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Poland/Russia: Ballerinas Take The Fall In War Of Words

  • Julie Corwin --> Kwasniewski urged Russia to acknowledge "historical facts and an historic evil" Commemorations of World War II have added to existing strains in the Russian-Polish relationship. This week, a Russian ballet troupe had to cancel a series of performances in Poland due to a massive return of tickets, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 11 May. On 9 May, the 60th anniversary of the victory in World War II, Warsaw's Sala Kongresowa was less than half-full and on 10 May, performances in Olsztyn, Lublin, and Krakow were cancelled as patrons returned their tickets in droves.

Wiktor Switoniak from the Podlaska Agencja Koncertowa told RFE/RL that one reason for the cancellation was that the dancers themselves wanted time to restore the public's trust in them. "They are shocked by the whole situation. Journalists have been asking them about their opinions on President [Vladimir] Putin's latest comments," he said. Switoniak emphasized that in his opinion what is happening cannot be characterized as a boycott.

However, Wojciech Wojtanowski, the organizer of the performance in Olsztyn, thinks a boycott is an accurate way to describe the Polish public's response to Putin's remarks at the victory over fascism celebration in Moscow on 9 May. According to Wojtanowski, Putin mentioned the Italian antifascists but not the Poles, despite the fact that they made up one-fourth of the coalition forces. Putin also failed to condemn the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and honored former Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski, who instituted martial law in response to the Solidarnosc movement, with a medal. An ad-hoc poll organized by the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" published on 11 May found that more than 50 percent of respondents deemed Russia's 9 May celebrations humiliating for Poles, while some 33 percent held the opposite view.

The latest controversy follows rising tensions in bilateral relations over the past 12 months. In a speech in the Polish Embassy in Moscow on 9 May. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski called on Moscow to declare the 1939 agreement between Hitler and Stalin a "deal between two totalitarian regimes" against the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe and urged Russia to acknowledge "historical facts and an historic evil."

However, Putin responded by suggesting that the matter be dropped, Interfax reported. "What else do we have to do? Do we have to condemn it each year? We consider this subject to be finished and will not address it again. We said this once and this is enough," he said.

In March, Polish legislators reiterated demands that Russia classify the Katyn massacre as genocide and bring the remaining perpetrators to justice. However, the Russian government decided to close a multiyear investigation into what really happened in the Katyn forest. The same month, Polish officials announced that they planned to name a square in Warsaw after the slain Chechen separatist leader Djokhar Dudaev. Moscow responded by threatening to rename the street on which the Polish Embassy is located after Mikhail Muravev, a Russian Army general nicknamed the "hangman" for his ruthless suppression of the Polish uprising of 1863.

In September 2004, Kwasniewski reportedly got an earful during a visit to the Kremlin when Putin chided him over Polish media and investor relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Putin reportedly challenged him over how the Polish media covered the hostage drama in Beslan, North Ossetia, and complained that an anti-Russian campaign has had the effect that Poland is "effectively closed to Russian capital."

Polish opera critic Boguslaw Kaczynski thinks art should be placed outside of politics. He told RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent that the cancellations of the Russian ballet performances because of Putin's speech is "barbarism." "I do not understand what relationship a prima ballerina has to dirty politics," he said.


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