Panel 2: How to apply the lessons of history to contemporary politics
I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to Tatjana Ždanoka for organising this video conference today.
I know that your memories of the Great Patriotic War are associated with personal losses – your grandparents were trapped in the Riga Ghetto and killed in autumn 1941 by members of the local Sonderkommand, who later joined the Latvian Volunteer SS Legion. I understand how tough it is for you today to watch the marches of former legionnaries and Latvian nationalists organised in Riga every year on 16 March. I know how much effort you are putting into countering this shameful phenomenon. I wish you courage and fortitude in this important endeavour.
22 June is a very special date for citizens of Russia and other former Soviet republics. That day saw the outbreak of a dreadful war, which brought misery and grief to every family and home. Victory had an enormously high price for the Soviet people. It cost the lives of 27 million of our citizens and will always be commemorated «with tears in our eyes». That day has been imprinted forever in the minds and DNA of our people and evolved, one may say, into one of unifying pillars of modern Russia. That is the reason why today's attempts to revise the history of World War Two and question the decisive contribution of the Soviet people to the liberation of Europe from the brown plague are viewed in our country with such great pain.
I had to watch this process gain momentum virtually since my appointment as Russia's Permanent Representative to the EU back in 2005. I witnessed revisionist aspirations of individual – and to put it bluntly, not the largest or most powerful – EU countries and politicians steadily essentially grow into a targeted campaign.
It culminated in the European Parliament Resolution «On the Importance of European Remembrance for the Future of Europe» adopted on 19 September 2019. The document became a kind of quintessence of the pseudo-historical revanchist concepts promoted in the EU today, aimed at equating Nazism and Communism and placing equal responsibility for unleashing World War Two on both the Nazi regime, recognized as criminal by the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the Soviet Union, one of main participants of the anti-Hitler coalition and founders of the UN.
At the same time, we see attempts to blame us for signing the Treaty of Non-Aggression with Germany on 23 August 1939, which Europe prefers to call the «Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact». Claiming that it divided Europe between two totalitarian regimes and paved the way for the onset of World War Two. The EU has even declared 23 August the so-called Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and commemorates the date with annual statements that also attempt to draw parallels between the USSR and Nazi Germany.
I will not go into the background of the signing of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Treaty. I will leave that to historians. I would only recall that this step, necessitated by realities of the time, had been preceded by the policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany pursued by leading Western powers. It culminated in the infamous Munich conspiracy of 1938, which actually triggered the countdown to the outbreak of World War Two, giving the aggressor a free hand. And worth mentioning are USSR efforts – alas, futile – to create a viable system of collective security in Europe in the pre-war period. Leaving aside that the Soviet Union was by far not the only state to conclude a non-aggression pact with Germany. Poland, Great Britain, France and a number of other countries, including the Baltic states, also had similar agreements. Modern Europe doesn’t like to mention these facts. Sometimes it seems that today the Soviet Union is being avenged for the precious time its then leadership managed to buy to prepare the country for war, which, coupled with heroism and fortitude of the Soviet people, ultimately enabled it to survive that deadly confrontation.
Meanwhile, political elites in Western and a number of Eastern European countries have launched a campaign to «combat» monuments and memorials erected to honour Red Army soldiers who died fighting for the liberation of these countries from the Nazis. The above-mentioned 2019 European Parliament Resolution explicitly condemns the existence in public places of monuments and memorials glorifying totalitarian regimes. Some countries go even further and are already openly putting monuments in honour of Nazi personnel and collaborators. A disrespectful, blasphemous attitude towards the memory of liberators is being spread among the population – something one could hardly imagine not so long ago.
Remarkably, most of the countries seeing such developments today have actually survived on the political map of Europe only by virtue of victory of the anti-Hitler coalition over Nazi Germany, with decisive contribution coming exactly from the Soviet Union. Yet many of these countries were liberated by the Red Army at tremendous cost. The words used by Marshal Ivan Konev in his memoirs are all the more pertinent here: «When I visit the Olšany cemetery in Prague, where the ashes of our soldiers and officers who died during the Prague operation are buried, it makes me sad to read the date «9 May» on the tombstones decorated with flowers. The war was virtually over, and these people died here, on the outskirts of Prague, when our whole country was already celebrating Victory...». I would recall that Konev's forces came to aid the people of Prague who rebelled on 5 May 1945 and ultimately saved the city from destruction. A total of 140 thousand Red Army soldiers and officers died in Czechoslovakia. 75 years on, descendants of those Prague residents who had greeted their liberators with flowers and cheers dismantled the Konev Monument in the Czech capital.
I cannot but mention statements on behalf of the heads of European institutions that we regularly hear on remembrance dates of World War Two. Thus, on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, the day Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz concentration camp, it is deliberately omitted that it was the Red Army who opened the gates of the Nazi «death machine». Brussels prefers to reduce it to the term «Allied Forces». Well, such choice of words is not that bad compared to allegedly «inadvertent» errors in tweets by the US Embassy in Denmark and the weekly Der Spiegel, assuring their readers in 2020 that Auschwitz had been liberated by US troops. But, anyway, it has little to do with presenting history in an objective way.
Interpreting historical facts in a loose or deliberately distorted way creates a climate of tolerance for blatant propaganda of Nazi ideas. Unfortunately, this is the case both in a number of EU Member States and in certain post-Soviet countries, in particular Ukraine. One has to state that immunity to the brown plague developed at Nuremberg is wearing off. It threatens fundamental principles of democracy and human rights insulting the memory of millions of victims of World War Two and those who gave their lives for the liberation of Europe from Nazism.
The Nuremberg Tribunal Judgement clearly and unambiguously qualified those responsible for unleashing the bloodiest war in history. We assume that full recognition of the results of World War Two, which are enshrined, inter alia, in the UN Charter, is an unconditional imperative for all states. We are convinced that systemic work on countering any forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism and chauvinism must remain among the utmost priorities of the international community. This is the aim of the UN General Assembly Resolution «Combating Glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and Other Practices that Contribute to Fuelling Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance» initiated annually by Russia and traditionally supported by the overwhelming majority of the world states.
In 2020, a provision to protect historical truth about our homeland, including the Great Patriotic War, was incorporated into the Russian Constitution. I promise that we will continue to consistently uphold the memory of our great victorious ancestors.