Poland, Russia and monumental distrust | Letters

Readers respond to Matthew Luxmoore’s article on the bitter conflict over a nation’s communist history

As the stepson of a former member of “General Anders’ army”, a group of Polish soldiers released from Stalin’s gulags, who fought with the British in the Middle East and Italy, I read Matthew Luxmoore’s excellent article with mixed feelings (Poles apart: the bitter conflict over a nation’s history, Journal, 13 July).

My father, born in the part of Poland now in Ukraine and later exiled to the UK, died shortly before the collapse of the Jaruzelski regime and would have been horrified by the notion of hailing the Soviets as liberators. After assassinating the Polish elite, Stalin shipped “undesirables” like him, remnants of the Nazi-defeated Polish army, to Siberian labour camps, separating them from wives and children who were also transported – many, as with my father’s family, never to be seen again. Not surprisingly, he was short on praise for communism. Indeed, he would happily have exploded a grenade under the monument featured in the article.

While the Soviets’ immense sacrifices in helping to shatter Hitler’s project should not be forgotten, neither should the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact that facilitated the invasion and disintegration of Poland and led, for instance, to joint German-Soviet victory parades. So although I am alarmed by the rightward political shift we are seeing, I understand the emotions underlying Poland’s new antagonism towards Russia.
James Calhoun
Tortosa, Tarragona, Spain

• At a time when the legitimacy of colonialist monuments in Britain is being debated, we get a fierce defence of such monuments by Matthew Luxmoore. But that is OK, as these monuments are in Poland and propagate the myth of a Russian “liberation” that seems to be in line with his politics. He has sought out the few people who defend structures imposed by brutal Soviet communist regimes throughout central and eastern Europe as they plundered and maladministered these nations’ economies.

The Red Army signed a friendship pact with Hitler’s Nazis and then invaded, ravaged and incorporated vast tracts of Poland into the Soviet Union, deported a million and a half to Siberian labour camps and murdered thousands, and then re-entered the country again on the way to Berlin. Poland was just land and people and buildings in the way and treated as such.

With the fall of 40-plus years of disastrous communism, Poland, the Baltic states and other neighbouring countries couldn’t wait to strengthen links with the west, join Nato, and return to some hope of freedom, peace and prosperity. They have a unique and bitterly earned perspective on the true meaning of a resurgent Russia.

Luxmoore repeatedly refers to anyone who wants to do away with these reminders of Soviet imperial rule as “far-right”, but his writings betray his sympathies for fantasist far-left ideology, despite the evidence of what it does to people’s lives.
Jan Wiczkowski
Prestwich, Greater Manchester

• Matthew Luxmoore’s article reminds one of the cynical communist-era joke that history is much the most interesting subject because you never know what it will be. Although these days, not least in Poland, there is little doubt what the government would like it to be.

As Luxmoore pointed out, Poland is not the only country with monuments to Red Army liberators. Nor is it the only country to have rehabilitated figures whom we, spared the lethal occupations of the last century, would regard negatively. This was brought home to me when, as an FCO official, I found myself dealing with some of the newly independent countries that had recently been republics of the USSR. I twice met a particular figure. The first time he was a nationalist dissident; the second, he was foreign minister of his now independent country. I later read of his presence at the grave of a member of the locally recruited Waffen SS, now regarded as a brave fighter for independence. Similar stories could doubtless be repeated over a wide geographical area.
Peter Roland
Bognor Regis

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