Estonia's Freedom Hero Tunne Kelam on WW II, a lost victory and Stalin's poisoned peace
Two anniversaries - victory over Nazi Germany 60 years ago and the enlargement of the European Union with eight new members from Central and Eastern Europe one year ago - almost coincide at the beginning of this month. At the same time confusion about the dates and their real meaning continues.
The surrender of the Nazi Wehrmacht was signed on May 7, 1945 in Reims, with the participation of all four allied powers, including representatives of the Red Army. Still, Stalin insisted on a separate act of capitulation on May 9 according to his own scenario in order to accentuate the Red Army's role in defeating Hitler.
These two dates symbolize two different and dramatically antithetical dimensions of WW II. The 7th of May marks the triumph of a hard-won victory over Nazi totalitarianism. But the 9th of May symbolizes rather the victory of one totalitarian dictatorship over the other. Therefore, the venue and style of the ceremonies in Moscow are unsuited to the fundamental principles for which the historic victory in the Second World War was achieved. It is morally devastating that one of Europe’s least democratic regimes which is directly associated with its Stalinist predecessor is able to make the leaders of free countries celebrate the continent’s liberation exclusively under its auspices.
I saw Estonia invaded by the Red Army. As an eyewitness to the subsequent general marauding and destruction, I still remember the words of the Soviet captain who entered the farm where my family was staying in September 1944: "My soldiers are not the worst ones. But beware of the NKVD [later KGB] troops who will follow us – they are the ones you should be afraid of". In an effort to make human contact and to forestall the Soviet officer's obvious desire to grab my father's watch, my parents had started a conversation with him in Russian and also put my two-year-old brother on his lap. Frustrated in their attempts at this farm, the captain and his unit then raided the neighboring one and took by force everything they wanted – as victors they felt it all belonged to them.
Sadly, the Soviet captain's warning very soon came true. In the first five years after its "liberation", Soviet-occupied Estonia, with a population of one million, saw the arrests of 65,000 individuals on political grounds. Of those, many thousands were murdered outright or died in concentration camps. In just one month, March 1949, 22,000 persons were deported from their homes to Siberia while about 10,331 who were also on the lists, managed to hide themselves, but lost all their property. Most remained outlawed for years.
The real experience of May 9th for those of us living in Soviet-"liberated" Eastern Europe was deprivation of all civic freedoms and of any right to a democratic and independent state. Estonia was subjected intensive sovietization and russification which brought the Estonian people to the brink of becoming a minority in our own country. May 9th meant a “poisoned peace”, as Gregor Dallas titled his recent book. This poisoned peace was rooted in the criminal alliance signed between two tyrants on August 23, 1939.
World War II did not know ideal allies. The existence in Europe of two aggressive and evil empires made it almost impossible to build any coalition that could have been based on common values. Taking a pragmatic stance – my enemy’s foe is my ally – didn't overcome the fundamental differences.
The basic goal of the war – to defeat the Nazi Germany and its allies – was absolutely right. However, one should never forget that the launching of WW II was the result of an alliance between Stalin and Hitler. From the beginning, both terrorist dictatorships had similar long-term strategic goals – primary among these being world domination. These goals never changed during the course of the war or as a result of changing alliances.
It was Stalin, who on August 19, 1939 addressed his Politbureau: "Comrades! It is in the interests of the USSR ... that war break out between the Reich and the capitalist Anglo-French bloc. Everything must be done so that the war lasts as long as possible in order that both sides become exhausted. For this reason we must agree to the pact proposed by Germany. Therefore our task consists in helping Germany to wage war as long as possible with the aim in view that England and France would be in no condition to defeat a sovietized Germany.... At the same time, we must conduct active Communist propaganda especially as directed at the Anglo-French bloc ... the task of our French comrades will be to break up and demoralize the French army and police. ... This will likewise ensure the sovietization of France...”
The Kremlin dictator saw a new world war as the most efficient means to prepare ground for the planned world revolution. As a result of the Soviet-Nazi friendship pact of August 23, 1939, that goal was achieved. Within a week after its signing, Hitler was able to attack Poland. Stalin followed in 3 weeks, taking the eastern half of Rzceczpospolita. After the dismemberment, the two invaders, who had well coordinated their activities, celebrated the end of the Polish state with a joint parade in Lviv.
