THE APPROACHING 75th anniversary of the end of World War II gave a new lease of life to the so-called “memory wars.”
On September 19, 2019, the European Parliament passed a resolution “On the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe”1 that, among other things, shifted the burden of equal responsibility for World War II onto Germany and the USSR. The same document accuses Moscow of decades of occupation of Eastern Europe which slowed down their socio-economic and democratic development and suggests another Nuremberg tribunal to conduct legal inquiries into the crimes of “Stalinism,” etc. On the whole, this document is the fullest presentation of what the Western political elites think about the Soviet Union and its role in World War II.
On December 20, 2019, speaking at an informal summit of the CIS countries, President of Russia Vladimir Putin presented convincing evidence of falsification by our Western colleagues of the facts related to the beginning of World War II including documents that unequivocally confirmed the responsibility of West European countries that had encouraged Hitler to spread his expansion eastward and Poland’s unsavory role in the division of Czechoslovakia. This stirred up an extremely negative response by many European politicians and political scientists who raised their voices against what they called revisionist history.
At the same time, it should be said that this resolution did not drop out of the sky – it was a result of many years of efforts of the European establishment to transform the European historical space.
The campaign of making the Soviet Union responsible for World War II on a par with Nazi Germany is rooted in the 1980s. On August 23, 1986. the day when the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union was signed in 1939 (tagged the Molotov-Ribbentrop Act by our opponents), several scores of cities across the world – Washington, London, New York, Ottawa, Seattle, Stockholm and others – saw manifestations, organized for the first time to attract attention to the “Soviet war crimes and violations of human rights.” Today, this is an annual event known as Black Ribbon Day.2
Two resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – No. 1096 “Measures to dismantle the heritage of former communist totalitarian systems” (1996) and No. 1481 “Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes” (2006) – marked an important point on the road toward “correct” (read: anti-Soviet and anti-Russian) European interpretation of history.
A series of declarations signed by politicians of the countries mainly to the “east of Vienna” followed. On April 2, 2009, the European Parliament passed a resolution “On European conscience and totalitarianism,” the key document of the steadily unfolding anti-Soviet campaign. The resolution approved the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience “to provide support for networking and cooperation among national research institutes specializing in the subject of totalitarian history” and proclaimed August 23 a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. It has become good manners in Europe to mark August 23 with vicious anti-Soviet and anti-Russian statements.
On June 15, 2009, the EU Council in its resolution “On European conscience and totalitarianism” supported the idea of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience and instructed the European Commission to allocate enough financial resources.3 On June 10, 2011, the EU Council adopted conclusions on “The memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe” which recommended the European Commission to promote the studies and proliferation of information about the “European totalitarian past.”
In the same year, the OSCE joined the EU and the Council of Europe in their efforts to “cement” the common European vision of history. On July 3, 2009, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at its summer session in Vilnius passed a resolution “Divided Europe Reunited: Promoting Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the OSCE Region in the 21st Century.”
This means that the 2019 resolution “On the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe” merely summed up what had been said in the earlier documents produced by different European structures.
For a long time, the French authorities distanced themselves, publicly from what was done to rewrite history. On the one hand, they did not want to stir up their own past; on the other, they could afford to hide behind European institutions. It should be said in all justice that there is no unanimity in the French academic community regarding the revanchist efforts of European politicians. In 2006, for example, a group of French scholars led by historian Jean-Jacques Marie issued a petition signed by over 50 members of the academic community4 in which they denounced the attempts made by the Council of Europe to impose the only “official” version of European history; they dismissed all accusations of the Soviet Union as false and pointed to distorted facts. The historians called on society to admit that the “totalitarian resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is illegal.”
There is no information about the exact number of French who fought under the banners of the Third Reich against the Soviet Union. The Russian reader, however, will be unpleasantly surprised to learn that over 23 thousand of them were taken prisoner by Soviet army.
Emmanuel Macron claims the role of the leader of the European Union who knows how to close the gap between its Western and Eastern members and unite them on the basis of “common values” and “common history.” But he had no choice but declare his position.
