By Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis
[ Vytautas Landsbergis, the first postcommunist president of independent Lithuania, why celebrations on 9 May in Moscow, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory, will not help the Russian state hear the ‘silent cries of millions of dead innocents’ in Baltic countries incorporated into Stalin’s empire.]
(April 9, 2005) In May, the world will mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. But instead of happily preparing for that occasion, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which scarcely 15 years ago regained the independence they lost in WWII – are uneasy. Former Lithuanian President Landsbergis: Russia, in the guise of the Soviet Union, itself caused the war.
The heads of state of all three countries have been invited to participate in the parades to be held in Moscow to celebrate the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany. But the host of the celebration, Russia, in the
guise of the Soviet Union, itself caused the war – the bloodiest in European history – whose end is being commemorated. Of course, the USSR instigated the war in tandem with Adolf Hitler, but its responsibility is undeniable.
By holding these celebrations in Red Square, and thus highlighting the Soviet victory, today’s Russia is also celebrating its gains in that war. One of those gains was my country, Lithuania, whose incorporation into Stalin’s empire was accompanied by countless tragedies. Unlike Germany, Russia has never recognized its responsibility for the war and the mass graves of the innocent.
Thus, a former captive nation is now being invited to celebrate its captivity. This is why almost all Lithuanians – indeed, most residents of the Baltic countries – feel queasy at the prospect of their leaders marking this anniversary in Moscow. But Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians are not the only Europeans who should feel this way.
When Stalin offered Hitler his friendship in the spring of 1939 – formally concluded that summer in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – Nazi aggression was assured of not being knifed in the back from the East and so was left with free hands to do as Hitler pleased in the West.
The Pact came after the pogroms of “Kristallnacht” in Germany, so its
Soviet initiators knew pretty well to what destiny they were consigning the Jews of Poland and Lithuania, which, in accord with the first secret Protocol signed by Ribbentrop and Molotov on August 23, 1939, were to go to Hitler. A month later, in equal secrecy, Hitler sold Lithuania to Stalin.
The other countries situated between Germany and the USSR were similarly sentenced to disappear as nations – sooner or later. Their peoples were treated practically as though they did not exist; the aggressors’ only concern was territory. The death sentences and torturing that were then imposed on almost entire nations and millions of people are, it now appears, to be silently accepted and noisily celebrated on May 9 in Moscow. Some Russian officials want to unveil a monument Stalin to crown the festivities.
When Hitler’s Wehrmacht struck West, the USSR duly supported Germany in its war against Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom. As a result, cities in those countries were flattened and people killed not only by the Nazis, but also by their Soviet ally, which invaded Poland and supplied the Wehrmacht with the material it needed for its war against the West. In return, Stalin’s USSR was given a free hand to attack Finland and to occupy Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as a part of Romania.
This commentary was commissioned by Project Syndicate, an international association of 222 newspapers in 108 countries, devoted to bringing distinguished voices from around the world to informed national audiences. Visit Project Syndicate to read more commentaries.
In law, when two criminals seal a contract with the blood of their victims, that act remains a crime, even if the two criminals later have a falling out and spray bullets at one another. The same applies to the two greatest European criminals of the twentieth century. We must not forget the crimes that Hitler and Stalin committed together as de facto allies only because they later turned on each other.
The blood of WWII’s victims calls for justice and fairness, but most of all it demands honesty about who and what caused their tragic fate. If those who gather in Moscow on May 9 do anything to validate Soviet war crimes, they will show themselves insensitive to the silent cries of WWII’s tens of millions of dead innocents. The only real winner would be the spirit of that evil.
[This Project Syndicate commentary was written by Vytautas Landsbergis, the first postcommunist president of independent Lithuania. Landsbergis is now a Member of the European Parliament.]