For Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the end of World War II did not bring freedom but Soviet occupation and police-state terror, writes Philip Palm-Peipman.
For many of the world’s nations, the peace treaties that marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II are seen as the cornerstone of a more permanent peace.
Certainly there is more than enough historical evidence to vouch for the fact that Hitler and his henchmen committed crimes on a vast scale with which human justice could scarcely deal.
This year, much of Europe will mark the end of that war; but, for many peoples among those European nations, 60 years ago did not mark the end of their suffering, but just the start of a further and politically treacherous train ride – this time with Stalin at the helm.
Many nations in Europe long to pay tribute to those who died under Nazism; but for some countries’ leaders – most notably of late, in the two Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania – the miscarriage of political justice on the part of the former Soviet Union, and the resultant deaths of hundreds of thousands of their own people in Siberia during the 1940s, weighs equally heavily on their hearts.
Without reducing the significance of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism, it is worth reminding ourselves that many other people were killed or brutally mistreated – albeit, in most cases, not purely for reasons of stock or race, as it was with the Holocaust – and should be accorded equal respect.
Unfortunately, present-day Russia has refused to acknowledge any part in its brutality towards these nations (and indeed has disengaged herself from any responsibility for past wrongdoing, since Russia insists she is not, technically speaking, the primary successor state to the former Soviet Union).
President Vladimir Putin will, however, use the forthcoming May 9 commemorative ceremony to send a message to the world that Russia and her wartime allies were united in a relentless march towards total European liberty. But this, as history shows, is not so.
With 10 formerly communist-bloc countries having acceded to the European Union in 2004 – and many more still waiting in line, including Ukraine – it is plain to anyone that, after World War II, all too many countries in Europe drew the short straw in the race for democracy.
Having personally followed developments of the past few years in the southern republics of the former Soviet Union – including, most recently, the appalling death of the democratically-elected president of Chechnya – I fear what future generations of Chechens will think of the horrific events presently unfolding there.
Russia’s blatant interference, under a highly dubious mask of combating terrorism, has caused Chechnya literally to bleed to death while the rest of the world, to all intents and purposes, shuts its eyes.
We have seen further disturbing developments in Putin’s Russia, such as the restoration of the old Soviet national anthem; the toasting of the greatness of Stalin’s glorious leadership (would the world tolerate German Chancellor Schroeder extolling the leadership of Hitler?); and changing Volgograd’s name back to Stalingrad.
At the same time, simmering beneath the surface of Russia’s trammelled business community, is the continuing effort to rid that fraternity of its Jewish element. As one looks at the complete picture of today’s corrupt, repressive and anti-semitic Russia, it scarcely conveys a repudiation of Nazism in accord with 60th anniversary celebrations of the defeat of Hitler’s Reich.
Under such circumstances, it is appropriate that the leaders of the Baltic nations (along with the leaders of Japan and possibly others countries) should decline to attend these 60th anniversary celebrations in Moscow.
Were circumstances different – for example, Russia making a concerted effort to make amends for 50 years of Soviet occupation and enslavement of eastern Europe – there might be a more tangible reason to view Russia as a sincere and sympathetic neighbour in undertaking the hosting of the May 9 events.
However, as it stands, current political manoeuvres point to the fact that Putin desires to strengthen his political hand and curry favour way beyond Russia’s borders, particularly in the face of most of the English-speaking world’s lack of knowledge of Russian history.
Thoroughly mired in his own peculiar Messianic calling, which is deeply embedded in the Russian psyche, President Putin has steered post-Soviet Russia from a communist state to a kind of autocracy.
The defeat of Germany 60 years ago may reasonably be understood as a much needed and worthy victory for Russian troops; but the ensuing years of occupation and abuse by that country are still awaiting proper acknowledgement and contrition.
- Philip Palm-Peipman lives in Estonia and plays in the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.