Intense Photos Show Polish Teens Getting Military Training At A Nationalist Boot Camp

This high school program is like the JROTC on steroids.

Poland's Military profile classes, a collaboration among schools, the Polish army, state agencies, and private paramilitary organizations, have been around since 1999. They rose in popularity in 2014, especially among young people looking for an advantage in finding future employment with the army or police force.

It's no coincidence that the program has gained steam since the ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party took office in October 2015. These military classes support the larger nationalist revival that's sweeping through Poland and many other countries right now. Under its unofficial motto, "God, Honor, and Homeland," the program promotes patriotism and frames "defending the homeland" as a moral obligation of its participants.

There's also a strong desire to strip away liberal, western influences and realign the country with Christian values, and the classes are a way for those messages to directly reach the younger generation. As one 18-year-old student in his second year of the program said, "The most urgent thing in Poland is to rebuild the national identity. We have moved far away from religion and patriotism. We have developed a more western lifestyle, based on individualistic logic and consumerism. It is necessary to return to ... Christian roots and develop more community-oriented behavior. The West cannot impose its values on us. We are the owners of this country and we are the ones who should dictate the rules here."

Although the schools are designed for students between the ages of 16 and 19, some allow children as young as 13 to enroll. Photographer Hanna Jarzabek went back to the school she attended herself 25 years ago to photograph the program and speak with students. Jarzabek is not uncomfortable in the presence of weapons, having spent part of her career working in the Gaza Strip. And yet, it was a "very strange feeling to see so many guns around" and to "see teenagers learning to use [sophisticated guns] in a country with no war going on," she said.

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