By Gabriela Baczynska and Denis Dyomkin
GDANSK, Poland, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Polish President Lech Kaczynski warned on Tuesday against efforts to rewrite history as nearly 20 European leaders gathered on Poland’s Baltic coast to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two.
Russia and its former satellites in eastern Europe are at loggerheads over the role of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1939, when he clinched a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany that opened the way for the invasion of Poland and world war.
While Russians are deeply proud of their country’s victory over Hitler in 1945, Poles, Balts and others say Stalin also bears direct responsibility for the outbreak of war for carving up Poland with Hitler and also annexing the Baltic states.
"(We need) to oppose attempts to write history anew, to question the truths of World War Two, the scale of the casualties of Nazism and also of total communism," Kaczynski wrote in the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.
Echoing that view, communist-era Polish dissident Adam Michnik wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza: "For us, as for many Russian democrats, Stalin was a criminal and an aggressor. The creator of the lands of the Gulag is entirely comparable with Hitler."
At a ceremony held before dawn on Tuesday at Westerplatte on the Baltic coast, where the Germans fired the first shots against Poland at the start of their invasion on Sept. 1, 1939, Kaczynski compared the Soviet Union’s murder of 20,000 Polish officers in the forest at Katyn and elsewhere to the Nazi genocide against the Jews.
"What’s the comparison between the Holocaust and Katyn? There’s one thing linking those crimes, though their scale was different. Jews perished because they were Jews. Polish officers perished because they were Polish officers," he said.
"It’s not Poland that has to learn the lesson of humility. We have no reason for that. Others have -- those who caused this war," Kaczynski, a conservative nationalist, told a gathering of war veterans and government officials.
Poland wants Russia to apologise for Stalin’s decision to have the entire Polish officer corps shot at Katyn in 1940.
For decades, Moscow blamed the deaths on the Nazis, but after the fall of the Soviet Union it acknowledged they had been shot on Stalin’s orders.
Kaczynski has been a fierce critic of Russia’s approach to former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia, saying Moscow has not abandoned what he calls its "imperialistic" stance towards its neighbours.
Poles and other east Europeans are keenly awaiting a speech by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin scheduled for later in the day, though Russian officials have played down suggestions he might issue an apology for Stalin’s actions during the war.
Putin has urged Poles to set aside historical grievances and forge a forward-looking partnership with Moscow.
In bilateral talks on Tuesday morning with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Putin was expected to focus on security and energy issues.
Polish television showed the two men chatting in Russian and English on the pier at Sopot, a seaside resort next to the city of Gdansk. (Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey)