish concentration camps” to refer to Nazi camps on Polish territory.

But Gross and Grabowski have documented instances where Poles either killed Jews or betrayed them or blackmailed them, and this is an aspect of Polish history some would prefer not to explore.

In response, I think it’s fair to say, to all of this, in 2018, Poland’s right-wing, governing Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość or PiS) passed a law stating that;

Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.

This caused an uproar that has yet to fully settle down. Both the United States and Israel weighed in against the law, as did Jewish organizations who felt it would not only criminalize discussion of wartime complicity, it would restrict discussion of modern-day antisemitism in Poland. (Antisemitism like this.)

Other critics, according to Time Magazine:

…have accused the right-wing government of using the issue to bolster political support. PiS has been accused of pandering to nationalists and the far-right through xenophobic language and tailoring its message to appeal to a spectrum of right-wing voters. PiS’s leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski once said Muslim refugees carried “various parasites and protozoa” and the government’s education minister in 2016 discounted two well-documented massacres of Jews, including Jedwabne, by calling it a matter of “opinion, ” according to the Times of Israel.

The Polish government eventually caved to the pressure and downgraded the offense from criminal to civil. But emotions still run high, and I’m pretty sure you can’t reference the “just image of Polish history,” as Rybczyński did, without evoking this controversy.

So you can see why three Canadians who look at Poland during the Second World War and see only brave soldiers “defending the West” would be welcomed with open arms by the authorities.

 

Gates of Vienna

As for the reference to “rampant globalization,” according to The Conversation, in right wing usage it can refer to global trade which has “played a role in economic stagnation or decline for people in the [global] north.”

Global trade, though, would be a strange thing for Barry Sheehy — a man purportedly working “to secure the business required to move ahead with the construction of an international container terminal” — to oppose.

So perhaps Rybczyński is referencing another aspect of the modern anti-globalization movement, the one with the “ethno-nationalist and anti-immigrant components.” The one that sees Muslim immigrants, in particular, as a threat to “the cultural and civilizational traditions of the West.” The one that is alive and well in Poland, one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe.

Overwhelmingly Polish and Roman Catholic, Poland accepts very few immigrants generally (it’s been claiming recently to have granted immigrant status to thousands of Ukrainians when in fact, it has granted them work visas) and has refused to accept any of the 160,000 Syrian refugees the EU agreed to resettle in 2015.

So when Barry Sheehy tells an audience in Poland:

[W]e have seen Poland adopt courageous but difficult decisions within the EU to protect its culture and national cohesiveness. These are not easy positions to adopt and hold within the EU. Is it possible Poland once again stands protecting Europe?

What he’s dog whistling is: you kept the Muslims out.

Moreover, he’s refined this point to argue that Poland’s role in Europe has always been to keep the Muslims out, hence the “siege of Vienna” reference that has replaced “The Great Circle Route” in his speechifying. If I were playing dog-whistle Bingo while watching this video, I would want “siege of Vienna” on my card. Sheehy actually began sounding this note before he even left Canada, writing, in a Polska Canada article entitled, “Captain Barry Sheehy — A Personal Journey,” that:

As an historian, I knew well the role of the famed Winged Cavalry in lifting the siege of Vienna and saving Europe from Turkish invasion in 1683.

I guess the use of “Turkish invasion” puts Sheehy a cut above his fellow Battle of Vienna enthusiasts on Breitbart, who prefer a bullhorn to a dog whistle when denouncing Islam. Consider this quote from a Breitbart story about the defeat of Austria’s far right Freedom Party in 2016 (a story which begins by noting that Austrians “have decided to not elect a leader who is committed to stopping the Muslim migrant invasion”):

The Battle of Vienna is considered to have been a great victory of Catholicism over Islam. It is certainly how the victors viewed the battle.

Catholic aspects of the Battle of Vienna abound. The relief of the city by Jan III Sobieski came about because of an alliance brokered by Pope Innocent XI between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Poland, which was also under attack from Muslims.

(I’m going to go out on a limb and say Mrs. Sheehy’s boy Barry, proud graduate of Loyola College in Montreal, is Catholic.)

 

Solidarni 2010

Okay, time to focus on the video.

It begins with the Sheehy brothers being welcomed to a Polish-Canadian Evening in Warsaw hosted by Natalia Tarcyńska of the Solidarni 2010 Association.

Solidarni 2010, is one of the more radical “patriotic” groups  loyal to PiS, according to Stanley Bill, the Cambridge academic behind the Notes from Poland blog. It is also one of the groups that believes the conspiracy theories behind a 2010 air crash in Smolensk, Russian, in which:

…the Polish Air Force Tupolev Tu-154 carrying the presidential delegation to the ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre crashed into the forest just short of the runway…Among the 96 victims were President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, 18 members of the Polish parliament, Solidarity hero Anna Walentynowicz, high-ranking military officials, the president of the National Bank of Poland, members of the Catholic clergy, and relatives of the Polish army officers murdered by the Soviets in the forest at Katyn seventy years earlier.