On February 4, 2020, in his address to the students of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland,5 President of France said that “history should not be transformed into an instrument”: “We are building Europe by knowing its history, by preventing any attempts to falsify, rewrite any parts of the pages of history” by any country or party. It turned out, however, that this was not a declaration of the universal principle but, rather, criticism addressed to the Russian Federation. “When talking about revisionism,” specified the French president, “I think about the approaches that Russia is promoting when dealing with the history of World War II and the twentieth century as a whole. I see that Russia tries to impose its own interpretation of World War II and shift the blame onto the Polish people. I can see that our memory might be fragmented because of reinterpretation and rewriting of history.”
Two months earlier, on December 6, 2019, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking in Prague at a conference dedicated to the anniversary of the “velvet revolution” of 1989,6 warned: “Today, we are faced with an additional danger of history being rewritten on the basis of re-interpreted national interests and narratives.” He accused unnamed “great powers of their desire to use history for political reasons, to make the past an instrument of politics and history a servant of ideology.”
Both French political figures called on other countries “to defend historical truth,” “build up European history” and share “European historical conscience.” It was stated that this will be allegedly promoted by an Observatory on History Teaching in Europe launched on an initiative of France under the aegis of the Council of Europe. The French Foreign Minister specified that its aim is not “a common version of history” but common “European historical conscience” and “common European memory,” in short, everything that promotes “European unity.” The questions, however, remain.7
The French Foreign Minister revealed the truth as seen from France. In 2019, “we will commemorate… the 80 years of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the organization of Nazi and Soviet occupations of Europe which occurred simultaneously and successively.” The French president, in turn, said at the Jagiellonian University that “Poland was not responsible for starting World War II,” and that he had “always defended Poland and the Polish peoples against unacceptable attacks at their historical memory.” The President of France has soft feelings for the East European countries that “suffered a lot from Nazi and later Soviet domination,” the countries that “swept under Soviet subjugation after having suffered from Nazi yoke.”
When talking about the tragic events of Polish history, Macron mentioned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, Katyn, the extermination of people in Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. For some reason, the French President added the air disaster at Smolensk on April 10, 2010, in which President of Poland Lech Kaczynski was killed.
It seems that the West persists in its efforts to put the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on the same footing and to divide between them the responsibility for the beginning of World War II. This is done for the following reasons.
First, Europeans are determined to devalue any reproaches of their appeasement of Hitler and his policy and their plans to use him and his army to weaken or even liquidate the Soviet Union. It is bad manners in Europe to talk about the agreements that predated the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Treaty,8 the collaborating Vichy government or the French volunteers in the army of the Third Reich who fought on the Eastern Front and in Africa. There is no information about the exact number of French who fought under the banners of the Third Reich against the Soviet Union. The Russian reader, however, will be unpleasantly surprised to learn that over 23 thousand of them were taken prisoner by Soviet army.
Second, the West discredits the Soviet Union, casting doubts on the legitimacy of the postwar order and the special role of the Soviet Union (today, Russia) in ensuring international security, in particular as one of the permanent members of the UN SC with the veto right. Speaking at Charles University in Prague, Jean-Yves Le Drian insisted that France “had never recognized the annexation of the Baltic States” by the Soviet Union. He went even farther to say that “the year 1989 marked the end of the Yalta as the system which we had to obey and which we had never accepted.” This sounds strange in view of the circumstances that made France one of the permanent members of the UN SC and the fact that President of France Valery Giscard d’Estaing signed the Helsinki Final Act of the OSCE that confirmed the political and territorial results of World War II and inviolability of the postwar frontiers (today, the French leaders seem to be especially fond of the latter).
These and similar statements mainly explain the current Western displeasure with the efficiency of the UN (in plain words, by the obstacles to their policy raised by Russia and China) as part of its plans to create a new “world order based on the rules” that would unite those who share these ideas of the West under the slogan of consolidating “multilateralism.”
Third, the West criticizes the Soviet period to discredit the alternative Communist (socialist) development model; it wants to wipe out from people’s minds the rival (even if speculative) of the capitalist system. This is especially important today when amid the crisis of liberal capitalism, the steadily rising number of people in Eastern Europe compare their living standards with the Soviet period to admit that there were certain shortcomings and obvious advantages that the West prefers to pass over in silence.
