View Full Version : 'Great Patriotic War' not the whole truth

05-11-05, 06:01 AM
'Great Patriotic War' not the whole truth

May 10, 2005

PRAGUE -- As my photograph on this column regrettably demonstrates, I can remember VE-Day. In fact it is my first conscious memory -- I was taken, as a 3-year-old, to our street party celebrating it in the Liverpool suburb of Litherland, where I feasted off tables groaning under cakes, pies and delicious food of all kinds.

At least that's how I recall it. But since the British ration was one egg a month then, my recollection is plainly at fault. Unfortunately, the world's recollection is only slightly better. Statesmen from all the over the world, but especially Europe, gathered in Moscow Monday to mark the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War.

Two heads of state were noticeably absent, however, the presidents of Lithuania and Latvia. They declined invitations to attend because Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, refuses to apologize for the Soviet occupation and ethnic cleansing of their countries after 1945. Russia officially regards that as a liberation.

It is to the credit of President Bush that he visited the Latvian capital, Riga, en route to Moscow and recognized that 1945 brought not liberation to the Baltic states and eastern Europe but a different brand of political enslavement.

Unlike Putin, Bush apologized. He recognized that the Western allies bore some responsibility for the betrayal of half of Europe through their appeasement of Stalin at Yalta. It was a lesser responsibility -- Stalin was the main culprit -- but their handing over free peoples to foreign oppression under the slogan of liberation is something that still stirs resentment and bitterness in the "captive nations."

It was half the reason that another head of state, the Polish president, came under strong national pressure to boycott the Moscow celebrations. (He decided to go anyway for diplomatic reasons.) The other half of the reason was that all Poles know when the Second World War began and who began it. It began in 1939 and ended in 1945. Only four nations were involved in it from start to finish -- Germany, Britain, Poland and the Soviet Union.

It was planned by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August 1939 when they signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact dividing eastern Europe between them. It was launched when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, when Britain and France declared war two days later to honor their guarantees to Poland, and when the Red Army invaded Poland from the east on Sept. 17.

And it continued when France was knocked out of the war in May 1940, but the Soviets remained a loyal ally of Nazi Germany. They supplied the economic sinews of war to Hitler for almost two years -- even as the Brits were fighting for their lives in the Battles of Britain and North Africa. It was only when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941 that the Soviet Union changed sides involuntarily. It remains one of the most macabre ironies of history that the only other human being trusted by the paranoid Stalin was Adolf Hitler.

No condemnation can be too severe for Stalin and his Soviet henchmen who share with Hitler and the Nazis the guilt of having started a conflict that cost 45 million to 60 million lives. No praise can be too high for the endurance of the Russian people or the bravery of the Russian soldiers who -- as the old saying rightly goes -- tore the guts out from the German army.

But though they saved Europe from Nazism, they did not liberate it. With official Soviet permission -- Stalin himself justified the rapes to the Yugoslav Milovan Djilas -- they looted and raped their way across the continent and established a new and longer-lasting tyranny "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic."

No word of the Soviet role in starting World War II was allowed Monday in Moscow -- the Great Patriotic War apparently began in 1941 -- and the Russians even resent Bush's mention of the Soviet Union's postwar despotisms.

But the West cannot afford to gloss over these embarrassing historical truths -- nor let the Russians deceive themselves about these shameful aspects of their past.

There is already a sinister nostalgia, encouraged by the Putin government, for Soviet totalitarianism in today's Russia. As David Satter of the Hudson Institute has pointed out, statues of Stalin are being erected, mass graves of Soviet victims are ignored rather than memorialized, and Putin himself has described the breakup of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

Nor has the detritus of the Soviet occupation been entirely cleared away. Though democracy and market economies have been established in eastern Europe, corrupt networks based on the old security services and the newly enriched nomenklatura exercise an unhealthy influence. Leading parliamentarians from eastern Europe told a conference in Prague of "The Bell -- Association for Freedom and Democracy" last week how these networks cooperate with the re-named KGB to manipulate "New Europe's" political and economic life in Russia's interest.

"Old Europe" is not very helpful in resisting this. Within the European Union, the West Europeans, especially Germany, tend to take the Russian side in disputes between the Kremlin and its former satellites. It was Lithuania and Poland, not France and Germany, that led the EU intervention to prevent Putin from stealing Ukraine's election on behalf of his and Russia's client-candidate.

Nor has any serving West European leader echoed Bush's forthright criticism of the Soviet postwar role. Almost all have rushed off to attend an event aptly described by a bipartisan and transatlantic group of distinguished public figures headed by Richard Allen, Reagan's first national security advisor, as a "mockery of the climactic sacrifice for Europe's freedom." And for what?

We in the West appeased Stalin and lied about it shamefully -- but we did so for the understandable reasons that he disposed of massive power and we did not want to continue a war that had already lasted six years. What reason does Western Europe have for appeasing Putin, who today has fewer divisions than the pope?