Missing at the Victory Parties: Poland

March 30, 1995|By WILLIAM PFAFF

BEIJING — Paris. -- Some strange and wounding decisions have been taken in Washington and Bonn about the 50th-anniversary memorials to victory in the Second World War. President Clinton will go to Moscow, but not to London. The Poles are not invited to Berlin in May, where, according to Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, they would be out of place among the ''Big Four'' allies.

The latter, of course, are Britain, which won the war, with the belated assistance of Russia, which began the war as a collaborator of Nazi Germany; and the United States, brought in only by attack from Japan; and France, which despite the heroism of the not excessively numerous Free French, and resisters inside France, mainly tried to ignore the war, while some French actively cooperated in building Hitler's ''new order.''

Mr. Clinton is going to Moscow because Russia is his foreign-policy priority. Mr. Clinton and the man in charge of his Russian policy, Strobe Talbott, have placed too heavy a bet on the fortunes of Boris Yeltsin to offend him, and Russian public opinion, by refusing to attend the Russian victory celebration in Moscow on May 9.

This choice of policy imposes its logic, Russian conduct in Chechnya notwithstanding. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev last week, was reasonably tough with the Russians about their nuclear cooperation with Iran and the Chechen war, insisting, with respect to the latter, that ''a political settlement must be negotiated.''

Mr. Kozyrev was equally firm in response. Has the Russian-American honeymoon ended? ''I would say that indeed the honeymoon has come to an end, but a sobering period in the wake of the honeymoon did not The Poles fought alone. Overrun, they organized a huge system of internal resistance.

end in divorce.'' Mr. Kozyrev said Iran and Chechnya were

discussed ''without creating artificial linkages between these problems and some even more complex and complicated issues'' -- which suggests that Moscow came out of these talks, in Geneva, with cause for satisfaction.

President Clinton has refused the British government's invitation stop in London for its celebration of the war's end because Britain doesn't count for much in his administration's view of things. One reason is the extreme stupidity displayed by John Major and the Conservative Party in gratuitously interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign of 1992, looking for damaging information about Mr. Clinton and offering the Bush campaign unwanted advice on how the Tories had just won their national election.

The history and the tragedy of World War II is shabbily diminished by such partisan considerations. There would have been no victory without Britain. The United States supplied the brawn for victory in Western Europe only when it was given no choice.

The victory on the eastern front, and the conquest of Berlin, were due to Russian heroism and sacrifice, even though it cannot be ignored that Stalin temporized with Hitler, helped Hitler's accession to power by attacking German social democracy through the Comintern, and, comprehensible as his reasoning may have been, signed the infamous non-aggression pact of August 1939 with its secret protocols partitioning east-central Europe between Germany and Russia. Moscow entered the war against Nazism only when compelled to do so by German invasion.

But Poland and its independence is what the Second World War officially was about. Britain and France guaranteed Poland, after abandoning Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but could not honor their guarantee. The Poles fought alone. Overrun, they were the first of Germany's victims to organize a huge system of internal resistance. An underground Home Army continued the struggle, and an underground shadow administration, judiciary and educational system was linked to the exile government in London.

Polish forces were reconstituted in France, Britain and Russia and fought on both eastern and western fronts. Polish airmen fought in the Battle of Britain, Polish ships in the Battle of the Atlantic, Polish ground forces in Italy and western Europe. They spent themselves in the ultimately futile conquest of Monte Cassino and the failed Arnhem airborne operation, ''Market Garden,'' meant to cut off the German retreat on the north European front. Their ultimate sacrifice was that postwar Poland was not freed, but was submitted, with the Western allies' acquiescence, to Stalinist domination.

Poland has a better claim to be at any European victory observance than does France, however creditable France's ultimate performance in the war. It deserves to be there for the sake of all the overrun countries who set up exile governments and exile forces. The German government inevitably has an awkward role to play in all of this. But to exclude Poland from the ceremonies in May in Berlin is unacceptable.

A footnote: The Polish Foreign Minister, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, was a prisoner at Auschwitz.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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