11.05. 2010 Regarding the Consequences of World War II in Europe.

Since May 2005, when celebrations took place to mark 60 years from the end of the World War II in Europe, the debate on the full meaning and consequences of the victory over Nazi Germany has gathered momentum.  This debate was stimulated by the controversial move of the then Russian president Putin to celebrate the anniversary in Moscow on May 9th with the participation of all European leaders.  In 2005, the Estonian and Lithuanian presidents decided not to attend. 

The European Parliament reacted to these developments by initiating an independent debate on the consequences of WW II.  The debate took place on May 11th, 2005 and resulted in a EP resolution in which probably for the first time Europe-wide, the experiences and conclusions of the other half of Europe were represented. 

To this other half of Europe, that after 1945 was left under the Soviet totalitarian domination, Stalin's victory over Hitler brought not real liberation but rather “liberation” from freedom they had longed for while under Nazi occupation, “liberation” of mothers from their children and wives from their husbands who were murdered or sent for 10 - 25 years of slave labor to the far reaches of the Soviet Union.


The European Parliament concluded that “for some nations the end of World War II meant renewed tyranny inflicted by the Stalinist Soviet Union.”  At the same time the Kremlin-initiated celebrations organized in 2005 and once again in 2010  highlight the continued confusion about the two dates marking the end of the war, and the different meaning attributed to each of them.


The surrender of the Nazi Wehrmacht was signed on May 7, 1945 in Reims, with the participation of all four allied powers, including representatives of the Red Army.  Still, Stalin insisted on a separate act of capitulation on May 9 according to his own scenario in order to accentuate the Red Army's role in defeating Hitler.


These two dates symbolize two antithetical dimensions of WW II.   The 7th of May marks the triumph of a hard-won victory over Nazi totalitarianism.  The 9th of May, on the other hand, could well symbolize the victory of one totalitarian dictatorship over the other. Therefore, the venue and style of the ceremonies organized by Russian authoritarian leadership in Moscow can hardly be associated with the fundamental principles for which the historic victory in the Second World War was fought.  The Bristish historian Gregor Dallas has described May 9 as a "poisoned peace".


I saw Estonia invaded by the Red Army in 1944. As an eyewitness to the subsequent general marauding and destruction, I still remember the words of the Soviet captain who entered the farm where my family was staying:  "My soldiers are not the worst ones.  But beware of the NKVD [later KGB] troops who will follow us – they are the ones you should be afraid of".  In an effort to make human contact and to forestall the Soviet officer's obvious desire to grab my father's watch, my parents had started a conversation with him in Russian and also put my two-year-old brother on his lap.  Frustrated in their attempts at this farm, the captain and his unit then raided the neighboring one and took by force everything they wanted – as victors they felt it all belonged to them.


Sadly, the Soviet captain's warning very soon came true.  In the first five years after its "liberation", Soviet-occupied Estonia, with a population of little more than one million, saw the arrests of 65,000 individuals on political grounds. Of those, many thousands were murdered outright or died in concentration camps. In just one month, March 1949, 22,000 persons were deported from their homes to Siberia.  Those who survived and were able to return to Estonia after many years, lost all their property and mostly remained a discriminated category of Soviet subjects for the rest of their lives. 


The real experience of May 9th for those of us living in Soviet-"liberated" Eastern Europe was deprivation of all civic and many human freedoms and of any right to a democratic and independent state.  Estonia was subjected to intensive sovietization and russification which brought the Estonian people to the brink of becoming a minority in their home country. 


World War II did not know ideal allies.  The existence in Europe of two aggressive and evil empires made it almost impossible to build any coalition that could have been based on common values. Taking a pragmatic stance – my enemy’s foe is my ally – didn't overcome the fundamental differences between an aggressive dictatorship and the rule-of-law societies.    


The basic goal of the war – to defeat the Nazi Germany and its allies – was absolutely right.  However, one should never forget that the launching of WW II was the result of the August 23, 1939 alliance between Stalin and Hitler.  From the beginning, both  dictatorships had similar long-term strategic goals – primary among these being world domination.  These goals never changed during the course of the war or as a result of changing alliances.


It was Stalin, who on August 19, 1939 addressed his Politburo:  "Comrades! It is in the interests of the USSR ... that war break out between the Reich and the capitalist Anglo-French bloc.  Everything must be done so that the war lasts as long as possible in order that both sides become exhausted.  For this reason we must agree to the pact proposed by Germany.  Therefore our task consists in helping Germany to wage war as long as possible with the aim in view that England and France would be in no condition to defeat a sovietized Germany.... At the same time, we must conduct active Communist propaganda especially as directed at the Anglo-French bloc ... the task of our French comrades will be to break up and demoralize the French army and police.  ... This will likewise ensure the sovietization of France...”


The Kremlin dictator saw a new world war as the most efficient means to prepare the ground for the planned world revolution.  As a result of the Soviet-Nazi friendship pact of August 23, 1939, that goal of world war was achieved.  Within a week after its signing, having gotten a green light from the Kremlin, Hitler was able to attack Poland.  Stalin followed in three weeks, taking the eastern half of Rzceczpospolita.  After the dismemberment of Poland, the two invaders, who had  coordinated their activities quite precisely, celebrated the end of the Polish state with a joint parade in Lviv.  Soviet authorities delivered more than 60,000 imprisoned Poles to the Nazis.


