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Eastern Europe Turning its Back on Its Soviet Past

Travis Cunha

Aug 23, 2023

Poland Demonstrates Faux Military Strength for Geopolitical Posturing


On August 15th, Poland conducted its most significant military parade since the Cold War era. This elaborate exhibition of military capability was likely a deliberate strategic move aimed at signaling their willingness to assist Ukraine if the need arises amidst the ongoing conflict with Russia. The elaborate event was marked by open hostility towards Russia, especially due to its timing on Poland's "Armed Forces Day," a date chosen to commemorate Poland's perceived victory over the Red Army of the Soviet Union in 1920. Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak stated, "This is an opportune day to showcase our strength and demonstrate that we have forged a potent armed forces capable of resolutely safeguarding our borders." The military hardware showcased prominently featured weaponry and vehicles from various NATO allies, including the United States and South Korea.


In recent years, the Law and Justice Party, the dominant political force in Poland since 2015, has actively propagated anti-Russian narratives and policies. One illustration of this occurred in June when the party successfully introduced and passed a bill designed to scrutinize the actions of politicians who held office between 2007 and 2022, with the aim of determining whether any decisions made by them were influenced by the Kremlin. Polish citizens offering their services as mercenaries have been entering Ukraine to provide assistance against Russia's Special Military Operation.


What Has Happened to the Warsaw Pact Nations?


After World War Two, Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov remarked, "We freed Europe from fascism, yet they will never pardon us for it." Many interpreted this statement as referring to people in Western Europe who initially supported the Third Reich financially and later sided with the Soviet Union against Hitler. However, while resentment toward Soviet history and present-day Russia persists in Western European countries, the animosity from former Warsaw Pact nations is even stronger and more prone to violence.


The Warsaw Pact, formed in 1955 by Eastern European countries led by the Soviet Union, was a response to NATO's creation. It aimed to collectively defend its members against potential aggression, especially from Western nations. The pact dissolved in 1991 after the Cold War ended and Eastern Europe underwent rapid political changes. This period saw a resurgence of Nazism and attempts to downplay the USSR's role in fighting fascism. Ukraine has taken a leading role in dismantling Soviet symbols and honoring figures who opposed communism as national heroes.


In a recent move, Ukraine removed the hammer and sickle from its "Mother Ukraine" monument, originally meant to celebrate its victory in World War Two. Ironically, the monument now portrays Mother Ukraine with a shield bearing a trident, a symbol associated with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. This group, led by Stepan Bandera, cooperated with the Nazi regime, turning the Soviet-built monument into a tribute to those who aided fascists during the war.


Poland has actively cultivated anti-Russian feelings, and the Baltic states have aligned themselves with Western interests, even at potential risks. By 2004, these nations had all joined NATO, showing their shift toward the West and efforts against Russia. Joining the Western sphere involves adjusting policies to align with U.S. directives, regardless of potential harm to their economies. Poland faced this reality when Russia banned EU agricultural product imports in response to EU sanctions due to Crimea's alignment with Russia. In 2014, Poland was the world's second-largest apple producer; the Russian ban caused surplus apples to go to waste and left farmers unpaid. This resulted from the Polish government ceding sovereignty to NATO at the expense of its working class.


The Baltic Quest for Independence: Unforeseen Outcomes


Throughout the era of the Soviet Union, the Baltic states stood out with their significant independence movements among the various Soviet Socialist Republics. Factions within these three countries consistently asserted that they had been subjected to "Soviet annexation." The United States capitalized on this perspective as the USSR showed signs of impending dissolution. Specifically, regarding Lithuanian independence, the United States Government acknowledges, “The U.S. played an important role in supporting Lithuania’s struggle for freedom from the Soviet Union, but that story has not been adequately told in Lithuanian popular media.” It further asserts, “The U.S. aimed to help refute false narratives in Russian language media in Lithuania that seek to undermine Lithuania’s friendship with the U.S. and to distort history by suggesting that the Soviet occupation of Lithuania was, in fact, a welcome alliance.”


This drive for "independence" culminated in the Singing Revolution of 1989, encompassing all three Baltic states. The series of protests gained attention in the West, particularly due to the "Baltic Way," a human chain spanning over 430 miles across the Baltics. This event was met by massive support from Western imperialist media and played a pivotal role in the beginning of the end for the USSR. With the direct assistance of the United States, Lithuania became the first nation within the USSR to secede, declare "independence," and subsequently gain it, followed promptly by Latvia and Estonia.


However, how has the pursuit of ostensive independence fared for those who participated in the Singing Revolution? Presently, Latvia leads in terms of inflation within the Eurozone, with prices experiencing a year-on-year increase of 20.7% in December, slightly surpassing the rates observed in Lithuania (20%) and Estonia (17.5%). Restrictions on importing Russian natural gas have also led to soaring energy prices across the Baltics. Despite limited economic progress, these nations refuse to strengthen ties with Russia, persisting in their adoption of more anti-Russia measures. During the Russia-Ukraine conflict's onset, Latvia even compelled its Russian-speaking citizens to renounce their allegiance to Russia and take a state language test or risk forfeiting their right to reside in the country they have long called home.



Was it Worth Turning Your Back on the East?


The geopolitical divisions that once segregated Europe into the Western-led NATO sphere and the Eastern domain under the Warsaw Pact have largely dissolved. Currently, Russia and Belarus are seemingly the only nations maintaining robust economic and cultural connections. In the wake of the USSR's collapse, aligning with NATO and the emerging European Union appeared as the optimal course. However, those who steadfastly clung to their sovereignty have encountered unforeseen challenges, yet they retain the autonomy to recalibrate their foreign relations when opportunities like BRICS arise.


Despite Lithuania's potential weariness from escalating inflation and energy costs, it lacks the political sovereignty to engage in significant infrastructure projects with China or secure affordable natural gas from Russia. Reflecting on their choices, one might wonder if any participants in the Baltic Way human chain ever ponder if they would have been better off staying home that day.

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