WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland on Thursday dismantled four communist-era monuments to Red Army soldiers in a renewed drive to remove symbols of Moscow’s post-World War II domination and to stress its condemnation of Moscow’s war on neighbouring Ukraine.
Workers used drills and heavy equipment to destroy the 1945 monuments at four different locations across Poland. Most of them were in the form of concrete obelisks dedicated to Red Army soldiers who fell while fighting to defeat Nazi German troops.
The head of the state Institute of National Remembrance, Karol Nawrocki, has called for the removals. He said the monuments stood for a system that was guilty of enslaving and murdering its own people and other nations, including Poles.
“This is a monument to disgrace, a monument of contempt of the winners over the victims,” Nawrocki said in Glubczyce, in the south of Poland, as workers were readying to remove the figure of a Red Army soldier prior to dismantling the entire monument.
“In 1945, the Soviets did not bring liberation, they brought another captivity. They were capturing Poland and treating it as booty,” Nawrocki said in an emotional speech.
He said the spirit of that system is still present in the Russian Federation, which is killing civilians in Ukraine.
Nawrocki stressed that Russian law prosecutes and provides up to three years in prison for anyone removing Soviet army monuments, even in foreign countries.
The other monuments were removed from former burial sites in Byczyna, in the southwest and in Bobolice, in the northwest. The remains of the soldiers were exhumed and moved to proper graves in the 1950s. A stone monument was also taken apart in the woods near Staszow, in the south.
The institute investigates and prosecutes Nazi and communist crimes against Poles, and commemorates national heroes who fought against oppressors.
Ever since shedding communist rule in 1989, Poland has been taking steps to remove from the public space the symbols of Moscow’s past domination, taking away monuments and plaques. Some have been moved to special storage. The drive does not include cemeteries or current burial sites.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year has added urgency to the efforts. Poland is backing Ukraine’s struggle against Russia politically, militarily and economically.