“Why die for Danzig?” – this phrase has become symbolic of the attitude of Western Europe to the war that broke out 75 years ago. The French and British policy of appeasement emboldened the Nazi dictator to invade Austria, occupy the Sudetenland and finally crush Czechoslovakia without any serious consequences for Hitler and the Third Reich. Even when on September 1st, 1939, after the Soviet-German pact had been signed, shots resounded in the Free City of Danzig, the Western powers mustered up only enough courage to embark on the so-called Phoney War. Their belief in being able to save their own skin by turning a blind eye on the destruction of Danzig emboldened Hitler to make the next act of aggression. After that he captured Warsaw, then another European capital, Paris, and not long after that the Nazis started dropping bombs on London. Only then the Allies cried out loud: “This must stop! Let’s win this war once and for all!”
West Europeans should never again espouse such selfish and short-sighted policy towards an aggressor. Sadly, current developments and sudden rise in tension in Ukraine are reminiscent of the situation that existed in 1939. An aggressive state – Russia – takes over Crimea, a part of its smaller neighbour’s territory. President Putin’s army and special services operate in Eastern Ukraine, often covertly, supporting separatist formations that terrorize the local population and openly threatening invasion.
One thing is different now from the situation in 1939: while Western partners continued to believe in the aggressor’s “human face”, he was able in recent years to draw into the orbit of its interests many West European politicians and businessmen. The lobby thus created managed to influence the East European policy of many countries. The guiding principle of this policy has been “Russia First” or even “Russia and Nothing Else”. Now it has fallen into ruin. Europe urgently needs a new, realistic, Ostpolitik.
This is why we appeal to our neighbours, fellow citizens of Europe, and their governments:
1. French President François Hollande and his government are tempted to make a step that will be even worse than France’s passivity in 1939. In the coming weeks, as the only European country, they actually plan to help the aggressor by selling Putin’s Russia brand-new huge Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. France has teamed up with Russia on this issue in 2010 and already then the project triggered numerous protests. Previous French President Nicolas Sarkozy would as a rule dismiss them because, after all, “the Cold War was over.” But now a Hot War has started in Ukraine and there is no reason why France should still want to implement the old agreement. Already several politicians suggested that it should sell the two ships to NATO or the EU. If President Hollande does not change his views soon, European citizens should force him to change them with a campaign boycotting French products. For in line with its great tradition France must remain true to the idea of European freedom!
2. The Federal Republic of Germany began its journey of increasing dependence on Russian gas as early as around 1982. Already then Polish intellectuals including Czesław Miłosz and Leszek Kołakowski warned against building new pipelines to transport Russian gas and called them “instruments for future blackmail of Europe”. The same warnings came from two successive Polish presidents, Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Lech Kaczyński. But German politicians, whether because of the German guilt complex or because they believed in the “Russian economic miracle” and hoped to benefit from it personally, have held cooperation with the Russian authorities in very high esteem. And thus, perhaps unwittingly, they were perpetuating the unfortunate German tradition of treating Russia as their only partner in Eastern Europe. In recent years, companies belonging to the Russian state and its oligarchs have been putting down ever deeper roots in the German economy, from the energy sector through the world of football to the tourist industry. Germany should contain this kind of entanglement because it always leads to political dependence.
3. All European citizens and every European country should take part in campaigns aimed to help alleviate the threat hanging over Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the eastern regions of the country and Crimea are in need of humanitarian aid. The Ukrainian economy is bled out as a result of many years of damaging gas-supply contracts signed with the Russian monopolist, Gazprom, who ordered Ukraine – one of the least affluent buyers of its gas – to pay the highest price for it. The Ukrainian economy urgently needs help. It needs new partners and new investments. Ukrainian cultural, media and civic initiatives – truly fabulous and very much alive – also need partnerships and support.
4. For many years the European Union has been giving Ukraine to understand that it will never become an EU member and that any support coming to it from the EU will be only symbolic. The Eastern Partnership policy of the European Union has changed little in this area as in practice it turned out to be only a meaningless substitute. Suddenly, however, the issue has gained its own momentum, thanks largely to the unwavering stand of the Ukrainian democrats. For the first time in history, citizens of a country were dying from bullets with the European flag in hand. If Europe does not act in solidarity with the Ukrainians now it will mean that it no longer believes in the values of the Revolution of 1789 – the values of freedom and brotherhood.
Ukraine has the right to defend its territory and its citizens against outside aggression, also with the use of the police and the military, and also in regions bordering Russia. Over there, in the Donetsk Region as well as across the country, peace has reigned since Ukraine became independent in 1991: there has not been a single violent conflict, either against the background of minority rights or otherwise. By unleashing the dogs of war and by testing a new kind of aggression Vladimir Putin has transformed Ukraine into a firing ground similar to Spain under the Civil War, when fascist units assisted by Nazi Germany attacked the Republic. Anyone who will not say no pasarán to Putin today places the European Union and its presumed values in a position of ridicule and consents to the destruction of international order.
No one knows who will rule Russia say three years from now. We do not know what will happen with the current Russian power elite which engages in rowdy politics inconsistent with the interests of its own people. But we know one thing: whoever follows today the policy of “business as usual” with respect to the Russian/Ukrainian conflict is turning a blind eye on successive thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dying, on successive hundreds of thousands of refugees and on attacks by Putin’s imperialist forces on successive countries. Yesterday it was Danzig, today it is Donetsk: we cannot allow a situation where Europe will be living again for many decades with an open and bleeding wound.
At Gdańsk (formerly Danzig) on September 1st 2014.
Signed by (20 names )
Władysław Bartoszewski (In private capacity. If you like, you can describe him as former inmate of Auschwitz and communist prisons, historian and twice Foreign Minister of Poland. Not by his current position)