You know who else loved alternative facts? Stalin.
That’s right, Joseph Stalin.
Or, Uncle Joe, as Americans called him when allied during / after WW2. Jolly old Uncle Joe. So friendly, with his jovial smile, massive mustache and mass executions.
Let’s take a look at some of Stalin’s alternative facts about Poland.
In spring 1940, Stalin orders the Katyn Forest Massacre: 22,000 Polish officers. POWs, in captivity since Germany and Russia jointly invaded* Poland in September 1939.
In Katyn, the POWs are executed one by one, their bodies buried in pits. It’s a war crime to kill POWs, but Stalin doesn’t care.
He doesn’t care, and he lies about it.
He lies to the Polish government, Churchill, FDR. He says the POWs may have gotten themselves lost. Somewhere in Manchuria. Maybe. Who knows? War is messy. People get lost. How’s he supposed to keep track of everything?
In 1943, the German army advances into Russia. It finds the mass Katyn graves in April.
The Red Cross performs an extensive investigation. Bodies are exhumed, catalogued. Without a doubt, it establishes Soviet guilt. Everything points to the Soviets. Facts. Proof.
Stalin doesn’t accept the results. The Red Cross is a bunch of liars. What facts? What proof? It was the Nazis because he says so.
And when Poland is taken over by communists after the war, Stalin keeps lying. The lies about Katyn — and other crucial parts of Polish history — are printed in government-sanctioned history books. The Polish resistance, the largest of its kind in occupied Europe, is never mentioned. Russia “liberated” Poland from the bad Nazis at the end of the war and saved Poland by installing an oppressive communist regime. And the Nazis were responsible for Katyn.
The lies are inscribed on plaques across Polish cities. They are taught to schoolchildren, many of whose family members were killed fighting in the resistance and/or in Katyn.
The lies last decades. Until on April 13, 1990, Russian President Mikhail S. Gorbachev admits that the Soviets were responsible for the Katyn Massacre. Boris Yeltsin brings documents to Poland proving Soviet guilt.
In 2010, on the 75th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, Putin attends a ceremony with Poland’s prime minister. It’s the first time a Russian official stands with a Polish official at a Katyn gravesite. Putin awkwardly embraces the Polish prime minister. Just kidding about the decades of lies! It was us all along! Hugs.
A few days later, a plane carrying the Polish president, dignitaries and private citizens crashes en route to Katyn.
Russian ground controllers warn the pilot numerous times not to land. Ground conditions are foggy, and the landing strip is rudimentary.
Two separate official investigations are held, by Russian and Polish teams. Neither finds any technical faults with the aircraft. Both conclude that the landing attempt in poor weather conditions was botched. The Polish investigation cites serious deficiencies in the Polish Air Force unit in charge of the flight.
Back in Poland, the president’s twin — the leader of the Law and Justice political party and former Polish prime minister — does not accept that the crash is an accident. Despite lack of evidence, he maintains it was an assassination plot. It is a powerful conspiracy theory, and it takes hold.
Today, the twin’s party controls Poland’s government. The stance on the crash is that it was an assassination. Alternative facts about the crash are presented as truth. The twin leads monthly commemorative mini-pilgrimages in Warsaw so that the crash is never far from the news. The alternative facts are reinforced, over and over again. A new investigation has been launched. It’s gone so far as to exhume bodies. No new evidence has been discovered. The pilgrimages continue.
A few years ago, a film titled “MGŁA” (“FOG”) was released. It features PiS individuals, all convinced the crash was caused by the Russians, maybe with some Polish help, who knows, I’m not saying it was but I’m not saying it wasn’t? One interviewee is Andrzej Duda, the current Polish president. The filmmaker has stated that she did not need to include any opposing views to the assassination theory because those have already been featured in the media. The film has been shown at Polish embassies, consulates, and cultural centers around the world.
Why FOG? One theory about the crash is that the Russians manufactured the fog at the landing site so that the plane would crash.
Manufactured fog. Manufactured alternative facts. To what end? To obfuscate, of course. To deflect, to bait and switch. To force focus onto one thing and draw attention away from many others. To keep control of the narrative, to make sure it’s what you want it to be.
* In perfect alternative fact style, the agreement to jointly invade Poland was a secret part of the otherwise public German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. The invasion of Poland began World War II, and resulted in massive destruction of Poland and its people.