Russian and German models for learning lessons of history. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



The regime of Putin should be chocking from economic viewpoint and only then there will be a chance that a new political class will come to power in Russia and this will offer the Russians the chance to abandon the chimeras of imperialism and to direct the Russian people’s forces and energies towards internal development, to the detriment of external expansion...


Anatol Țăranu

The Second World War that was triggered by the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin was the most difficult test for human civilization in the 20th century. In that war, fascism was defeated, while Soviet communism survived and, being among the winners of the war, even strengthened its positions. History often chooses a paradoxical development path when an apparent success actually becomes “Pirus victory”. This historical effect fully manifested itself with regard to Germany and Russia, which, after a political-military marriage, ultimately confronted each other in the greatest war of civilization.

Germany found inner power, while Russia did not

Beaten in the war, Germania found inner power to overcome the degrading reaction of revanchism, renouncing and condemning unconditionally the Nazi past. The postwar political class of Germany was able to offer its people the most successful program for the renaissance of the country and society, while the German people accepted it and put it into practice. This German renaissance program has as a symbol the gesture that went down in history as the “Warsaw Genuflection” of West German chancellor Willy Brandt of 1970, when this fell to his knees at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. “Faced with the abyss of German history and the burden of the millions who had been murdered, I did what we humans do when words fail us,” was how Brandt put it in his memoirs. Following the example of the chancellor, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany Richard von Weizsäcker, in his speech of 1985, for the first time from a high rostrum, called on the Germans to consider May 8, 1945, the day not of surrender, but of liberation from Nazism and tyranny. Urged by their visionary political leaders, the Germans went through a long and very difficult process of overcoming the past for the sake of a bright present and future.

Unlike Germany, the postwar development course of Russia and Russian society was fully different. It remained under the burden of the old imperial thinking. Within the USSR, the political class didn’t manage to profit from the privilege of the war winner and to offer its people a development program outside the totalitarian political regime. At the same time, not even the fall of the Soviet Union led to the attenuation of the stereotypes of imperial thinking and Soviet nostalgia in the collective mentality of Russian society. A separate place in the imperial mythology of Moscow is now occupied by the narrative of victory in the so-called Great Patriotic War whose period is deliberately identified with that of World War II. To conserve the stereotypes of Soviet thinking, Russia adopted a law that banned the denial of the “decisive role of the Soviet people in the victory over fascism” and the association of the goals and actions of the USSR with those of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Russia banned truth by law

By this law, the historical truth was banned like, for example, the recognition of the fact that on September 17, 1939, breaking the Polish-Soviet nonaggression pact, the Red Army committed an act of military aggression aghast Poland, implementing the agreements that formed part of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed with Nazi Germany. The Russian law banned what is definitely known today about the Soviet invasion of Poland by which Joseph Stalin subscribed to the plan to divide the spheres of influence in Eastern Europe together with the Third Reich. After attacking Poland on September 17, the USSR entered the Second World War as an ally of Nazi Germany. That war was started by Hitler on September 1 of the same year by military aggression against the same Poland.

Justifying the violation of the Polish-Soviet nonaggression pact of July 25, 1932 (in 1937 its period of validity was extended until 1945), the Stalinist propaganda said that the Polish state actually stopped existing. It was a lie. In reality, Poland, at the moment of the Soviet invasion, heroically resisted Hitler’s aggression, while the Polish army imposed on the enemy the battle of the Bzura that lasted from 9 to 22 September and that was recognized as “bitter” even by the then German press, while the defense battles in Westerplatte, Hela and Gdynia were admired by the whole world.

Communist-Nazi duo against Poland

As Poland resisted heroically the fascist aggression, the Red Army meanly attacked the Polish army in the back. An example is the fate of the Polish garrison of Brest Fortress led by general Plisovsky, which rejected all the German attacks and only the heavy Soviet cannons that came to the aid of the Germans, bombarding the fortress for two days, led to the fall of the fortress. A common Soviet-German military parade was then staged and was led on behalf of the Germans by Heinz Guderian, the Nazi general who in two years reached Moscow with his tanks, and brigade commander Semyon Krivoshein on behalf of the Soviets.

The Red Army’s assistance turned out to be very important for the Nazis. Even so, the besieged Warsaw capitulated only on September 26. The resistance of the Polish army was ultimately defeated on October 6. Even if the head of the Polish state Edward Rydz-Smigly, realizing the impossibility of a war on two fronts, ordered his troops not to put up resistance to the Red Army and to retreat towards Romania, some of his commanders didn’t receive the order or ignored it. In many places, the Polish army put up resistance to the Soviet army of aggression, causing losses of 1,500 deaths and almost 4,000 injured persons to the Red Army. In Stalin’s telegram to Hitler of December 1939, the Soviet dictator expressed his hope that “the friendship of the people of Germany and the Soviet Union, which was strengthened by blood, has all the reasons to be long and strong”.

... and replaced truth by propaganda

In light of these well-known facts, the Russian propaganda’s thesis that the USSR occupied half of Poland in order to protect the local population is fully absurd. Together with the Soviet occupation, the local population that was allegedly liberated by the Soviets also experienced the yoke of the Stalinist repression. The massacre of Katyn, when 25,000 Polish war prisoners were shot dead by order of the Moscow Communist Political Bureau of March 5, 1940, was the highpoint. Polish citizens of different nationalities and religions were buried in graves in Katyn. They were followed by thousands of citizens from the annexed regions of Belarus and Ukraine, who were also unjustifiably convicted by the Soviets.

In the modern context, the utilization of the image of the Soviet Union as a state that had pursued an anti-Nazi policy since 1939 with a purely instrumental purpose, contrary to the historical truth, does not resist the test of history. But in Russian society today, the imperial interests prevail over international law and historical truth. In fact, profiting from the imperial nostalgia of Russian society, the Kremlin not only didn’t learn the lessons of 1939, but continues to pursue an aggressive policy, turning Russia into an outcast that defiantly violates international law.

Free world cannot be late once again

The Western world of liberal democracy is late in correctly assessing the collective mentality of Russian society and didn’t draw judicious conclusions on time about the steps taken by Russia since the start of the century. At first, it ignored Russia’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Transnistria. Then, it underestimated Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Munich speech about Russia’s refusal to live by the rules of the civilized world. When the Russian aggression against Georgia occurred in 2008, the West again didn’t give a warning signal and also didn’t manage to appropriately respond to the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. As a result, the Russian army wages already an open war on Ukraine at present.

If Russia is not stropped now, the future of civilization can become unpredictable. Currently, Russia’s aggression can be stopped by a large international solidarity front that can isolate the aggressor. At the same time, it is unrealistic to bank on a rapid change in the mentality of Russian society that continues to support the adventurous policy of the Kremlin. Western civilization can stop the aggressor only by a broad embargo on the Russian economy and by generalized support for Ukraine. The regime of Putin should be chocking from economic viewpoint and only then there will be a chance that a new political class will come to power in Russia and this will offer the Russians the chance to abandon the chimeras of imperialism and to direct the Russian people’s forces and energies towards internal development, to the detriment of external expansion.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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