Anna Fotyga is a Polish Member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group, member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and former Polish Foreign Minister.
Thirty years ago, the decision to end the functioning of the Soviet Union was formally taken, confirming the reality on the ground. Neither economics nor political reality could any longer maintain such an artificial empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union restored freedom to the many nations over whose sovereignty and at whose expense the Soviet empire was built. Despite the experience of the USSR enslaving and crushing the independence of several nations in Europe and Central Asia, the consequences of its collapse continue to shape Vladimir Putin’s political vision, as well as his domestic politics. and foreign. Today Ukraine and the Belarusian people pay the highest price. But we cannot be naive – attempts to reverse the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and re-impose its sphere of influence will have dire consequences for all of us. The longer we wait to resolve this problem, the higher the costs imposed by the Kremlin will be.
Let me state it clearly: between 1919 and 1921, in their attempt to build the Soviet empire, the Bolsheviks crushed the independent states of the Democratic Republic of Belarus, the People’s Republic of Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Georgia, Republic of Armenia, as well as emerging states of Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Polish army stopped its march towards the west in August 1920 in the suburbs of Warsaw. However, the Kremlin never abandoned its “go west” policy and, after finding an ally in Nazi Germany, the USSR again attacked Poland in September 1939.
We have heard many lies about Soviet history, including justifications for external aggression and internal oppression. Today, 30 years after the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union, we continue to hear new waves of false stories from the new / old occupants of the Kremlin. Our work in the European Parliament succeeds in combating Russia’s efforts to rehabilitate the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939. One of our initiatives was the resolution on the importance of European memory for the future of Europe, adopted on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the pact and its secret protocols – an evil deal separating Europe and the territories of independent states between two totalitarian regimes – which ultimately paved the way for the outbreak of World War II. For years, the Soviet Union claimed the pact was just a Western fake and said there was no such document in the Soviet archives. In 2019, aspirant historian Vladimir Putin called the pact “necessary realpolitik choice made by Stalin in difficult circumstances ”. Remarkably, Soviet propaganda asserted that the Baltic states voluntarily joined the USSR after spontaneous and simultaneous workers’ revolutions, while oppressed Belarusians and Ukrainians made the same decisions in “open and free” referendums. Surprisingly, just a few weeks after these “unanimous decisions”, hundreds of thousands of people were deported to Siberia.
Among the many lies in “Soviet history” let me focus on the one that is perfect for understanding Russian strategy, but also Western weakness: the Katyn lie. In the spring of 1940, around 22,000 Polish officers, soldiers and police officers interned in Soviet prison camps were murdered on the orders of the highest authorities in Communist Russia. According to the recommendations, the NKVD officers were to kill the Poles without trial. The ultimate goal of the genocide of the Polish elite was to conquer Poland and afterwards – the West Stalin did not hesitate to personally lie about the fate of the missing Polish soldiers, assuring the Polish Prime Minister that all Poles were released, but could not be traced because the Soviets “lost track” in Manchuria. Several months later, when the mass graves were discovered and the Polish government pressed for an international investigation, Stalin used it as a pretext to sever diplomatic relations. The decisions of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to push back on the problem and hide the truth became an established model for Anglo-Saxon policy towards Stalin during World War II and its aftermath. While the West was able to slowly come to terms with the truth, all Soviet actions were aimed at upholding Katyn’s lie as state policy. The entire state apparatus, from the highest levels of the Politburo and the security services to journalists and teachers, has been implicated in the cover-up of this barbaric crime. The Soviet hoax lasted for years in the Communist-controlled public sphere, where even mentioning the word Katyn was considered a crime (and treated as such). The same happened with the Augustow Roundup of July 1945 – the biggest crime committed by the Soviets after World War II. Moscow took responsibility for the Katyn atrocity in the early 1990s, after decades of denial. Thanks to the courageous historians at Memorial, we were able to learn more about the Katyn Massacre and the Augustow Roundup. The current Kremlin regime is using all available tools to restore Katyn’s policy of lying, including the transformation of the memorial site.
Unfortunately, the archives are not the only ones reserved for researchers in today’s Russia. It was also decided to deny access to compromising evidence of Soviet crimes and to rewrite the dark pages of Russia’s past: the removal of Katyn’s plaques from buildings with brutal legacies, as the latest initiative of the authorities in Tver, n is just another example. I find it exemplary that Memorial, which was founded to document the political repressions carried out by the Soviet regime during its darkest times, is still working in Putin’s Russia. The attack on Memorial is another, and perhaps a final step, in Vladimir Putin’s campaign to reshape Soviet history, link the identity of modern Russia to the former Soviet Union, and move towards a more totalitarian form of government. We can only fully read Putin’s historical and contemporary lies by knowing these facts. To some extent, Putin was able to reconstruct some key features of the Soviet Union: False narratives and a state policy of historical lies are certainly part of it. Moreover, we can see that just like in Soviet times, current events are not immune to the imposition of old narratives and propaganda. I still remember the fate of the Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of Crimea, whose deportation in 1944 amounted to genocide against the whole nation. They suffered under the Soviet Union and they are suffering under the Putin regime.
80 years after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, we see that there is nothing new about the current wave of lies from the Kremlin. Yet even the most extensive and sophisticated propaganda cannot turn occupiers into liberators and turn oppressors into guarantors of freedom. What happened in the 1940s in the Baltic States and eastern Poland is the same as what we are seeing today in Ukrainian Crimea and Donbass. The same methods, the same lies to justify bellicose goals. Vladimir Putin has toughened his rhetoric on the situation in Ukraine, saying the war in the east of the country looks like genocide. He called it genocide, but then blamed the Ukrainian state for it. At the same time, it prevents Ukraine from regaining control of its territories by fueling the conflict with pro-Russian separatists. He speaks of discrimination against Russian speakers beyond the borders of Russia, without mentioning the situation of those who speak Ukrainian in the occupied Donbass or in Crimea, and omitting the fate of those who defend the truth inside Russia. . In the European Parliament, I welcomed Iryna Dovhan and Oleksandr Khomchenko who testified on the cruelties in the occupied Donbass. I also presented a report on “Izolyatsia”, a secret prison that has become notorious for its torture. I never stop defending the dozens of Crimean Tatars illegally detained in Russian prisons, hostages to the Kremlin’s policy of intimidation and nationwide subordination. Among them, let me remind the journalist Server Mustafayev. Likewise, let me remind you of the thousands of brave Belarusians who demonstrated peacefully against their Kremlin-sponsored dictator and were tortured and imprisoned for their desire to live in a free and democratic country. Among them, Andzelika Borys and Andrzej Poczobut. Truth, free peoples and democracy remain major obstacles to the creation of a Soviet Union 2.0.
Nonetheless, even with all of the above in mind, I would also like to recall a positive message from the past. This was the message sent to the working class of Eastern Europe by the First Solidarność Convention, in the name of a common fight for human rights. He said we all share the same fate. The peoples of Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova have chosen their own path. 30 years after the Bialowieza accords, unity and solidarity are the best medicine to oppose attempts to build Soviet Union 2.0.