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Polish-Soviet war halted Bolsheviks’ march on Europe says UK historian

There is no doubt that the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921 was extremely important not only for Poland but for the whole of Europe because it halted the Bolsheviks’ western advance against the continent, British historian Antony Beevor has told PAP.

Beevor added that the Red Army had failed to appreciate Polish determination in the fight for the country.

On August 13-15, 1920, a decisive battle was fought on the outskirts of Warsaw, known as the ‘Miracle on the Vistula,’ which ended in victory for Poland. In 1931, British historian Edgar Vincent, 1st Viscount D’Abernon, recognised it as the 18th most important battle in world history.

Beevor said it could be argued that Vincent’s evaluation was a slight exaggeration as the Red Army was simultaneously engaged in a number of campaigns as part of the Russian civil war. Nonetheless, he said, the courage and far-sightedness of Polish commander Marshal Jozef Pilsudski had to be admired as he perceived the possibility of delivering a decisive blow to the enemy at that time.

Beevor said the victory was significant as it showed that the march of Bolshevism was not unavoidable and need not take over the whole of Europe. Because of the boost the battle gave to anti-Bolshevik forces in the wider war, Beevor said, its importance was beyond doubt.

Beevor said the Soviets had an “arrogant” faith that communist revolutions would be inevitable in Poland and Germany, leading to a Europe-wide revolution. He said this sort of arrogance had been seen again in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which it thought would lead to a quick and decisive victory.

The historian said the Russians had underestimated the Polish nation’s ability to pull together, assuming the country was as socially divided as Russia. He added that the role of the Catholic Church was also important on maintaining national unity.

Beevor pointed out that Poles’ sense of patriotism had led to a huge number of military volunteers fighting to defend their country. In addition, he said, the Polish army was better organised and disciplined than its adversary.

He said that arrogance, excessive self-confidence, and a complete underestimation of the enemy were the Red Army’s undoing in 1920 and that these faults could also be seen in the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in his war on Ukraine.

Antony Beevor is one of Britain’s best known contemporary historians. He specialises in World War II and the Spanish Civil War. 

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