Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

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Lest we forget – Anniversary of the Odessa Massacres

October 25, 2013

Living in Odessa , it is perhaps necessary for me to take a pause and ignore the current politics of the day, for a fleeting moment and look to local history.

This week marked the 72 anniversary of the 1941 Odessa massacres.

These massacres carried out predominantly  by the Romanian army on the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Nicolae Deleanu and Lieutenant-Colonel C. D. Nicolescu – resulting in the deaths of approximately 99,000 Jews between 22 and 28 October 1941, with a further 35000 Jews moved to the ghetto of Slobodka where most died from exposure.

A somber moment for reflection that dictates suspending commentary on the current political shenanigans for 24 hours.

Odessa-2-269-Dec41Monument.

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Svoboda protests Polish President’s visit to Lutsk on 14th July

July 4, 2013

Last week, I highlighted the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church’s apology to Poland for the heinous acts that occurred in 1943 at Volhynia and throughout Eastern Galicia.

An apology accepted by the Catholic Church in Poland, calling it “free from nationalist or backwards thinking”.

A step toward reconciliation – at least between the Greek Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the Catholic Church of Poland and their respective adherents.

It seems, however, that the forthcoming visit of the Polish President, Bronislaw Koromorski and his planned visit to Lutsk to remember the Poles slaughtered there in WWII is being framed by the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda Party as a “provocation”.

It seems like Bronislaw Komorowski wants to come to symbolically humiliate the Ukrainians who fought for independence, and introduce them as murderers. I am convinced that Komorowski has no business being in Lutsk after months of anti-Ukrainian hysteria from Polish politicians… People may accept his initiative as a provocation.” – Anatoliy Vitiv MP Svoboda Party 

A “provocation”?  Surely that depends on what – if anything – the Polish President says when commemorating the deaths of so many people.  The Polish parliament has yet to define any wording of a resolution relating to the incidents in 1943, and thus until that occurs, the Polish President has no official wording of the Polish position to follow – or disregard – in any statements he may make.  His words may prove provocative or conciliatory.

The official position of Ukraine is yet to be known also.

I must admit I find it impossible to accommodate or accept the actions at Volhynia and East Galicia in 1943 with regards to what amounts to ethnic cleansing – to the point of removing all traces of “Polish-ness” in that area.  Other acts that genuinely fought for Ukrainian independence against the armed forces of both Soviets and Nazis alike, I can accept and understand.

I appreciate to some in 1943 it may have seemed like a necessary – if unpalatable – plan to create a space for a Ukrainian State – but the manner in which this plan created, authorised and carried out by a would-be Ukrainian leadership is indefensible – It is no different to Srebrenica, only 19 years ago – which has rightly been classed as a war crime.

One has to ask, with Svoboda purportedly supporting EU trajectory and democracy, why its members are stating that the head of state of one of Ukraine’s most steadfast supporters within the EU should not be welcomed in Ukraine at any time – let alone to visit a site on the eve of a massacre that took so many lives – even if events surrounding it are challenged in some quarters.

If the situation was reversed, Sovoboda would call it a “provocation” from a supposed EU ally if they wanted to visit a site of the slaughter of Ukrainians within Polish territory and were refused?

If Ukraine receives an official request to visit from a foreign head of state with which it has friendly relations – particularly one from a nation that has steadfastly supported  the Ukrainian cause within the EU – how and why should it refuse?  How is such a refusal going to be viewed by those who doubt the Ukrainian cause?

I have no objection to Svoboda speaking out over the issue – that is a democratic right – though I wince at how the statement is worded and the way they are trying to frame the visit as a “provocation” against Ukrainian society.  I have no problem with any peaceful demonstration that may occur during the visit either.  That is yet another democratic right.

However, it is the sign of a democratic and tolerant nation, a democratic party, and a democratic and tolerant society, that nationals and visitors alike, can exercise their right to freedom of movement, expression and speech.

Considering Svoboda’s formal association with UDAR, Batkivshchyna and a RADA declaration they signed relating to EU trajectory – and with numerous claims to be champions of democracy engaged in a battle with undemocratic forces – they must wholly agree with the right for Komorowski to exercise such rights within Ukraine either when acting as a head of state or private individual.

If so then the democratic normative of free movement (including to Volhynia), freedom of expression (commemorating those slaughtered) will be tolerated for a visiting European head of state, no differently than it is for many thousands of Jews who visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman every year.

