Jaruzelski award sparks controversy

Wojciech Jaruzelski and the Russian president Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

The eyes of the world were on Moscow on Monday where 50 world leaders hailed the defeat of Nazi Germany 60 years ago. But the post war division of Europe throws a long shadow and behind the smiles and handshakes, not everyone saw eye to eye on everything. Czech President Vaclav Klaus openly criticized the fact that one of the WWII heroes being awarded for his role in helping to defeat Nazism was the former Polish president Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Wojciech Jaruzelski and the Russian president Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
A hero or a villain? For some Wojciech Jaruzelski is a hero who fearlessly led a Polish unit within the Red Army to help defeat Nazi Germany, for others he is a symbol of communist oppression: the man whom Moscow handpicked to quell the Solidarity movement, the man who instituted martial law in Poland and ordered the arrest of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. And, in the eyes of Czechs: the man who symbolized the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and the crushing of the Prague Spring reform movement.

President Vaclav Klaus conveyed his reservations to Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Klaus' office issued a public statement explaining why the President felt that Mr. Jaruzelski should not have been thus honoured.

Although there are some who would dispute the Czech Republic's right to say who Russia should give its awards to, many Czech top officials have openly supported President Klaus' view. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that if the decision were in his hands he would not have given Mr. Jaruzelski the award and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said he "understood the President's criticism of Moscow". Earlier today I spoke with Michal Kubicki of Radio Polonia to find out how Poles themselves felt about this high distinction for their former head of state.

President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
"This was of course commented at length within the discussion of President Kwasniewski's visit to Moscow. From Poland it is only the President who went to Moscow and leaders of the Democratic Left Alliance of former communists who say that there is nothing wrong in honouring General Jaruzelski but the major dailies, opposition politicians and also most analysts see this as another in a series of moves by Moscow to quite simply humiliate Poland. I mean, President Putin's address did not contain a word about Poland's role in the allied coalition in the war and in the final account a medal awarded to Jaruzelski was the only visible sign as it were of Poland's presence. An interesting point I suppose is that a prominent expert on Eastern policy said in a TV panel debate last night that in a way it is a disgrace for Poland's political elite that it was the Czech president who expressed criticism of the honouring of general Jaruzelski and not any of the prominent Polish politicians."