Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Celebration of Russia's victory in WWII creates resentment and tension

By Aussiegirl

This is what happens when the only history you have to celebrate involves a lot of crimes against humanity. Besides, wasn't it the Soviet Union -- and not Russia that won this victory? Millions of Ukrainians and other nationalities who were under the umbrella of the "Soviet Union" died in that war as well, but I guess Russia always saw the "Soviet" Union as being the Russian Communist Empire.

Ian Traynor, writing in The Guardian has the story:

Russian victory festivities open old wounds in Europe

60th anniversary of Nazis' defeat is hit by boycotts and bitterness

As President Vladimir Putin gears up for the biggest spectacular of his five-year rule, Moscow and its former satellites in eastern Europe are mired in rancour and recrimination about the chapter of history they are about to commemorate.

Most central and east European leaders are due to join President George Bush, Tony Blair, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schr´┐Żder, and more than 50 heads of state and government in Moscow next month when Mr Putin will preside over lavish ceremonies to mark Russia's finest hour - the defeat of Nazi Germany 60 years ago.

The east Europeans, however, are heading to Moscow in anxiety and even antipathy. After all, Stalin's "liberation" of the space between Russia and Germany was a conquest that brutalised as well, entrenching the 45-year cold war division of Europe.

Poland, which was invaded and partitioned by both the Third Reich and the Russian army, and which saw its military and intellectual elite murdered by Stalin's henchmen, is deeply ambivalent about taking part in the Red Square parades. The Baltic republics, invaded first by Stalin, then by Hitler, and annexed by the Soviet Union at the war's end, are also divided, with two of the three presidents boycotting the ceremonies.

President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine is in two minds about going to Moscow.

The Kremlin, seizing on the events of 60 years ago as the brightest spot in Russia's dark 20th century, is unapologetic about the ravages its imperial rule inflicted on central Europe for two generations.

"There is Russia with its pride and its sense of history and then there is central Europe which is being more or less isolated, left alone with a very different history," said Janusz Reiter, a former Polish ambassador to Germany and director of Warsaw's Centre for International relations. "The problem is that this history is not only selective, it eliminates the most sensitive parts of Russian history."

Lithuania, according to the country's former president, Vytautis Landsbergis, is being asked to go to Moscow to "celebrate its own captivity".

"Unlike Germany, Russia has never recognised its responsibility for the war and the mass graves of the innocent," he wrote last month.

Such remarks are viewed as outrages in Moscow, given the 27 million dead the Soviet Union suffered in defeating Hitler.

The Baltic countries were trying to equate Stalin's Soviet Union with Hitler's Germany, a Putin aide told Russian television. "Of course, we cannot accept these blasphemous attempts to rewrite history," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky.

The mood of bitter recrimination has worsened in recent weeks with a string of pronouncements from Moscow that Mr Reiter characterises as calculated provocations.

Mr Putin directly attacked Poland's President Alexander Kwasniewski by name. The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement on the allies' Yalta conference of February 1945, declaring that Poland should be "grateful" for the pact which divided Europe and erected the iron curtain.

Yalta is broadly seen in Poland as the burial site of postwar Polish sovereignty and independence. For the Poles "to complain about Yalta is a sin _ unconscionable", the Russian government stated.

More grievously, the Russian authorities have closed down a 14-year investi gation into the Katyn massacre of 1940, when Stalin's secret police murdered 21,768 Polish military officers, intellectual leaders and clergy.

Throughout the cold war, the Kremlin had blamed the massacre on the Nazis.

The Poles have launched their own investigation into what they term a war crime and an act of genocide. They demand that Russia hand over the historical dossier. The Russians refuse, saying that most of the papers are classified. Katyn, they add, cannot be classified as a war crime, since the Soviet Union was not at war with Poland.

The Polish parliament said last month: "Only the disclosure of the whole truth about the crime and the condemnation of the perpetrators can heal the wounds and lead to good relations between Poland and the Russian Federation."

The Katyn murders occurred in the wake of the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, reached in August 1939, a month before the Nazis began the war by invading Poland. The secret appendixes to the pact carved up central Europe between Berlin and Moscow. When Hitler invaded, Stalin seized eastern Poland and nine months later took the Baltic republics.

The Kremlin has never abrogated or denounced what is known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, named after the Soviet and Nazi foreign ministers. In the run-up to the Moscow parades on May 9, the Russians continue to insist that they were not at war with Poland, nor did they invade or occupy the Baltic countries, but "liberated" them.

Amid such entrenched differences over the past, the presidents of Lithuania and Estonia are refusing to travel to Moscow.

Mr Landsbergis warned that the world leaders in Moscow next month could end up "validating Soviet war crimes".

2 Comments:

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Michael Morrison said...

George Orwell, call your office: "The Soviet Union was not at war with Poland"?
What is so ignored in the study of history is that in September, 1939, when Hitler's armies swept into Poland, the Soviet armies did the same thing from the other direction.
Maybe the Soviet Union was not at war with Poland because the Soviet Union had already smashed its half of the poor country. There was, essentially, no armed resistance to the murdering communist invaders after the Soviet blitzkrieg, so perhaps it is correct, in an Orwellian way, to say there "was no war."
So does anyone know the name Jan Karski?

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Great post Aussiegirl! That article proves the adage that ``a leopard can`t change his spots``. The Russian bear is still a Russian bear.

Michael, wasn`t Jan Karski that Polish guy who infiltrated the Nazi concentration camps, then escaped to America to warn Roosevelt about what the Germans were doing?

 

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