“Russia plays a negative role in the Polish national myth”
Why the “cold war” between Poland and Russia has dragged on and under what conditions reconciliation is possible
April 10 was a tragic date in the history of relations between Russia and Poland. Exactly 10 years ago on this day, near Smolensk, as a result of the Tu-154 plane crash, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife crashed, as well as well-known Polish politicians — almost the entire composition of the country's high military command, public and religious figures. The tragedy became especially symbolic against the background of cool Russian-Polish relations in the post-Soviet era because the Polish then were flying to Russia for mourning events on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. Realnoe Vremya spoke with experts and political analysts on the topic of why the ice in relations between Warsaw and Moscow has not thawed.
Why Poland doesn't like Russia: from Katyn and Molotov to the “younger brother” in the composition of the USSR
Relations between Russia and Poland have been cool for the past three decades. The “cold war” is supported by the resentment of the Poles for the existence of Poland both as part of the Russian Empire and as part of the Eastern Bloc (the Warsaw Pact countries) as the “younger brother” of the Soviet Union. Periodic statements by the Polish authorities about the guilt of Russia as the legal successor of the USSR in the partition of Poland under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 and that the Communist ideology was monstrous only exacerbate the inter-ethnic and inter-state discord between the two “fraternal peoples”.
The Russian authorities do not absolve Soviet politicians of the partition of Poland, but they do not consider the USSR equally guilty of unleashing the Second World War, as they consider, for example, Nazi Germany (and Moscow regularly reminds European politicians of the Munich conspiracy that freed the hands of Hitler). Some see the reasons for the hostility between Warsaw and Moscow as the actions of certain third forces, primarily the European Union, the United States and NATO, which thus waging an ideological war against Russia.
Against this background, the plane crash near Smolensk with Polish President Lech Kaczynski and the Polish political elite on board was particularly symbolic. The Poles still can't forgive the Russians for Katyn. The Katyn massacre in the spring of 1940 — the mass murder of Polish citizens, mostly captured officers of the Polish army, was recognized as a war crime only in the post-Soviet period. Before that, Moscow had claimed that the Poles were executed by the Nazis. The story was revised in 2004, when an investigation by the Main Military Prosecutor's Office of Russia confirmed that NKVD troika had issued death sentences to 14,542 Polish prisoners of war on charges of committing state crimes and established the death of 1,803 people.
Although the Kremlin recognized the crime committed by NKVD of the USSR, it regularly shifts the blame for it to the Stalinist regime. In 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the Katyn tragedy was the result of the crime of Joseph Stalin and a number of his henchmen. In the same year, the State Duma adopted the statement 'On the Katyn tragedy and its victims', in which it recognized that the mass shooting of Polish citizens in Katyn was carried out under the direct instructions of Stalin and other Soviet leaders and was a crime of the Stalinist regime.
General hostility of Western ideology to Russia
Dmitry Babich, a journalist and political analyst at Sputnik and an expert on Russian-Polish relations, sees two reasons for the ongoing cold war between Warsaw and Moscow. The main one concerns, in his opinion, the general hostility of Western ideology to Russia, which is associated with the current intolerance of once liberal, and now “ultra-liberal” ideology in general.
“Its meaning is that liberal slogans that were once remarkable for their eras are taken and taken to the point of absurdity: 'the superiority of women over men' (that is, not even equality), 'the deification of elections', 'the deification of courts'. It turns out an aggressive “informer” feminism, it turns out that because of elections, you can invade other countries and start wars there, as in Iraq, when the Americans came there so that the Iraqis could elect the next president! And this Western “ultra-liberal ideology” views Russia as an enemy. At the same time, Russia has tried for many years, both under Yeltsin and Putin, to convince the West that this is not so: they say, “we are like you, we also introduced a multiparty system, we are also trying to build a business, why do you dislike us so much?" the expert believes.
However, according to Babich, Western ideology does not accept the arguments of our elite. For the Western ideology that dominates the United States and the European Union, Russia and China are enemies since they are two major countries that have not yet submitted to it. Just as after the Bolshevik revolution for the USSR, the main enemies, despite the famine, devastation, hostile Poland, were the United States and Great Britain, although they were far away — because the Communist ideology, like the ultra-liberal one, had a worldwide aim, it had planned to rule the world.
After Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, the degree of its hostility to Russia grown significantly, the expert notes. Although the Poles used to say: “As soon as we join, we will calm down, the old fears of Russia will go away, because it will not attack us because we are in NATO.” Why did the fears remain but the demonization of Russia has only increased?
The second reason for the hostility of Warsaw to Moscow lies in the inherent Polish nationalism, Babich believes.