Although eventually an important  partner in crushing Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union remains co-responsible for launching the very same war, the end of which Moscow rulers are now so eager to celebrate.  Taking equal advantage of the Soviet-Nazi pact, the Soviet Union carried out its imperialist plans, committing aggression against Finland (for which it was expelled from membership in the League of Nations), occupying and annexing the three Baltic States in June 1940, and adding to its territory large parts of Poland and Romania.  The Soviet Union also helped Hitler to conquer Western and Southern Europe, supplying the Wehrmacht with all possible strategic raw materials for 22 crucial months of the war.


The end of WW II in Europe is generally taken to mean that the Allied powers restored freedom to the European nations subjugated by Hitler.  Particularly the Baltic nations, former active members of the League of Nations,  had counted on the implementation of the Atlantic Charter which promised to restore independence to every territory that had lost it as the result of the war.  The Charter remained a weakly flickering source of hope for several years after the war.  People living under Soviet occupation would comfort each other: we must endure for a time, eventually the Western Allies will make the Soviets comply with the Atlantic principles and allow Estonian independence to be restored.


Tragically for Central and Eastern Europe, the coming of the Red Army did not mean restoration of freedom.  On the contrary, it simply meant the replacing of one form of murderous dictatorship with another.  It also meant being totally cut off from the rest of Europe by the Iron Curtain, unable even to cry for help.  What really happened in those countries under the long years of Soviet domination is only now reaching a wider audience in a reunited Europe.


A fundamental question needs to be answered: was it possible for a totalitarian regime that had waged a permanent implacable war against its own population since 1917,  destroying more human lives in "peacetime" at home than it lost on the battlefields, to bring freedom merely by helping to oust the Nazi armies?

Taking a look at what happened after the war makes the answer crystal clear.  Hundreds of thousands of Soviet POWs, who managed to survive German captivity, were not freed but were immediately sent to Gulag prison camps.  They were “guilty” because they had survived. So they were treated as traitors or potential German spies. Such contempt by the victorious Soviet regime for its own people tells all.  The number of Gulag inmates more than doubled during the period immediately following the war.

In Central and Eastern Europe alone, in the first five years after the defeat of the Nazis at least one million persons were killed during the formation of  so-called peoples’ democracies.  The left-over Nazi concentration camps did not suffice – additional camps had to be built to accommodate the hundreds of thousands new political prisoners. 


Two terrorist dictatorships wreaked havoc and caused immeasurable suffering in 20th century Europe.  After WW II, Germany’s war criminals were brought to justice and the Nazi political system was uprooted.  New Germany apologized to the victims of the Third Reich and made restitution.  As a result, today's Germany is a reliable democratic state, one of the founders of European integration.  Even the slightest hints of anything smacking of Nazism are dealt with swiftly and firmly.  The famous motto "Never again" is guaranteed. 


Nothing even remotely similar has ever taken place in the Russian Federation.  There is not even a national monument to respect the memory of the millions of Communist victims.  Instead, Stalin is gaining new popularity. 

Therefore, for the millions of victims of the Soviet terrorism and their descendants, both in Russia and abroad, there is nothing that would unequivocally guarantee a "Never again!"  Here lies the co-responsibility of the Western democracies.  Despite winning the Cold War, they have never insisted on a principled assessment of the crimes of the totalitarian Communist regimes.


Alexander Yakovlev, a one time Politburo member, concluded his book ("A century of violence in Soviet Russia",Yale, 2002) with the following warning:  "The main source of our troubles has yet to dawn on us:  without the de-Bolshevization of Russia there can be no question of the nation's recovery, its renascence and its resumption of its place in world civilization.  Only when it has shaken free of Bolshevism can Russia hope to be healed."    

Sergei Kovalyov, the 2009 Sakharov prize winner, has written:

"Until Germans, regular people, who did not belong to the SS and did not participate in any crimes, understood that they carry part of the blame for Oswiecim, Nazism was not completely defeated".

He continues: "And until we, Russians, acknowledge loudly and clearly our national - I repeat - national guilt for the crimes of communism, including the occupation of the Baltic states, deportations and shootings, and the cruel suppression of the national fight for freedom in the post-war years - until then the communism is not completely defeated."  


The reunited Europe ought to remind Russia, the legal successor to the Soviet Union, that apologies for past crimes have to precede future victory parades.  Continued May 9 festivities in Moscow under the scenarios of the KGB-FSB  leadership, nostalgic about the collapse of the Soviet Union, will only help to obfuscate the truth.

The European Parliament's resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism (April 2009) concluded that reconciliation on crimes committed by Communist totalitarian regimes can be achieved by "admitting responsibility, asking for forgiveness and fostering moral revival".


In the future, the end of WW II in Europe should properly be celebrated in Strasbourg, the symbol of true reconciliation and the cradle of united democratic Europe.  It is high time for the European Union member states to implement the call by the European Parliament to proclaim August 23 as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian regimes. The Estonian Government and Parliament passed  these respective decisions in June 2009 and organized the first official commemoration on August 23, 2009, culminating with the performance of the Russian Requiem by the Russian composer Lera Auerbach.



May 5, 2010