Sunday, 23 August 2009

I suppose it's too much to ask

Seventy years on from the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which led directly to the outbreak of WWII and the carving up of central Europe between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - an act of diplomacy which was to decide the fate of my family and scores of millions of families from Finland to the Black Sea.

Seventy years on from 1 September, at the place where the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired the first salvos of the war, Russia's Premier Putin and Germany's Chancellor Merkel will both be present to commemorate of the outbreak of WWII.

For decades, Germany has consistently atoned for its bringing about the war and for its inhumanly brutal conduct. Indeed, that atonement is the very cornerstone of the modern German state. German chancellors have wept at the Umschlagplatz, at the Warsaw Ghetto, begging for forgivenness and reconcilliation. My aunt, Ciocia Jadzia, who survived Auschwitz, receives a monthly pension from the German state. German text books are unequivocal about Germany's role in the War. But for my mother, her family, and the millions of deportees from central Europe to the Gulags and labour camps of the USSR, there's never been a word of apology from either Soviet or Russian leaders.

I'd dearly love to see Russia's prime minister Putin take the opportunity at Westerplatte to set history right. To accept that in 1939, Russia was ruled by a genocidal despot, who'd gained power by murdering the rest of the terrorist gang with whom he'd wrested control of Russia in 1917. To accept that the invasion of eastern Poland, the Baltic States and parts of Finland, Czechoslovakia and Romania were naked acts of territorial aggression. To accept that millions of citizens of those territories, forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, were wrongly deported, imprisoned and murdered. To ask, as German leaders have been doing for the past 40 years, for forgivenness.

And then - and only then - can Russia be looked on by Poland as a great country; a majestic nation with a proud culture that has spawned so much great literature, music and art, a country of unimaginable natural beauty, a friendly neighbour. Until such a time, Russia can only be associated in the minds of the peoples of central Europe with the image of a boot stamping down repeatedly on their faces.

The disasters on the Yenisei, the Kursk, Chernobyl - and the ones the West never learned about at the time - Kyshtym, Sverdlovsk, Baikonur, reveal a careless, megalomaniac, secretive state, in which the individual is subsumed to the Greater Good of the Masses (Soviet or Russian).

If it is to be accepted as a 'good country', the Russian state needs to win the trust of its neighbours, and its own citizens. The best place to start is to come clean about its 20th Century past.

11 comments:

Bartek Usniacki said...

nice to read such unbiased post on the history. why' your supposition right - here it's also a matter of mentality, but also some historical conditions.

Just look at some facts:
- nazism is much more condemned in the world than communism, although the victims of the latter probably outnumber the ones of the former,
- communist parties gained ground in Western Europe after WW2, look at the examples of France or Italy, conclusion - the nations of Western Europe were to a great extent unaware of all the evil of communism
- Germany is commonly regarded as a raider, Soviet Union was for many years deemed to be the main power to defeat the Nazi, indeed, even Churchill admitted he had had to make concessions to Stalin owing to the contribution of the Soviet army is defeating Germans and its allies, the other thing is the way Stalin brought it off - sending regiments of soldiers for a bloody carnage was like snapping his fingers - millions of soldiers from the USSR laid down their lives, those were also the victims of Stalin's ruthless regime and should be calculated into the total number of people killed by the biggest murderer in world's history - together with the ones who died in great famine, in labour camps, etc.
- for that sake Soviet people feel proud of being a liberator of the rest of the Europe. No one knows what would have happened if Germans had conquered USSR, quite likely is that we'd have ended up in the worse totalitarianism
- so the key to our reflections is that Soviet Union won the WW2, Germans were polished off. Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill as allies divided the Europe between one another, Stalin's influence was the biggest, no wonder that Poland as the everlasting Russia's enemy (the still commemorate our raid on Moscow from 1610 or 1611(?)) was in Stalin's vested interest as a major country is Soviet sphere of influences. Germany as conquered territory was divided into four occupation zones, the ones in charge of the Nazi regime stood trial in Nuremberg in 1946, the Soviets were celebrating victory at the time.

I only wonder if it's such an insolence or is the nation of Russia brainwashed. Lots of people in Russia today long for "golden times" of Soviet empire, still worship the cruel tyrant - Stalin, who is still deemed to be the father of the nation. Thousands of Moscow's inhabitants would tell you Soviet army liberated Poland's eastern territories and saved it from German aggression. They won't mention of course numerous resettlements, thousands of innocent people who lost their relatives or lost their health in labour camps. It's the easiest to pass over the fact Soviet soldiers destroyed villages, looted manors and raped women.

