What does Putin think of Poland?

Poland's warning to Vladimir Putin

Warsaw has demonstratively not invited Russia to the memorial ceremony. President Duda sends a warning to Moscow - and recalls the fate of Austria in 1938.

Warsaw. The last World War II veterans fight against the scorching sun in the official gallery. At the central commemoration in Warsaw at the beginning of the Second World War 80 years ago, the marching music is blaring, there is a lot of marching on Pilsudski Square and the orders to change the guard at the grave of the unknown soldier are barked.

Before the obligatory wreath-laying ceremony in memory of the victims, host Andrzej Duda, Poland's President, emphasizes with rare rhetorical verve the heroism of the forefathers who continued to fight on all fronts of the Second World War after the defeat of Poland, including the Battle of Britain. Duda doesn't mince his words and speaks openly about the fact that London and Paris abandoned Poland at the time. "Perhaps the Second World War could have been prevented if Austria hadn't just accepted the annexation of Austria in 1938," says Duda at the end - probably also to shake up the audience.

"Sanctions must remain"

Duda pleads for an end to "business as usual". He recalls the border shifts in Moscow based on the annexation of Crimea and the attacks by Russian soldiers in the eastern Ukrainian Donbass. “That is why the sanctions must remain in place,” says Duda and invokes the transatlantic ties between Europe and the USA. Among the 40 foreign delegations invited is his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Selenskij, who only paid his inaugural visit to Poland on Saturday. Now it is also clear why Duda "wanted to stay with friends" at the commemorations and why he did not invite Vladimir Putin at all - a Polish gesture that Moscow sharply criticized. After all, hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers, including not only Russians, perished in the liberation of Europe from National Socialism, especially in Poland.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Federal President, is much shorter. “There is no other place in Europe where it is so difficult for me to raise my voice.” He humbly lowers his head and quotes Pope John Paul II, who in 1979 was the first prince of the church to visit Eastern Europe and the Pole, Courage made to free their country from the shackles of communism. Steinmeier praised this spirit of freedom and emphatically called for a renewal of the European-American friendship. “We know very well: Europe must become stronger and more self-confident. But we also know: Europe should not be strong without America - or even against America. Europe needs partners. And I'm sure America also needs partners in this world. ”He repeatedly asks for forgiveness for the suffering caused by Nazi rule.

Appeal to NATO allies

In his speech after a hymn of praise for the Polish resistance, US Vice President Mike Pence called on NATO allies to increase their defense spending. “America and Poland will continue to call on our allies to keep the promises we have made to one another.” A strong alliance of free and sovereign nations is “the best defense for our freedom”.

Austria was represented in Warsaw by the President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka. Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen and Federal Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein spoke out in broadcasts. The lesson from the dictatorship, according to Van der Bellen, is the “common Europe” as a “unique peace project”.

The commemorations began at 4.40 a.m. with a joint visit by Duda and Steinmeier to the small town of Wielun in western Poland. The German Air Force bombed civilian targets there 80 years ago, thereby committing the first war crimes. Around 1200 civilians were killed in the three waves of attack.

("Die Presse", print edition, 02.09.2019)