Poland and Russia. The Neighborhood of Freedom and Despotism in the XXI Century
by Prof. Andrzej Nowak
“I begin the book with a statement that I am prepared to defend: it is impossible to understand anything about today’s Russia if one does not know history. All considerations about it – historical, political, geopolitical – will be suspended in a vacuum if we do not try to understand why 85 percent of the citizens of the Russian Federation support the actions of Vladimir Putin,” emphasizes Professor Andrzej Nowak, historian, author of the just-published book Poland and Russia. The Neighborhood of Freedom and Despotism in the XXI Century.“
Putin’s decisions and history
Prof. Nowak pointed out that the reasons for Putin’s decisions are explained mainly by history, which at the same time makes the history of Russia and Russian imperialism, as well as Polish-Russian relations, to be taken into account not only when “we think about what is happening now.” The historian added that Russian culture is not an innocent bystander either although this culture should not be dismissed in its entirety.
“But I come back to the fact that history is important and that Russian culture sustains, carries precisely this imperialistic charge, and does so extremely effectively. Suppose one goes back to Dostoyevsky, to Pushkin, to his extremely chauvinistic poems, which are constantly repeated in Russian schools and the Russian media. These are poems that declare war on the West, indicating that Poland is the main tool of the West, which is always dreaming about the destruction of Russia,” pointed out Prof. Nowak, adding that in the Russian mentality and culture, the vision of empire is deeply rooted, and Russia “has the right to conquer, always calling this conquest liberation.”
Mistakes of the West
Prof. Nowak was asked why the West – despite the experience of history – repeatedly makes the same mistakes when it comes to Russia. According to the historian, “it is not so that the West knows history or is interested in history. As he added, it was easier for people in the West to believe that history is something of the past – and public opinion is not interested in history.”
“Russia addresses its imperial plans, implementing them very consistently by various methods to the elites of the West by speaking their language. […] The serious partner for Moscow, as Russia emphasizes at every step, is Berlin with Paris in the second place. This is another reason why the West expresses understanding for something that scares us, that is for successive appeasements, that is for satisfying imperialism, in this case, Russian imperialism at the cost of weaker countries, by Western partners who believe that these weaker countries do not count anyway,” said the historian, adding that Poland, the Czech Republic or Ukraine could be sold off for peace.
The discussion also focused on Poland’s eastern policy. Prof. Nowak directly emphasized that “what the Tusk/Sikorski team did with Poland’s eastern policy was worse than a crime, it was a mistake, to use Talleyrand’s quote because the second aspect of this change was that it was made after Vladimir Putin declared war on the West.”
“When Putin arrived at Westerplatte and was received with the highest honors by Donald Tusk, he made a terrible speech suggesting not elsewhere but at Westerplatte that Germany and Russia had a right to an act of revenge in 1939 for the humiliation of World War I. This was the essence of Vladimir Putin’s speech, whereas Donald Tusk’s justification for inviting Putin was that, at last, the high representative of the Russian Federation would admit for what reason this Second World War began and what the historical truth was. So, he heard it. Of course, President Kaczyński responded to this insult, which was passed over in silence in Poland by the dominant mainstream media led then by the ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’, Prof. Nowak emphasized.
In his opinion, Putin’s attack on Georgia should have immediately revised Poland’s policy towards Russia, but it did not happen.
“This shows a shocking – if not to say – blindness, but persisting in this mistake, had enormous costs, and not only for Poland. After April 10, 2010, what happened was of great importance for all of Eastern Europe,” indicated Prof. Andrzej Nowak.