There is a common belief today that objects from the past are “history”—and that infamously has included the numerous statues around the world that have been removed due to changing values. This week, Polish authorities demolished a monument in Szczecin to the Soviet Red Army as part of their efforts to eliminate memorials which glorify the communist régime.
Many people online have argued that “history should be preserved”.
One could argue that history is simply our interpretation of the past. Objects such as statues may be historical, but that doesn’t mean they are history. In this case, the statue of a Soviet Red Army soldier only served to memorialize the events carried out during the Second World War—and even then only those that are favorable to the Soviet narrative. It was clear that this memorial did not acknowledge the fact that invading, occupying and annexed Eastern Poland by the Soviet Union, and it also ignored the Katyn Massacre in which the Soviet NKVD killed nearly 22,000 Polish officers and intelligencesia in April and may 1940.
The removal of these objects is not a new concept.
De-communization legislation has been around since at least the 1980s. “Poles such as Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik were among the first to start the fall of the USSR, explained Matthew J. Schmidt of University of New Haven’s Department of National Security and Political Science.
Schmidt continued, “Most Poles are not fond of the Soviet occupation.” Schmidt added: “And the conflict in Ukraine brings back memories for most Poles about when Moscow attacked Poland as well, which included Lviv at that time and Western Ukraine.
Cry Havoc on History
Social media comments also remind us of the outrage that arose when Confederate monuments in the United States were relocated. However, it is worth noting that only a vocal but small group of people protested.
Schmidt pointed out that “a protest against statue removal here and there only proves the norm, as it is by far the rare exception.”
It is also believed that the removal or alteration of these statues would be wrong as they attempt to change our collective history.
“We can’t ignore the fact that our present world is rooted in both past good and negative events. The parts of history we find offensive are thrown out and hidden, and we lose the chance to gain a greater understanding. A healthy and correct view of World War II means that you don’t see the enemy or victim, Nazi or Communist. “To tear down monuments is contrary to this philosophy”, suggested Craig Gottlieb, a military historian.
At what point does a memorial cease to be relevant?
The Victory Monument of Actium in Greece is a good example. It was never actually torn down—but rather was simply abandoned and it fell into ruin over two millennia. Even though it has become one of the many Roman-era ruin sites, the Battle of Actium is still a significant battle in the history of warfare. It was fought between Mark Antony and Augustus the future Roman Empire.
Today it is simply easier than ever to voice concern for the past—and those comments are echoed on social media. The removal of Red Army monuments sparked a reaction from people who probably didn’t know that there was a memorial until they heard the news.
Social media have connected us with a variety of global conversations. It is possible to discuss any topic with people from Philadelphia and the Philippines at any given time. Not all users are aware of the truth about the topics that have been trending over time. Jason Mollica is a professorial speaker and the program director at the School of Communication of American University.
In this case, the people who are claiming ownership of Poland’s history do not understand what many Poles want to happen.
The Soviets erected these statues in post-WWII Poland to commemorate their soldiers. Poles suffered the greatest loss of citizens, both to Nazism and the Soviets. The monuments represent these atrocities”, Mollica said. There are people on social media that are quick to make judgments because they think they know. You will find that many of the people who made comments on social media do not have a good understanding of Poland and its history. “It’s unlikely to change anytime soon.”
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