Mikhail Meltyukhov: “We see our contribution to the liberation of Poland, but they do not need it”

Why is there a clear political line in the desire of the Polish people to rewrite the history of the Second World War

Mikhail Meltyukhov: “We see our contribution to the liberation of Poland, but they do not need it”
Photo: ftad.ru

Recent weeks have been marked by another deterioration in Russian-Polish relations and attempts by Western countries to distort historical facts about the Second World War. The conflict erupted at the end of the year when the Russian president called the Polish Ambassador to Germany in the 1930s an “anti-Semitic pig” for supporting Hitler's idea of expelling the European Jews to Africa. After that, Polish politicians considered the USSR, along with Germany, responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War. Moscow called this an attempt to rewrite history, and the Sejm came up with the idea of prohibiting Russia from having its own point of view on the history of Poland. Mikhail Meltyukhov, the Doctor of Historical Sciences, expert on the pre-war period of Poland comments on the next round of Polish-Russian shots for Realnoe Vremya.

“What truth can someone in the Polish leadership be interested in?"

Doctor Meltyukhov, how can you explain the fact that Polish politicians want to lay the blame for the Second World War on both Germany and the USSR, how to explain the principled desire to refrain from “Russian interpretation of history”? What is it — emotions, part of the political struggle for the voter, psychology?

You and I are well aware that the modern Polish leadership continues the tradition of the so-called Second Commonwealth of Poland, that is, the policy of the Polish authorities of the interwar period (1918-1939) and the policy of the emigrant government of the Second World War, which, of course, held the anti-Soviet position. And based on this sense, what truth here can arise interest in the leadership of Poland? For Poland of the '30s and early '40s, the USSR was as much an enemy as Nazi Germany, so they view the events of the past from one angle, and as for the present, these people simply can't behave differently: it is also important for them to explain what is happening in Eastern Europe, and in particular in Poland, as the machinations of some enemies — these enemies were the Soviet Union, and now contemporary Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union. This is normal policy! Polish politicians can't behave differently — Europe needs them only as barking characters, in other capacity nobody needs them.

Did this “barking” position affect ordinary Polish people in any way? What is the position of ordinary Polish citizens regarding the Second World War and the role of the Soviet Union?

Sentiments in any society are different. Naturally, those people who personally survived the German occupation, or at least were born at this time and found all this difficult period, treat this propaganda, to put it mildly, not like politicians who tell them that they are fools and did everything wrong in those years. If we are talking about the younger generations, the young people, as in many countries, are the least concerned about this topic. And we see the same picture in Russia on the history of the 20th century — we have different opinions: some share all sorts of propaganda nonsense, and some do not.

Photo: Bundesarchiv, R 49 Bild-0138 / Holtfreter, Wilhelm / CC-BY-SA 3.0 / wikipedia.org
Naturally, those people who personally survived the German occupation, or at least were born at this time and found all this difficult period, they treat this propaganda, to put it mildly, not like politicians

Is everything also turned upside down in the topic of the Second World War in Polish historical science? Why don't we hear some authoritative Polish historians?

Not really so far. But one should remember one thing: Poland is not Russia, after all, and an opinion that runs counter to the official position is unwelcome there. And since there are not many historians in Poland, and there are not many jobs for historians, in my opinion, smart people from historians are just silent. But probably, soon there may appear people among historians who will support all this political “nonsense” because it gives them the opportunity to build a career, earn good money — this picture is everywhere and there is nothing new here. You know that in Poland there is an Institute of National Memory, which employs not only lawyers also historians. There is very good funding for this project, and people will work for this money. Of course, there is the historiography of Communist Poland, and there is the historiography of Polish emigration, which do not really coincide with current political fantasies, but, apparently, all these works will go into the shadows and they will try to forget them.

In Poland, arguing with the official position of the authorities is now fraught with troubles

Can we say that there are few objective scientific papers on the history of the Second World War in Poland?

In general, scientific papers, if they are published, are read, to put it mildly, by a limited circle of people. Even in our country, not every person from the street, roughly speaking, will go to read some historical monograph. It turns out that we, specialists, write only for specialists, and these specialists already know everything. In Poland, first of all, we see that we are talking about not facts related to the Second World War, but about assessments, and here one can write in different ways. Some time ago, a number of foreign works were translated in Poland, where criticism of the activities of the USSR and the Red Army was noticeable, and the author's opinion prevailed there first of all. In other words, the author does not lie directly, but his interpretation is such that it is on the verge of a direct lie, and it is clear that books of this journalistic nature take more attention than historical ones. And, again, it is unlikely that anyone in Poland will now argue with the official position of the authorities because this is fraught with troubles. Therefore, I do not think that anyone will deal with objective history — most likely, we will see some studies where there will be no harsh interpretations of Russia's actions, but none of the historians will directly challenge the authorities' statements. Only the country's parliament — the Sejm — can challenge the authorities' point of view on the history in Poland, and there are dissenting people there, but even they will be shut up, saying that they undermine the country's security. It's not that simple really.

