Snubbed as speaker, Polish president won’t attend Holocaust event in Jerusalem

Snubbed as speaker, Polish president won’t attend Holocaust event in Jerusalem

Amid dispute with Putin over World War II history, Andrzej Duda says he won’t go to major forum because Russian leader will give address while his request to speak has been denied

Poland's President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018, in Warsaw. (AFP/Janek Skarzynski)
Poland's President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018, in Warsaw. (AFP/Janek Skarzynski)

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday announced he would not attend a major Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem later this month because of its Israeli organizers’ refusal to allow him to speak there.

“As the president I will not take part in the event that will take place on January 23 in Jerusalem,” the Reuters news agency quoted Duda as saying.

Duda criticized the fact that representatives of the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany would all speak at the memorial while his request to address the forum had been denied.

The Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem has said the speakers will represent the winners of World War II and the country that perpetrated the Holocaust — Germany.

The Polish announcement comes amid a dispute between Warsaw and Moscow over allegations of collaboration with the Nazis and responsibility for the outbreak of World War II.

In December, Putin accused Poland of having been in cahoots with Adolf Hitler during the war. He also cast Poland as an anti-Semitic country that welcomed the Nazi dictator’s plans to destroy Europe’s Jews.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on October 11, 2019. (Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP)

“Essentially they colluded with Hitler. This is clear from documents, archival documents,” Putin said in an end-of-year speech at the Defense Ministry in Moscow.

In a statement issued a few days later, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki rejected Putin’s claim as a distortion of history and attacked the Soviet Union for its alliance with Nazi Germany that resulted in the division of Poland.

“Without Stalin’s complicity in the partition of Poland, and without the natural resources that Stalin supplied to Hitler, the Nazi German crime machine would not have taken control of Europe,” he said. “President Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done it deliberately.”

Warsaw’s position was backed by American and Israeli diplomats.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place on January 23 at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Representing the winners of World War II are Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Prince Charles of the UK and a senior US official, most likely Vice President Mike Pence.

Visitors seen at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 24, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Speaking on behalf of the “perpetrators” will be Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a spokesman for Yad Vashem said.

In addition, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Holocaust survivors are expected to address the event, which will be attended by “dozens of world leaders,” according to organizers.

Duda’s spokesman, Błażej Spychalski, said last week that given the opportunity to speak, the president would “of course” come to the event. “[But] a situation in which the President of the Republic of Poland will sit and listen to the lying, false words of President Putin, without having the possibility to reply, is not good.”

Yad Vashem said Monday that while it was aware of Duda’s comments, it had not received a formal request for him to speak at the forum.

Diplomats in Jerusalem were busy this week looking for a solution to the potential diplomatic spat, exploring various alternative options to satisfy the Polish demand. But the government in Warsaw indicated that the president was unwilling to accept anything less than a spot on the speaker’s podium at the event.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 1, 2019 (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Relations between Russia and Poland have been tense since Poland threw off Moscow-controlled Communist rule 30 years ago and began moving closer to the West. Poland has since joined NATO and the European Union, and cultivated a close alliance with the United States.

Poland has also been making efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and oil and has vocally opposed Nord Stream 2, a major Russian-German gas pipeline under construction that will transport Russian gas to Western Europe, bypassing Poland and Ukraine.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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