11 October 2010

Red Army monument in Poland vandalised in response to removal of Katyń cross

The conflict over the removal of the Katyń cross from outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw has found a new manifestation in the shape of a recently constructed monument to Red Army soldiers in Ossów near Warsaw. The monument has been vandalised twice since it was built earlier this year.

The monument was an initiative of the Polish Council for the Memory of Combat and Martyrdom, and was supported by President Bronisław Komorowski, then Marshal of the Sejm. It marks the remains of 22 Red Army soldiers who died in the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, and features a large, granite orthodox cross surrounded by 22 smaller stones.

Gazeta Wyborcza writes that the second incidence of vandalism was discovered on 20thSeptember by a local council official. The vandals wrote ‘Katyn 2010’ and ‘Bronek [Komorowski] – we will never forgive the removal of the cross’ on the monument.

Gazeta Wyborcza reports that the original unveiling of the monument, scheduled for 15 August 2010, had to be cancelled following the first incidence of vandalism and protests. Red stars were painted on the monument, and a small group of protesters, including activists linked with the right wing Law and Justice party (the party led by Jarosław Kaczyński), held a demonstration. The Russian Ambassador to Poland was due to attend, but his car had to be turned back at the last moment, according to Gazeta Wyborcza.

Conservative media such as Nasz Dziennik and Radio Maryja have voiced concern over the monument. In an interview published in Nasz Dziennik the day before the second incident of vandalism was discovered, Jerzy Bukowski, a spokesperson for the group Alliance of Combatant and Independence Organisations claimed that the protesters had nothing against respecting fallen soldiers of any side, but that they objected to ‘grand monuments to invaders’. Mr Bukowski said the erection of the monument was equivalent to raising a monument to the Swedes at Jasna Góra, the monastery which famously withstood the Swedish invasion of Poland in the 17th century.

Another conservative commentator Zbigniew Girzyński, a member of parliament for Law and Justice, also protested against the monument in his blog. Mr Girzyński asks, ‘Why is our money being used to build a cemetery for Bolshevik soldiers? The body of every dead person deserves respect, but let the Russians pay for that respect, and not us!’. Both Mr Girzyński and Mr Bukowski refer to the restoration of the famous Polish war cemeteries in Lviv, Ukraine, which, Girzyński points out, was paid for by Poland, not Ukraine.

The General Secretary of the Council for the Memory of Combat and Martyrdom Andzrej Krzystof Kunert was quoted in Gazeta Wyborcza as expressing his distaste for the vandalism, and promised to clean up the monument. ‘This is a moral right and a duty arising from international agreements’, he said of the commemoration of the soldiers. He also suggested that the monument will be unveiled later this year, possibly in November.

Gazeta Wyborcza reports that conservative media such as Radio Maryja and Nasz Dziennik had claimed the protests were initiated by local residents. However, the head of the local village council, Grażyna Wiech, is quoted by Wyborcza as saying that the locals reacted calmly to the proposal, saying, ‘it’s not us making all this fuss’.

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