Great Victory 75TH anniversary: Shared Responsibility to History and Future | Daily News


 

Great Victory 75TH anniversary: Shared Responsibility to History and Future

75 years have passed since the end of the Great Patriotic War. Several generations have grown up over the years. The political map of the planet has changed. The Soviet Union that claimed an epic, crushing victory over Nazism and saved the entire world is gone. Besides, the events of that war have long become a distant memory, even for its participants. So why does Russia celebrate the 9th of May as the biggest holiday? Why does life almost come to a halt on June 22? And why does one feel a lump rise in their throat?

For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year old brother Vitya died. It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the NevskyPyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded. And the more years pass, the more I feel the need to talk to my parents and learn more about the war period of their lives. But I no longer have the opportunity to do so. This is the reason why I treasure in my heart the conversations I had with my father and mother on this subject, as well as the little emotion they showed.

People of my age and I believe it is important that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand the torment and hardships their ancestors had to endure. They need to understand how their ancestors managed to persevere and win. Where did their sheer, unbending willpower that amazed and fascinated the whole world come from? Sure, they were defending their homes, children, loved ones and families. However, what they shared was the love for their homeland, their Motherland. That deep-seated, intimate feeling is fully reflected in the very essence of our nation and became one of the decisive factors in its heroic, sacrificial fight against the Nazis.

People often wonder: What would today's generation do? How will it act when faced with a crisis situation? I see young doctors, nurses, sometimes fresh graduates that go to the ”red zone“ to save lives. I see our servicemen fighting international terrorism in the North Caucasus, fighting to the bitter end in Syria. They are so young. Many servicemen who were part of the legendary, immortal 6th Paratroop Company were 19–20 years old. But all of them proved that they deserved to inherit the feat of the warriors of our Motherland that defended it during the Great Patriotic War.

This is why I am confident that one of the characteristic features of the peoples of Russia is to fulfil their duty without feeling sorry for themselves when the circumstances so demand. Such values as selflessness, patriotism, love for their home, their family and Fatherland remain fundamental and integral to the Russian society to this day. These values are, to a large extent, the backbone of our country's sovereignty.

We have a responsibility to our past and our future to do our utmost to prevent those horrible tragedies from happening ever again. Hence, I was compelled to come out with an article about World War II and the Great Patriotic War. I have discussed this idea on several occasions with world leaders, and they have showed their support. At the summit of CIS leaders held at the end of last year, we all agreed on one thing: it is essential to pass on to future generations the memory of the fact that the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the entire Soviet people and that representatives of all republics of the Soviet Union fought side by side together in that heroic battle, both on the frontlines and in the rear. During that summit, I also talked with my counterparts about the challenging pre-war period.

That conversation caused a stir in Europe and the world. It means that it is indeed high time that we revisited the lessons of the past. At the same time, there were many emotional outbursts, poorly disguised insecurities and loud accusations that followed. Acting out of habit, certain politicians rushed to claim that Russia was trying to rewrite history. However, they failed to rebut a single fact or refute a single argument. It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to argue with the original documents that, by the way, can be found not only in Russian, but also in foreign archives.

Thus, there is a need to further examine the reasons that caused the world war and reflect on its complicated events, tragedies and victories, as well as its lessons, both for our country and the entire world. And like I said, it is crucial to rely exclusively on archive documents and contemporary evidence while avoiding any ideological or politicised speculations.

I would like to once again recall the obvious fact. The root causes of World War II mainly stem from the decisions made after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles became a symbol of grave injustice for Germany. It basically implied that the country was to be robbed, being forced to pay enormous reparations to the Western allies that drained its economy. French Marshal Ferdinand Foch who served as the Supreme Allied Commander gave a prophetic description of that Treaty: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”

It was the national humiliation that became a fertile ground for radical and revenge-seeking sentiments in Germany. The Nazis skilfully played on people's emotions and built their propaganda promising to deliver Germany from the “legacy of Versailles” and restore the country to its former power while essentially pushing German people into war. Paradoxically, the Western states, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, directly or indirectly contributed to this. Their financial and industrial enterprises actively invested in German factories and plants manufacturing military products. Besides, many people in the aristocracy and political establishment supported radical, far-right and nationalist movements that were on the rise both in Germany and in Europe.

One of the major outcomes of World War I was the establishment of the League of Nations. There were high expectations for that international organisation to ensure lasting peace and collective security. It was a progressive idea that, if followed through consistently, could actually prevent the horrors of a global war from happening again.

However, the League of Nations dominated by the victorious powers of France and the United Kingdom proved ineffective and just got swamped by pointless discussions. The League of Nations and the European continent in general turned a deaf ear to the repeated calls of the Soviet Union to establish an equitable collective security system, and sign an Eastern European pact and a Pacific pact to prevent aggression. These proposals were disregarded.

