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World War Two: Memories as a Warning

Created: 2020.05.08 / Updated: 2020.05.08 09:51

Co-authored by Foreign Ministers of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia

This year, as we commemorate 75 years since the end of hostilities in Europe, we primarily honour those who fought against, and ultimately defeated, Nazism. We also remember the tens of millions of innocent victims who lost their lives during the war,  including those six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazis and their collaborators.

With Europe as its main battlefield, World War II was the largest, most brutal and bloody war in living memory. “Never again” was the principal lesson we took from it. It is this message that has propelled the ideas of humanism, aversion to new conflicts, aspiration for peace, cooperation and solidarity.

These ideals were initially realized only in the western part of Europe, free of Soviet dominance. There the values of democracy emerged victorious and shaped the European Union as we know it today.

Despite the overwhelming horrors of WWII, our democratic and humanitarian ideals prevailed over totalitarianism. Regretfully, in the years after the bloodshed ended, only the Nazi regime and ideology were brought to justice at Nuremberg. The individuals responsible for these crimes were tried and convicted. The Soviet Union under the leadership of its no less totalitarian communist party – as a victor – became a permanent member at the UN Security Council instead.

Using the declared victory in the war as a justification for many years, the brutal Soviet regime abused the victory in the war to justify its policies. It expropriated collectively the deeds of millions Allied soldiers who defeated the Nazis, including soldiers of the Red army, which was itself multinational. Both Soviet and Russian efforts to undermine the suffering and the role of other nations in ending the war are unacceptable.

All of our countries suffered a terrible devastation in the course of the war, which rolled through them twice: first to the east and then to the west. 

We must not forget that in 1939, the Soviet Union entered WWII as an ally of Nazi Germany. In secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler and Stalin decided to partition Europe among themselves. This plan paved the way to the war. We strongly condemn any attempts to justify this pact by reasoning that at the time it was deemed inevitable and strategically expedient. 

In the aftermath of WWII, the Soviet regime exploited the turmoil and the shifts in status-quo in Europe to divide the continent into two camps against its will: democratic nations on the one side and captive nations oppressed by totalitarian Soviet regime on the other.

Although the arms in Europe fell silent in 1945, the oppression in Central and Eastern Europe continued. The Soviet Union occupied and illegally annexed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in 1940. For the people of the Baltic States, the long years of fighting did not bring freedom and prosperity. It brought political repressions and forced deportations. The USSR brutally oppressed resistance movements. Ukrainians largely shared the same destiny. By means of active and passive resistance, our people showed that they will not rest until our nations are free, and international order is restored.

For us, having suffered this fate, freedom and restoration of independence only came some 30 years ago, when the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Soviet Union finally collapsed.

Regretfully, just a few decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, we began to witness Russia’s new attempts to gloss over Stalin and his rule, ignore human rights violations and build a regime with one all-powerful person at its helm. We now see a new zeal to divide Europe into discrete spheres of interest and shamelessly use force to attempt to annex a territory of a sovereign nation.

By using premeditated aggression against Georgia in 2008 and against Ukraine in 2014, Russia severely damaged the European security architecture. 

Instead of acknowledging that victory in WWII and defeat of Nazism was a merit of Allied determination and sacrifice, Russia turned its cult of WWII into a tool of manipulation. The Kremlin is bent on generating historical myths while seeking to deny inconvenient historical facts.

This insincere cult of victory, misappropriated by people who have nothing to do with the victory itself, dishonours those who lost their lives. In our countries, we respectfully bow our heads in sombre remembrance of our loved ones who died in WWII. We remember their suffering and honour their sacrifice for the sake of us all.

The mass graves of the victims call us to repeat, “Never again!” The atrocities of war gave birth to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The regained confidence in the power of cooperation gave us the Schuman Declaration, eventually leading to the establishment of the European Union. On this solemn day let memories serve us as a warning.

Originally published in https://zeitung.faz.net/faz/politik/2020-05-08/919836fdb5c141fdaa9e3189dbe95589/?GEPC=s5

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