Although eventually a partner in crushing Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union is co-responsible for launching the very same war, the end of which Moscow rulers are now so eager to celebrate. Taking equal advantage of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Soviet Union carried out its imperialist plans, committing aggression against Finland (for which it was expelled from membership in the League of Nations), occupying and annexing the three Baltic states, and adding to its territory large parts of Poland and Romania. The Soviet Union also helped Hitler to conquer Western and Southern Europe, supplying the Wehrmacht with strategic raw materials for 22 crucial months of the war.
The end of WW II in Europe is generally taken to mean that the Allied powers restored freedom to the European nations subjugated by Hitler. Particularly the Baltic nations had counted on the implementation of the Atlantic Charter which promised to restore independence to every territory that had lost it as the result of the war. The Charter remained a weakly flickering source of hope for several years after the war. People living under Soviet occupation would comfort each other: we must endure for some time, eventually the Western Allies will make the Soviets comply with the Atlantic principles and allow Estonian independence to be restored.
Tragically for Central and Eastern Europe, the coming of the Red Army did not mean restoration of freedom. On the contrary, it simply meant the replacing of one form of murderous dictatorship with another. It also meant being totally cut off from the rest of Europe by the Iron Curtain, unable even to cry for help. What really happened in those countries under the long years of Soviet domination is only now reaching a wider audience in a reunited Europe.
A fundamental question needs to be answered: is it possible for a totalitarian regime, that by 1945 had itself destroyed as many human lives at home as were lost on the battlefield, to bring freedom just by ousting the Nazi armies?
Taking a look at what happened after the war makes the answer crystal clear. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet POW’s, who managed to survive German captivity, were not freed but were immediately sent to Gulag prison camps. They were “guilty” because they had survived. So they were treated as traitors or potential German spies. Such contempt by the victorious Soviet regime for its own people tells all. The number of Gulag inmates more than doubled during the period immediately following the war.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the first five years after the defeat of the Nazis saw at least one million persons killed during the formation of “peoples’ democracies". The left-over Nazi concentration camps did not suffice – additional camps had to be built to accommodate the hundreds of thousands new political prisoners.
Two terrorist dictatorships wreaked havoc and caused immeasurable suffering in 20th century Europe. After WW II, Germany’s war criminals were brought to justice and the Nazi political system was uprooted. New Germany apologized to the victims of the Third Reich and made restitution. As a result, today's Germany is a reliable democratic state, one of the founders of European integration. Even the slightest hints of anything smacking of Nazism are dealt with swiftly and firmly. The famous motto "Never again" is guaranteed.
Nothing even remotely similar has ever taken place in the legal successor to the Soviet Union – the Russian Federation. In today's Russia, there is not even a national monument to respect the memory of the victims of Communism. Instead, Stalin is gaining new popularity, especially among young people, and new statues of Stalin are popping up. In his shocking speech on April 25, President Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century." The dramatic difference of values between WW II allies cannot be revealed more dramatically. The former KGB officer obviously prefers to ignore the real human catastrophe of gigantic dimensions that his predecessors under Stalin brought about. Alexander Yakovlev, a one time Politbureau member, writes in his book, ("A century of violence in Soviet Russia", Yale, 2002) that the number of those killed for political motives or who died in prisons and camps during the entire period of Soviet power in Russia totaled 20-25 million. (To these victims must be added the more than 5 million who were starved to death as a result of the Communist state's planned policies during the 1930s).
