“To die for Danzig” is a phrase that symbolizes the attitude of Western Europe to the war that broke out 75 years ago. Three times, France and the United Kingdom gave the green light to the German dictator. Neither the Anschluss, nor the occupation of the Sudetenland, nor the dismantling of Czechoslovakia resulted in any serious consequences for Hitler and his state. And when on September 1, 1939, as a logical continuation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the first shots rang out in Danzig (Gdańsk), the Western powers could decide only on a “phony war.” Thus, they gave Hitler the green light for the fourth time, thinking they would save their own lives at the price of Danzig. The next capital on the list to be occupied was Paris, and then, soon after, the bombs fell on London. Only then did the cries begin: “Stop,” and “Never again!”
This selfish and shortsighted policy of the Europeans toward the aggressor must not be repeated again. However, the recent evolution of the world situation and the sudden heightening of tensions strangely resemble the year 1939. Russia, the aggressor state, is occupying a part of its smaller neighbor — the Crimea. The army and special services of President Putin, operating mostly incognito in the east of Ukraine, are supporting groups that terrorize the local population and are openly threatening invasion.
There is, however, a new element as compared to 1939: in recent years the aggressor has succeeded in attracting into the orbit of its interests many politicians and business people while its Western partners continue to believe in its “human face.” The lobby that was formed has influenced and continues to influence the policies of numerous countries. This policy is described as “Russia first” and even “Russia only.” Now it has collapsed and Europe urgently needs a new Ostpolitik.
Therefore, we are issuing an urgent appeal to our fellow Europeans and their governments:
1. François Hollande, president of the French Republic, and his government are attempting to take a step that would be far worse that France’s passivity in 1939. In the weeks ahead, France is set to become the only European country to help the aggressor: it intends to deliver to Putin’s Russia two brand new Mistral helicopter carrier warships. The cooperation on this matter began in 2010, and generated many protests even then. Nicolas Sarkozy, the president at the time, used to cut off all discussion by repeating “the Cold War is over.” Now, open war is truly taking place. Therefore, there is no reason to honor old commitments. Several politicians and Bernard-Henri Lévy have proposed that France sell its ships either to NATO or to the European Union. If President Hollande does not change his mind, the citizens of Europe should convince him by boycotting French products.
2. The Federal Republic of Germany, since 1982, has begun to depend increasingly on Russian gas. Even at that time, Polish intellectuals, including Czeslaw Milosz and Leszek Kolakowksi, warned against the installation of new pipelines, calling them potential “instruments of blackmail” against Europe. Successive presidents of the Polish Republic, from Aleksander Kwasniewski to Lech Kaczynski, also issued the same warning at different times. But German politicians, either because of the famous German guilt complex, or believing in the “Russian economic miracle” and hoping to profit from it, greatly appreciated the cooperation with Russian power. At the same time, they continued, possibly unconsciously, the unfortunate German tradition of carrying on discussions with only one partner in the East — Russia. In recent years, the companies owned by the Russian state or its oligarchs increasingly have been established in Germany, whether in the field of energy resources, the world of soccer, or the tourism sector. Germany must put a stop to this kind of dependence, which always conceals political pressure.
3. All Europeans and each country individually should become involved in actions to support imperiled Ukraine. Hundred of refugees from the eastern territories of Ukraine and Crimea are in need of humanitarian assistance. Its economy has been devastated by years of a draconian contract with Gazprom, which holds a monopoly on energy resources and which imposes on Ukraine, its most destitute client, the highest rate possible The Ukrainian economy is in dire need of emergency assistance, new business partners and new investors. The spheres of culture, media and civic initiatives, which are dynamic and of extraordinary richness, also need support.
4. For many years, the European Union has made it clear to Ukraine that it had no chance either to become a member or to receive anything other than symbolic assistance. The policy of the “Eastern Partnership” has not changed much in this respect. The question arises if perhaps this solution was considered as a lesser evil. However, overnight all these questions have taken on their own dynamic, due largely to the determination of Ukrainian democrats. For the first time in history, the citizens of a country were dying under bullets with the European flag in their hands. If Europe does not show any solidarity with them now, it will mean that the ideals of liberty and fraternity inherited from the French Revolution no longer mean anything to it.
Ukraine has the right to defend both its territory and its citizens and to respond to external aggression by using its police forces and its army, including in the regions bordering with Russia. After all, since 1991, stable peace has reigned both in the Donetsk region and in the entire country. There was no violent conflict, and no conflict on the issue of minority rights. Vladimir Putin, releasing the demons of war and testing a new type of war, has transformed Ukraine into a military training area in the image of the Spanish Civil War, where fascist units supported by Hitler’s Germany attacked the young republic. Those who will not tell Putin today “no pasarán!” (“They shall not pass!”) expose the European Union and its values to ridicule, while agreeing to the destabilization of the world order.
Nobody knows who will lead Russia in three years. It is unclear what will happen to the current ruling elite, the one that is leading this reckless policy that is contrary to the interests of its own people. However, one thing is certain: those who continue “business as usual” are risking new deaths of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of new refugees, as well as new imperialist attacks by Putin against new countries. Yesterday Danzig, today Donetsk : we must not accept an open bleeding wound in Europe for years to come.
Gdańsk, September 1, 2014
Translated from French by Anna Mostovych