Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Charles Crawford on Putin's Polish Speech

From the blogoir of the former British ambassador to Poland, among other places:
1st September 2009
As many senior international dignitaries gather in Gdansk today to commemorate the start of WW2, Russian Prime Minister Putin (one of the guests) has written an open letter to Poland to give a clear and (as of now) definitive Russian view on the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact.

Here is the Russian official version in English. The published Polish version is here. It is a well-turned and characteristically clever piece of work. And long - nearly 2200 words in the English version.

Let's go through it, looking at what it says - and what Messages it sends.

Invited by Donald Tusk, Polish Prime Minister, to take part in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation, I could not do otherwise: because the war took a heavy toll of 27 million lives of my compatriots, and every Russian family keeps both the sorrow of loss and the honor of the Great Victory...

First message: Poland bangs on about the role of the Soviet Union in starting WW2. Attack is the best form of defence. Onward!

No judge can give a totally unbiased verdict on what was in the past. And no country can boast of having avoided tragedies, dramatic turning points or state decisions having nothing to do with high morals. If we are eager to have peaceful and happy future, we must draw lessons from history. However, exploiting memory, anatomizing history and seeking pretexts for mutual complaints and resentment causes a lot of harm and proves lack of responsibility.

Message: there's no real 'truth' in all this, so why talk about it so much? Let's all be ... responsible.

The canvas of history is not a third-rate copy which can be roughly retouched or, following customer's orders, modified by the addition of bright of dark tints. Unfortunately, such attempts to rehash the past are quite common today. We witness the efforts to tailor history to the immediate political needs. Some countries went even further, making the Nazi accomplices heroes, placing victims on a par with executioners, and liberators - with occupants.

Message: no 'equating' Nazism with Soviet Communism, you pathetic ungrateful Balts and others.

The situation in Europe prior to the Second World War is considered fragmentarily, regardless of the cause-and-effect relationship. It is indicative that history is often slanted by those who actually apply double standards in modern politics.

Message: any attempt to look at these events on the basis of clear standards is necessarily hypocritical and false, since there's no 'truth' anyway, plus those who assert such standards invariably fail to live by them, so what they say can not count.

One cannot help but wonder to what extend such myths-makers differ from the authors of the memorable "Brief Course of Russian History" published in the Stalin period, where all names or events uncomfortable to the "leader of all nations" would be erased and stereotyped and completely ideology-based versions of reality would be imposed.

Message: yes - you too are no better than Stalinists, so don't accuse me of being one.

Thus, today we are expected to admit without any hesitation that the only "trigger" of the Second World War was the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August 1939.

However, those who advocate such a position neglect simple things - did not the Treaty of Versailles which drew the bottom line of the First World War leave a lot of "time bombs", the main of which was not only the registered defeat of Germany but also its humiliation. Did not the borders in Europe begin to crumble much earlier than 1 September 1939? What about the Anschluss of Austria and Czechoslovakia being torn to pieces, when not only Germany, but also Hungary and Poland in fact took part in the territorial repartition of Europe.

Message: Germany was 'humiliated' by the Versailles settlement which you wrote, so what did you expect? Plus things were falling apart anyway before we started taking our slice. That means you Poland (Note: Good Point.)

And is it possible to turn a blind eye to the backstage attempts of Western democracies to "buy off" Hitler and redirect his aggression "eastwards" and to the systematic and generally tolerated removal of security safeguards and arms restrictious system in Europe?

Finally, what was the military and political echo of the collusion that took place in Munich on 29 September 1938? Maybe it was then when Hitler finally decided that "everything was allowed". That neither France nor England would "lift a finger" to protect their allies.

Message: you Westerners were weak but crafty in dealing with Hitler - who are you to talk now?

There is no doubt that one (sic) can have all the reasons to condemn the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact concluded in August of 1939. But a year before, in Munich, France and England signed a well-known treaty with Hitler and thus destroyed all the hope for a united front to fight fascism.

Message: the M/R Pact was the inevitable consequence of what others did. 'One' might condemn it - but I don't.

Today, we understand that any kind of collusion with the Nazi regime was morally unacceptable and had no prospects of practical implementation. However, in the context of the historical events of that time, the Soviet Union not only remained face to face with Germany (since the Western States had rejected the proposed system of collective security) but also faced the threat of waging war on two fronts, because precisely in August of 1939 the flame of the conflict with Japan on the Halkin-Gol river reached its highest.

Message: as I keep saying, Russia resists being encircled by its enemies. Events thousands of miles away left us simply no choice but to invade Poland. Strange but true.

The Soviet diplomacy was quite right at that time to consider it, at least, unwise to reject Germany's proposal to sign the Non-Aggression Pact when USSR's potential allies in the West had already made similar agreements with the German Reich and did not want to cooperate with the Soviet Union, as well as to be confronted with the Nazi allmighty military machine alone.

Message: we only did with Hitler what y'all did. And we were wise to do so. Right?

...the Munich Agreement that led to disunity among the natural allies in the fight against the Nazis and made them distrust and suspect each other. While looking back at the past, it is necessary for all of us, both in Western and Eastern Europe, to remember what tragedies can result from cowardice, behind-the-scenes and armchair politics, as well as from seeking to ensure security and national interests at the expense of others. There cannot be reasonable and responsible politics without a moral and legal framework.

Message: and, by the way, since there is no Truth we define the moral and legal framework as we like.

