Magazine article The Spectator

It's Time to Move On

Magazine article The Spectator

It's Time to Move On

Article excerpt

The Polish Prime Minister, Marek Belka, has been busy these last few days commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising. As we have all just been reminded, this was the action taken by organised Polish anti-communist and anti-Nazi resistance fighters in their capital to drive out the invader and stave off subsequent Sovietisation. It resulted in their wholesale slaughter and the razing of Warsaw by the departing Germans. The Poles have long seen the event as a betrayal of their brave people by the Allies. This theme has bubbled through to the surface in recent days, assisted not least by Mr Belka.

In an interview with the BBC on Saturday, the Prime Minister said he was looking forward to an admission by the British that they could have done more to help the Poles at that time. He saw this admission as being a prelude to an apology. On two counts, this implicit demand for British contrition is both uncalled for and unhelpful.

Mr Belka's particular gripe is that Britain could have sent Free Polish forces under her protection back to Warsaw to assist in the uprising. Sadly, we couldn't. We had no means of getting them there. We had no planes with sufficient range to get to Warsaw. Any such operation would have required the transports to land on Russian-occupied territory. The Russians wouldn't have it, since they wanted to impose a Soviet state on Poland instead, and did not want its capital liberated by tircsomely independent-minded Poles. That is why they sat outside the city until satisfied that the resistance movement had been smashed by the Germans, and they could go in and occupy the ruins and enslave their demoralised and beaten inhabitants.

So it might be thought that if Mr Belka wants an apology from anyone, it might be from the Russians, who behaved cynically and murderously, repeating the wickedness demonstrated at Katyn earlier in the war when they killed a substantial proportion of the Polish officer class. Perhaps since so many current Polish politicians are ex-communists, or reds lite, they might still have reservations about pinning the full blame on the country that once gave them political inspiration. Belka might, of course, take issue with Britain for having allied itself with Stalin, whom it would not upset at that stage. The choice Churchill faced in August 1944 was to accept Stalin's self-serving strategy or to break off that pact at a stage in the war when Hitler was not yet beaten and start freelance operations on behalf of the Poles. The second of these options was simply not feasible. Because of the nature of the war the Poles could be helped only by the Russians, which was no fault of Britain's.

But the second, wider issue - and why Mr Belka's complaint is so unhelpful to him and his cause - is that this call for someone to apologise is simply not doing Poland any good at this stage in its historical development. Nobody disputes the immense suffering of that country between 1939 and 1945. It lost six million of its people, half of them Jews (and the Soviet authorities, after the war, launched a pogrom against the few who were left). Because of its geographical position it was at the mercy first of the Germans, then of Stalin. None of these facts can be disparaged or diminished; but now, 60 years later, a modern country like Poland has to accept that the dogs have barked and the caravan has moved on. …

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