Last week saw citizens around the world celebrating VE-day, with this year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.
Yet, as we remember those who gave their all to ensure our freedoms and liberties, let us also guard against clever appropriations of the memory of blood and sacrifice for political ends.
"Eternal Shame to America, Germany and Europe," proclaimed one columnist in pravda.ru. Russians are unimpressed with Western world leaders who declined President Vladimir Putin's invitation to the May 9th Victory Day parade in Moscow. The grand show went on without them. On a sunny day in Red Square, Chinese and Indian soldiers marched alongside smiling Russian troops. "Our fathers and grandfathers" defeated Nazism, Putin said, later adding that today the world needs a system of "equal security for all nations."
Security? In the last year, Russia's neighbours have been begging the West for more security. Poles and Ukrainians stayed away from Moscow this year. No-one from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or Georgia rushed to shake hands with Putin. Some of these nations joined NATO at the first opportunity they had, others dearly wish that they could do so right now.
We must not forget that those with a big microphone manipulate. In Russia, academic institutions have joined politicians in an attempt to conflate the events of WW2 with the current fighting in Ukraine. Russia's top academics have warned that Nazism is coming again and that Ukrainians have been brainwashed to "see themselves as a superior race."
Let us be clear that Russians did not win WW2 -- people from the Soviet Union did. Of the 27 million Soviet citizens killed, Ukrainians numbered at least seven million - 16% of the population of Ukraine in 1941. Up to 780,000 Lithuanians and at least 300,000 Georgians also paid the ultimate price in the war.
Allied Nations and Soviet citizens from all 15 former Soviet republics jointly fought Fascism and Nazism. This is exactly why, while looking at the old pictures of Soviet soldiers, it does not occur to us to ask if they are Belarusian, Ukrainian, Georgian or Russian.
Furthermore, the victory of the Red Army did not bring peace to the Soviet land. Every corner of the country was subjected to Stalinist persecutions. In one mass deportation operation in March of 1949, some 95,000 residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were sent off to Siberian gulags, 72% of them women and children. About 76,000 Soviet soldiers and communists carried out the operation. Upon completion, over a hundred medals were given out for "courage and heroism."
Here is another stand we can take then, as we reflect on VE-day: while we honour the sacrifices of Soviet soldiers who died fighting Hitler, let us not neglect the immense suffering Soviets inflicted on the people of occupied Europe.
The indignation of the aforementioned Pravda columnist on the occasion of this year's diplomatic snub by the West is understandable. It is not easy to reconcile a desire to believe that on May 9th, "most of the world looks to Russia in gratitude" with a realization that the West has imposed on Russia crippling economic sanctions because of its military actions in Ukraine. We can feel for a Russian who reads Pravda and hears his president declare that the newly elected democratic leaders in Ukraine are pawns of the West, "neo-Nazis and anti-Semites."
Assuredly, the gratitude of the world for the sacrifice of all Soviet citizens, Russians including, has not vanished in recent years. During the Victory Day parade in Moscow in 2005, George W. Bush stood next to Putin, as did Bill Clinton with Boris Yeltsin in 1995. May 9th celebrations in Moscow in various years were attended by the leaders of Poland, Georgia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Japan, United Kingdom and the rest of the world.
But things are different this year -- Russia's neighbours are dying for some security. Russia and its leaders should reflect on that.
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