COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
Durov rejects Western funds’ offer to buy 5%-10% of Telegram with $30bn valuation
Belarusian government sees $2bn of withdrawals, issues $580mn worth of bonds in 2020
Lukashenko: I am no enemy of the people
One of Russia’s biggest wood product companies, Segezha could be Sistema’s next IPO
The volume of the Russian National Wealth Fund tops $183.93bn as gold overtakes dollar asset for first time
New Ukrainian VC firm QPDigital aims to invest up to $100 million in digital startups
EBRD investments reach record €11bn in pandemic-struck 2020
FPRI BMB Ukraine: Most Ukrainians are optimistic about 2021 – poll
OUTLOOK 2021 Lithuania
EBRD says loan to Estonia’s controversial Porto Franco project was never disbursed
Estonian premier quits after Tallinn development scandal
Top Centre Party official suspected of corruption in Tallinn real estate scandal
Czech Pirates and Mayors approve final coalition agreement for 2021 elections
OUTLOOK 2021 Czechia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
Romanian tech entrepreneurs expand into banking sector
OUTLOOK 2021 Hungary
Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
World Bank expects modest recovery for Europe and Central Asia in 2021
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
Slovakia to invest €1.2bn in digitisation
BALKAN BLOG: The controversial recipe for building up Albania
Heavy flooding causes chaos in parts of Southeast Europe
Vodafone Albania plans €100mn infrastructure investments after AbCom merger
OUTLOOK 2021 Albania
Kyiv accuses Bosnian President Dodik of lying about icon gifted to Russian foreign minister
Bosnia’s real GDP contracts 6.3% y/y in 3Q20
Sofia-based LAUNCHub Ventures holds first close of new fund on €44mn
ING THINK: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
OUTLOOK 2020 Bulgaria
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
Zagreb Stock Exchange's Crobex10 index at highest level since March 5
OUTLOOK 2021 Kosovo
Arrera Automobili aims to launch Albania’s first supercar
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Moldova’s PM resigns to prepare the ground for early elections
Socialist lawmakers in Moldova scrap settlement on $1bn bank frauds
Montenegro’s new ruling coalition carves up top state jobs
OUTLOOK 2021 Montenegro
Vast tide of floating waste threatens Balkan hydropower plants
North Macedonia's manufacturing confidence indicator down by 8.5 pp y/y in December
OUTLOOK 2021 North Macedonia
Transparency International warns of high corruption risk in CEE defence sectors
Moldova fears flooding from Ukraine's planned Dniester hydropower plants
Romania’s industrial recovery paused in November
OUTLOOK 2021 Serbia
Slovenia’s government to release funds to news agency STA after EU pressure
UK Moneyhub picks Slovenia for post-Brexit European base
Slovenia’s dire COVID-19 situation in 4Q20 caused second economic dip
Slovenia’s Eligma completes €4mn funding round
Turkish opposition leader lawsuit demands one lira from Erdogan, police probe “bald” interior minister posts
Akbank takes over Istanbul's Palladium Atasehir shopping mall
Armenia’s PM cautions conflict with Azerbaijan “still not settled” after trilateral meeting with Putin
Armenia prepares to ban Turkish imports
COMMENT: Record high debt levels will slow post-coronavirus recovery, threaten some countries' financial stability, says IIF
Russia, Kazakhstan pushing for oil production increases on the back of coronavirus vaccine-fuelled oil price optimism
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
Georgia’s political kingpin Bidzina Ivanishvili quits politics
Modern-day “Robin Hood” inspires Georgians drowning in debt
Iran’s navy conducts missile drill while analyst argues Trump even capable of nuclear strike in final days
TEHRAN BLOG: Who’s more credible? Johnson backing Trump’s Nobel chances or Iran applauding arrest warrant for US president?
