On January 27, 1945, advancing Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz concentration camp. Today, 75 years after the event, wars are still being fought over who was responsible for World War Two and the many atrocities which were its consequence. Although the current war is one of words, it has the potential to plunge the world into renewed armed conflict.
The present war of words began last September with the passing of a resolution by the European Parliament condemning the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. This unholy alliance between twin evils preceded the German invasion of Poland only a week later, the two events being obviously connected in terms of realpolitik. Two weeks after the Germans invaded from the west, the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Having crushed the courageous Polish resistance, the two totalitarian regimes divided the conquered nation between them, annexing each half to their respective political empires.
Although the foregoing is indubitably true, we should not be blind to the realpolitik behind the European Union’s resolution, which was intended as a provocation to Russia. Unsurprisingly, and to its credit, Russia prefers to remember its role as an ally of the West in the war to liberate Europe from the Nazis and not its earlier role as an ally of Hitler. For those who are unfamiliar with the history of World War Two, the Nazis reneged on their alliance with the Soviet Union, invading Soviet territory in June 1941.
Responding with reactionary short-sightedness to the European Union’s provocation, Vladimir Putin sought to deflect criticism of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by accusing Poland of flirting with the Nazis prior to the War and by stressing the Soviet Union’s role in “liberating” Poland from the Nazis in 1944 and 1945. Considering the raping, pillaging and murder which accompanied the Soviet advance through Poland, coupled with the decades of Soviet and communist tyranny which followed, the Poles were understandably infuriated by President Putin’s historical revisionism.
Matters have worsened in recent weeks, as tensions between Russia and Poland have intensified. Last week, Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, refused to attend the international event in Israel commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz as “a protest against the distortion of history by the Russian President”. No doubt, and understandably, the protest was also triggered by the fact that President Putin had been invited to speak at the commemoration, whereas President Duda had not been. Under the circumstances, it could be argued that the Polish President had little option but to withdraw from the event in Israel thereby handing the Russian President a symbolic victory.
And yet President Putin’s victory could well be of the pyrrhic variety, signifying an ultimate lose-lose scenario. It does not serve the interests of either Russia or Poland to be sabre-rattling at a time when peace between the two countries portends prosperity for both. On the other hand, the heightening of tensions serves the interests of the European Union and its liberal-globalist allies, as well as the interests of those neo-conservatives who are seeking a return of the Cold War. How is this in Russia’s interest? In this sense, could we not suggest that President Putin had played into the EU’s hands when he responded to the European Parliament’s resolution in the manner that he did? The Russian bear, when baited, had certainly lashed out angrily but, and to switch metaphors, had he not also been caught like a fish, hook, line and sinker?
Having diagnosed the problem which, if it escalates, could become dangerous on a global scale, let’s suggest a possible solution. It is, in fact, a solution which has already been put into practice, and by President Putin himself, so it’s only necessary for the Russian President to restore his previous and proper focus on what it means to be Russian in the twenty-first century. At the heart of this healthy focus is the absolute necessity of Russia separating herself psychologically from the Soviet Union. President Putin has expressed this necessity himself on numerous occasions. He has held up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a national hero and as an example to all Russians. Under President Putin’s watch, Solzhenitsyn’s anti-Soviet and anti-communist classic, The Gulag Archipelago, has been made compulsory reading in all Russian high schools. It would be even better were Solzhenitsyn’s epic war poem, Prussian Nights, to be added to the curriculum in all Russian schools. This grippingly candid account of the atrocities committed by the Soviet Army on its march of vengeance across eastern Europe in the final months of the War should be part of the Russian collective consciousness.
It would also be good were President Putin to insist that the Red Army of the Soviet Union is not synonymous with the Russian army. “Its officers were mostly Russian,” writes historian Norman Davies, “but privates were recruited from all republics of the Soviet Union. In 1945, a huge wave of young recruits from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan tramped through Poland.” Professor Davies’ Polish father-in-law witnessed the Red Army’s march through Poland, commenting that “the whole of Asia was marching”. This was not a Russian army but a Soviet imperial army of many nations, marching under an atheist flag.
To be fair to President Putin, these complexities of history can be difficult to disentangle. It is, for instance, understandable that Russians should feel intensely proud of their heroic victory at Stalingrad, which turned the tide of the war, much as Britons see the Battle of Britain, or as Americans see the Normandy beaches. It is appropriate and significant that the huge statue commemorating the victory at Stalingrad is named “The Motherland Calls”. Russians fighting the Nazis on the soil of their own country were not fighting for Stalin, still less for communism; they were fighting for their own homeland, for what many still call Holy Mother Russia, part of that civilization which is called Christendom.
If we are to have peace in central Europe, it will need to be built upon trust and upon mutual respect of each nation’s history and heritage. In Christian terms, it depends upon the loving of one’s neighbors. In the absence of such trust and understanding, we will have the sort of belligerent jingoism which makes the Motherland or the Fatherland an idol which is worshipped to the detriment of all peoples, not least the idolators themselves. Peace among the nations of Christendom depends upon putting the Fatherhood of God before the Fatherland, and the Mother of God before the Motherland. It is in praying for each other and not in preying on each other that the stability of the future depends.
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