BBC programme portrays Anti-Communist soldiers as ethnic cleansers

“Crossing Continents”, a BBC Radio Four documentary programme, visited Hajnówka in eastern Poland to cover a march in remembrance of the “Indomitable soldiers”, anti-communist troops after WWII. A report on the march and the issues surrounding it was aired on Thursday.

The programme focused on Hajnówka, a town on the edge of the Białowieża Forest, and its surrounds and the march organized by patriotic and nationalist organizations to commemorate those Polish resistance fighters who decided not to lay arms and continued resisting the new communist government and its Soviet backers.

Sowing division and extremism?

The presenter of the programme argued that the current government is using history for its own political ends and is venerating the “cursed soldiers” (a phrase used in the programme instead of "indomitable soldiers" beeing in use in Poland) to build nationalism. She does not make clear that the march she is reporting on is not one which the ruling Law and Justice Party was responsible for organizing but links it to anti-semitic activities via reporting the presence of the extremist Piotr Rybak who was convicted for burning the effigy of a Jew.

The local mayor tried to ban the march, but the courts rejected his petition. The freedom to demonstrate is enshrined in the Polish constitution.

Counter demonstrators, the Citizens for Poland (ORP), who tried to stop the march in Hajnówka on the day designated for remembering the soldiers are portrayed as “defenders of democracy” and “anti-fascists”. No mention is made of the fact that this group has attempted to break up ruling party commemorations of the Smolensk tragedy, block access of Jarosław Kaczyński, the ruling party leader, to the grave of his brother the former President Lech Kaczyński, nor that its members were active in attempting to storm and then block Parliament in 2016.

Ethnic cleansing?

Most of those interviewed in the programme were either members of the Belarusian minority whose families allegedly were victims of crimes committed by one of the troops of the “indomitable Soldiers” or journalists and activists opposed to the march. They resented being painted as communist collaborators and accuse the soldiers who fought on after the war of committing atrocities, such as killing and burning property, against the local population on ethnic and religious grounds.

Lack of historic context

The programme makes no attempt to portray the forces that those who remained in the resistance took up arms against. No mention is made of the crimes of the communist security police (UB) or the actions of the Soviet Red Army, such as rape and pillage in many villages all over Poland.

The local Belarusian minority is portrayed as innocent victims and the Polish resistance fighters as their oppressors. In fact no mention is made that large parts of Poland were occupied by the Soviet Red Army in September of 1939 and that this was the primary cause of resistance by those Polish fighters who refused to surrender to the puppet communist government the USSR imposed on Poland in July 1944.

Anti-communism a far right phenomenon?

The whole programme is built on the proposition that the events in Hajnówka are just another chapter in the rise of the far right and the stoking of Polish nationalism from the 1930s with anti-communism being portrayed as merely an excuse.

But anti-communism in Poland was not a predominantly nationalist or far right phenomenon. It came from opposition to Soviet occupation forcing upon Poles an economic and political system Poles did not want. Solidarity, a totally peaceful movement, was just as much an anti-communist and patriotic movement as were the so-called “indomitable soldiers”, that is the ones who refused to lay down their weapons. The difference was that Solidarity came in a period of history in which it could not access weapons even had it wished to and at a time when the communist system was beginning to wane.