Karol NAWROCKI: Whoever is not with them is a fascist

Whoever is not with them is a fascist

Photo of Karol NAWROCKI

Karol NAWROCKI

President of the National Remembrance Institute.

Ryc. Fabien Clairefond

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The authorities of the Russian Federation consistently distort historical facts to justify their current aggressive policy. Poland is central to this mystification.

.When a few years ago, I visited the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 in Moscow, I stopped by the souvenir shop. In addition to caps with a red star, it sold statues of Vladimir Lenin and Felix Dzerzhinsky. That is the sad truth: the leaders of the bloody Bolshevik Revolution and architects of the genocidal Soviet system are still revered as heroes in Russia, even finding a place in popular culture.

When the communist system collapsed in Poland in 1989, one of the symbols of change was the toppling of the despised statues of Lenin and Dzerzhinsky. However, some of the Soviet propaganda objects – mainly those erected ‘in honour of the Red Army’ – survived this period of political transition. In March 2022, just after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, I appealed to local authorities to complete the decommunisation of Polish public space. The response turned out to be quite substantial. Out of the roughly sixty Soviet propaganda objects that were still marring Polish cities and towns two years ago, over half have been removed so far. From the Russian Federation’s perspective, such actions are dangerous because they cut to the heart of the myth of the Soviet ‘liberators’ and undermine Moscow’s ‘right’ to dominate the lands where the soldiers with the red star on their caps set their foot.

At the Institute of National Remembrance, which I have the honour to head, we firmly believe that in free and democratic Poland, there is no place for names and symbols that commemorate totalitarian regimes. It seems, however, that the Russian authorities do not think the former Eastern Bloc countries, now sovereign, have the right to choose their heroes. I recently discovered that I’m on Russia’s wanted list, along with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Lithuanian Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys. We are accused of “profaning historical memory”. That is how Russia and Putin see telling the truth about the Soviet enslavement and the terror it brought to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

We were recently lectured on what the ‘correct’ historical memory really is by none other than Vladimir Putin. In a two-hour interview with Tucker Carlson – an American journalist who for long stretches did nothing but nod at the Kremlin host – the past played no less a role than the present and was used to validate the current aggressive policy of the Russian Federation. Putin’s arguments spanned back to 862, but he also covered a lot of recent history. All this was done to prove the breakneck thesis that Ukraine is an artificial Nazi state, and thus, the brutal war waged by Russia against its authorities and society is justified.

It is no coincidence that Poland plays a key role in Putin’s attempt to rewrite history. After all, the whole propaganda narrative of ‘reuniting the Russian lands’ and ‘liberating’ Europe from Nazism requires a far-reaching manipulation of Polish history.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned three times by its aggressive neighbours: in the 18th century, when it was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria; in 1815, when, following the collapse of the Napoleonic system, the three powers dismembered Polish territory anew (Warsaw, among others, came under Russian rule); and again in 1939, when Poland was wiped off the map of Europe by the Third German Reich and the Soviet Union. But neither Tsarina Catherine II in the 18th century nor Joseph Stalin 150 years later managed to take back ‘their historic territories’, as Putin would like the world to believe. Lutsk did not return to the motherland in 1795, nor did Lviv in 1939 (which was under Austrian rule during the partitions). To claim otherwise, one would have to erase these cities’ state links with the multinational Commonwealth. Or, like Putin, assume that the Ukrainians are actually Russians and the Poles tried to create a false Ukrainian nation (!).

Equally ludicrous are the attempts to shift responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War onto Poland. The Russian president accuses Warsaw authorities of both collaborating with Adolf Hitler and rejecting his supposedly legitimate territorial claims.

The truth is different: pre-war Poland was caught between two totalitarian regimes, the German Reich and the Soviet Union, both of which disregarded the established European order. The authorities in Warsaw tried to maintain peaceful relations with both of them. They signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR and a declaration of non-violence with Germany. For Hitler and Stalin, however, this was of no consequence. In 1939, these two dictators made a viscious pact, dividing the region between them in a secret protocol. This led to the outbreak of the Second World War, which began with the Wehrmacht’s invasion of Poland, followed by the Red Army’s attack just two and a half weeks later. The two occupying powers soon terrorised the conquered land, with Auschwitz and Katyn serving as lasting symbols of their brutality. Hitler and Stalin cooperated unanimously until June 1941.

.The defeat of the Reich, still hailed in Russia as a great victory over fascism, meant further enslavement for the Central and Eastern European nations, this time at the hands of the Soviets. But that is something the current Moscow authorities do not want to hear. In April 2022, they dissolved the Memorial Association, known for its important work in commemorating the victims of communism. Today, they want to silence those who proclaim inconvenient historical truths abroad. The Kremlin has one word for such people: fascists.

Karol Nawrocki

This content is protected by copyright. Any further distribution without the authors permission is forbidden. 15/02/2024