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Russian civil society needs to save Poland’s Soviet-Era Monuments

The Polish authorities recently signed into law a hyper-nationalist motion which will lead to the removal of hundreds of Soviet-era monuments in the country, with some being placed in obscure “museums” and others being destroyed. Approximately 600,000 Red Army soldiers sacrificed their lives to save Poland from Nazi occupation and genocide, as well as to liberate the many death camps that the fascists constructed on the country’s territory. It’s a terrible affront to these martyrs and their Polish allies that Warsaw is undertaking such a radical approach to historical revisionism, but all moral objections aside, there seems to be little that can be done to reverse this decision and ensure that the monuments remain standing in their original locations for generations to come.

Polish dissident Mateusz Piskorski was organizing a grassroots campaign to save these statues in the run-up to the looming passing of this controversial legislation, but he’s since been imprisoned for over a year already on politically trumped up allegations of supposedly being Russian and/or Chinese “spy”. Leaving aside the ridiculousness of the accusations being levelled against him, his arrest deprived Polish civil society of a strong voice to lobby on behalf of historical justice, and it probably also intimidated many of his supporters from carrying on the cause.

Russia harshly criticized Poland’s decision  on the grounds that it violates an agreement between the two historical rivals, and some voices remarked that Moscow might take Warsaw to international court over the impending removal of the monuments. Russia’s legitimate response serves to rightly attract the global attention that Poland’s regretful decision deserves, but it will probably not be enough to dissuade Warsaw from carrying through with its plans. If anything, the Polish authorities might even feel impelled to accelerate the implementation of their new policy because of the ire that it’s drawing from Russia.

Granted, Poland stands to receive tremendous damage to its reputation if any international courts eventually rule against its decision, especially if the monuments are already removed or destroyed by that time, but in any case, the whole drama already reflects very badly on the country because it suggests that its leadership is so vindictively obsessed with Russophobia that it will take the extreme step of politicizing anti-fascist monuments in order to spite Russia. Accepting that this is a realistic appraisal of the situation, then it seems likely that Warsaw will go through with this no matter what, and whether international courts support it or not.

This means that one should expect that the Soviet-era anti-fascist monuments in Poland will probably be relocated to obscure museums or destroyed after the new initiative enters into force this fall. That being the case, and understanding that Polish civil society is either too jingoistic or intimidated to do anything about it, then the responsibility falls upon Russian civil society to try and save these statues. If Russians don’t act — and soon — then their country’s proud monuments will be relegated to obscurity or demolished.

There’s nothing that Russians can do to influence Poland’s internal decision-making process and implementation of the historically revisionist law, no matter how repulsive it is, but what they can do is raise funds for some or all of the statues’ relocation to Russia where they’ll actually be safe and appreciated. One proposal could be for patriotic NGOs and other civil society forces to identify locations that would be willing to accept these monuments and then jointly work with municipal officials and the local communities to secure the money necessary for this endeavor.

If Russian domestic and international media got involved in this project and made it one of the country’s most celebrated causes, then it’s foreseeable that the organizers could obtain the required funding for relocating all of the statues in time to save them from their unfortunate fate in Poland. Of course, it would be infinitely better if they could remain standing in their original locations in Poland, but since that optimal scenario appears ever less likely by the day, then the fallback plan for preserving the dignity of those who they’re dedicated to could be to relocate them to Russia instead.

There’s always the faint chance that some sort of unexpected breakthrough could lead to the Polish government reversing its decision, and it wouldn’t be wise for Russian civil society to publicly “jump the gun” right away (operative qualifier) before all other options are feasibly exhausted, as this well-intentioned move could unwittingly be read as a sign of defeat by the Poles which could then fortify their recalcitrance to reconsidering their actions. It’s very probable, however, that nothing will successfully persuade Poland to stop with its plans, which is why Russian civil society should begin discretely laying the groundwork for this “rescue operation” as soon as possible so that they can be ready to commence it when the inevitable moment arrives.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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