Today, our Western opponents have armed themselves with anti-Soviet and anti-Russian rhetoric to overcome the contradictions and disagreements that have been piling up inside the European Union since the mid-2000s. Indeed, closing ranks in the face of a “common enemy” or a “threat” to peace, democracy or “common values” is the most reliable and efficient variant. They are ready to maintain the fear of Russia among the East Europeans as the price of Europe’s unity. President of France Macron said: “I’ll be happy the day Polish people can tell each other: ‘The day I’m attacked, I know Europe can protect us.’ Because since that day, the sense of European belonging will be indestructible.”
Recently, those who manipulate history demonstrated another trick. When talking to the students of Charles University in Prague, Le Drian said, as if in passing, that “Eastern Europe as such had never existed. It was a fabrication of the Cold War, not a relevant division arising from Europe’s long history.” This is another attempt at consolidating the European Union and keeping East Europeans strictly within the “general Party line,” especially in the context of China’s efforts to establish special and closer relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe within its One Belt One Road project and the Three Seas Initiative. Much has been said and is repeated again and again that the Soviet Union allegedly used force to detach East European countries from united Europe, that “under the Soviet yoke” they lost half a century of their development and that at the end of the last century, they returned to the European family to which they historically belonged and were “reunified around democratic principles and humanist values.”
It seems that the West has not yet reached the final point of its line of blackening Russia. Today, we can see something that could not be imagined in the postwar years, viz. distortion of the role of the Soviet Union that is put in the same footing with the aggressor; we cannot exclude the possibility that tomorrow the Third Reich could be exonerated to shift places and become victim rather than aggressor. The West deliberately ignores heroization of fascist henchmen in the Baltic countries and Ukraine. The fact that the European Union, for which the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal constitute part of its acquis communautaire, abstains from voting on our resolution on the struggle against heroization of Nazism speaks volumes.9 The United States and our Ukrainian “non-brothers” go even farther to vote “against.”
Juggling with facts of history is not revanchism: Western politicians are obviously determined to move further to deal with the specific practical tasks of today and tomorrow. An even more active involvement of the French establishment means that the problem is here to stay.
In this context, the struggle for the truth of history has become one of the fronts of our foreign policy which was confirmed, as I have said above, by the historic (in all senses) speech of President Vladimir Putin about Poland. This front requires constant attention of historians and, even more important, of the Russian state together with other important international problems: strategic stability, conflict settlement in Syria and Ukraine, competition in the digital sphere, and space research. We should have the last word in this battle, not only to defend the truth of history or preserve our place in the future system of international relations but, first and foremost, to fulfill our duty to 27 million Soviet citizens who died for our Motherland.
2 On August 23, 1989, within this project, approximately two million people joined their hands to form a human chain spanning 675.5 kilometers, the so-called Baltic Way.
3 Officially this “educational project” of the European Union, set up to create a unified European history textbook as one of its goals, started working in October 2011.
4 Appel contre la resolution 1481 du Conseil de l’Europe sur la nécessité dune condamnation internationale des crimes des régimes totalitaires // https://cahiersdumouvementouvrier.org/wp-content/uploads/tous-cmo-pdf/cmo_030.pdf
7 The project “Observatory on History Teaching in Europe” was elaborated by the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Education of France on the basis of the report submitted by Alain Lamassoure, member of the European Parliament entrusted with the task by Premier of France Edouard Philippe. Member of the European People’s Party and an active supporter of European integration, Alain Lamassoure belonged to the informal Reconciliation of European Histories Group headed by Sandra Kalniete, former Foreign Minister of Latvia, well known for her hatred of Russia and the Soviet Union. The group closely cooperated with the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, Sandra Kalniete was a member of its Board of Trustees.
8 The Four-Power Pact of 1933; the Munich Deal of 1938; the Franco-German Non-Aggression Declaration of 1938.
9 The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of France gave the following answer to the question of one of the deputies of the National Assembly of France who wanted to know why France had abstained from voting on the Russian variant of the Resolution of the UN GA “The struggle against the heroization of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other types of practices that whip up escalation of the contemporary form of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance related to them”: “France and all other states-members of the European Union every year abstained from voting on this resolution because this text in no way helps us promote our progress in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. This highly important issue is pushed aside for the sake of a very limited discussion designed to split the Europeans by associating all those who were against the Soviet forces with the Nazi regime. The text, as a rule, reduces the struggle against racism and hatred to the issues related to World War II the image of which is distorted.”