Poles in the service of peace


I. Poland in the UN peacekeeping missions

The year 2003 is marked by two anniversaries connected with the participation of the representatives of Poland in the UN and other international organizations peacekeeping missions and operations. 50 years have passed since the moment the first group of the Polish military officers joined the United Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea. Thirty years ago, in 1973, the first Polish troops (the Polish Logistic Unit – POLLOG) became part of the Second United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF II) in Egypt.

The Polish contingents serving under the UN auspices initially focused their tasks mainly on logistics, i.e. organization of the field hospitals, sanitary-epidemiological reconnaissance, water, food and POL supply, mine clearing, road and bridges renovation. 1992 observed a new chapter of the Polish participation in international peacekeeping operations, in which peace could be restored only by force. In the former Yugoslavia, in the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) the Polish soldiers had to take over operational tasks such as patrolling supervised area, protecting vital installations, escorting humanitarian convoys, etc.

Poles participate also in other forms of the peacekeeping operations – in the Strategic Reserve SFOR/KFOR of the Supreme Allied Command in Europe (SACEUR), in formation of the Lithuanian-Polish and Polish-Ukrainian peacekeeping battalions as well as in the „Standby Arrangements” within the Danish-German-Polish Brigade (UN Rapid Deployment Forces Multinational Brigade SHIRBRIG).

At present, over 2000 Polish soldiers and civilians participate in 15 peacekeeping and humanitarian missions all over the world. The Polish military troops perform their mandatory tasks in 6 UN and NATO peacekeeping operations and the Polish military experts and observers participate in 9 UN and OSCE missions.

Between 1953 and 2003 over 47 thousand Polish soldiers and civilians served altogether in 54 UN and other international organizations missions. 51 soldiers lost their lives while performing their mandatory tasks and about 400 have been permanently disabled.

II. The Association of Veterans in UN Peacekeeping

Despite a long tradition of ou participation in the UN peacekeeping missions, the Association of Veterans in UN Peacekeeping was registered only in 1999 as a non-government, non-profit organization.

The first National Congress of our Association held on September 10, 1999 in Warsaw elected its executive, passed its statute and a programme. Brig. Gen. (ret.) Tadeusz CEPAK, Ph.D. was elected the first President of the Association.

In accordance with the statute, Polish citizens – active duty or retired soldiers who participated in UN peacekeeping missions or in missions carried out under the UN auspices can join the Association as members. Active duty soldiers may join the Association following the assent of their appropriate military authorities. Foreigners may become members of the Association provided they comply with the statutory requirements.

The Association concentrates its activity on the following tasks:

• consolidation of the UN peacekeeping missions veterans communities and increase of the membership;

• representation and protection of the UN peacekeepers interests in relation to national, military and municipal authorities;

• action on behalf of UN and other international organizations peacekeepers in order to formally recognize them as veterans from the point of view of the Polish law;

• recognition of the social status of the veterans and families of the deceased veterans as well as material support to those in need;

• cooperation with international veteran organizations;

• nationwide popularization of the peacekeeping veterans activity.

The number of members of our Association exceeds 1500 at the moment, including a few dozen women, working in 40 local units all over the country. The most numerous units, with over 100 members each, are located in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Szczecin and Bydgoszcz. These units are mainly preoccupied with the self-aid and social-cultural activity and cooperate closely with the local military commanders and local authorities. Units work is presented in the quarterly Blekitne Berety („Blue Berets”).

Executive Board of the Association is in permanent close contact with the MPs (Members of Parliament), the Polish President’s Office, Ministry of Defence, Chief of the General Staff, the Army Commander, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of Veterans and Persecuted Persons as well as with the presidents and chairmen of veterans and soldiers organizations in Poland.

Hitherto legislative initiatives taken by the Association have failed to change the country’s Bill dated January 24, 1991 about veterans and other persons – victims of war and repressive measures. The Bill does not regard as veterans participants of the UN and other international organizations peacekeeping operations. We hope that the legal status of the Polish veteran peacekeepers may change when Poland joins the EU in 2004. The EU member countries have already conformed their law to resolutions of the World Veteran Federation Congress held in Seoul in 1997.

The Association supports medical specialists and psychologists in their efforts to improve the system of selecting candidates for the peacekeeping missions. We are specially interested in the long-term monitoring of the veterans health, mainly after-effects of the traumatic stress (PTSD). A foundation Servi Pad was brought into being in order to help the disabled veterans of the peacekeeping missions and their families who are not well off.