The uncanny resonance of this tragedy with the tragedies of the past has given the event an almost unbearable symbolic weight, dividing Polish society between believers and non-believers in a creed of Russian foul play and Polish government collaboration.

Doubts about the official explanation of the crash (which involves heavy fog and pressure on the flight crew from high-ranking passengers to attempt the landing) helped bring the PiS, led by Kaczyński’s twin brother Jarosław, to power. Some observers connect the crash to the development of Poland’s conservative press which they say hadn’t really existed prior to 2010.

Solidarni 2010 takes its name from a 2014 documentary film of the same name by journalist Ewa Stankiewicz (also the organization’s first president) which features interviews recorded with people in the streets during a national day of mourning in Warsaw and the funeral of the president and his wife in Krakow. Critics say the film — which allows people to air all their theories about the crash — has helped deepen the divide between Poles.

Human Rights First, a New York-based NGO, has identified Solidarni 2010 as a “collection of long-time PiS allies” on the receiving end of funding from the Polish government.

And Stanley Bill referenced Solidarni 2010 in a 2017 post about Poland’s annual March of Independence, which that year had been “strongly anti-Muslim” and in which Solidarni 2010 had been an enthusiastic participant , marching under the banner, “We Want God.”

This, then, was one of the groups welcoming the Sheehy brothers to Poland.

 

Republika TV

Barry and Matt Sheehy also appeared, along with Rybczyński, on a television show hosted by the same Ewa Stankiewicz who made Solidarni 2010.

Their welcome was warm — here’s how the episode is archived on the Republika TV website:

Source: Republika TV https://telewizjarepublika.pl/temat/otwartym-tekstem/21186/1

Source: Republika TV

 

Cursed but unwavering

All three Sheehys participated in the panel discussion at something called the Niepokorni, Niezłomni, Wyklęci (NNW) film festival, which Google translates as the “Unwavering Cursed Film Festival.”

Founded in 2008, the annual gathering:

…is the largest cultural event dedicated to the subject of Cursed Soldiers and Polish history in the years 1939-1989. For 4 days, the guides and witnesses of those events are guides to unreported stories.

The “Cursed Soldiers” is the name given to Polish anti-communist partisans who are now honored each year on March 1 in Poland. As the Guardian explains:

In Poland, Law and Justice is championing a set of heroes that were suppressed and silenced under communist rule. In the place of communist monuments, new state-approved murals and memorials are appearing across the country: to those Polish generals who died at the hands of the Nazi and Soviet occupiers, and, increasingly, to the “cursed soldiers”, a motley crew of resistance fighters from the Home Army and other underground movements, who waged a protracted struggle against communist authorities until the early 1960s. A decade ago, these men and women were rarely discussed; today their names form a key part of the foundation myth Law and Justice is forging for Poland.

The problem is that some of those “motley” fighters were outright criminals. One Polish historian estimates they killed over 200 Jews, as well as thousands of Polish, Ukrainian and Belarusian civilians.

But the Sheehys aren’t bothered by such nuances, as Paul told the audience:

In the West, in Canada in particular, there seems to be an attempt to deny our history or change it or whatever. And if we carry on like that, we won’t have a country. So, by all means, celebrate your history…

And Barry, not to be outdone, took it a step further:

Remember the history is not what was history, history is what is. You are making history today. Poland is moving forward. Poland is being successful. You are making it successful. And don’t let people whose policies are failing hold you back. Push them aside. Move on. Let the results speak for themselves and then let them catch up.

Which sounds to me like a pretty straight-up endorsement of the ruling PiS which, in addition to its Holocaust law has put the Polish courts under its control and — for its next trick — plans to focus on LGBTQ issues in its 2019 election campaign. Reports Forbes:

PiS recently condemned a school sex education program planned in Warsaw designed to teach pupils about sexual orientation, discrimination and reproductive health, according to standards set by the World Health Organization. The party wants to keep sex education mainly in the hands of parents, instead of schools or non-government organizations. It is also against abortion, as well as IVF treatment.

 

Polska Canada

The anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiments expressed in the video aren’t particularly subtle, but they seem so compared to some of the content on Rybczyński’s Polska Canada website.

During the interview with Republika TV, Rybczyński explains that the site, run by himself and his wife, was originally “dedicated mostly to art, literature and music” but “in today’s reality” he found he could not justify these self-imposed limits. There were too many subjects “censored” or “ignored” by the mainstream media and he found it hard to remain a “silent bystander” because he cares “about the truth.”

