Russia’s efforts to paint Poland as a perpetrator of World War II brought the European Commission to Warsaw’s defense on Wednesday.
“The European Commission fully rejects any false claims that attempt to distort the history of the Second World War or paint the victims like Poland as perpetrators,” Vĕra Jourová, the Commission vice president in charge of values and transparency, told the European Parliament. “Distortion of historical facts is a threat to our democratic societies and must be challenged wherever possible.”
Poland has borne the brunt of a series of historical attacks from top Russian politicians and the Russian foreign ministry, which have tried to dodge the Soviet Union’s responsibility for helping start the war by launching a joint attack with Nazi Germany against Poland in 1939.
The Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact divided Central Europe between the two totalitarian states, but has long been a source of embarrassment for the Kremlin. Moscow did accept responsibility for the pact as the USSR collapsed three decades ago, but that view no longer fits with the nationalist narrative favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin on several occasions has disputed a European Parliament resolution that says the 1939 non-aggression deal paved the way for the war. In December, Putin called it “a sheer nonsense,” and instead pointed to the 1938 Munich Agreement, which allowed Adolf Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia, and the benefits Poland got from the pact, as an international agreement that started the war.
“it is impossible to deny the fact that it was the Soviet Union that routed Nazism” — Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister
In December, Putin called Poland’s prewar ambassador to Germany an “anti-Semitic swine.”
His comments were echoed by other high-level Russian officials. Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the Russian Duma, said on Tuesday that “hundreds of extermination camps” were located in Poland. “This was largely facilitated by the prewar atmosphere in Poland and the position of the leadership of this country. And for this, present Polish leadership must apologize to the whole world,” he said.
In response, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Russia’s president of “deliberately” lying about Poland “on numerous occasions.”
On the 80th anniversary of the start of the war, the Russian foreign ministry tweeted: “One may have varying opinions on Soviet policy during the initial period of World War II, but it is impossible to deny the fact that it was the Soviet Union that routed Nazism, liberated Europe and saved European democracy.”
That long series of slights has prompted EU institutions to defend Poland.
“If one member state is singled out in efforts to distort its historical role, the EU Commission will always protest,” Jourová said, adding: “The Commission will not tolerate these attacks on Poland and stands in full solidarity with Poland and the Polish people.”