Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seventy years after WWII: Warsaw

Some seventy years ago Germany crossed into Poland and started WWII. An interesting article is here.

Several leaders will be in Warsaw to commemorate the start, most notably Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin (who, I hear tell, rented out the entire Grand Hotel in Warsaw.)
The Poles are demanding an apology and acknowledgment from Putin (having gotten several from Germany over the years.) Putin seems to deflect these, giving vague statements about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, mostly saying that it was 'unfortunate', but standing by the Russian view that it was just as valid as Chamberlin's "Peace in our time" Munich Agreement, which handed Czechoslovakia over to Germany, and delayed the war by about a year. There's one big, stark difference between the two: England and France didn't then conspire with Germany to carve up much of Europe and start attacking countries (the USSR did just that, annexing the Baltic States; fought Finland to more-or-less a draw; annexed a half-dozen other countries.)
Six years later, Poland was a smoldering pile of rubble with about a fifth of its population dead. For the next forty-five years, they would be lorded over by that wonderful Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Attitudes in Western Europe and America are a tad different than here. Most everyone there is eager to forgive and forget WWII and the Cold War, but in Eastern Europe, they're still at each other's throats (not that Russia has done much to satisfy.) Putin isn't much into acknowledging that Russia has faults, or has done any sort of wrong at any time. Drunk as he may have been, Yeltsin at least laid a wreath at Katyn.

Well, there's still some anger here. I had a particularly rousing discussion with one of my students about Polish history. She immediately dismissed that because I was an American, I knew nothing of history, nor could I even have the capacity to imagine what happened to Poland. I suggested she start liking the Germans, seeing as they are mostly decent people, and now are one of Poland's allies and benefactors. She cared not.

Also something further, I find this interview very interesting:

Richard Overy has written a most excellent book The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia. It's superbly written, very illuminating, and surprisingly funny. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about Hitler, Germany, the USSR, etc.


Anonymous said...

People from USA are stereotypicaly connected with knowing nothing about history and geography of countries other than USA.

Sorry for that, but it's like Pollack jokes in States - you have to change stereotypes to stop it, and that takes a long time.

About Polish-German hate - some people still hate Germany (you probably would, if they killed your whole family), but for most people there it's the same situation like England <-> France, or France <-> Germany - it's common history that we refer to on ocasion (like before football match), but we trade with each other, and we have good political relations.

With Russia it's completely different - we have still some unsolved issues.

It would be unfair to forget about victims of Red Army, Czeka, KGB, etc.
It would mean treason - they fighted with Hitler and Stalin not worrying about their lifes to keep Poland free, and we can't simply sold truth for better political relations with Russia. If Russian politics will acknowledge past crimes of USSR, we can "get over it" and be friends, like with any normal country, but people that died fighting for Poland, or "just because" they were polish officers, deserves truth to be said about their death.

PolishMeKnob said...

You forget that most people from the US (historically) are immigrants from Europe who have fled their homelands because of famines, wars, etc.

The thing about Western rivalries (Anglo-French, German-French, American-French-Anglo-German, Somewhat of Greco-Turkish (only somewhat)) is that they've been reduced to stereotypes and other such nonsense. The British have terrible teeth; the French are snobs and never bathe; The Germans are strict, angry fellows; and the Americans are fat, lazy, and stupid. They've mostly put aside their constant hatred of each other and formed a quite-powerful union called the European Union. That's not to say that they still don't have conflicts! Places like Northern Ireland are still sore spots that need to be worked out, BUT it is probably of the opinion of most of the Irish, that once the Brits left NI, that they then would be serviceable allies with whom to cooperate.

Next, on the matter of age. You bring up a valid point about it not being just as simple as forgiving and forgetting when recalling the wholesale slaughter (many African-Americans say the same thing about slavery and want reparations (something which Poland didn't get after the war, but instead had to pay the USSR for "liberation."))
BUT, most of the people that committed these crimes are either dead or on their way out, and it isn't morally fair to harbor a hatred, which might rightfully be directed against one party, to said party's successors. Most of the Germans today had nothing to do with WWII, they despise Nazism, acknowledge that Germany was wrong, and are genuinely embarrassed at what happened.

I was referring to Western Countries: (Europe included.)

Now for some indignation:
People from Europe are just as ignorant about geography and history as those in the US. The US simply has more exposure (via American TV) with some edited TV-show of a guy running around on the street asking regular blowhards what the capital of Iceland is.
One thing I do with all my students is ask them "What's the capital of Canada?" (Canada is the second-largest country in the world and is considered an energy superpower.) All but two have said, "Toronto."
Most also forget that the US has 300 million people and is twice the size of the EU with vastly different cultures, customs, and laws. The laws between two states can vary MORE than the laws between two counties of the European Union. Most here seem to think that the US is some homogenous WASP morass with some Mexicans thrown in.

Anonymous said...

Stupid American is stereotype, and I've said so - I think it's not true, like Polacks jokes in USA etc. So no reason to be angry :)

About post wwII hate - I don't want modern Russians to stand up and say "it's our fault", I even don't want reparitions (anyway they won't have money nor will to pay us) I want them to say it was USSRs' fault, and it was Wrong Thing, and they are saying it wasn't that bad, and we should move on.

About Germans again - some groups of young people say they hate Germans because it's "cool". Most people that was affected by WWII either died, or have forgiven (see Bartoszewski, etc). So I won't take words about hating Germans from young non-stupid person seriously - she probably would speak friendly with German on street, etc. But maybe I'm too optimistic.

PolishMeKnob said...

This comment is indirect to everything else, but I found the need to post it.

I guess it's national pride or something, but I found it strange how Poles will lay claim to Lwow as a Polish city (which it was) but deny that Gdansk, Wroclaw, or Szczecin were ever German cities (which they were. They were ethnically German for 700 years prior to 1945.) I think that Poland has every right to them now, but I mean, it's not so hard to say, "Yeah, they were German." Shit. Most of Texas was part of Mexico, and Louisiana was part of France. Even Alaska was part of Russia once!