Friday, 25 September 2009

More Genocide Hyperbole: This Time, Charges of Soviet Genocide in Poland During the Second World War

This is the latest example of exaggerated and inappropriate use of the term 'genocide'. The Polish parliament has adopted a resolution condemning the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Katyn massacre of approximately 20,000 Polish military leaders in 1940: According to the resolution: ‘The Gulag archipelago took millions of human lives, including those of many Soviet citizens . . . the organisation of the system, its duration and degree mean that these crimes, including the Katyn crime, carry the traits and characteristics of genocide.’
Charges of genocide leveled against the Soviet Union have been made for many years with respect to famine-related deaths in Ukraine associated with collectivization. But this is the first time I’ve seen the accusation made with respect to Poland. I suspect that Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish jurist who invented the word genocide in 1944, is turning in his grave at this extravagant use of the term.
The resolution is part of a more general phenomenon of historical revisionism being promoted in several countries in eastern Europe. I have already written on more than one occasion on this blog about the prosecutions of so-called 'flip-side' crimes committed by anti-Nazi partisans during the war.
I was impressed by a recent column in The Guardian by Seumas Milne: Milne describes the Soviet seizure of half of Poland as an act of realpolitik that was provoked by British appeasement of Hitler. He associates recent attempts to equate the Nazis and the Soviets with the rise of right wing movements in Eastern Europe and the spread of racism: ‘As the political heirs of the Nazis' collaborators in eastern Europe gain strength on the back of growing unemployment and poverty, and antisemitism and racist violence against Roma grow across the region, the current indulgence of historical falsehoods about the second world war can only spread this poison.’

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