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Is Moscow ready to deplore and forgive Poland’s fit of self-pity?

What’s next in the often strained relations between Moscow and Warsaw?

Deputy Minister of Justice of Poland Patryk Jaki upheld the surprisingly re-lapsed claims of Poland to receive compensations from Russia for the scrapped Peace of Riga signed in 1921. He added enthusiastically: Russia on par with Germany should bear responsibility for its “actions” against Poland.

The government officials in Warsaw would like to be paid 30 million rubles in gold, as stipulated in the 1921 treaty. Polish PM Beata Shidlo recurred the habitual rite of “doing justice” to the much suffered nation, which sadly is true.

However, the initial statement by an MP of Polish Sejm that the Russian Federation, as the successor of the Soviet Union and, consequently, of Soviet Russia (existed before the creation of the union), should pay war reparations dating back almost a hundred years have left Moscow largely unimpressed.

Not only because these demands came on the heels of a similar claim of $45 billion (38 billion euros) in compensation from Germany, which was vehemently rejected by lawmakers and lawyers in Berlin, but due to their both legal and political inadequacy.

Firstly, the sum in question remained unpaid because Moscow accused Warsaw of violating the treaty, which stipulated cessation of any kind of support for anti-Russian opposition groups and a halt to what was regarded as subversive actions. Secondly, as claimed by Russian historian Vladimir Simindley, the Peace of Riga agreement is no longer valid.

In his turn, Dmitry Surzhik, a researcher with the Institute of General History (RAS) believes that no one among the Polish decision-makers seriously counts on being “compensated” and, in reality, this huffing and puffing targets predominantly the domestic audience to beef up ultra-nationalist sentiment.

Bitterness of unfulfilled ambitions

Given both the authoritarian trend in internal politics pursued by the ruling Law and Justice party and the criticism it has drawn from the EU collective leadership, this bellicose stance fits well into the traditional conservative (sometimes in the goods sense of it) mentality of the Polish elites.

Poland and the Polish nation have every right to be treated with compassion and indulgence, imho. Its turbulent history tends to repeats itself with a monotonous regularity, leaving deep scars in the national conscience but few traces of sour lessons well learnt to be avoided in the future.

Poland is too often in the grips of its past imperial ambition to build a formidable realm “from sea to sea”, or Intermarium (Międzymorze in Polish).

This concept was originally put forward by Polish leader, strongman Józef Piłsudski who envisaged a federation of Central and Eastern European countries with Poland as the apparent focal point. The federation would have incorporated the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Finland, Romania, Yugoslavia, and also Belarus and Ukraine.

The proposed Poland-led amalgamation of states would have stepped into the shoes of the defunct Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. It complemented another of Piłsudski’s geopolitical goals: the dismemberment of Russia. It would have covered an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Since the absorption of Yugoslavia was also on the mind, Poland must have contemplated to reach out to the Adriatic shores as well.

The grand scheme failed to raise enthusiasm among the targeted nations and did not meet with approval of most Western European countries. One of the unspoken reasons was the original drive of Polish nobility to create an empire with dependent nations deprived of the same civil rights and privileges as the core nation, the Poles. This ethnic-centered construct was doomed to failure.

Today, when the ideological chief-crusader of the Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, declares, “Polish government is preparing itself for a historical counteroffensive”, it is worth reviewing the precedents when Poland led the charge against or was irritating by its erratic behavior Germany and Russia simultaneously. This time, however, the Polish ruling class is also bravely, or rather abrasively, challenging the authority of the European Union whose membership it craved for and cherished for so long.

Maybe the Polish elites now in charge in Warsaw, now regularly accused of being nationalistic by Brussels, know something that others do not?

Waking up the dormant giant

Probably, the most symbolic and far-reaching consequences of the stubborn exercises in by Poland and the Baltic States in limitrophe arrogance – they kept poking the Russian bear in the eye with demands of reparations and compensations for years – have emerged only now. The Russian blogosphere has erupted with indignation and demands of retribution, which is still in stark contrast with the meek reaction some twenty years ago.

The emotional response by a certain Alexander Staver is exemplary. He quoted a document prepared by the team of scholars under three-star general Alexander Pokrovsky who headed the scientific research department of the General Staff. The statistics they found shows that the overall expenditures of the Soviet Union related to weapons and material equipment used for the purpose of liberating Poland from fascist rule and occupation totaled 26 720 959 000 rubles. It constitutes $70 billion in current prices. Moreover, in 1944-1945 the Soviet government spent 211 335 000 rubles alone on the restoration of Poland’s railways that served them well afterwards.

Professor Lev Klepatzky of the Russian Diplomatic Academy thought it appropriate to draw comparison between the pre-war Poland, hardly a well-to-do nation in Europe, which lost almost 40% of national wealth during German occupation, and post-war Poland. By 1949, the manufacturing production per capita soared 2.5-fold. Despite being ravaged by war and with many citizens still starving, the Soviet Union supplied grain seeds to Poland. It was indeed a humanitarian aid but it did go unnoticed too.

Then again, due to the advocacy of the Soviet negotiators within the “Big Three” alliance, Poland received 1137 German plants, which were stripped of equipment, moved across border, and reassembled.

If it were not for the Soviet Union, Poland would have never increased its land mass by almost 30%. The addition of Silesia and Eastern Pomerania was a boost for the economic development: German researchers estimate that the natural resources of these regions enriched post-war Poland by $130 billion.

Moreover, one of the Russian feedbackers reminded in his post that in cases when a Western airline is found guilty for the crash it could be sentenced by court to pay compensation to the relatives of the victims sometimes to the amount of $3.000.000 per every passenger. It led to the suggestion to demand similar compensation for the lost lives of 600.000 Russian soldiers who died while driving away German troops and SS henchmen from Poland.

Not only the Russian public is feeling betrayed and maltreated by Poland and the Baltic States with their attempts to extort money but also even the authorities are showing signs of exasperation. Look for proof in comments by rank-and file readers in the blogosphere and (sic!) in the recent statement by Russian Ambassador to Lithuania that Moscow has the legitimate right to demand compensation of $72 billion for the Soviet-times investments into this previously poor marginal rural area on the fringes of Europe.

*   *   *

Is it a turning point? It sure looks like it. Russians noted for their proverbial patience start to lose this seemingly inherent trait of national character. Previously, it would be correct to expect Moscow simply to deplore and forgive Poland’s fits of self-pity and attempts to play out of its league. Nowadays, the Russian public seems to become more aware of the national interests and is more likely to pressure the authorities to stand up to all kind of intrusions, either by action or by word of mouth.

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