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
OUTLOOK 2021 Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Mongolian coal exports to China paralysed as Beijing demands virus testing of truck drivers
Mongolia fears economic damage as country faces up to its first local transmissions of coronavirus
Mongolia in lockdown after suffering first local coronavirus transmissions
OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan
China business briefing: Not happy with Kyrgyzstan
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
Turkmenistan: The dammed united
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
OUTLOOK 2021 Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s Makro positions itself for growth in a more competitive market
Download the pdf version
“I ask for your forgiveness,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said – in Polish – to people gathered on the market square in the Polish town of Wielun.
Steinmeier and the Polish President Andrzej Duda arrived in Wielun, which, arguably, was the first town to be crushed in World War Two, a global conflict that began in Poland on September 1, 1939. The war, which left Poland in ruins and with 6mn dead, continues to influence politics in the Twitter era — reinforcing reconciliation but also fuelling resentment.
Duda and the Law and Justice (PiS) party that elevated him to power have made history a tool to strengthen their appeal to voters, a strategy that has intensified recently, just weeks before the next general election and ahead of the presidential vote in 2020. PiS correctly identified Poles’ yearning to have their “first to fight” story relayed to the world, which, it might seem, is beginning to forget who fought whom and why.
That is why the Polish government ran full-page ads and extras highlighting Poland’s plight in 1939 in September 1 editions of renowned newspapers like The Washington Post, Le Figaro and Die Welt.
“Why is it so difficult for the West to understand how big a catastrophe September 1939 was for Poles and how far-reaching its consequences were? The history of twentieth-century Poland is not only difficult, but it is also an uncomfortable topic for the leading countries in the world,” historian Wojciech Roszkowski wrote in an editorial.
Truth, not arbeit, will set you free
But there could not be any doubt on how the events unfolded in Wielun eight decades ago, President Steinmeier made clear.
“I bow my head to the victims of the attack on Wielun, I bow my head to the Polish victims of German tyranny. And I ask for forgiveness,” Steinmeier addressed the crowd in Wielun, speaking in Polish.
A sleepy border town of some 15,000 in 1939, Wielun is widely considered to have been the first target of the German aggression. Starting at dawn, German bombers obliterated 70% of the town in several raids, killing at least 127 civilians although some estimates put the number as high as over 2,000.
Some researchers dispute whether Nazi bombs did rain on Wielun before the attack on the coastal outpost Westerplatte in Gdansk that for many people in Poland and abroad is where the war started.
Still, Wielun – which had no military significance and could have been attacked in a rehearsal for terrorising civilians in Hitler’s all-out war, some historians claim – has become a tragic symbol of the war that cost Poland the lives of 6mn people, including the extermination of nearly the entire community of 3mn Polish Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The Nazis set up the most notorious death camps – such as Auschwitz, Belzec and Treblinka – on Polish soil.
“Thank you, President [Steinmeier] … For me, and for the Wielun people, I think what is most important is that you are here [as if in] a moral atonement. You have come to this place to face truth that’s very difficult for Germans and Germany. But because Germany has never denied this truth, it has the power to liberate, connect, and build friendship,” Duda said.
For Poland, the war's aftermath continued for more than 40 years following the Third Reich’s capitulation in May 1945. Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe ended up under control of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as part of the post-war order agreed on by key allies: the Soviet Union, the US and the UK. It is not uncommon to hear in Poland that WW2 only ended in 1989 for its people.
Unsurprisingly then, WW2 is the cornerstone of Poland’s collective psyche. There is literally no Polish family that did not suffer at he hands of the Germans or the Soviets.
The Germans and the Russians
Sealing Poland’s fate, the Soviet Union attacked Poland on September 17 – when the Nazis began closing in on Warsaw — fulfilling a secret pact between Hitler and Stalin. In a video that outraged many in Poland, the Russian foreign ministry said the pact was a difficult but necessary decision to ward off the Nazis after Poland refused to help contain them.
In a clear sign that a reconciliation similar to one that has been achieved with the Germans is far off in the case of Russia, Poland did not invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to commemorate the anniversary.
