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Russia angry as Poland erases Communist past

Poland's plans to demolish around 500 Soviet-era monuments have angered Russia, according to media reports, further damaging relations between the former Soviet satellite state and the country.

Poland is planning a mass demolition of monuments that are relics of the country's Communist past which are seen as reminders of Soviet Russia's invasion and subsequent decades-long political dominance of the eastern European nation until a popular uprising in 1989 overthrew Communist rule.


Anti-Communist sentiment is widespread in Poland.
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images
Anti-Communist sentiment is widespread in Poland.

The head of Poland's Institute of National Remembrance said in an interview with Polish news site Onet on Thursday that Soviet monuments in Poland – which was invaded by Germany in 1939, effectively starting World War II, and then by the Soviet Union which eventually drove out the Germans in 1944 – should have been demolished in the early 1990s and called their preservation "a fatal mistake."

According to the interview between Lukasz Kaminsky and Onet, reported by RBC news agency and The Moscow Times, Kaminsky said that the monuments should be removed and transferred to museums to become a "witness of hard times."

Many modern Poles have reappraised their country's Communist past, seeing the era as one of deprivation, repression and subservience to Russia. The Soviet Union remains a thorny issue not least because Soviet Russia had at first supported Hitler and his invasion of Poland in 1939 before it joined the Allies in fighting Hitler in 1941 after it was itself invaded by Germany.

Those mixed feelings over the past are borne out by the monuments themselves which have become the target of vandalism. But Russia says that the Red Army "liberated" Poland from Germany and that any removal of the monuments to Soviet soldiers is a slur.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that plans to remove the monuments were aimed at erasing the fact of the country's liberation by the Red Army during WWII from the memory of the Polish people, Russia's TASS news agency reported on Thursday.

"The war on monuments is designed to erase from the memory of the Poles the fact that the Red Army saved them from total annihilation by Hitler's Nazis," Zakharova said, adding that she hoped the Polish authorities who have to decide whether the demolition goes ahead, would reconsider.

"We hope that the Polish authorities will not take the lead from extremist-minded politicians and will not implement measures, which indeed are on the verge of barbarity," she added.

Zakahrova said Moscow had more than once suggested discussing the problem of Soviet WWII memorials with Poland but that the Polish authorities "had refused to heed Russia's calls to show respect, civilized attitude and elementary human decency and stop their war on the Red Army monuments," TASS reported.

The friction over Poland and Russia's past relations is the latest spat between the countries as relations hit an all-time low.

Poland has become increasingly nervous over Russia's annexation of Crimea (a part of Ukraine, which, like Poland, is seen as a former Soviet satellite state) and role in a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine.

Last September, Poland summoned Russia's ambassador to Poland after he said that Warsaw was partly responsible for Nazi Germany invading in 1939 because it had repeatedly blocked the formation of a coalition against Berlin in the run-up to the conflict, Reuters reported.

Russia has likewise summoned Poland's ambassador to Russia after Soviet graves were vandalized in Poland and a Soviet-era statue was removed in a Polish town.

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