#43 - JRL 2009-178 - JRL Home

RIA Novosti
September 24, 2009
Sad thoughts about sad letters to the EU and to President Obama

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - Over the past two weeks, several East European intellectuals have joined former presidents and prime ministers in sending letters to President Obama and various officials in Brussels.

The most recent of these letters are about the "Caucasus war," and one recently published simultaneously in the London Guardian and the Warsaw Gazeta Wyborcza stands out in particular. It makes the claim that the "Russian occupation of Georgia" and the West's inaction is akin to the Munich "appeasement" pact and the building of the Berlin Wall, and that said occupation "impedes the peaceful and democratic integration of the European continent." The letter demands that an end must be put to it, and recommends looking back at the lessons of World War II, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, etc. The letters do not name the culprit, but they do not need to; one only has to look to the east.

The last letter is signed by such big names from the past as the former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Latvian President Vitautas Landsbergis, Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, and the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann. Other signatories include Daniel Cohn Bendit, a rebel and an anarchist who is known as the soul of the 1968 student revolution in France, the chief editor of Gazeta Wyborcza Adam Michnik, a former adviser to the Polish Solidarity Movement, and Bernard Henri-Levi, the founder of the French New Philosophy movement. Just looking at the names of signatories makes one want to read the letter.

The letter came several days before the scheduled publication of the EU report on the causes of the Caucasus conflict in August 2008. The publication was postponed several times. The latest deadline is set for September 29 or 30. The official reason for the delay is that the EU did not want to fuel tensions by publishing the report in August, the month when the "Caucasus conflict" began, and also that new data had come to light that required further study.

That may be true. However, the German magazine Der Spiegel has announced for the second time (it first obtained excerpts of the report in June) that the report's findings would make depressing reading for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, because it shows who started the war. So there is no doubt that the report was being "polished".

On September 22, the Polish Sejm passed resolutions describing both the Soviet occupation of Poland in 1939 and the criminal massacre of Polish officers by the NKVD in Katyn as "genocide."

That the resolution and the letters have appeared does not raise eyebrows. 1939 (this year marks the 70th anniversary of the partition of Poland and the start of the Second World War) is a painful memory for Poland and, incidentally, not only for Poland. What is odd is that all these events seem to blend as if they have the same origins. The "monopolization of tragedy" and its manipulation to suit the needs of modern history and politics strike me as not entirely decent.

Similarly, the "Caucasus war" did not bring suffering and tragedy only to Georgia. But for some reason in assessing it even intellectuals tend to forget that it was Georgian soldiers who were beating South Ossetians, including women, the elderly and children, and not the other way around. I for one still cannot understand why many in Europe, with the exception of Russia, see South Ossetia is something like a pen inhabited by savage and undemocratic tribes who only deserve being mentioned because they threaten Saakashvili's democracy. By the way, Ukrainian intellectuals sent a similar letter to the EU a week later. One cannot help thinking that this is a sort of an intellectual onslaught.

The approach is not very intellectual. The same can be said about the July letter to President Obama, signed by Lech Walesa, Lech Kachinski, Vaclav Havel and others, urging him not to give up on plans to deploy American interceptor missiles and the radar in Europe. As far as I can remember, no intellectuals have ever called on the U.S. to install new missiles in Europe. Up until now, the combination of the words "U.S." and "missiles" sounded like a curse.

Former presidents and prime ministers are another matter. They certainly have the right to air their opinions. True, in practice it boils down to justifying their own mistakes and whitewashing reputations. Exceptions are few and rare.

No government in the world is squeaky clean. Every one of them has more than one skeleton in its closet. What I find depressing, however, is the selective approach to exposing immorality and the frivolous approach to history that verges on distortion.

I would hate to be drawn into an argument with such opponents. But this is what I stumbled upon in the Guardian while the Polish resolution was being prepared and some of the letters had already been published. Here is what British journalist Seamus Milne wrote:

"For decades we in Britain, when marking or describing the Second World War - from Dunkirk to D-day (the landing in Normandy) - did not have the slightest doubt as to who started it: Hitler and his genocidal Nazi regime... Fueled by the resurgence of the nationalist right in Eastern Europe and reptilian historical revisionism which tries to equate Communism and Nazism, some Western historians and commentators have latched on to the 70th anniversary of Hitler's invasion of Poland to claim that the Soviet Union is equally to blame for the start of the war and that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a 'license for the Holocaust'. Across Eastern Europe, especially in the Baltics and in Ukraine, the stubborn wish to rewrite history is accompanied by attempts to dilute the Nazi crimes and rehabilitate the collaborationists... But to pretend that Soviet reprisals (in the Baltics) were equal to the Nazi genocide during the war is a monstrous lie akin to Holocaust denial. Such a mistake could hardly have been made by Auschwitz survivors liberated by the Red Army in 1945.

"The real reason for equating Nazi genocide and Soviet reprisals becomes apparent in the Baltic republics where collaboration with the SS death squads and direct involvement in the massacre of Jews had reached its peak and where today politicians try to turn butchers into victims. Veterans of the Latvian SS legion march in Riga and the Vilnius Museum of the Victims of Genocide makes no mention of the 200,000 Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust victims. Estonian MPs glorify the soldiers of the Third Reich as 'fighters for freedom and independence...'

"Poland would do well to remember that in 1938, a year before the war started and shortly after the Munich Pact, it had annexed a whole region from Czechoslovakia."

End of quote. The final lines refer to the Polish annexation on October 2, 1938 of part of the Cieszyn Silesia, which was inhabited by 80,000 Poles and 120,000 Czechs. Winston Churchill, incidentally, said six months after the event that Poland had joined in the pillage and destruction of Czechoslovakia "with hyena appetite." The Poles do not deny the annexation.

What is interesting, however, is that pretty much the same people who are rewriting history with such elegance are calling on their fellow Europeans to rise in defense of Georgia. Do they do so by accident or design?

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