Our organization joined the Polish Federation of Reservists and Armed Forces Veterans Associations, which is a member of the NATO Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR). We have established contacts with the Secretary General of the World Veteran Federation. In 2001 an agreement on a mutual cooperation was signed with the Danish Association of the UN Blue Berets Soldiers (FN Soldaterforeningen De Bla Baretter). Delegations of the Polish and Danish Associations exchanged official visits in Poland and Denmark. Representatives of the Polish Association participated in Northern European Conferences on International Peacekeeping Operations Veterans Support in Baerea (2000) and Doom (2002).

In 2003 we celebrate the 50 anniversary of the Polish participation in the peacekeeping operations under the UN flag. Many events have been organized to popularize the UN ideas. An album Poles in the Service of Peace was published. We would like to present the delegates of the Conference with the album. Our activity is presented on the Internet2. The main events celebrating the 50l anniversary will be held on the UN day, i.e. on October 24, 2003 with the participation of the President of the Polish Republic, Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Participation of the Polish military troops in antiterrorist operations makes the problem of the military service abroad extremely popular nationwide. In such atmosphere, on October 25, 2003 the Second National Congress of the Association will be held in Warsaw. The delegates will debate on the first, four-year long tenure of the Association, elect the new authorities and draw up new guidelines for work in the coming four years. We hope that results of the present Conference – which we are going to present during our Congress – will add to our debate and will turn out to be helpful in determining further activity of our Association.

III. Medical and psychological aspects of the UN peacekeeping operations

The research on the influence of the post-traumatic stress on the missions’ participants has been started in Poland only a few years ago. Until 1989, participation in a peace-keeping operation was regarded in the Polish Armed Forces as a reward and privilege, and veterans of these missions were thought to be the fortunate ones. That is why the issue concerning the psychological effects of participation in such operations was for a long time out of the scope of scientific interest of military psychologists and psychiatrists.

The current studies on this problem benefit not only from reports of foreign authors, but also from the works of Polish psychiatrists and psychologists. For many years now, they have been examining people exposed to severe stress (prisoners of concentration camps, victims of war and political oppressions). On the conference in Baerea I presented the results of preliminary studies concerning psychological effects of participation in restoring peace in the former Yugoslavia. I will only remind you that 7% of the veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, while 45% showed some symptoms of it. Unfortunately, due to the loss of contact with the participants of these missions, it has not been possible to conduct follow-up studies. Considering the growing participation of the Polish soldiers in the peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, it is necessary to create legal and practical conditions to constantly monitor their health.

According to the current legislation, professional soldiers, conscripts volunteers and civil candidates for the service abroad are subject to specialized psychological and physical examination, both before the departure and after their return to the country. The examinations are conducted in the military clinics, in accordance with the place where the candidates are stationed. Starting from 1. July 2004, these examinations will be conducted by selected military medical boards, which will enable a full-range assessment of the veterans’ health condition, including the long-term effects of the post-traumatic stress.

There are no such psychological tests which would completely eliminate cases of the so-called mental breakdown, resulting from the stress of the battlefield. The experience proves that the best way to predict a soldier’s future behaviour is to look at his professionalism and his performance under stress.

This fact supports the idea of forming specialized units, trained to serve in the peace-keeping operations.

The Polish regulations distinguish a few categories of mental disorders, closely connected with the stress of war. They are the basis for receiving a one-time compensation for suffering damage to one’s health and, at the same time, the basis for being included into one of the three disability groups (with the disability pension from 40% up to 90% of the previous salary). Unfortunately, disabled veterans of the peace-keeping operations do not have in Poland the status of disabled war veterans, who are -among others – entitled to free medicines and other benefits.

It is obviously better to be a mentally healthy veteran of the peace-keeping operations than a privileged invalid. For that reason the Polish Armed Forces pay a lot of attention to the psychoprofilaxis. Since 1995, in every battalion there is a psychologist, usually a female, who specializes in crisis interventions. The job of this person is, among others, to train soldiers to deal with the stress. Military psychologists have already proved useful during the peace-keeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. At the moment, they accompany soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The participation of complete troops in the peace-keeping operations has positively influenced the change in the attitude towards the participants in their mother units. Common experience integrates the soldiers’ families. In the garrison clubs women form informal „female headquarters”, which keep in touch with the soldiers and coordinate self-help. That way life has forced changes which were not possible by the way of orders.

Significance of the social initiatives notwithstanding, one has to stress the vital responsibility of the State – as a sovereign power over the armed forces – to render broad support to participants of the peacekeeping missions and their families. Cost of such support should constitute the immanent part of the overall means allocated for participation in the peacekeeping operations.

Author:  Col. (ret.) Stanisław Ilnicki, M.D., Ph.D. Head of Department of Psychiatry, Military Medical Institute,  00-909 Warszawa, ul. Szaserów 128

Supportive member of the Polish Association of the Veterans of the UN Peacekeeping Operations

3rd Northern European Conference on Veterans Support,
Vordingborg (Denmark), 16 – 19 October 2003
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