October 1, 2005
MAASTRICHT, The Netherlands (Reuters) — Grandsons of the three World War II allied leaders who attended the 1945 Yalta conference met for the first time on Saturday and defended the talks which some have blamed for triggering the Cold War.
With the German army in retreat and Hitler’s vision of a Nazi-controlled continent in tatters, Josef Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met at the Black Sea resort to decide how to occupy Germany and reorganise Europe into spheres of influence.
At the grandsons’ first meeting, the trio countered the view that the U.S. and British leaders underestimated Stalin’s cunning and abandoned central and eastern Europe to five decades of Soviet oppression, starting the Cold War.
“People imagine that Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin arrived in Yalta with a blank sheet of paper to decide the fate of Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Winston Churchill, 64, told Reuters.
“The fate of Europe had been decided several months before with the Red Army sweeping westwards and rolling back the German Wehrmacht … it was that which led to the enslavement of some 200 million peoples,” he added.
But even U.S President George W. Bush has condemned the conference saying the fact great nations decided the destiny of smaller nations resulted in years of oppression.
No other governments were allowed to send representatives to Yalta nor were they notified of decisions made at the meeting.
Many historians view the interaction and personalities of the three leaders as decisive, and have criticised Roosevelt as too idealistic and Churchill as more interested in protecting Britain’s colonial interests.
Earlier this year Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski described the Yalta conference as a “tragedy and a trauma”.
For Eastern Europeans the end of World War Two and Nazi occupation brought a new totalitarian ruler, the Soviet Union. Sixty years on this legacy still mars relations with Russia.
However, Roosevelt’s grandson Curtis Roosevelt said the conference should be seen in its proper historical context and not merely in the light of the three men.
“It is quite irresponsible of (Bush) to make the kind of statements about Yalta that he has… We have a job to do to try and correct some of these misrepresentations,” he added.
‘Like a crocodile’
But the personalities loom large for the three grandsons.
“My grandfather had a very nice phrase about your grandfather,” Churchill told Stalin’s grandson Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, who uses Stalin’s Georgian surname.
“He said he was like a crocodile. You never knew whether he was trying to smile or preparing to swallow you up.”
Dzhugashvili, a military historian and former Soviet colonel, said with a string of victories under his belt Stalin could feel comfortable and confident at Yalta.
“Everybody says the Yalta conference was a disaster and Roosevelt was the one who abandoned Europe — but it is not true … he made very wise decisions,” he said.
Dzhugashvili, who only learned his grandfather was Stalin at the of age 10 said: “I was never a child who was sitting on his lap.”
But he defended the man to whom he bears a striking resemblance and who historians say refused the opportunity to trade his son, Dzhugashvili’s father, who was captured by the Nazis for a German officer.
“Some people even accuse him of being a despot and a monster,” said Dzhugashvili. Stalin was powerless to save his eldest son, he argued.