CZAJKOWSKI M. Some Remarks on History Factor in Current Russo-Polish Relations

The issue of Russo-Polish relations became more the center of international interest, when they came into the stage of open conflict with tough words and almost hysteric public reactions. I would like to comment on this issue, because a voice from Poland may be interesting to JRL readers. Another reason is that quite recently I have read in JRL a transcript from press conference on russophobia, held by Natalia Narochinitskaya, Vice Chair of State Duma Committee for Foreign Relations, and Dmitri Polikanov, senior official of the All Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies. I think that problem of alleged russophobia in Poland is quite an important factor in Russo-Polish relations, therefore I will refer to it too.
Firstly, I will review one of the statements made by Narochinitskaya, because it is good example of important factor in Russo-Polish relations, that I would call: “historic cleansing”. Professor Narochinitskaya have said: “For five centuries, Poland always tried to move eastward, having forgotten its historic Western lands which were immediately seized by Germans. From Boleslaw the Brave to Sigismund, no one provoked Poles, but they persistently continued their offensive on Moscow.” This is true in part, in part is not, resulting in falsification of history.
When Boleslav the Brave was a king of Poland in XIth century, there were no Russia in a shape that we know. In Xth century a Kiev State has been established and it has dominated most of Rus’ (vast area in Eastern Europe where russkij speaking population have dwelled, along with Finnish, Kalmuk, Bulgar and other ethnic groups). Kiev State has been destroyed by feudal divisions and subsequently fell under Mongol domination. Part of the Rus’ has been conquered by Lithuanian state. During XIIth and XIIIth centuries rest of Rus’ has been divided into hundreds de facto independent states ruled by Rurikovich dynasty members, continuously warring each other. Mongol empire executed nominal control, collecting tribute and appointing princes (and Great Princes – formal successors of senioral authority originating in Kiev State). Some stronger principalities fought for domination over Rus’, one of them was Moscow, which emerged as late as in XIIIth century as the center of Vladymir-Suzdal principality. Since XIVth century Moscow become the strongest and the most successful center of political gravity, but its rule was disputed by other influential principalities. Some of them fell under the influence of Lithuanian state, some were taken by Poland. During five centuries mentioned above, from XI to XVI vast area of Rus’ was an arena of struggle between number of successors of Kiev State (Moscow, Tver, Pskov, Novogrod, and other), Poland, Lithaunia and Mongols/Tartars. All of those powers had equally imperialistic goals as all of other countries in Europe which fought for widening of their territories. Therefore we can of course speak of persistent polish “offensive” in Rus’, but we have also to admit that in the very same time Moscow was on offensive against other sovereign Rus’ principalities. From today’s perspective Russians consider Moscow policy in those centuries right and proper, and it is quite understandable. But to be frank with the history we have to remember that Russia was born on imperialistic paradigm, created in Moscow. Eventually Rus’ was forcefully unified by one of descendants of former Kiev state.
Thus, above mentioned quotation is just a falsification of the history. It assumes that all the time from XIth to XVIth centuries Moscow state did exist and was developing peacefully, on nobody’s expense, but was harassed by Polish year by year. But the history as I have just outlined is different (read Mikhail Heller “The History of Russian Empire” for example). Another false notion is that Polish had willingly abandoned their land in the west, what is of course untrue, they were driven from those lands by German pressure.
This is serious problem, because process of historic cleansing is developing in Russia very fast. This year we had a great deal of examples. Here are most important.
- Russian prosecutor general declined to consider extermination of 22000 Polish nationals, executed by NKVD in 1940-41, the crime against mankind.
- Number of Russian officials publicly name Pact Ribbentrop-Molotov a justified and proper political move, though this act was not only a clear Russo-German aggression against Poland, but also enabled Germany to succeed in first years of II World War.
- Russian authorities persistently deny to agree with fact, that Soviet Union de facto occupied Poland since 1945 to the end of Cold War, successfully preventing nation to express its own will.
Some say, the history should be forgotten or left to historians. It might be true, but only if the history is not used as a part of current policy. Of course historians should sit by the table and talk to each other to clarify their views. But in fact we see that Russian politicians and historians do not try to talk about history at all, but they just force their views, which are to great extend untrue. This is what I call historic cleansing: distorting history in order to reach current political goal.
Presence of this instrument in Russian policy towards Poland has great impact on mutual relations. Russian side knows very well, that Polish are sensitive to history issues, and Moscow use that leverage when wants to create political unrest.
Therefore we may pointy to historic cleansing as an important feature of Russo-Polish relation.
Secondly, I would refer to alleged russophobia of Polish nation. This is much more complex issue, that it is usually described in Russia. Problem should be divided into two tiers. First, it is attitude towards Russia, second is attitude towards Russians. From Polish point of view this is a great difference between those perspectives, which is usually misunderstood.
Today’s Polish attitude towards Russia flows from the past, so we should be back into history outline, where it was interrupted. Shortly after Ivan the Terrible died there was a period called Smuta, when the state collapsed and was weak enough to be considered a good prey for some adventurers and mercenaries in Poland. Some influential politicians and the King himself were interested in conquering Russia. Polish troops, mercenaries and regular bandits took over Kremlin for several years. When the crisis has been solved, with new Romanov dynasty on the lead, Russia continued expansion. It was oriented westwards (Poland), northwards (Baltic Sea), southwards (Black Sea) and eastwards (Siberia). Weakened Poland was considered the key to Europe, and since the beginning of XVIIIth century it was strongly dependent on Russia. At the end of century Russia was the main driving force (together with Preussen and Austria) behind liquidation of Polish state. Which is more, Russian part of divided Poland was ruled in most ruthless and violent way. After the WW I Poland emerged again but soon has been attacked by Bolsheviks and fought fierce war against them in 1920. In 1939 Russia destroyed Poland again, closely co-operating with Germany. In 1945 Poland fell again in deep dependence on Russia (called Soviet Union those days). Last Russian soldier have left Poland in 1993.
