Poles apart: Warsaw’s WWII commemoration puts politics above reconciliation

In September 1939 Poland was invaded by two different countries. On September 1, there was a massive assault from the air, land and sea by Nazi Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union attacked from the east, to re-occupy territory that had been lost to Poland in the 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet war.

While both invasions were wrong, and crimes and atrocities were committed in both, by any objective assessment the Nazi invasion was the most damaging, in terms of the brutality of the occupation, the numbers killed – and in its global consequences. It was, after all, the invasion of 1st September that triggered the start of the Second World War, as just two days later Britain, France and Australia declared war on Germany. The death toll in the Second World War has been estimated at between 60 and 85 million.

Yet, while Poland had no problem in inviting the German President to Warsaw, they did have a problem in inviting the Russian one.

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It seems we’ve now gone beyond ‘dual responsibility’ WWII revision to ‘Russia/Soviet Union was more guilty than Nazi Germany’ revision. 

Russia’s ‘invasion’ of Crimea in 2014 has been cited as a reason for the non-invite, but to call it an ‘invasion’ is absurd. What happened is that Crimea (where ethnic Russians form a sizeable majority) voted in a referendum to return to Russia following an illegal ‘regime change’ in Kiev in which anti-Russian nationalist groups were at the forefront.

In any case, if the Polish authorities have such an objection to what happened in Crimea, why were they hosting US Vice-President Pence, whose country has invaded/attacked more countries than any other in recent decades? If you oppose the relatively bloodless ‘invasion’ of Crimea, how can you support or defend the illegal invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of over a million people?

The WWII commemoration could have been a great opportunity for Poland to demonstrate statesmanship. They could have invited the leaders of all the main protagonists of WWII and worked to get a joint declaration signed by the leaders, vowing ‘Never Again’. Instead, as Mark Santora of the NY Times reports: “President Andrzej Duda used the occasion to chide other European leaders for not taking the threat posed by Russian aggression seriously, making an analogy to the policies of appeasement that allowed the Nazi party to rise in Germany.”

What can we say about politicians who use war commemorations not as an opportunity for reconciliation between old adversaries, but as an opportunity to foment new tensions? I refer not just to the far-from-cool dude Duda but to Mike Pence, who quite significantly said the “dual invasions” of Poland in September 1939, and not the Nazi one, “marked the beginning” of the Second World War. Again, he was putting a contemporary anti-Russian agenda above proper commemoration. 

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Let’s get one thing straight. Russia is not about to invade Poland. ‘Russian aggression’ is in fact a fact-free neocon mantra, in the same way ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction’ was in 2002/3. 

It’s repeated robotically by more or less the same people.

How wonderful it would have been to see the leaders of Poland, Germany, Russia and the US link arms this weekend in Warsaw. But Poland prefers to keep things Cold. 

While no one disputes the huge price the country paid in World Two (around 17% of the population, including three million Jews, perished), there comes a point when Warsaw’s continuing anti-Russian hostility becomes rather disturbing. It’s utterly wrong to respond to this by indulging in mirror-image Polonophobia and blaming Poland for the start of WWII, as some Russian political figures have in recent days.

At the same time, Poland must not be beyond criticism in 2019 because of what happened to the country in the past. No country, or people, in the world is an eternal victim or an eternal villain. While documenting the absolutely appalling crimes and aggressions committed against Poland and making it clear that two wrongs don’t make a right, we must also acknowledge that the large Ukrainian and Belarussian minorities had been persecuted in Poland prior to the 1939 invasions and ethnic Germans were massacred in response, in September 1939. In his history of Belarus ‘The Last Soviet Republic’ Stewart Parker relates how, in November 1935, ‘a large concentration camp’ was established in Bereza Kartuska ‘for the internment of socially dangerous elements.’ This included ‘leaders of Belarussian workers’ unions, and members of the Belarussian intelligentsia.’ Parker says that around 10,000 Belarussians had been imprisoned by the Polish authorities for political reasons in the 1930s and that the arrival of the Red Army ‘was greeted enthusiastically by most western Belarussians as they had lived under direct persecution in Poland.’

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Poland is now demanding more reparations from Germany, who thought the matter had been settled, and the way things are going, probably soon from Russia, too. 

Again, this is a very sensitive issue, and you have to see both sides, but is the Polish stance aiding reconciliation or hindering it? It was hard not  to be moved by the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asking for forgiveness from Poland for Germany’s ‘historical guilt’ on Sunday. At what point will this forgiveness be accepted? At what point does failure to accept forgiveness become, in itself, an uncharitable act? The Polish President clearly doesn’t think that point has been reached, and says that  “turning a blind eye is not the recipe for preserving peace.” He seems to strongly oppose European rapprochement with Russia and is against Russia being readmitted to the G-7 group of powerful countries. 

But, as we remember the horrors of WWII, how can prolonging historical enmities be good for ‘preserving peace’ either?

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Source Article from https://www.rt.com/op-ed/467888-ww2-poland-soviet-invited-russia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=RSS

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