bring on the show trials

June 5, 2009

i think my head just exploded. certainly there’s this sort of stalled out sound coming from it at the moment.

so it appears that the Russian Defense Ministry posted an essay on its website essentially accusing Poland of starting WWII.

uh, yeah. quite apart from the “apropos of WHAT?” issue–why, exactly, is Russia bringing this up now?–there are just so many, many ways in which this is ludicrously fucked up. let’s go to the film!

“Anyone who has been minded to study the history of the Second World War knows it started because of Poland’s refusal to meet Germany’s requests,” the statement read. “The German demands were very modest. You could hardly call them unfounded.”

Appearing to take Germany’s demands at face value, the defence ministry insisted that the Nazis were interested only in building transport links across the Polish Corridor to East Prussia and assuming control of Gdansk, which had been designated as a free city at the time.

Western historians largely recognise that Poland would have lost its independence had it acceded to the demands, pointing to Hitler’s policies of Lebensbraum and the creation of a Greater Germany as evidence.

so, a brief overview of Poland in the 20th century: between 1795 and 1918, what we now call “Poland” existed not as an independent kingdom (as it had during the middle ages and early modern period) but as two separate colonial territories controlled by Austria in the west and Russia in the east. after WWI, the victors agreed on the re-establishment of an independent Poland (although note that the borders of Poland have shifted many times, and interwar Poland included provinces that had previously been part of Prussia).

given that the majority of the Germany-Poland drama happened in 1939–after Germany had already annexed the Sudetenland and invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia–Poland can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that any deal with the Germans would be short-lived indeed. i mean, the Soviets entered into an agreement with Germany–the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which, incidentally, re-partitioned Poland between the Russians and the Germans and was signed only a week before the German invasion of Poland–and that didn’t save them from invasion. if Germany wasn’t afraid of taking on the freaking Soviet Union, then what chance did Poland stand?

any claims that Poland essentially started the war by refusing to cooperate with reasonable Nazi demands in an effort at self-aggrandizement are patently ludicrous. and coming from the Russians, they seem even more so, since the Soviets clearly had their own designs on Polish territories. 

i’m more interested in why this is all going on now. why, 70 years after the fact, is the Russian government suddenly up in arms about who started the war? i haven’t noticed a whole lot of people wandering around claiming the Soviets started it. since blame is generally placed squarely on the Germans, why the hell should the Russians care? why pick a fight with Poland–and believe me, the Poles are not going to be happy about this–over such a thing, particularly when it will probably serve to do nothing more than bring up other Soviet-Polish incidents from WWII that truly show the Soviets in a bad light (Katyn Forest, Warsaw Uprising).

which brings us to perhaps the most distressing portion of the essay:

[The essay] also attacked the Western press for suggesting that the Soviet Union carried some blame for the War by its alliance with Hitler under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which carved up Europe into two spheres of influence to be headed by Hitler and Stalin.

“No representative of a Western democracy has the right to discuss any treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany,” given that Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement of 1938 giving Germany control of the Sudetenland.

As for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Col Kovalev wrote, it was merely a time-buying mechanism after Britain refused to sign a mutual defence treaty with the Soviet Union.

Under the pact the Soviet Union took control of two-thirds of Poland as well as the Baltic states, but only, he wrote, in order to create a buffer zone that would allow Moscow to marshal its defences ahead of an inevitable war with the Third Reich.

Under planned legislation, backed by Mr Medvedev, any Russian or foreigner who claims that the Soviet Union occupied Poland or the Baltic States could face up to five years in prison.

the attack on the Western press isn’t entirely fair. people lay some of the blame on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, sure, but it’s not like people hold up Neville Chamberlain and the Munich accords of 1938 as a high point in our own past. “appeasement” has become a dirty word; in retrospect, most people feel that the Allies should have presented more resistance to Hitler at a much earlier stage, but let’s face it, after WWI no one really wanted another war. 

again, what the author says here about the M-R pact (sorry, tired of typing it out) really reinforces my earlier point and argues against his own theory on Poland. he seems to be saying that while the Soviets deserved independence and defense against Germany, Poland should really just suck it up and submit to being a colonial possession, either for Germany or for the Soviets.

but the most worrisome part is really that last part, indicating as it does a desire to rewrite history and return to a Soviet style of information control. i’m sure the residents of Poland and the Baltic states in 1940 would argue that they were occupied (in fact, maybe i’ll ask my Lithuanian neighbors about this and see what kind of a reaction i get). hell, the Baltic states didn’t even get satellite nation status after the war the way Poland did; they effectively did not exist as nations from 1945-1991. 

so what’s next: show trials? purges? propaganda campaigns encouraging children to turn in their parents for crimes against the state? will Medvedev be sending dissenters to Siberia?


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