Poles have mixed feelings about end-of-war celebrations held in Moscow

06-05-2005

When the Red Army, accompanied by Polish forces formed in the Soviet Union, drove out the Nazis, the future looked bright for the Polish people. But not much later, the Communists took over and prisons filled up as the Soviet security police started arresting members of the Polish anti Nazi right wing resistance. In former German provinces given to Poland by Stalin at the end of the war, the Red Army systematically plundered factories, public institutions and households, in many cases to the extent that only the walls of buildings were given over to Polish authorities.

Four tank men and a dogFour tank men and a dog In communist Poland, one of the most popular TV series was "Four tank men and a dog". It was the story of a tank crew which was part of the armies that liberated Poland from the Nazis. In this series the lovable Polish tank men mixed with friendly Russian soldiers, who spoke a very similar language, shared the liking for vodka, and were greeted as saviours by ordinary Polish citizens. But this idealistic image was belied by the experiences of millions of Polish families who discovered that the Nazi occupation was replaced by a Russian occupation, in all but name .For many Poles, the Russian occupation had started even before that .Marta is in her seventies. She lives in Warsaw but she was unlucky to have been born in Poland's former eastern provinces annexed by Russia in 1939.Her family was deported to Siberia as were about one million other Poles.

"When the Russians came in on Sept.17th 1939, I remember my parents crying. They both lost their jobs. In 1940 my father was arrested for belonging to POW, the Polish military organisation. At the same time he was killed, we were deported to Russia. We were given half an hour's notice. We were packed in a cattle car, and were sent to Siberia. The journey lasted forty days and we landed in Barnaul, which is one thousand kilometres behind the Urals"

For Anna, another Polish woman, who vividly remembers the arrival of the Red Army, the phrase" liberation by the Russians" always sounded hollow.

"I was in the east of Poland, and we had a very bad experience with the Russians. My father had three strokes because of them. I felt very disappointed. We thought that the Americans would walk in or the Brits, but it was the Russians. And I said 'Oh no, not again' .We thought that Poland would be free, but of course the Russians arrived and everything went back to what it was before when they occupied Poland."

...Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, facing a tough question time in Parliament, justifying his decision to attend the end of war anniversary ceremonies in Moscow. While the leaders of the two Baltic states, Lithuania and Estonia, decided to stay away, Kwasniewski made it a point to remind the Russians that for Poland, the end of the second world war meant not freedom but limited sovereignty. In fact in the run-up to the anniversary ,relations between Poland and Russian had sunk to an all-time low Moscow claimed that Poles were obsessed with history, while Warsaw reminded the world of the Yalta conference, when the Allies decided to leave Eastern Europe in the Russian grip. Historian Marek Cichocki says history still casts a long shadow over Polish -Russian relations

"The Polish people are a little bit suspicious of the Russians because of the dark legacy of history, of the Soviet occupation, Stalinist ideology and being isolated from Europe for five decades. This legacy of history is a burden in our relations still. We now observe clear attempts from Russian government to recreate some kind of an imperial view on the Russian rule in Europe and in European history. In this sense, this celebration on May 9th is a very tricky point for us."

Analysts wonder to what extent history should indeed affect present-day relations between Poland and Russia. There are those who think that Poland may be losing lucrative business with Moscow, because of its insistence that the Russians should apologise for the wrongs committed by Stalin against the Poles during and after the Second World War. It will be interesting to see whether, as new European Union member state, Poland decides to mend fences with Russia to become the EU's gateway to the East, or whether it will continue to focus on the dark chapters of history.

06-05-2005