The League of Nations also failed to prevent conflicts in various parts of the world, such as the attack of Italy on Ethiopia, a civil war in Spain, the Japanese aggression against China and the Anschluss of Austria. Furthermore, in case of the Munich Betrayal that, in addition to Hitler and Mussolini, involved British and French leaders, Czechoslovakia was taken apart with the full approval of the League of Nations. I would like to point out in this regard that, unlike many other European leaders of that time, Stalin did not disgrace himself by meeting with Hitler who was known among the Western nations as quite a reputable politician and was a welcome guest in the European capitals.Poland was also engaged in the partition of Czechoslovakia along with Germany. They decided together in advance who would get what Czechoslovak territories. On September 20, 1938, Polish Ambassador to Germany Józef Lipski reported to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Józef Beck on the following assurances made by Hitler: “…in case of a conflict between Poland and Czechoslovakia over our interests in Teschen, the Reich would stand by Poland.” The Nazi leader even prompted and advised that Poland started to act “only after the Germans occupy the Sudetes.”

Poland was aware that without Hitler's support, its annexationist plans were doomed to fail. I would like to quote in this regard a record of the conversation between German Ambassador to Warsaw Hans-Adolf von Moltke and Józef Beck that took place on October 1, 1938, and was focused on the Polish-Czech relations and the position of the Soviet Union in this matter. It says: “Mr Beck expressed real gratitude for the loyal treatment accorded to Polish interests at the Munich conference, as well as the sincerity of relations during the Czech conflict. The Government and the public [of Poland] fully appreciated the attitude of the Fuehrer and Chancellor.”

The partition of Czechoslovakia was brutal and cynical. Munich destroyed even the formal, fragile guarantees that remained on the continent. It showed that mutual agreements were worthless. It was the Munich Betrayal that served as the “trigger” and made the great war in Europe inevitable.

Today, European politicians, and Polish leaders in particular, wish to sweep the Munich Betrayal under the carpet. Why? The fact that their countries once broke their commitments and supported the Munich Betrayal, with some of them even participating in divvying up the take, is not the only reason. Another is that it is kind of embarrassing to recall that during those dramatic days of 1938, the Soviet Union was the only one to stand up for Czechoslovakia.

The Soviet Union, in accordance with its international obligations, including agreements with France and Czechoslovakia, tried to prevent the tragedy from happening. Meanwhile, Poland, in pursuit of its interests, was doing its utmost to hamper the establishment of a collective security system in Europe. Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Józef Beck wrote about it directly in his letter of September 19, 1938 to the aforementioned Ambassador Józef Lipski before his meeting with Hitler: “…in the past year, the Polish government rejected four times the proposal to join the international interfering in defence of Czechoslovakia.”

Britain, as well as France, which was at the time the main ally of the Czechs and Slovaks, chose to withdraw their guarantees and abandon this Eastern European country to its fate. In so doing, they sought to direct the attention of the Nazis eastward so that Germany and the Soviet Union would inevitably clash and bleed each other white.

That was the essence of the western policy of ‘appeasement,’ which was pursued not only towards the Third Reich but also towards other participants of the so-called Anti-Comintern Pact – the fascist Italy and militarist Japan. In the Far East, this policy culminated in the conclusion of the Anglo-Japanese agreement in the summer of 1939, which gave Tokyo a free hand in China. The leading European powers were unwilling to recognise the mortal danger posed by Germany and its allies to the whole world. They were hoping that they themselves would be left untouched by the war.

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union did its utmost to use every chance to create an Anti-Hitler coalition. Despite the double‑dealing on the part of the Western countries. For instance, the intelligence services reported to the Soviet leadership detailed information on the behind-the-scenes contacts between Britain and Germany in the summer of 1939. The important thing is that those contacts were quite active and practically coincided with the tripartite negotiations between France, Great Britain and the USSR, which were, on the contrary, deliberately protracted by the Western partners. In this connection, I will cite a document from the British archives. It contains instructions to the British military mission that came to Moscow in August 1939. It directly states that the delegation was to proceed with negotiations very slowly, and that the Government of the United Kingdom was not ready to assume any obligations spelled out in detail and limiting their freedom of action under any circumstances. I will also note that, unlike the British and French delegations, the Soviet delegation was headed by top commanders of the Red Army, who had the necessary authority to “sign a military convention on the organisation of military defence of England, France and the USSR against aggression in Europe.”

Poland played its role in the failure of those negotiations as it did not want to have any obligations to the Soviet side. Even under pressure from their Western allies, the Polish leadership rejected the idea of joint action with the Red Army to fight against the Wehrmacht. It was only when they learned of the arrival of J. Ribbentrop to Moscow that J. Beck reluctantly and not directly, but through French diplomats, notified the Soviet side: “… in the event of joint action against the German aggression, cooperation between Poland and the Soviet Union, subject to technical conditions which have to be agreed, is not out of the question.” At the same time, he explained to his colleagues: “… I agreed to this wording only for the sake of the tactics, and our core position in relation to the Soviet Union is final and remains unchanged.”

In these circumstances, the Soviet Union signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany. It was practically the last among the European countries to do so. Besides, it was done in the face of a real threat of war on two fronts – with Germany in the west and with Japan in the east, where intense fighting on the Khalkhin Gol River was already underway.

Stalin and his entourage, indeed, deserve many legitimate accusations. We remember the crimes committed by the regime against its own people and the horror of mass repressions. In other words, there are many things the Soviet leaders can be reproached for, but poor understanding of the nature of external threats is not one of them.

They saw how attempts were made to leave the Soviet Union alone to deal with Germany and its allies. Bearing in mind this real threat, they sought to buy precious time needed to strengthen the country's defences.

 (To be continued)

(The writer is the President of Russia)    


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