October 25, 2010

Power and History

Moral superiority and a sense of historical injustice are potent political fuel. But what happens when truth intrudes, memories fade and differences blur? Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s presence at the joint Russian-Polish memorial service in Katyń on April 7th, and the outpouring of sympathy in Russia for Poland since the plane crash on April 10th that killed President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, raises profound questions about an intellectual framework that has shaped local and outside understanding of the European continent’s history and politics. How far is a historic shift underway, in which countries such as Estonia will no longer fear that their big eastern neighbour is harbouring a version of history which delegitimises their very existence? And how far is this the story of a tactical shift, in which the regime in the Kremlin does the minimum necessary to avoid damage to its external reputation?

Moral superiority and a sense of historical injustice are potent political fuel. But what happens when truth intrudes, memories fade and differences blur? Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s presence at the joint Russian-Polish memorial service in Katyń on April 7th, and the outpouring of sympathy in Russia for Poland since the plane crash on April 10th that killed President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others, raises profound questions about an intellectual framework that has shaped local and outside understanding of the European continent’s history and politics. How far is a historic shift underway, in which countries such as Estonia will no longer fear that their big eastern neighbour is harbouring a version of history which delegitimises their very existence? And how far is this the story of a tactical shift, in which the regime in the Kremlin does the minimum necessary to avoid damage to its external reputation?


www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=23722….
2 Speaking later that day, he also came out with an original argument that Stalin had ordered the killings to avenge the deaths of an even greater number (30,000) of captured Soviet prisoners of war in 1920. That is problematic for several reasons. First, the number of those prisoners’ deaths is disputed and almost certainly far fewer than Mr Putin said. Second, they died chiefly from typhus at a time when the Polish state was barely able to feed and care for its own people (not least because it had just been attacked in its infancy by the Soviet Union). To equate that with the deliberate massacre of captured Polish officers suggests a lingering slipperiness and relativism.

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