For the Bessarabians, the Second World War did not start on 22 June 1941, but rather with the annexation of Bessarabia on 28 June 1940, when Soviet Russia pretended to be a “liberator”, says Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu, doctor of history, head of department at the Institute of History.
The historian said during an IPN debate discussing the myths of the Second World War that the population of Bessarabia was subjected to a “barbaric” mobilization after annexation. About 250,000 Bessarabian men were sent to the frontline, forming contingents that were used unsparingly.
Bîrlădeanu spoke about memoirs of Bessarabian veterans recorded by a group of researchers established in 2005. “These people have very sad, very tragic memories of this episode of history in which they were involved. The Bessarabians remember how they were thrown into minefields, how they were used in suicidal river-crossing operations, even though many of them did not know how to swim. How they were thrown into heavy fighting near Konigsberg. All these accounts speak of the fact that the local population had to endure all the horrors of this war, which was not at all a victorious walk, as it is portrayed in the official propaganda”, says Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu.
The historian noted that the Moldovan participants in the war did not know how to talk about it in a triumphalist manner: “They were simple people, ordinary soldiers who saw the war from the trenches. Even in the Soviet period they did not embellish their speech. In fact, they weren’t even asked. Meanwhile, a whole propaganda discourse was developed in the Russian language, which spoke in a triumphalist manner about the Second World War. And there were habitual speakers among the veterans who participated in all the commemorative events”.
According to Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu, to this day, incorrect terms are often used when talking about the world war of 1939-1945. For example, the Victory Memorial in Chisinau repeats elements of Soviet propaganda, especially when it marks the beginning of the war in 1941. The historian says that, until recently, even the Ministry of Defense used to operate with the term of the “Great Patriotic War”, one that was invented to sweep under the rug the collaboration of the Soviets with the Nazis prior to 1941, including the annexation of Bessarabia.
Returning to the role of “liberator” that Soviet Russia arrogated to itself in the context of the Second World War, Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu asked a rhetorical question: “How could an army that remained in this space really bring liberation when it did not represent a free country, a free society with democratic values? What kind of liberation could they bring? It is a question that Moldovan society as a whole must ask itself. And I don’t agree that all Moldovans are nostalgic for the Soviet Union and the communist regime”.
Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu also noted that contemporary Russia, on the one hand, punishes by law historical research that questions Soviet propaganda about the Second World War, and, on the other hand, restricts access to archives. “Because of this, the truth and true proportions of this tragedy are yet to be elucidated.”
The debate was the 8th installment of the “Nostalgia for Chimeras” Series, run by IPN with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.