The anti-Svoboda feelings are already becoming entrenched within the European Parliament, regardless of which European Parliament party you care to examine.  Pressure for UDAR and Batkivshchyna to disengage at the earliest opportunity is consistent and a matter of public record from MEPs.

One hopes that if this visit occurs and if President Komorowski visits Lutsk, any peaceful protests from those with nationalist sympathies remain consistent with democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

Any disintegration from that will undoubtedly further entrench the anti-Svoboda emotions across the EU and amongst many of Ukraine’s most stalwart supporters within – and that will have consequences – particularly if an opposition coalition comes to power that includes Svoboda.

Let us hope all occurs without serious incident.

Post Script:  I am well aware that Poland is without an unblemished history.  Most established old European nations are without unblemished histories – particularly those that had empires – and thus I readily include my own when it comes to guilt in what would today be classed as crimes against humanity, either by direct action or indirect manipulation of ethnic divides.

However to hide behind comparatives and state “well they did it too and are equally as guilty”  is no excuse and is nothing but “nationalist or backwards thinking“.  Crimes against humanity are just that – regardless of who committed them or when – and in no way should they be mitigated by stating others have done it as well –  They are what they are, shameful and uncomfortable as they may be.

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Ukrainian Greek Orthodoxy apologises to Poland

June 29, 2013

Here is an interesting development in the contentious history of Polish/Ukrainian relations.

The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church has publicly apologised for the war crimes committed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army at Volhynia in 1943 – an apology accepted by the Polish Archbishop calling it “a sign of sound and brave patriotism, free from nationalist or backward thinking.

It has to be said, in accepting the apology, the Polish Archbishop shows a spirit of reconciliation no less “free from nationalist or backward thinking” either.

Unfortunately, the theatre of Ukrainian academia and historians seems to be  somewhat less “free from nationalist or backward thinking” in some quarters.

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Democracy, tolerance and habit – The Ternopil Incident

May 12, 2013

We often read about democracy through the lenses freedom of speech/expression, rule of law, human rights, or free and fair elections, or political responsiveness to the public, accountability, transparency etc –  and rightly so – they are all necessarily required for an effective democracy.

But democracy is a very complex structure, and a list of its defining features would be very lengthy indeed.

Less often do we read about democracy needing to be habitual and tolerant.

For any democracy to consolidate there are numerous factors of course, but habit and tolerance are extremely important ingredients – not just recognised and mutually assured by and between the political elite, but also by the society which underpin any democracy if it is ever to consolidate.

It is far easier to change the habits and tolerances of a political party, or the political strata, than it is to change the habits and tolerances of society quickly.

If a political party or the political elite generally, are institutionalised, complex and coherent then internal change is swift – at least in comparison to the speed of societal change, more often than not.

Thus democratic habit and tolerances need to be clearly and robustly displayed amongst the political elite, consistently and over an extended period of time to assist in any changing of societal habit and tolerance.

Democracy after all, is a system in a state of continual friction between opposing/differing ideas, policies, ideologies etc.  Thus it demands tolerance for it to work effectively.  It demands habit for longevity and consolidation.

It is therefore very sad to read that apparently Svoboda MPs and party officials were at the forefront of what is most definitely a display of intolerance during the Ternipol Victory Day celebrations, that according to the account in the link above, prevented veterans from marking the end of WWII with any  degree of reverence and dignity – as those across the rest of European continent and Ukraine managed to do, if they so wished.

Perhaps of even greater sadness following this incident, there are as yet no words of condemnation from the Svoboda leadership, or the other parties in the opposition coalition with Svoboda – all of whom – including Svoboda – claim to be the “democratic opposition” and/or fighting for a democratic Ukraine.

Perhaps it is necessary to point out to the opposition parties of Ukraine, that in a democratic Ukraine, old men and women would be free to mark the end of WWII with dignity and reverence – whether they like them doing so or not!

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Is Poland about to upset the Svoboda Party?

April 23, 2013

Well it appears that the power of the Party of Regions knows no territorial limits.

So powerful is it that it can apparently influence the parliaments of neighbouring countries over historically controversial  issues.

I am referring to the proposal currently passing through the Polish Sejm which seeks to declare the Organsiation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the SS Galicia Division criminal organisations that committed genocide against ethnic Poles during World War II.

The Svoboda Party seems to believe that the Party of Regions is behind this move within the Polish parliament.

Naturally the PoR will revel in this as much as Svoboda will rile against it – after all, how often do you get to see your nationalist political opponents heroes cast as genocidal war criminals by an EU State?

But does anybody actually believe the Svoboda spin that the PoR are powerful enough to sway the Polish Sejm over such an issue – a long held emotive issue for the Polish at that?

No, I don’t either.

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Victory Day – Odessa (Guest blog from OdessaTalk)

May 9, 2012

News of the formal surrender of Germany arrived in Moscow in the early morning of May 9, 1945. Thus Victory in Europe Day is celebrated by Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere in the Former Soviet Union today, while everyone in the west celebrates it on May 8.

World War II came at the cost of nearly 28 million people of the Soviet Union – more than the entire current population of the State of Texas. It is difficult to put this into perspective in today’s world. Single battles between Russia and Germany took more lives than the entire US Civil War. A mere hour in some of these battles exceed the cumulative casualties the whole “Coalition of the Willing” suffered in a decade in Iraq. And of course, World War II took its toll on Germany and the Axis Powers, too. A full 90+% of German casualties were sustained fighting on the Eastern Front.

Graph of Casualties by Nation in World War 2

Courtesy of Wikileaks

The War in the East started June 22, 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. Axis forces started the invasion with 3.9 Million Men, 600,000 vehicles and 750,000 horses. By December of 1941, lead elements of Germany’s Army Group Center even touched ground in Moscow. As with Napoleon, the severe Russian Winter – “General Winter” – and crack Siberian divisions brought in from the East, pushed the German Army Group Center back.

But let’s back up briefly, to July of 1941 and the City of Odessa. The Russian Army up to this point was hard pressed to lay claim to any sort of victory, large or small – suffering only a serious of large, stinging defeats. Odessa was a different case. Luftwaffe and Romanian air attacks started hitting the city in June, but the Siege of Odessa did not start until July of 1941. It was the focus of no less than 17 divisions (mostly Romanians supported by German Engineers (Pioneers), Artillery and Aircraft. Facing this force, the Russians had roughly four infantry and one cavalry division, with support from the Black Sea Fleet.

The Siege of Odessa lasted until October 15th when the last defenders were evacuated to Sevastopol. The Black Sea Fleet helped in the evacuation of over 300,000 civilians and soldiers. By the end of the siege, the Romanian Army suffered over 17,000 dead, over 60,000 wounded and over 11,000 missing versus Soviet losses ranging up to 60,000 during the battle, proper. The battle would not really end there – many partisans took to the massive labyrinth of tunnels under the city – the Odessa Catacombs, which remain a tourist attraction today and which require a guide.

For these actions, the City of Odessa became the First Hero City of the Soviet Union. The City of Odessa likes to say that they lasted longer than France did against Hitler.

In 1942, the renewed Summer Offensive brought the world’s attention to the City of Stalingrad. But, to the South, the Oilfields of the Caucasus were Germany’s original, true objective. Despite everything working against the Axis forces, including a Commander in Chief on Crack (okay… cocaine), the monstrous logistical challenge, the weather, and… shortages in fuel, the Wermarcht came very, very close to accomplishing its objective. They took Maikop and were within site of Grozny. Beyond that were the oilfields of Baku – the birthplace of Big Oil.

Short end of it was they were stopped. Hitler threw down his gauntlets at Stalingrad… and lost the entirety of Sixth Army. Generals Manstein and Hoth were able to salvage the situation and the battles would continue into 1943 and 1944. Then with the Western Allies landing at Normandy, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration in June of 1944 which ripped Army Group Center apart. One by one, the Axis allies fell – first Romania and Finland (technically a co-belligerent), then Bulgaria (if a passive ally), and Hungary (though many continued fighting).

The Soviet Army was the first to reach Berlin. The Battle for Berlin started on April 16, 1945. The ensuing battle involved over 1.1 million Russian soldiers. And with that… history was written by the victors. But, there’s a lot that the “Allies” have kept silent over the years. Much of what really happened invites ridicule… We will be investigating more of this as we go along.

There are a lot of lessons we can learn from World War 2 – lessons that are directly applicable today, the world over.

Salute.

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