So he started writing about these subjects. And he (apparently) invited his “collaborators” to do the same. And the results? Well, it’s interesting because when you look at the Polish version, it looks like an arts magazine — but when you click on the “English” button, it starts looking more like Breitbart. And it’s worth noting that it was through the English-language content on the website that Matt Sheehy discovered Rybczyński. Which means he must have found his way of viewing the world sympatico.

Here, for example, is Rybczyński on the subject of the July 2018 Danforth shooting in Toronto, in which a man identified as Faisal Hussain killed two people and wounded 13 before turning his gun on himself. For Rybczyński, Faisal was a Muslim and therefore a terrorist and he excoriated the mainstream media, not only for failing to identify him as such, but for “whitewashing” Muslims in general:

Various TV channels kept showing a Middle Eastern man telling the story about how he had wanted to stop the shooter but was afraid to do it. The Toronto Star edition of July 27th run [sic] the front-page article about a Muslim female surgeon who had saved the lives of some badly wounded victims. This led the journalist to declare that “Islam is not a religion of violence and disavows violence in all of its forms”, a clear untruth. Nobody can deny that every community contains good people and bad people. However, suggesting that all ethnic groups subscribe to the code of Western values and love peace is shockingly dishonest.

Rybczyński then links to a clip from Rebel Media — the far right-wing “media” outlet Vice magazine likens to Canada’s “b-rate Breitbart.” (Rybczyński later updated this post to add a note about Alex Jones of InfoWars being kicked off platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Apple and Spotify, the implication being that free speech and truth tellers — like himself –are under attack.)

Elsewhere on Polska Canada, a contributor named Mariusz Wesolowski responds to the January 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City by implying — almost a year after the fact — that Alexandre Bissonnette did not act alone and that his accomplice was Mohamed Belkhadir.

Belkhadir was a member of the mosque who, as the prosecutor in the case would explain in 2018, had been out clearing snow when the shootings happened, came back in to try to help the victims, and panicked when he saw police guns pointed at him because “he thought the police officers were the killers.” As the Montreal Gazette reported:

An engineering student at Université Laval, Belkhadir was arrested but later released by police. This led to rumours of a second shooter, a theory still commonly discussed by some conspiracy theorists on social media.

“Alexandre Bissonnette acted alone,” (prosecutor Thomas) Jacques said, adding that Belkhadir had no links to Bissonnette.

But Wesolowski’s article — and the link it contains to the source of his information, Rebel Media’s Faith Goldy — remain available on the Polska Canada website.

Vice magazine, in fact, reported in February 2017 that:

The two most prevalent media outlets pushing truther narratives [about the Quebec mosque shooting], either explicitly or implicitly, are the usual suspects: InfoWars and Canada’s Rebel Media…

It would also come out that Bissonnette himself had “routinely checked” the twitter accounts of InfoWars’ Alex Jones and then-Rebel Media personality Gavin McInnes.

In fact, it would be revealed in January 2019 that Faisal Hussain, Rybczyński’s “Muslim terrorist” from the Danforth shooting, had a massive cache of ammunition and DVDs related to 9/11 truthers — including Alex Jones.

To be clear: the men involved in both these shootings got their information from the same sources — Rebel Media and InfoWars — as does Rybczyński.

 

Unreal

I actually do believe in free speech and I’m not documenting this because I think Barry Sheehy should be denied a platform (not that Barry Sheehy has much of a platform).

In fact, I’m as skittish as Rybczyński at the thought of YouTube and Facebook and Apple and Spotify deciding what is and isn’t acceptable speech in our society.

And I will leave it to someone better qualified than I to judge whether he should be wearing his Canadian military insignia on this mission.

But I do feel it necessary to call Sheehy out on his dog-whistle tour of Poland, not only because I don’t agree with his ideas (although that’s part of it) but also because this is not the way serious consultants behave.

Serious consultants tend to keep their more controversial views to themselves for fear of alienating potential clients.

A serious port developer hoping to do business with, say, Egypt, a 90% Muslim country, would probably save all that “gates of Vienna” stuff for his favorite racist sub-reddit.

Although I think Sheehy himself has decided to drop the charade that he’s a port developer. Announcing your life has slowed and you’re no longer running all around the world on business kind of sounds like “I am not a port developer” to me.

But Port of Sydney Development Corporation CEO Marlene Usher doesn’t seem to have got the memo. Per the Post:

The lack of a public update on Novaporte – the name given to the proposed container terminal – does not concern Port of Sydney Development Corp. CEO Marlene Usher.

“I understand when people don’t hear anything start to make assumptions but I’m not concerned,” she said.

“Sometimes that’s just the way business is done. It’s done in private and they are a private project. I think that’s just something we have to put up with for the sake of them doing the project.”

Yeah, sure, it’s like when your friend is going to the store and says, “Do you want anything?” and you say, “Surprise me.”

Except your friend is a port developer and the surprise will cost $1.5 billion dollars and it might involve the People’s Republic of China.

Oh man, who’s gonna tell her?

 

 

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