Archive for the ‘Eastern Europe’ Category

Alert the media? Not so much.

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

UPDATE: The pummeling continues. At an LSE blog, Artemy Kalinovsky reiterates the problems with Stroilov and Berlinsky’s overblown claims. He adds an additional point: what will the reaction of Russian archivists be to people bragging of sneaking documents out of Russia? Most likely, banning scanners, closing off collections, treating foreign scholars with even more suspicion.
UPDATE: Ron Radosh, whose anti-communist credentials are not exactly open to question, does a thorough demolition job on Berlinsky, Bukovsky, and Stroilov. Ouch. Hat tip to Tom Nichols for the pointer.
Claire Berlinsky, writing in the City Journal, has asked why more people aren’t paying attention to revelations from the Soviet archives. She presents two individuals who smuggled documents out of the Soviet Union. One of them, Vladimir Bukovsky, has at least posted his documents online so that people can see for themselves what kind of material he’s got available.

The other person Berlinsky mentions, Pavel Stroilov, hasn’t put any of his material on the web, at least as far as I’ve been able to find. But as Berlinsky presents his claims, he’s got lots of terrific and untapped documents, like Georgii Shakhnazarov’s Politburo minutes and Anatolii Cherniaev’s diaries. Here’s the problem: a 700-page book in Russian has been published, based on those Politburo minutes from Shakhnazarov and others. Cherniaev’s diaries were published in the journal Novaia i noveishchaia istoriia, and are even available in English. They aren’t exactly tough to find–type “Cherniaev diaries” into google and see what pops up.

So at least some of the hot, secret material Berlinsky says Stroilov possesses is neither hot nor secret, and representing it as hot and secret is misleading. It’s tough to know whether Berlinsky or Stroilov is responsible. Berlinsky herself admits she doesn’t know any Russian.

The next big problem is that in many cases, Stroilov is pushing on an open door, and Berlinsky seems simply unaware of what scholars have known for quite some time. For example, Stroilov’s documents on German reunification (as presented in late 2009) show that Margaret Thatcher didn’t want to see it happen. Of course, that’s the same conclusion established by more or less all the scholars who’ve worked on the subject, including most notably Philip Zelikow and the hardly obscure Condoleezza Rice, who showed quite conclusively in 1997 in Germany Unified and Europe Transformed that France and Britain opposed German unification and only strong efforts by Helmut Kohl and George Bush the elder made it happen. Helmut Kohl himself in his memoirs, published four years before Stroilov’s big unveiling, said exactly the same thing.

Berlinsky says Stroilov’s documents describe “most shockingly” that Francois Mitterand wanted a socialist Germany under French and Soviet domination. Since Mitterand was a socialist, and French politicians since de Gaulle have wanted to see Germany under French domination, I don’t see how this qualifies as shocking.

Last, it’s clear that Berlinsky is writing with a particular political agenda–to discredit the European left, question European unification, and cast doubt on the continental European social model while at the same time pummeling the dead horse of Communism. I don’t have any problem with that. My problem comes when pursuing that political aim results in doing violence to historical perspective. One example: Berlinsky finds it scandalous that Joaquin Almunia, current member of the European Commission, was strongly opposed to Ukrainian independence. Know who else was opposed to Ukrainian independence? George Bush the elder.

Katyn Papers Released

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

The Times Online is reporting that:

Secret documents detailing the Soviet leadership’s decision to murder 22,000 Polish officers at Katyn were released to the Russian public today on orders from President Medvedev.

In an unprecedented step, the Russian State Archive published documents showing how Soviet leader Joseph Stalin approved the World War Two massacre proposed by his secret police henchman Lavrenty Beria. Other prominent members of the ruling Soviet Politburo also signed off on the slaughter.

For the full story, go here.

Polish President, military and civilian leaders killed in plane crash

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

The AP is reporting this morning that a Tupolev-154 carrying the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and some of the country’s highest military and civilian leaders crashed in heavy fog while trying to land at a military airport in Smolensk, Russia.

On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Ninety-six people are said to have died in the crash. The President and other state officials were en route to events marking the seventieth-anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

For an early report on the story, click here.

UPDATE @ 9:21 am CST: RIA Novosti is reporting that human error was the cause of the crash. The death toll is now estimated to be as high as 132.

Pat Buchanan and the Russian military on World War II

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Noted political commentator and past Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan has weighed in on the origins of the Second World War, both at his own site and at

What’s striking to me is that Buchanan’s argument–that war could have been avoided had only Poland been more reasonable in dealing with Nazi Germany’s legitimate demands–is in its essentials identical to the case made by Russian Colonel S. N. Kovalyov a couple of months ago.

In Buchanan’s formulation,

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.
Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.
But why would Britain hand an unsolicited war guarantee to a junta of Polish colonels, giving them the power to drag Britain into a second war with the most powerful nation in Europe?
Was Danzig worth a war? Unlike the 7 million Hong Kongese whom the British surrendered to Beijing, who didn’t want to go, the Danzigers were clamoring to return to Germany.

In short, the Poles should have surrendered Danzig, an ethnically German city, to the Germans rather than fight.

I’ve outlined the argument (as formulated by Kovalyov) and my objections to it before.  What Buchanan (and Kovalyov earlier) are omitting is the context of the guarantee to Poland against German aggression at the end of March 1939.  On 13 March 1939, Hitler had invaded and annexed the rump Czechoslovakia, rendering meaningless his claims to be reuniting German territories to the Reich.  Why trust him after that?

Physician, heal thyself!

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I think we may have a candidate for the Truth Commission’s first target: a Russian military officer who argues that Poland’s responsible for World War II.

I’m headed to the MoD website to see if I can find it for myself. My thanks to the person who brought this to my attention.

UPDATE: here’s the Russian-language text of the Defense Ministry’s statement disavowing the official status of the argument.

UPDATE: the article in question by S. N. Kovalyov seems to have been taken down from its original page (subtly titled “History: Against Lies and Falsification), but I was able to grab a copy of the text and will post it soon.