After all, there's always been a gulf between Russia and the rest of the Europe, its susceptibility to the ideology of communism could be put down to backwardness. This country is still uncivilised as it used to be.

At least I'm grateful we can speak openly about massacres like Katyń, although Russians have repeatedly denied it the recent months. There's still a big stride to be made, but I'm very skeptical about Putin's proper stance on 1st September. Contrite prime minister of Russia - for him it would be too hard to swallow such pill...

There will be probably a series of posts on PRL on "Pol, Eco, Soc" (God knows when)

adthelad said...

..and pigs might fly.

Michael Dembinski said...

I commend The Black Book of Communism (Czarna Księga Komunizmu) by Stephane Courtois et al. The standard work outlining the monstrous scale of the inhumanity meted out on the subjects of this barbarous creed, driven by the basest of human instincts. Adthelad: All Putin has to say is "Russia was taken over for 70 years by a gang of evil bandits. For what they did, with the Russian nation as its slave, forgive us". That's all. Say it, mean it, and Russia will rise from the mire of lies and mistrust like a balloon that's shed its ballast.

adthelad said...

No need to convince me - however i don't see it happening in Putin's lifetime.

Bartek Usniacki said...

I commend and recommend The court of the red tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore - thick volume giving an insight into the psyche of Stalin...

adthelad said...

Russian mentality is exactly the same as British Mentality. They're always right. Even when they're making things up (see today's Polish press for latest reports of Russian history rigging).

It's their Imperial Prorgative.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

Sorry - "Russian mentality is exactly the same as British Mentality" - just where does that rubbish come from? Britain is a multicultural nation that, except for a few idiots, admits the follies of colonian policy. Britain has, as I recall, been open and welcoming to very many Poles who have come here to work.

The main post was excellent. The Russians need to apologise and atone. But that seems unlikely. People in the West are far too forgiving of the USSR. That takes me back to the 1980's - you'd see a quarter of a million people demonstrating against NATO cruise missiles, and about a hundred people in the "equivalent" demonstration against the USSR.

adthelad said...

The 'folly' of British policy continues (how far back shall we go - perhaps the creation and coniued support of Israel?) with the occupation of northern Ireland, with the war on terror lies, Hutton report, death of David Kelly, and supported by an electorate that would rather vote and keep the labour party even after all the squandering of money, all the big brother surveillance, all the criminalising for small offences via a genetic data base, all the deaths in Iraq, and so on and so on and so on. How many hundreds of thousands have the UK to thank for being killed for their own benefit?

And you ask 'where does that rubbish come from?' Well it's obviously not rubbish and where it comes from is as stated in my original note.

Michael Dembinski said...

Adthelad - way out of line here! You should be thanking God and Queen Elizabeth the Second for having had the privilege of growing up in Great Britain rather than having your face stamped upon by Moscow-led communists in Poland.

How can you begin to compare Britain and Russia? A country of decency, fairplay, reasonableness, discretion, the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, gentlemanly behaviour, Habeas Corpus and the Magna Carta - and the katorga of an inhuman land where mistrust and despotic collectivism meant the knurl of the whip or a bullet in the back of the head with any inconvenient individual.

Iraq? Palestine? You seem to be backing dictators and mobs.

European values, please!

adthelad said...

I'm not comparing Britain with Russia in as much as their actions or the motives for their actions are the same and have not said anything to suggest the contrary. I'm actually comparing attutudes of these countries (condoned by their societies) which is the same and is that all 'state' decisions (historical also) are made in what is (or may seem at the time) as their best interests and will be defended to the hilt, or relativised, however morally corrupt or indefensible they might be.
Now you might say that all countries behave like that but I would disagree.
For those who can read Polish here's an apt little article from today's Rzeczpopolita, http://www.rp.pl/artykul/358942_Ziemkiewicz__Gazociag_przyjazni_.html , the end paragraphs of which sum up the situation with regard to 'great countries' (and the attitude that pervades them). You could argue that's what makes them 'great' of course.

adthelad said...

Re-reading the link I posted I find I disagree with he main thrust so really need to withdraw the alledged attitude accusation in this case. Still, the moral superiority that some countries display in direct opposition to their actions still holds true.