Tension over Communist Monuments Poland on Collision Course with Russia over Plans to Remove Soviet Statues

Poland's plans to pass a law allowing the removal of Communist-era memorials threaten to bring it into conflict with Russia, as tension between the former Soviet power and Estonia continues over a disputed statue in Tallinn.

A monument to Red Army soldiers stands next to a church in Warsaw. Polish plans to remove some Soviet-era monuments are likely to cause conflict with Moscow.

A monument to Red Army soldiers stands next to a church in Warsaw. Polish plans to remove some Soviet-era monuments are likely to cause conflict with Moscow.

When Estonia tried to move a bronze statue paying tribute to Red Army soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany, it provoked protests where one person was stabbed to death. Now Poland's plans to allow the removal of certain Soviet memorials are creating tension with Russia too.

Around 40 young people protested Tuesday in front of the Polish embassy in Moscow, demonstrating against a proposed Polish law which would allow the removal of Soviet-era monuments. The protestors also objected to the destruction of the graves of Russian soldiers -- something which is not, however, foreseen in the new law.

The Polish government revealed Monday that it was considering a law which would enable local authorities to remove Communist-era memorials. However government ministers said the law had already been in development for a long time, with Culture Minister Kazimierz Ujazdowski emphasizing that the legislation was not directed at Russia.

'Communist Bondage'

Under the new draft law, which will be presented at the end of May, local authorities will have the option of removing monuments which glorify the Communist dictatorship. But Ujazdowski stressed that the regulations did not involve removing graves of Russian soldiers. Instead, the law has to do with the removal of ideological memorials that recall "the Communist bondage and which are directed against Polish national dignity," he said. He also emphasized that only two paragraphs of the new law on monuments actually have to do with Soviet-era memorials.

Some politicians from the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party said that it was not the right time to discuss such a law, given the tension between Russia and Estonia. However the PiS deputy floor leader Pawel Zalewski said that it was "never the right time," adding that "we don't want a monument war, but the law is necessary."

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski defended the law Tuesday. "Nobody will dictate to us what the streets in Poland will be named and which monuments will stand in Poland," he said on Polish radio.

There are no exact figures for the number of Soviet-era memorials in Poland but some estimates put the total at around 2,000. Most memorials were demolished in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War.

Russia's Enormous WWII Losses

The situation is particularly tense because Russia will mark the 62nd anniversary of the end of World War II on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Kremlin in Moscow Tuesday. Soviet-era memorials to Red Army soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany are a particularly sensitive issue in Russia, given the enormous losses the country sustained during the war.

Meanwhile, the dispute over the Estonian memorial continues, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday accusing the European Union and NATO of supporting countries that disrespect the memory of Soviet soldiers. "Attempts to make a mockery of history are becoming an element and an instrument of the foreign policy of certain countries," Lavrov said. "Unfortunately, certain organizations such as NATO and the EU connive with these attempts."

Russia's national railway on Tuesday also announced it would cancel the passenger train service between St. Petersburg and the Estonian capital Tallinn, claiming that the recently introduced service had not attracted sufficient passengers to justify its continuation.

In a symbolic gesture aimed at reconciliation with Russia and ethnic Russians in Estonia, Estonian government ministers laid flowers at the disputed Soviet statue on Tuesday. It was the first time Estonia has paid tribute to the Red Army while commemorating the Allied victory in World War II.



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