WWII: True History is Always a Problem

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti, by Pyotr Romanov) — A Russian newspaper recently wrote, "the president of Latvia wants a public quarrel with Moscow." She wants to come to the 60th anniversary celebrations of victory in WWII to share with the world her own version of 20th-century history.

The version put forward by Vaira Vike-Freiberga is far from new and is built on the assumption that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact did not liberate but enslaved the Baltic republics. In my opinion, Moscow has reacted to such attempts too sensitively, while Berlin remains indifferent – with a good reason. Modern Germany is not responsible for what Ribberntrop and Hitler did, just like modern Russia is not responsible for the actions of Molotov and Stalin.

Any true history is always a problem. This is why history books are a collection of myths that sooth somebody’s conscience or flatter somebody’s vanity. In terms of WWII history, Russia and Germany are in a privileged position because they have dispelled the majority of the myths about themselves. Berlin denounced Nazism and Russia buried Stalinism, and it should not be easy to hit a nerve. Why hammer on a door that was long ago opened?

Historical truth does not loom over them but over many other players in that historical drama. One can feel sorry for the tiny and weak Baltic states, which found themselves between the German hammer and the Russian anvil before the beginning of WWII. One can grimace at genuine documents describing how Baltic diplomats shuttled between Nazi Berlin and Stalinist Moscow, pledging loyalty to both and betraying both. Maybe Ms. Vike-Freiberga will dare to speak about this too, and not only about the widely publicized Molotov-Ribberntrop pact?

But then, weakness cannot justify the Baltic authorities’ lack of principle in that difficult period of history. Understanding and accepting are two different things. Poland, which was much weaker than Germany in military terms and had to surrender, did not sell her honor, and we respect her for that.

And lastly, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not the only document on the division of spheres of influence between the great powers in the 20th century. "The History of Latvia in the 20th Century" praises Latvian fascists and describes the Salaspils concentration camp, where fascists experimented on children, as an educational labor establishment. Thank God, there are other historical sources on the war.

For example, Winston Churchill, who is highly respected in the Baltic countries, described a visit to Moscow in the final stage of the war in his memoirs, when he invited Stalin to divide Europe into spheres of influence. He mentioned Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria and other countries, including possibly Latvia.

Churchill wrote about how he handed the sheet of paper to Stalin and then there was a short pause. The Soviet leader took a blue pencil, put a big mark on the paper and handed it back. Everything was decided immediately. The paper with Stalin’s pencil mark lay in the center of the table. The British prime minister asked whether all this, solving problems that concern the future of millions of people just like that, looked too cynical before suggesting that the paper be burned. Stalin, however, said they had to keep it.

You can read true facts about the division of Europe in Churchill’s "The Second World War."

Maybe the Latvian president would like to recall also these pages from history during the 60th anniversary celebrations in Moscow? I can suggest other sources, but not all of them will please the Latvian president and Latvian SS veterans, because historical truth is always a problem.

There is also one more point: Moscow has not invited guests to the celebrations for political reasons. It has two goals.

One is to pay tribute to the millions of Russians, Europeans and Americans who died to end Nazism and liberate Auschwitz and many other death camps, including the "educational labor camp" Salaspils outside Riga.

And the other is to put a full stop to that old drama which is far removed from modern players on the world scene.

There will be no guilty and defeated at the May 2005 meeting. It is a big event and it should not be attended to spite somebody, let alone the hosts. After all, they, the hosts, lost many millions of compatriots in the battles against Nazism.