Therefore, for the recent victims of the Soviet terrorism, both in Russia and abroad, there is nothing that would unequivocally guarantee a "Never again!" Here lies the co-responsibility of the Western democracies. Despite winning the Cold War, they have never insisted on a principled assessment of the crimes of the totalitarian Communist regime. Russia’s post-Soviet leaders have received more aid and political credit from the Western governments than the Russian people whose hopes and aspirations for a more dignified and prosperous life have been frustrated by the continued refusal of their leaders to acknowledge the crimes of the past and to make a new start. Sergei Kovalyov has pointed out that, since the beginning of 1990’s, the West, lead by the USA, has in every case stood by first Gorbachev, then Yeltsin and now Putin, fearing any other alternative. The result of all this is plain to see – Russia continues to pose serious problems to its democratic partners, to threaten its neighbors, to wage a dirty war in Chechnya, to curb civil liberties and the media, even to glorify Soviet war criminals as heroes. In fact, Russia is showing most alarming signs of further retreating from the democratic path of development.
The end of WW II in Europe should properly be celebrated in Strasbourg, the symbol of true reconciliation and the cradle of united democratic Europe. The European Parliament should invite distinguished leaders from Eastern and Central Europe, including the Estonian and Lithuanian presidents, to address the Strasbourg debate next week. It is high time for the European Union to agree on an annual common day of remembrance for both victims of Nazism and Communism. August 23 would be symbolic and appropriate – the black day when the world’s two biggest terrorists agreed to start World War II could become a day of hope that such events would not be repeated.
Alexander Yakovlev concludes his book with the following warning: "The main source of our troubles has yet to dawn on us: without the de-Bolshevization of Russia there can be no question of the nation's recovery, its renascence and its resumption of its place in world civilization. Only when it has shaken free of Bolshevism can Russia hope to be healed."
European Parliament debate on the violations of human rights and democracy in the Republic of Mari El in the Russian Federation
Speech by Tunne Kelam MEP (EPP-ED/ET)
This Parliament has been sensitive to human rights and minority issues all around the world. In addition to the alarming situation in Myanmar and Togo, we are addressing today the problem of the Mari nation, living mostly in the Mari El autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. Maris make up 43% of the population of the Republic, the Russians 45%. Their total number is about 750.000.
In the Russian Federation, there live 19 different nations belonging to the Finno-Ugric family, totaling 2,7 million persons. By now, they all have become minorities in their respective autonomous republics and autonomies.
Local constitutions mostly recognize the language of the native population as the state language, parallel to the Russian. However, there are serious obstacles and problems to the practical implementation of the cultural and educational rights of these minorities. The language laws are mostly limited to a declaration and do not guarantee the practical functioning of Finno-Ugric languages as official languages. Education in the Mari language is provided only in some elementary schools so only about 20% of the children can enjoy some lessons in their mother tongue. The publication of text-books in Mari is practically non-existent. So the linguistic identity of the Mari is slowly fading away.
I am concerned also about recent political developments in Mari El. Last December, the local president Leonid Markelov, considered to be a strong pro-Moscow politician at the expense of the native cultural autonomy, was re-elected. After the Mari ethnic opposition, led by Mr. Vladimir Kozlov, questioned the fairness of the election results, Mr. Kozlov was brutally beaten up at the beginning of February. There is still no satisfactory investigation into this act of violence. In January, a similar assault was made against a correspondent of Radio Liberty. Alarmingly, independent journalists have been harassed for a considerable period of time; three of them were murdered in 2001, many others intimidated and their papers forced to close down.
Also, as a result of the recent elections, several Mari school directors and civil servants have lost their jobs. This is seen as revenge by the president against those regions where he had an unsatisfactory election result. Six of the school directors were asked to explain why people in their areas voted for the opposition candidate and threatened that their schools will be closed down.
Mr. President! Considerable numbers of MEP-s have signed an appeal in support of the cultural rights of Mari people. This appeal has gathered almost 10.000 signatures, including those of tens of parliamentarians from national parliaments. I am happy that this draft resolution is a joint initiative by major political groups. The goal is to demonstrate our concern and solidarity with the fate of the Mari nation and to stress that the multiethnic character of the Russian Federation is a considerable richness that should be supported and developed for the benefit of all of Europe. This is why we call on Russian authorities to respect their obligations under international law and to take adequate steps to facilitate maintenance and development of minority languages and cultures, provided by the Constitution, with particular emphasis on providing quality education in the native languages on all levels. We need to secure that the Mari language and Russian are placed on the same footing throughout the Mari El republic.