“Today attempts are being made in a number of western countries to equally blame both Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union for the [WW2] breakout,” the Russian ministry of foreign affairs tweeted in apparent response to the commemoration events in Poland.
“One may have varying opinions on Soviet policy during the initial period of World War Two, but it is impossible to deny the fact that it was the Soviet Union that routed Nazism, liberated Europe and saved European democracy,” the ministry also tweeted.
After Wielun, Duda and Steinmeier flew to Warsaw for the main commemoration events that gathered leaders of 40 countries, including US Vice President Mike Pence, standing in for President Donald Trump.
The German and Polish presidents repeated their conciliatory speeches.
“As a German guest, I stand barefoot before you on this square. I look gratefully to the Polish people’s fight for freedom. I bow in grief before the victims’ pain.
“I ask for forgiveness for Germany’s historical guilt. I recognise our enduring responsibility,” Steinmeier said.
In a speech positively received across the normally very divided domestic political spectrum, Duda spoke not just about the Polish victims of the war, but also about Jews, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Roma. He also criticised Russia for seizing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and attacking Georgia in 2008. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili listened.
In the speech from religious conservative Pence, God and faith expectedly took prominence.
Weaponise the past
Given the importance of the politics of memory for the ruling party’s domestic strategy – just seven weeks before general election that PiS hopes to sweep – the hosts did not forget to touch upon points that could give it an edge over the opposition.
“Poland suffered great material, spiritual, economic and financial losses. We must remember that, we must speak about those losses, we must demand the truth and we must demand compensation,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at Westerplatte in Gdansk.
PiS has long brought up the issue of reparations for Poland’s wartime losses – estimated by the ruling party at no less than $850bn – as an important part of its nationalism-centred, history-ridden domestic policy.
The ruling party has channelled millions of zloty to government-run agencies like the Polish National Foundation with an aim to explain Polish history abroad. Via the state radio and television and through a number of friendly media, it has also fanned the flames of popular patrioticism, from the cult of the so-called “Cursed Soldiers” (guerillas fighting the Communist regime after WW2) to whitewashing cases of Poles’ involvement in the Holocaust, to distrust of the EU.
“Poland was destroyed, murdered, robbed and betrayed by Western countries in 1939 and then during and after WW2. If other countries behaved honorably, today Poland would be so strong that no EU official would have the courage to offend and instruct us,” one of the ruling party’s hawks, member of the European Parliament Patryk Jaki, said on Twitter, referring to Brussels' frowning upon PiS over issues like the reform of the judicial system.
Reflections from our correspondents on the ground in the four Central European countries of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
here to continue reading this article
and 5 more for free or purchase
12 months full website access including
the bne Magazine for just $250/year.
Register to read the bne monthly magazine for
Password could contain only
and have 8-20 symbols length.
Please complete your registration by confirming your
A confirmation email has been sent to the email
address you provided.
can't be empty.
No user with
this email address.
Access recovery request has expired, or you are using
the wrong recovery token. Please, try again.
Access recover request has expired.
Please, try again.
To continue viewing our content you need to complete
the registration process.
Please look for an email that was sent to
with the subject line
"Confirmation bne IntelliNews access". This email will have
instructions on how to complete registration
process. Please check in your "Junk" folder in
case this communication was misdirected in your
If you have any questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sorry, but you have used all your free articles fro
this month for bne IntelliNews. Subscribe
to continue reading for only $119 per year.
Your subscription includes:
For the meantime we are also offering a free
digital weekly newspaper to subscribers to
the online package.
Click here for more subscription options,
including to the print version of our
flagship monthly magazine:
Take a trial to our premium daily news
service aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging
For any other enquiries about our
products or corporate discounts please
contact us at
If you no longer wish to receive
Magazine annual print
Website & Archive
Combined package: web
access & magazine print
Take a trial to our premium daily news service
aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging Europe: