restricted access Road to “People’s Poland”: Stalin’s Conquest Revisited
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Antoni Z. Kaminski and Bartłomiej Kaminski Road to “People’s Poland”: Stalin’s Conquest Revisited 1 “Much to the dismay of both Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin was intent [already in December, 1941—AZK, BK] on defining the new geopolitical contours of the Continent after Hitler’s eventual defeat. His armies had barely held their own on the outskirts of Moscow, but their leader was already looking ahead to a new European order that would satisfy his territorial ambitions.” (Andrew Nagorski, The Greatest Battle, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007, p. 272) “The presence of the Red Army on the Polish soil was as natural a result of the course of war as was the presence of the American and British army in France or Netherlands. If France and Netherlands became free and independent countries whereas Poland was enslaved, this did not result from the purely military circumstances but from Soviet imperialist designs…” (Leszek Kolakowski, “Yalta & the Fate of Poland: An Exchange,” The New York Review of Books, Vol. 33, No. 13, August 14, 1986) “This war is not like wars in the past: whoever occupies a territory can impose his [own] social system. Everyone imposes his social system as far as he can go. It could not be any other way.” (Stalin’s remark to Tito quoted in André Fontaine, “Yalta, from failure to myth,” Le Monde, February 5, 1985) “What a magic ballot box!!! You vote Mikolajczyk and Gomulka comes out!” (Popular quip on the first parliamentary elections in People’s Poland in 1947) 1  Paper presented at the conference “Stalinism Revisited: The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe,” organized by the Cultural Institute of Romania and Woodrow Wilson Center, held in Washington, D.C., November 29–30, 2007. The authors are grateful to Vladimir Tismaneanu, who inspired this research project, and to other participants of the conference, who provided useful comments. i3 Stalin book.indb 195 10/15/09 9:47:29 AM 196 Stalinism Revisited Introduction The 60th anniversary of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform ), coinciding also with the anniversary of the outbreak of the Cold War and the end of the communist takeover of Central and Eastern Europe, is a good opportunity to revisit the Soviet takeover of Poland, which became People’s Poland, and which ceased to exist in 1989. History has already delivered its final verdict on many previously controversial issues. The critics who claimed that communism was not a viable politico-economic order capable of overcoming capitalism turned out to be right. The Soviet Union lost the Cold War thanks to the system that Stalin built. With the benefit of hindsight, one can argue that the emergence of the Soviet bloc has provided a powerful impulse to a complete overhaul of traditional European politics. The Cold War facilitated the emergence of collective security arrangements (NATO) and structures supporting economic and political cooperation rather than competition (EU). These structures emerged largely in response to the Soviet threat. In consequence, with the demise of the Soviet Bloc, its Central European members were not left in a void but could operate in a friendly environment. For Poland, geography, for the first time since the early eighteenth century, ceased to be a curse. But the price paid by Poland (as well as by some other countries, in particular, the Baltic states) for the opportunity to be part of today’s friendly pan-European environment was particularly high. Poland lost the right to self-determination and was coerced to adopt an alien politicaleconomic system. Despite participating in the anti-fascist Alliance and contributing to the military effort with the fourth largest force against the Germans in Western Europe, Poland was one of the biggest losers of World War II. Much of its infrastructure—including that in newly acquired , more developed Western territories—was largely destroyed. Her territory was diminished by about one-fifth of its pre-war size. As a result of the Holocaust, combat operations, deportations to Germany and the Soviet Union, exile, and mass executions carried out by both Germans and Soviets, Poland lost almost one-third of its pre-war population, or 12 million people. Beside an almost total extermination of Poland’s Jewish population, the losses were particularly high among her “best and brightest ,” and her pre-war elites were practically wiped out. i3 Stalin book.indb 196 10/15/09 9:47:29 AM 197 Road to “People’s Poland”: Stalin’s Conquest Revisited Poland’s road to People’s Poland was...


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