“Talks about the responsibility of current generations of Russians for the sins of the past is unacceptable”
Poland, historically, although our close Slavic, really fraternal people, very similar to us, makes a very strong emphasis on blood, nation and origin. I will say as a Polonist, this is an amazing phenomenon: if a Jew or Russian is born in Warsaw, lives in Poland all his life, knows the Polish language perfectly, but still goes to the Orthodox Church or synagogue — then he is not a Pole for the Poles! And if a son of Polish parents was born in Australia, has never seen Poland, does not know Polish, speaks English — he is a Pole! In our country, if a person was born in Moscow, whether he has a Kazakh surname or a German one, we perceive him as a Russian," the analyst draws attention. “And in the Polish national myth, Russia plays a negative role, as it has historically developed.”
According to Dmitry Babich, in the modern world, any “blood feud” and talks about that the current generation of Russians, for example, is responsible for what the past generation did, especially two or three centuries ago — a thing unacceptable and very dangerous. After all, because of the same blood feud they will have to kill the Germans, given what they did in Europe during the six years of war and in the same Poland: “The Germans killed thousands of times more Poles than the damn NKVD.”
Babich admits that our Communist ideology was also bad and very cruel but the Nazi ideology was also monstrous. The Polish attitude to Russia, the USSR, and Stalin led to the Poles' dislike of... Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In addition to that in Poland they remove the names and monuments of Soviet figures and their own Communists from the streets of their cities, they also remove everything associated with the name of the American President. All because Roosevelt at one time made a saving compromise with Stalin — otherwise, Hitler alone would have destroyed the USSR, the United States and Great Britain.
But the current ultra-liberal ideology says: never build any relations with Stalin! In the same way, it says: there can be no peace agreements with Russia. And Roosevelt is an idiot and a traitor to it. And here Polish nationalism and ultra-liberal ideology coincided. Roosevelt is not a hero for the ultra-liberal ideology, although for the Americans themselves, he remains one, since they still remember how he saved them," Dmitry Babich notes.
At the same time, many Poles treat Russia with love
At the same time, Poles say with confidence: we are great, we have never done anything wrong to anyone, we had a great state until 1939. Although this was actually not the case, the political scientist believes: the Polish state of the '30s was anti-Semitic, far-right, with many elements of Nazism. The Poles try not to remember this, but they insist that they were betrayed by Roosevelt and other Western politicians, “scoundrels”, who gave them to Stalin:
Russia is the most convenient scapegoat. If it was not for the current ultra-liberal ideology, some national and ethnic things would gradually come to naught. In principle, I will say as an expert Polonist, the majority of the population in Poland treated (and still does) Russia well. Many Poles treat us even with love, such as we did not dream of either from the Germans or from the French. But on the official level, the Poles are showing hostility. Similarly with the Czech Republic — the Czechs remember perfectly well that they were saved by Marshal Konev, but it is not the voters or even President Milos Zeman who rule there, but the ideology of the European Union.
“The pendulum effect”: how revenge for past wrongs was imposed on Polish ambitions
The reason for the cool relations between Poland and Russia is that the Poles had long been under the rule of a country with which they had been historically a very serious contradictions, as the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union and today in Warsaw plays a role of a pendulum effect, Gevorg Mirzayan believes, a political expert, expert on international affairs at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies. By demonstrating hostile rhetoric, the Poles are thus trying to compensate themselves morally for all the national humiliations they have suffered from Russia.
In addition to the purely historical moment, there is also a geopolitical moment. Because Poland is not just a country that has freed itself from the control of the Soviet Union. Poland is a country that has big and serious ambitions for leadership in Eastern Europe. In this regard, the Poles are trying to establish themselves as leaders of the Eastern European region due to anti-Russian moments. Due to their anti-Russian policy, they want to show that they are consolidating the entire Eastern Europe under their Polish wing!” said Gevorg Mirzayan.
Why Poland needs public repentance from Russia
Many are wondering: why does Poland today, in opposition to Russia, not oppose Germany, which also has great historical differences with the Poles? All this is due to the fact that the Poles, in addition to being ambitious, are also pragmatic, the expert notes. They understand that there is no special point in going against Germany now, “they will not be patted on the head for this”. And “German friends” in this case will not help “Polish friends” to restrain Russia and make money on it. The Poles are pragmatic, and they act very reasonably in this situation, Mirzayan believes:
What does Poland want from us today, from Russia? It wants Russia to admit its historical guilt to Poland and repent. It's not even about the money that the Poles think we should send them for this — it's about our very recognition. So that due to this recognition, Poland would get serious political points in Eastern Europe and, in addition, be able to somehow rise in the eyes of the post-Soviet countries, such as Ukraine and Belarus. After all, the territories of Ukraine and Belarus, according to the Poles, are included in their, Polish, sphere of influence.