Sunday, November 20, 2005


Poland's bravery is lost on Putin's poodles

By Edward Lucas

It's easy to caricature Poland as a country of dim, superstitious peasants. I
remember CNN's Ted Turner doing his unfunny impression of a "Polish
mine-detector"- putting his hands to his ears and hopping clumsily. A Polish
Deputy Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, forced him to apologise.

émigré who has now become Poland's new defence minister and is making waves
again. He has declassified his country's Warsaw Pact files, handing them over to
the national archives. But the international reaction to this reflects another
caricature of Poland, no less offensive, and much more dangerous.
There were plenty of snide remarks about Sikorski's move, but the Financial
Times will serve as an example. It wrote that Poland "risked inflaming tensions
with Russia" and was "prepared to incur Moscow's wrath". Leaving aside the mixed
metaphor (a tendon can be inflamed, but not a tension) this seems a perverse
spin on the affair.
Russia has made no public protest about the opening of the archives. Nor,
according to Sikorski, has it complained privately. So Western opinion is
annoyed not because Poland is picking a fight with Russia, but because it is
doing something that might just possibly at some point annoy the Kremlin - with
the subtext that this would always be the wrong thing to do.
That's a strange way of looking at things and one that is increasingly prevalent
in Western capitals. Poland and the Baltic states are seen as faraway places
with incomprehensible habits, values and grudges, bent on disrupting the
important business of getting lots of cheap oil and gas from that nice Mr Putin.
If Russia hadn't thought about complaining about the declassification before, it
certainly has every opportunity to do so now.
It doesn't really matter what is in the archives; Soviet plans for nuclear war,
plus the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia will probably be the most interesting.
Other countries - such as the former East Germany - have already declassified
their bits of the files.
The point is that the new Polish government is serious about wanting to clean up
the remains of the country's Communist past. It is doing so promptly, to a
deafening lack of applause in the West. I find that baffling. Imagine if a
former Nazi-occupied country - France for example - still had a large pro-Nazi
party that had managed to block the release of the Wehrmacht's wartime archives
there. How cross everyone would be about it, and how glad if a strongly
anti-Nazi party came to power pledging to open the German military files (and
the Gestapo ones too, for that matter). That, roughly, is what has happened in
The real reason why bien-pensant Western opinion-formers hate this sort of thing
is that it sabotages the cosy, sloppy, moral equivalence that marked their
thinking during the Cold War years. If you are confronted with incontrovertible
evidence that the Soviet Union was both a monstrous dictatorship and an
aggressive imperialist power, it becomes much harder to maintain that "the USA
and the USSR were as bad as each other".
The fact is that if it wasn't for America, Western Europe would have had a hard
job withstanding Soviet belligerence. Patriots like Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski -
NATO's top spy in Communist-ruled Poland - knew that, which is why for a decade
they risked torture and death to work secretly for the West. But that part of
history is something that many people whose freedom he helped preserve would
much rather forget, if they ever knew it in the first place.
# Edward Lucas is Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for The Economist.

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