History Becomes a Battlefield as Putin Flies into Poland
Walker, Shaun, The Independent (London, England)
Deep divisions over who was to blame for Second World War cast shadow over 70th anniversary meeting
EUROPEAN LEADERS gather in the Polish city of Gdansk today to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, amid an acrimonious row between Moscow and much of Europe over who started the conflict.
The heavily politicised spat has been escalating throughout the summer as central European countries have sought to portray the Nazi- Soviet non-aggression pact as a key precursor to the war. Russia has responded furiously, insisting that Joseph Stalin had nothing to do with the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, and has even blamed Poland for starting the war.
The spat will overshadow today's summit, attended by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. All eyes will be on Mr Putin, who is making his first trip to Poland since 2005, and has in the past reacted aggressively to European criticism of Stalin's role in the war and Soviet atrocities. He is expected to give a speech in Gdansk today, which will be watched closely by the rest of Europe. A foreign policy aide said that one of the main purposes of the trip would be to counter false theories about the start of the war.
The argument comes in the context of a concerted Russian effort to retain the entire war period as a glorious Soviet achievement. Earlier this year, the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, set up a body with the Orwellian title of the Commission to Prevent the Falsification of History to the Detriment of Russia's Interests, which could lead to prosecutions of people who seek to "rewrite history". Liberal critics have ridiculed the commission, and say it sets a dangerous precedent which could pave the way for anyone attempting to shed light on some of the darker pages in Russia's history to be silenced.
As the war anniversary has approached, Moscow has ratcheted up the rhetoric. On Sunday, President Medvedev said in a television interview that it was a "complete lie" to say that Stalin bore any responsibility for the war. Natalia Narochnitskaya, a Kremlin- friendly historian and member of the new commission, accused Poland of trying to paint itself as an "innocent victim". …