Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, the bloodiest and most atrocious armed conflict of the 20th century. European leaders gathered in the small coastal city of Gdansk to mark the event, this being the town where German aggressors first opened fire on Polish defenses, setting off six long years of brutal strife. For many, the tragedies of that distant war are nothing but distant memories of a fast-disappearing generation. For others, the past is not so far behind them…
On the one hand, many European nations have learnt to come to terms with a modern and repentant Germany, a nation where virtually any symbol/reference to that era is prohibited by law (Holocaust denial, for example, is a very serious offense in Germany). Yet on the other hand, many nations–and particularly those sharing a border with the eastern giant–still have qualms with Russia, a nation that they feel has not done enough to admit its blame for various atrocities both during the war and throughout the decades of ensuing communist rule.
On top of such omissions, Poles in particular have had a hard time digesting recent insinuations coming from Moscow that the infamous Katyn massacre of over 20,000 Polish officials and leaders of all stripes at the hands of Soviet forces was in fact largely perpetrated by Nazis. To the further disbelief of the Poles (and many others), the head of the Kremlin publicly stated that any comparison between Stalinism and Nazism is “a cynical lie.” It would seem that in a country where both forces raped and pillaged in roughly equal measure (as was the case for poor Poland), it’s tough to see much of a difference between the two.
Hopefully for the sake of intercultural understanding (now do you follow?) these episodes won’t get in the way of the further unification of a continent that tore itself to pieces not more than two generations ago. Could it possibly be that the leaders of the major European nations need better translators so that they can just start getting along?!