Vienna, September 17 – Today’s Russians are in no way responsible for Stalin’s alliance with Hitler, but they must acknowledge its immorality if their calls for the creation of a new collective security system are to be taken seriously, the Memorial human rights organization says in a statement released on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.
Unfortunately, and despite some hopeful signs to the contrary, the rights group says, in recent weeks, “Russian television channels and certain government bureaucrats have carried out a broad propaganda campaign” to justify the Soviet-German pact of August 23, 1939, and its consequences (www.memo.ru/2009/09/16/70_anniversary_17th_sent_1939.htm).
The declaration continues that “August 23, September 1 and September 17 represent a triune date that has forever linked the names of the two dictators.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact would have been “amoral” as even was evident to the Bolshevik leadership at the time of its signing. “Not be accident,” Memorial says, “the protocols attached to it were kept secret.”
But the August 23 pact “had political consequences,” first by guaranteeing to Hitler that he would not face a two-front war if he attacked Poland as he did on September 1, 1939, and then by opening the way in the first instance for the partition of pre-war Poland “between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union.”
In addition, Memorial points out, that amoral alliance between the Nazi and the Soviet dictators led “to the loss of independence of the three Baltic countries and an aggressive war against Finland for which the USSR in 1939 was excluded from the League of Nations. And it also led to “the mass ‘purges’ and deportations” from the territories Stalin occupied.
“Attempts to lay blame for these crimes on the Soviet people or even more on contemporary Russia,” Memorial argues, “have no basis. The population of the USSR did not have any idea” about or control over what the Soviet leaders were doing. “Soviet citizens did not strive to acquire ‘greater living space’ or to enslave neighboring peoples.”
Instead, the Moscow human rights group says, “responsibility for the sharp change in policy toward Hitlerite Germany, a shift toward ‘a friendship sealed in blood’ lies not on the people but on Stalin and on his companions in the Politburo. Not the [Soviet] people, but Stalin [personally] was a scrupulous partner of Hitler between 1939 and 1941.”
As Memorial adds, it was “the peoples of the Soviet Union [who] had to correct the consequences of the criminal policy of Stalin at a cost of tens of millions of lives and unthinkable deprivations” first when Hitler turned on his ally and invaded the Soviet Union and then when Stalin re-imposed his own order after the war.
Russians today do have one responsibility “before themselves, before the rest of the world and before the future,” however. And that is, Memorial insists, “to give a precise assessment of Stalin’s foreign policy in 1939-1941 and to reveal the entire truth about” what happened during that period.
Unfortunately but “not surprisingly,” as the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II approached, “ever more politicians have appeared in Russia who are justifying the partnership of Stalin and Hitler” and making ever more attempts to “create out of real history a glamorous picture” of the national past.
That may work “for internal consumption,” Memorial concedes. But this picture “calls forth well-deserved abhorrence from the external world.” And that must matter to Russians now and in the future because “the further the Russian authorities depart from honest assessments of the past, the stronger will be the negative effect -- and the greater harm to Russia’s authority.”
The Memorial statement says that it welcomes Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s declaration in a Polish newspaper that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was “amoral.” But the rights activist group continued, Putin failed to make any mention of the secret protocols to that pact or “the events that followed it which were tragic for the peoples of Eastern Europe.
“That hardly makes possible the strengthening of trust between Russia and her neighbors,” Memorial says, because “a half truth is always insidious and at the same time more offensive than a direct lie.” Such “mutual distrust” made a system of collective security “impossible before the Second World War,” and it can have a similar effect now.
Unlike the situation of 70 years ago, however, “the present distrust to a remarkable extent is based on different treatments of history. To overcome this distrust [now],” Memorial suggests, is quite simple: It is enough to speak the truth to the end and open for researchers all the materials kept in the archives of various countries involving the pre-war period.”
“Until that is done” – and in Russia now, many of the relevant archives that were partially opened in the 1990s are now being closed again – “all calls for the creation of new systems of collective security and in the first instance those originating from Russia will not be taken seriously.”