It seems that the “convenient history” for Poland is one of the foundations of the policy.

Certainly. It was the Polish who coined the term “historical politics” and this is the implementation of this case! (Laughs).

Photo: radiowroclaw.pl
Only the country's parliament — the Sejm — can challenge the authorities' point of view on the history in Poland, and there are dissenting people there, but even they will be shut up, saying that they undermine the country's security

Why is Poland so focused on the fact that the Polish in modern history are victims or freedom fighters?

Where else can they do? The second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth tried to become a great power in Eastern Europe, but once again, roughly speaking, broke off. Even now, Poland is one of the small states of Eastern Europe, but some Polish politicians still have a certain mission, they have a certain romantic memory of the first Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth — an early state of Modern History. But the situation has changed, and they still want something big and beautiful. And it's not working! Bur why? Because there are always enemies, and we are, of course, victims. Well, if they like being victims, let them be.

This is a psychological complex, but this does not mean that the entire Polish population suffers from this garbage. This is just the policy of certain groups that make some kind of gesheft here for themselves. Besides, now the cries that “I am a victim” can be turned into some kind of financial claims — Poland did this both concerning Germany and concerning the former Soviet Union. The Polish do not just cry — they want to turn a lot of things in the monetary side.

“In the battles in Poland, Russian fools were killed and, they say, why should we care?"

Why do Polish politicians, making strange statements, do not take into account the fact that 600,000 Soviet soldiers died for the liberation of Poland from Nazism? Do they think that these were some “interests of the USSR”?

If we cynically accept the point of view of our Polish neighbours, then it turns out that in 1944-1945, Russian fools died in the battles in Poland and they wonder why should we care? It is from our position that we see our contribution to the liberation of Poland, but they do not need it now — well, okay! Let's also demolish monuments — they can also advertise themselves against this background as fighters for something.

When can we expect an objective view of the Polish leadership on the history associated with the '30s and '40s of the 20th century?

If you are interested in promoting the topic with enemies, then you will not get any objective view. Besides, an objective view requires a certain detachment from the problem, and if it is relevant in politics, why would you look for an objective view? Then you should also understand, from the point of view of the Polish leadership, an objective view for them means recognizing that they are idiots, and who will go for it? It is obvious that in Russia they would also not have gone for it if they had acted like the Polish authorities. Of course, the situation will be different if a significant part of the Polish elite is replaced or the Martians arrive. But again, let's not roll the ball into one goal: in Russia, there are also a lot of problems with the history of the 20th century and there are a lot of politicized assessments that, sorry, are nothing like objectivity, and what to do? We increasingly see that there are forces in Russian society that are interested in promoting the country's history in one or another interpretation of the events of the 20th century, and they are not interested in the problems of objectivity — they are interested in the problems of PR. And it is the same situation in Poland! Therefore, it is not so simple in the matters of objectivity, and I think that we will not live to see complete objectivity in the matters of history.

Surrender of the rebels in Warsaw. Photo: wikipedia.org
When you start looking at this question from documents and facts, Polish scientists can't object to anything: physically, due to heavy fighting in other parts of Poland, the Red Army could not capture the Polish capital. But then we hear that yes, it could not, but it should have tried harder, and so on

Even the dialogue of historians will not save the situation? Will politicians take over?

If you use a historical approach, you will have to rely on facts and documents. When we talked with our Polish colleagues, it all started with the general “bla-bla”, but when it comes to the facts, it turns out that there is nothing to argue about. If you have specific documents in front of you, how can you read them differently? No way. If there are facts, everyone seems to agree with them, but interpretations may already be different.

Once I participated in a conference on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, and we discussed the well-known problem “Could the Red Army capture Warsaw in August 1944 to help the Polish uprising?". When you start looking at this question from documents and facts, Polish scientists can't object to anything: physically, due to heavy fighting in other parts of Poland, the Red Army could not capture the Polish capital. But then we hear that yes, it could not, but it should have tried harder to try, and so on. We did not fight with our Polish colleagues, they did not fight with us, but politicians, alas, are not interested in the facts — there are serious cases, there is a question of money, and you are talking about some facts. (Laughs).

“In the '30s, the anti-Jewish complex was really widespread in Europe”

Recently, Vladimir Putin called Polish Ambassador to Germany in the '30s Lipsky a “bastard” and an “anti-Semitic pig” for promising to erect a monument to Hitler in Warsaw for solving the “Jewish problem”. The first question is whether Lipsky was an anti-Semite?

Jozef Lipsky, as I understand, was a diplomat and, of course, said what was supposed to say to a diplomat, and you do not need to take his words for his position. But, on the other hand, we must remember that until 1939, the relations between Poland and Germany were quite close and quite normal — a German-Polish conflict and so on appeared later. But this did not happen until 1939, and, in principle, different issues were discussed between Berlin and Warsaw. Besides, in the '30s, the anti-Jewish complex was really widespread in Europe, it was a common topic, and no one then thought that it was “what a terrible topic”.

