Statement of the Institute of National Remembrance
This is not the first time that the President of Russia is attempting to revive the Stalinist vision of modern history. It was created in the communist era by combining selective interpretations of facts, half-truths and propaganda. An image alternative to reality was constructed. The totalitarian Soviet Union was presented as a country of good intentions, a defender of peace and the security of nations, a noble conqueror of the German Reich. This kind of false vision of history was imposed as binding not only in the USSR but also in other countries enslaved by Moscow following World War II. At that time, revealing the truth about the actual role of the USSR in the history of the continent, about enslaving the people of Central and Eastern Europe, about Soviet crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity, was threatened with severe repression. It is surprising that today, in a free world, the Russian President is trying to promote theses which are almost a literal copy of the propaganda dating back to the era of Stalin and Brezhnev. He does so, in an article appearing in The National Interest.
Modern-day historians have assessed the Munich Agreement negatively. It is difficult to defend the idleness of the West, obliged to help its Polish ally, attacked in 1939. However, even the sins of Great Britain and France, their obedience and acceptance of Hitler’s demands in 1938, their passivity towards the aggression of 1939, are in no way comparable with the active role of the Soviet Union in the unleashing of World War II, together with the German Reich. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact united both signatories in an active policy of aggression against the remaining free nations of Central and Eastern Europe. Its direct consequence was German and Soviet aggression against Poland, which began on 1 September and 17 September 1939, respectively. In this way, these two totalitarian countries ignited a global conflict which led to the loss of millions of human lives.
The President of Russia has cynically and repeatedly attempted to blame Poland – in fact, the victim of the USSR’s and Germany’s joint aggression – for the outbreak of war. The President’s arguments about the Versailles order seem to echo the slogans formulated in the interwar years, almost unanimously, by national-socialist propaganda in Germany and communist propaganda in the USSR. It is rather astonishing that the President of Russia is resorting to selective and biased comments about the Polish-Czechoslovak conflict over the borderland, which in 1919-1938 colored mutual relations, or he is quoting out of context, in order to overshadow the criminal dimension of the military cooperation between two dictators – Hitler and Stalin – a year later.
In his article, the President has failed to mention what the Soviet invasion of Poland really was. Neither did he explain how the mass repression against civilians relates to his new / old (Stalinist) thesis on increasing the security of the USSR. He has also omitted the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians, defenseless men, women and children deported to labor camps and deep into the USSR from Soviet-occupied territories. In the times of Stalin’s and Hitler’s friendship, Soviet services doomed millions of people to enslavement and horrendous crimes.
The President has not explained how this alleged Soviet concern for the safety of nations relates to the murdering of thousands of prisoners of war in Katyn and other execution sites, which the Russians themselves, in Nuremberg, classified as genocide (attributing them to Germany). He has failed to mention the violent aggression against Finland, which became the Soviet sphere of influence as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He has left out the fact that it was from this very League of Nations which he criticized, that the Soviet Union, as an aggressor state, was expelled. The world ought to be alarmed upon hearing today’s leader of the Russian state dismissively justifying the violent annexation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Should this be also understood as full acceptance of the brutal repression and crimes committed against the civilian population in all countries occupied by the USSR in the years 1939–1941? Perhaps, in the same way, we should explain the annexation of Czechoslovakia by the Reich, ignoring its policy of violence and aggression. After all, Hitler also drafted documents on the renunciation of independence. The supplies of Soviet raw materials to the Reich during the aggression on Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and during the Battle of Britain, as well as the other effects of Soviet-German cooperation, also go unnoticed.
The President presents the war with the former allied Germany, which broke out in 1941, in a way reminiscent of Stalinist propaganda. Nobody denies the fact that the Red Army suffered heavy losses and eventually won the clash of two totalitarian powers. However, it is the duty of the civilized world not to forget that both the Soviet Union and the German Reich had been fighting aggressive wars since 1939. In the pursuit of the ideological goals of national socialism and communism, both countries ruthlessly murdered and enslaved millions of people.
The world and Russia must be reminded that the Soviet Union used its victory over the Third Reich for entering a new stage of its aggressive policy against Poland and other European nations. The eastern voivodships of the Polish Republic were once again seized. The remaining territories found themselves under Soviet rule, regardless of the fact that, throughout the war, Poland had fought against Germany as an Allied state. When the West celebrated the end of the war in 1945, a new period of enslavement behind the Iron Curtain began for Central and Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union continued its policy of crime, repression and terror. Stalinist services brutally displaced entire nations. People of different nationalities continued to be transferred to Gulag concentration camps in cattle wagons. Stalinist propaganda forbade anyone to talk about these matters, and today the President of Russia is also reluctant to tackle the subject.
It is not a coincidence that President Putin’s remarks correspond with the 80th anniversary of the occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia by the Red Army, which meant the loss of independence by these countries for several decades. His article has been published on the eve of the 75th anniversary marking the end of the Trial of the Sixteen. The sixteen leaders of the Polish Underground State, as representatives of an Allied state, were invited by the Soviets for talks. Instead, they were arrested, deported to Moscow and tried in a show trial. The Polish Deputy Prime Minister, one of the Ministers and the Commander of the Home Army were never released from the Soviet prison. This may serve as a symbol of the tragic fate resulting from the enslavement of Central and Eastern Europe by Soviet totalitarianism.
The President of Russia is right in claiming that history is better left to specialists and reliable researchers in the field. He does not have to launch spectacular campaigns to popularize history. It would be more than enough if he made Soviet and Russian archives available to researchers again.