... the moral aspect of policies pursued is particularly important. In this regard, I would like to remind you that our country's parliament unambiguously assessed the immorality of the Molotov - Ribbentrop Pact. This has not been the case so far in some other States, though they also made very controversial decisions in the 1930s.

Message: NB this is very important. The M/R Pact was assessed as 'immoral' by the Russian Parliament back in 1989. I have mentioned that in this message. But I also have said that it would have been 'unwise' for the Soviet Union not to sign the Pact. What's immoral about being wise? So you stupid media people in the West need to say that I have condemned the Pact as 'immoral', even though I have not done so. Got that?

All experience of the prewar period - from the Versailles Peace Conference to the beginning of the Second World War - provides strong evidence that it is impossible to set up an efficient system of collective security without involvement of all countries of the continent, including Russia. You Americans - represented in Gdansk by some junior flunkey - can relax and stay at home.

Message: if we are not happy, look what we do. That's just the way it is.

Establishment of the Anti-Hitler Coalition is, without exaggeration, a turning point in the history of the 20th century, one of the most important and determining events of the previous century. The world saw that countries and peoples, despite all their differences, diverse national aspirations, tactical discords were able to stand united for the sake of the future, for the sake of countering the global evil...

Message: you Westerners got into bed with Stalin and Stalinism to defeat Hitler. And thereby gave Stalin a legitimacy which is not going away.

The historic post-war reconciliation of France and Germany opened the way to the establishment of the European Union. At the same time, the wisdom and generosity of Russian and German peoples, as well as the foresight of statesmen of the two countries, made it possible to take a determining step towards building the Big Europe. The partnership of Russia and Germany has become an example of moving towards each other and of aspiration for the future with care for the memory of the past.

Message: some things are for grown-ups.

I am sure that Russian-Polish relations will, sooner or later, come to such high level, to the level of genuine partners. It is in the interests of our peoples and of the whole European continent.

Message: sigh ... you Poles need to work on it, and get with the Russian-German Narrative. Remember 1939.

We are deeply grateful that Poland, the land where more than 600 thousand soldiers of the Red Army lie, those who gave their lives for its liberation, shows care and respect to our military burial places. Believe me, these words are not simply for the record, they are sincere and heartfelt.

The people of Russia, whose destiny was crippled by the totalitarian regime, fully understand the sensitiveness of Poles about Katyn where thousands of Polish servicemen lie. Together we must keep alive the memory of the victims of this crime.

Message: be very grateful, sensitive Poland, for our liberating you, even though we murdered and imprisoned thousands of Poles to do so. And let's remember the victims of the Katyn crime. But let's not talk about the criminals who committed it.

Katyn and Mednoye memorials, just as the tragic fate of the Russian soldiers taken prisoners in Poland during the 1920 war, should become symbols of common grief and mutual pardon.

Message: you have your massacre victims, Poland - we have ours. No double standards. OK?

Our obligation to the past and gone, to the very history, is to do everything in order to make the Polish-Russian relations free from the burden of mistrust and prepossession, which we have inherited. To turn over the page and start writing a new one...

Message: all this historical stuff is so tedious. We all know Poland and Europe just won't wear us down into apologising for the M/R Pact and all that. Why not look at some oil/gas deals instead?

* * * * *

Vladimir Putin has a weak hand to play here, on the merits. And plays it aggressively.

He basically turns the fact that Poland is making so much of this anniversary of Nazi/Soviet aggression to Russia's advantage. He knows that once the Poles have invited him they will be loath to be too critical of what he says, lest they come over as churlish, 'needlessly' generating a controversy when there should be a sense of reconciliation.

Hence this message. It deftly strikes a reasonable, fair-minded overall tone, while conceding precisely nothing at all on the hard-core post-Soviet view of WW2:

The Munich Agreement is presented as no different from the M/R Pact, even though France and UK struck a deal with Hitler to avoid war, not to launch it by invading and annexing great slabs of other countries.
The brutality the Soviets inflicted on millions of Poles as they invaded in 1939 and thereafter is not mentioned.
Nothing is conceded on Katyn, which is compared to the messy aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1920 (another attempted land-grab) - did Poland's top leaders back then really sign papers ordering the cold-blooded murder of tens of thousands of Red Army prisoners?
Warsaw's 'courageous' resistance is mentioned, but nothing about Stalin's shameful refusal to intervene as the Nazis razed the city in 1944.
Nothing is said about post-WW2 Soviet crimes.
And Putin boldly puts all this in the context of Russian/German reconciliation. At the ceremonies today the UK is represented by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose recent speech in Poland did not even mention the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact and why the issues around it still matter. The USA is sending only a senior official.

Thus Poland as the first victim of the Nazi/Soviet Pact is left today commemorating it sandwiched between Big Germany and Big Russia, Angela Merkel and PM Putin, the former keen to achieve substantive reconciliation on modern European terms, the latter nodding stiffly in that direction but in practice offering only Russian terms.

Putin's Message?

You see, Poland and Europe, I will come to your so-called ceremony - and assert my view of history, not yours.

I'll make some nice noises but concede nothing. But your sissy leaders and idiotic media will feel obliged to portray my message as a positive conciliatory gesture and say that I have 'condemned' the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact as 'immoral' when - as we both know - I have done no such thing.

You will have no choice but to accept my view, thereby legitimising it for a long time to come.

In short?

I am strong. You are weak.


Moral of the story?

Be careful which VIPs you invite to a party.

Some of them may show up.

And then it becomes their party.