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Polish-Russian WWII dispute continues ahead of Auschwitz liberation anniversary

TVN24 | TVN24 News in English

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TVN24 News in English, Reuters, PAP

Polish-Russian war of words has been going on since December when President Vladimir Putin accused Poland of complicity in starting the Second World War. The speaker of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin demanded apologies from Poland. These allegations have met with a strong response from the Polish authorities, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The European Union, as well as a number of member-states like Germany, expressed support for Poland's protest against being blamed for the conflict and not recognised by Russia as a victim of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Comments by top Russian officials have been dismissed as attempts to whitewash Soviet Union's role in the WWII.

Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in series of tweets on Saturday (18 January) that the Polish culture suffered huge losses as a result of the Soviet march west to defeat the Nazi Germany. "The NKVD (The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs in the Soviet Union) was confiscating works of art - many of them today are still in Russia," the ministry wrote.

The ministry also underscored that the Red Army and the NKVD had not been not only seizing, but also destroying valuables and art that they weren't able to take with them. This was a response to events that had taken place the previous day.

Moscow sky was lit with fireworks late on Friday (January 17th) as the Russian capital celebrated 75 years since the Soviet army pushed Nazi German forces out of Warsaw during World War Two.

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23rd, 1939, included a secret clause stating Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement"Wikipedia/Mikhail Mikhaylovich Kalashnikov (PD)

Officials of the two countries are split over the role of the Soviet military on Polish territory in 1945, with Moscow praising Soviet soldiers as "liberators", while Warsaw sees it as the starting point of Poland's role as a Soviet satellite state as the Polish People's Republic.

Poland was forced to join the Soviet bloc after the war, only regaining its freedom in 1989 as Moscow's domination of eastern Europe crumbled.

In another tweet, Polish foreign ministry wrote: "We respect the blood spilled in fight against Nazism, but in 1945 Stalin's regime brought Poland terror, atrocities and economic exploitation. The Red Army liberated Warsaw from German occupation, but it didn't bring freedom for Poles".

"In '45 the Red Army entered Warsaw and stayed in Poland for another 48 years. This translated into decades of communist oppression. Unless Russia accepts its own difficult past, Europe will be in danger. Falsifying history is a real danger, here and now," reads another tweet.

Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky said on Saturday that Russia wouldn't be involving in any discussions regarding the return of cultural property, as the said items "are under Russian ownership".

Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir MedinskyWikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)/Svklimkin

Reuters quoted Moscow residents commenting on January 17th celebrations. One of them, asked about his opinion on Poland not celebrating that date, said: "It should not be so. They became the victims. It would be good if they remembered this day. They suffered from the Nazis, the city was completely destroyed, many people were killed. So the fact that less people celebrate it there or no one celebrates it is bad. People have started forgetting history".

Paying tribute to victims of Leningrad siege, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday (January 18th) that Russia would create a centre which would collect various content regarding the Soviet Union's role in World War Two.

Row over Auschwitz liberation

The dispute between Poland and Russia has also intensified over the upcoming 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Germany operated Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp.

On January 27th, a major international commemoration event will be organised at the Auschwitz Memorial, yet it will not be attended by Vladimir Putin.

He will, however, attend and "Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism" conference on January 23rd in Jerusalem, where he is expected to give a speech, among other world leaders. The event won't be attended by the Polish President Andrzej Duda who turned down the invitation after learning he wouldn't be giving his address.

Poland's foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Sunday in Brussels during the meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that the Russian President attempts to rewrite the history of the true causes of the World War Two.

Czaputowicz told journalists: "I also stressed why President Andrzej Duda won't be attending the conference in Yad Vashem. Precisely because he won't be able to respond to Vladimir Putin's words," said the head of Polish diplomacy.

EU backs Poland

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. The Commission's role here is to talk about facts," EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told the European Parliament on January 15th.

"The European Commission fully rejects any false claims that attempt to distort the history of the Second World War or paint the victims, like Poland, as perpetrators," she said.

Jourova said it was the pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov on August 23rd, 1939, that paved the way for war.

"The Nazi-Soviet alliance enabled the attack on Poland by Nazi Germany on 1 September, 1939, and subsequently Soviet troops on 17 September. These events marked the beginning of the Second World War – these are the facts," Jourova added.

"Distortion of historical facts is a threat to our democratic societies and must be challenged wherever possible. Organised and targeted dissemination of distortions and disinformation is something we have to oppose and reject," said the EU Justice Commissioner.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova: EU Commission fully rejects any false claims that attempt to distort the history of the WWII or paint the victims, like Poland, as perpetratorsTVN24

Źródło: TVN24 News in English, Reuters, PAP

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