Thursday, February 17, 2005

Yalta, 60 years later 

One of my readers in Warsaw had given me a friendly nudge to remind me that I have forgotten to comment on the 60th anniversary of a significant event in the last century's history: the Yalta conference in early February 1945, at which Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin de facto ratified the post-war division of Europe.

Yalta is a dirty in Poland, and I imagine elsewhere throughout the East and Central Europe, as it stands in the collective consciousness a byword for the abandonment by the West of the whole region to the Soviet domination. This feeling has been particularly pronounced in Poland, which after all had been the casus belli for the Second World War. For Poles, the end of the war marked not the liberation but the replacement of one totalitarian occupation by another (albeit significantly less bloody one). At Yalta, the Allies who went to war to protect freedom and independence of Poland have signed it all away to Uncle Joe; so went the Polish complaint. All that after the six years of bloody sacrifice of the Polish armed forces in the West and the Polish fighters at home, the best organized underground in the whole of the occupied Europe, not to mention six million dead (including three million Polish citizens of Judaic faith).

In truth, the West did not have much room for maneuver; as the saying goes, the facts were created on the ground by the Red Army. The US Army had almost reached Prague, and had Patton and not Eisenhower been in charge, the Allies would have reached Berlin too, instead of being sidetracked chasing ghosts of the "Last Redoubt" in Bavaria. It is, however, unlikely that the West would have been allowed to "keep" all of Germany and the Czech part of Czechoslovakia under any sort of post-war political settlement. As for the rest of the region... The bottom line was the Soviet Union was much stronger on the ground and the West was not prepared either mentally or militarily to go to war against its erstwhile ally over some unpronounceable towns and rivers in the East.

Hence, I'm reluctant to blame the West for "selling out" or "betraying" Poland and the Eastern Europe at the Yalta conference. Short of starting World War Three in mid-1945 there was nothing that the West could have done to roll back the communist domination over the region, and I don't begrudge them that they didn't want to proceed in that direction. What I do resent is the naivete and stupidity of so many of the West's "best and brightest", at Yalta and elsewhere. It is one thing to be realistic and accept the consequences while holding one's nose; it's another to operate under illusion that the Eastern Europeans were the troublemakers, the Soviets weren't all that bad, Stalin could be trusted and that everything would turn out alright.

So as the 60th anniversary of Yalta passes, I remember it not so much as the Day of Infamy as the Day of Folly.


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