But what would you say to the opinion that Lipsky was for the creation of a Jewish state as a normal solution to the problem, and not for the expulsion of Jews from Poland? Germany allegedly also wanted just exactly that decision, and Lipsky, supporting it, said about the monument to Hitler, if such decision was made.

That's right, but we understand that they were talking about that let's remove these Jews to some state, and everything will be super-great.

Emma Sonnemann, Hermann Goering, Jozef Lipsky, Karl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Joseph Goebbels at the opening of the German-Polish Institute. February, 1935. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0309-506 / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / wikipedia.org
Jozef Lipski, as I understand, was a diplomat and, of course, said what was supposed to say to a diplomat, and you do not need to take his words for his position. But, on the other hand, we must remember that until 1939, the relations between Poland and Germany were quite close and quite normal

Is there anti-Semitism in this? In a historical program on Ekho Moskvy radio, it was noted that anti-Semitism was still a household thing in Poland, no more…

You will agree that domestic anti-Semitism does not arise in a vacuum, and by and large, domestic anti-Semitism exists in all countries, and it also was in the USSR, although it was publicly suppressed by the authorities of our country. But in Poland the situation was different: yes, the Polish leaders of the highest rank did not say anything out loud, but are we sure that no one on all the floors of the Polish hierarchy said anything? I'm afraid that's not true. And here's why: already after the war, we see a mass exodus of the Jewish population from Poland, that is, the Communist Polish People's Republic in general contributed to the fact that the Jewish population of the country left for Israel. This means that we see a serious problem that it would be good to try to investigate objectively. But here we are hitting a sore spot of other comrades — the comrades from Israel who will believe that such studies are anti-Semitic machinations and so on. The issue with the Jews has not one spot, but a lot of spots that can be hit, and what is most terrible — if you research this topic, you will not know what it will result in for you personally, and this is also a legacy of the Second World War.

Don't you think it is strange that the Polish leadership, with its anti-Russian rhetoric about history, did not come up with some kind of “protection” of Lipsky's name from the statements of the Russian president? And Chairman of State Duma Volodin even asked for an apology for these statements!

What could Poland say here? This is akin to that Russia refutes the words of a Russian ambassador, said, for example, to Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century, before the Great Patriotic War. This should have been refuted by the then Polish leadership if it would be strongly disagreed with Lipsky's words. Let's say that the Polish foreign minister of those years, Jozef Beck, could have written to Lipsky that, dear, you don't say that at this level anymore. But now, in Poland, whom they will say this to — neither Lipsky nor Beck are alive. So it was in history — why change it?

So, Lipsky's words were, and even if it wasn't exactly his opinion on the Jewish question, it said a lot, didn't it?

The Jewish issue was the diplomatic practice of the time. I'm sorry, but when a Goering came to Poland, the Polish leaders also talked to him, and they positioned themselves as potential allies of Germany during the negotiations. And by the way, at these talks, there was a discussion that it would be good to act together against the enemy in the East. It just was.

Photo: president.gov.ua
Zelensky primarily serves as the President of the Ukrainian Republic, which in recent years has positioned itself as a state of God knows from where “ancient Ukrainians” coming from, and so on. The same game as the Polish have

“With the same 'success' one could then reproach Hitler for congratulating Stalin on his birthday”

Can Lipsky's phrases then be equated with Stalin's and Hitler's new year's greetings to each other, and Moscow's congratulations to Hitler on the capture of France, Poland, and Norway?

In a certain sense, yes, but these were also diplomatic moments. Let's start with Stalin congratulating Hitler on the New Year — it was a gesture from Stalin and nothing more. With the same 'success', one could then reproach Hitler for congratulating Stalin on his birthday. But about congratulations on victories — now, of course, it all looks, to put it mildly, strange, but at that moment, in 1940, what bad did Germany do to the USSR? Nothing. In the USSR, of course, they tried not to remember such facts because after 1945 it just looked idiotic. But else they could do — before the war, our diplomats were often engaged in such congratulations, and Molotov even wished success to the German troops in the war against France.

Another piece of news indirectly related to Poland: Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky, who has been on a visit there this week, said at a press conference that “the responsibility for the beginning of the Second World War lies with the USSR”. According to him, “the collusion of totalitarian regimes” led to the war. Isn't it strange to hear this from a seemingly educated man, a man whose grandfather fought in the Red Army?

Zelensky performs primarily the role of the president of the Ukrainian Republic, which in recent years has positioned itself as a state of God knows from where the 'ancient Ukrainians' coming from, and so on. And this is the same game as the Polish have, and the funny thing is that this game was invented by the Polish at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries, and the whole game is still going on. And Zelensky, in this way, says what those forces that support the “Ukrainian project” want to hear from him — among them, there are those who already want to be Ukrainian, not Russian, and these people are building their national identity. Everything is logical. Besides, Ukraine has started another round of struggle for the Ukrainian language — there is the state, but there are no people, and what to do? Right, it is necessary to create a people, and it is created in this “way”. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation.

To be continued

Interviewed By Sergey Kochnev