This short outline of history shows clearly, that Polish have good reason to be afraid of Russia and to mistrust Russia. It is a simple explanation why Poland reacts hysterically when Russia is trying to wash away the history. Polish always think that as usually they will be the first target of Russia’s reviving imperialism.
So, plainly speaking, there is a certain russophobia in Poland, but its aim is selective. This kind of russophobia means well established, well grounded mistrust towards Russian State. It is much stronger than towards Germany, because most of Polish consider Germans to be more or less “healed” from dirty ambitions. Germany is more or less in terms with its own history, especially with its dark sides. Russia on the contrary, counts crimes of history as good political choice, praises criminal political acts as proper moves, and keeps up with historic cleansing. It means that Russia as a state does not understand its own history, and is not ready to name what was bad and nasty to “heal” itself from delusions of imperial paradigm.
Attitude towards Russians is different. We may think of them as drunkards, not fully civilized (more or less the same as Germans think of us), but they are also our cell-mates. We have strong feeling of community, as for two hundred years we have suffered the same brutal oppression of Russian/Soviet state. Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz, referred to by Mr. Polikanov as a russophobic along with Pilsudski, was in fact a good friend of many Russians, and considered himself a friend of Russian nation that suffered along with Polish. In XIXth century many Polish served in Russian prisons along with Russians, in XXth century many lived in Gulag together with citizens of Soviet Union. Millions were displaced, suffering the same conditions that Stalin created for his own fellow citizens.
Therefore in Poland we have a strong sympathy towards Russian people, along with mistrust and even hate towards Russian state. Average Polish will usually answer differently if asked of attitude towards Russia or towards Russians. Is this russophobia?
And, finally I will comment briefly on current state of Russo-Polish relations.
1. They are asymmetric in two senses. First, Poland is not considered as a partner. In fact Russian policy towards Poland usually depends on policy towards other European countries and Europe as a whole. Russia usually thinks that all-European relations may be forged by just a few strongest nations and the rest will be subordinates. That is why Poland is not a subject but an object of Russian policy. Second, there is obvious asymmetry in a size, economic and demographic potential, trade balance etc.
2. From polish point of view Russia is surely one of the main actors of European relations. No matter we like it or not, but we have to live with it. Therefore every independent Polish government from 1989 were trying to have good relations with Russia. There are many obvious reasons behind such behavior, no need to name them. But it is worth underlining, Poland is trying to have as good relations with Russia as possible, but we are not ready to sacrifice our national interest, when it is to the contrary with Russian. And that is why Moscow considers Polish policy hostile. Here are some examples.
- When Poland joined NATO it was our independent choice, to promote national security interest. But Russia advocated, that this act is hostile, because Moscow did not want Central Europe to fell finally into an orbit of the West. For what reason? Why our independent, absolutely defensive choice was considered hostile?
- When there was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Poland was strongly involved, along with other democratic nations in promotion of free elections. It is our national interest to have democratic countries close to our borders. Russia wanted things to develop differently, Moscow expected to have an appointed authority in Ukraine, so was deeply involved in crisis. Here are double standards. Europe’s involvement was considered as wmieszatielstwo (meddling into), Russia’s involvement was OK. Subsequently promotion of democracy started to be considered as hostile, then Poland has been targeted as main enemy.
3. Thus Poland is considered hostile by current authorities in Moscow. Now it is being shown as one of the driving force of all-the-world conspiracy that is going to destroy Russia’s authority by means of “color revolution”. There is strong fear in Russian ruling elite, that remotely controlled from abroad revolution can break in Russia itself. In this respect Poland is a convenient enemy, created for domestic purposes. Putin cannot accuse Bush, Blair or Schroeder for mounting a plot to destroy Russia. US, UK and Germany are too important countries and Russia must count with them. Poland cannot fight back if harassed, because is not enough important.
4. This contradiction in both goals and means of conducting foreign policy creates permanent strain in mutual relation. As long as Poland is afraid and feels not satisfied with Russian understanding of history, and as long as Russia treats Poland like hooligan and convenient, enemy mutual relations will be fragile and rather tense.
As a conclusion I will refer to Jurij Afanasjev’s book Opasnaja Rossija (Dangerous Russia), and to the views of this historian expressed there. He stresses fact that Russia has not yet made clarification of its own history. This means that the history is misunderstood, and widely distorted. Deep meaning of facts and processes that occurred on certain stages of Russian history is obscure in common perspective.
As Afanasiev wrote: “remaining in the clutches of unrestrained powers of our own history, we cannot, using its output and leaning on it, answer - neither ourselves, nor the others - elementary questions: who are we? where and where from we go, what are our desires?”. In other words, either we understand our history for good and ill to be able to understand the present times, or we will wallow in the past getting alienated from the rest of the world. I find this notion very true, and this applies to Russo-Polish relation as well: either we understand our common history for good and ill and we become partners in developing world, or we will be clinched in counterproductive contradictions.
So in my opinion the key to proper and productive Russo-Polish relations is in Moscow’s will to make it such.

Источник: Johnson's Russia List, 15 Sep 2005

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