Poland tears down Soviet monuments: “Dismantling is important for our future”

Status: 11/24/2022 08:09 a.m

Poland’s ruling party PiS promised early on to settle accounts with the remnants of communist history. More and more excavators are now moving in: many monuments from the Soviet era are being demolished.

By Martin Adam, ARD Studio Warsaw

The Red Army soldier is armed with a machine gun – the man on the lifting platform next to him with a jackhammer. He slowly detaches the stone Red Army soldier from the obelisk from which he has been looking out over the Polish town of Głubczyce for decades. The statue falls forward, only the left leg remains standing.

Karol Nawrocki, head of the Polish Institute for National Remembrance, IPN, stands at a safe distance. It is right to tear down such statues, he says. “There is no place for such monuments, for such symbols with the red star in the public space of free, independent and democratic Poland and free Europe. This symbol stands for the crimes of the communist system even in the interwar period, the victims of the methodical genocide the Soviets, the victims of the Russian nation murdered by the Communists.”

Poland settles accounts with its history – at least the Soviet part. Many Poles can no longer relate to the post-war story of the heroic liberation by the Red Army. If they ever could, given the partition of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II, the massacre of over 4,000 Polish military personnel by the Soviet secret service NKVD in the Katyn Forest, and the time up until 1989 that many people in Poland interpreted as occupation.

25 monuments fell this year alone

In 2016, the Polish government under the PiS party therefore banned monuments that publicly propagate communism – unless they are part of private collections, serve scientific or educational purposes or are in a cemetery.

In 2022, the project will gain new impetus from the Russian attack on Ukraine, explains Nawrocki. 25 monuments have been toppled since March of this year alone. 35 others are still on the list of the IPN. “Unfortunately, to this day, both the symbol of the red star and Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin dominate in the minds of the rulers of the Russian Federation, who are barbarically trying to destroy independent Ukraine,” he says. “We are not only here because of the past, but also to say that the dismantling of this monument is important for our future.”

Dispute: demolition or memorial?

However, the dispute over a monument in Olsztyn in Masuria shows that it is not so clear and unambiguous: two steles, an open triumphal arch, with a Red Army soldier and a Soviet tank in the middle of the city center – created by the sculptor and Auschwitz survivor Xawery Dunikowski, who is still respected today. IPN boss Nawrocki wants to demolish, the mayor, Piotr Grzymowicz, prefers to ask the population. “The majority is in favor of keeping the memorial and turning it into a memorial and educational center for children,” explains Grzymowicz.

He also spoke to veterans and seniors. “The majority were in favor of not fleeing from history and not forgetting it.” Precisely because the memorial stands for a time from which many Poles suffered, it should not disappear, argues the mayor.

However, the law is on the side of the cleaners. The provisional compromise: the stelae are still there, only the hammer and sickle have been chiseled away.

Poland tears down Soviet monuments

Martin Adam, ARD Warsaw, 24.11.2022 6:50 a.m

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