Poles apart: the bitter conflict over a nation’s communist history

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Many Poles remember Soviet soldiers saving them from Nazi occupation. But a growing number are rejecting that narrative, and the monuments that come with it.

By Matthew Luxmoore

In September 2013, the Polish city of Legnica was preparing to host a reunion of former Soviet officers who had served in the city and left after the Soviet Union fell. The centrepiece of the celebrations would be a monument in the main square showing two soldiers, a Pole and a Russian, locked in a handshake; on their shoulders sat a small girl, her gaze fixed on the Russian. When it was unveiled in 1951, the monument had been described in the local press as an expression of the Polish people’s “limitless gratitude to their liberators”, of “inseparability and eternal friendship with the Soviet Union”.

In the middle of the night before the reunion event, Piotr Borodacz, a 25-year-old Polish nationalist, gathered with several friends on the square and doused the “monument of gratitude” in red paint. On its base, they scrawled the symbol of the National Radical Camp, a Polish prewar fascist movement that was resurrected after the fall of communism. Red was the colour of the communism Borodacz despised, and of the blood of Poles persecuted by the communist regime.

Related: How Poland’s far-right government is pushing abortion underground

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