Iasi-Chisinau operation between Soviet nostalgia and Europeanization policy. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



In the absence of state policies centered on the propagation of the historical truth about the essence of the Soviet regime and state, of the non-truncated role of the Soviet army in World War II, considerable segments of voters in the Republic of Moldova remain vulnerably predisposed to the Soviet nostalgia and this way make the European development course of the state and of Moldovan society vulnerable too...


Anatol Țăranu

As a rule, the debate on the Iasi-Chisinau operation – one of the quickest and violent offensive in the history of World War II - returns to the public sphere of the Republic of Moldova in August. Started by the Soviets on August 20, 1944, this offensive went down in history as one of the shortest offensives that yet changed the ratio of forces on the southern segment of the Soviet-German front and, consequently, in the Balkans. The result of this battle was the removal of Romania (August 23) from the war and its joining of the Allies and also the re-annexation of Bessarabia by the Eastern empire for another 47 years.

Pompousness and truncated truth in Soviet style up to now

Soviet historiography, following the command of the Communist propaganda, eulogized in the superlative terms the pace and results of this military operation of the Soviet army in the terminal phase of the war against Nazi Germany. The offensive of the Soviets on Moldova’s territory in August 1944 ended with a remarkable military success. But the real price paid by the Soviet troops and the civil population for this military success has been hidden from the public, while the story of this military operation remains mostly hostage to the old Soviet propagandistic narrative.

In the Republic of Moldova, the pro-Moscow political parties exploit to the maximum the Iasi-Chisinau operation, extoling in collective memory the role of the Soviet army and, by extension, of the Soviet political regime in the war against Nazi Germany. This way, the Communist and Socialist governments for years had stages broad and pompous events on the occasion of different anniversaries of what they called “one of the brightest dates in the history of the Moldovan nation: liberation from the German-Fascist occupation”. As a rule, commemorative events with the participation of officials are held at the Military Glory Memorial in Chisinau and the inauguration of the memorial complex “Șerpeni Bridgehead” in Anenii Noi district was one of the most important events for the Communist authorities.

In the August events held at this memorial, the version of Soviet historiography about the Iasi-Chisinau operation is reiterated in the speeches of the Communist and Socialist political leaders. They speak about the heroism of the Soviet soldier in the fight against German and Romanian fascism, about liberation by restoration of the Soviet power in Moldova eastward the Prut. They yet prudently hide the surroundings that led to the creation by the Soviets of the bridgehead in Șerpeni in the spring of 1944, which at that moment actually hid an unsuccessful offensive of the Soviets that ended with great losses for the Soviet troops in Moldova. This truth is intentionally removed from the Soviet mythology of the so-called great patriotic war, 1944 being considered the year of “the five blows of Stalin“ in accordance with the perceptions of Soviet historiography.

8th army of general Chuikov was destroyed first

The creation and maintaining of the bridgehead in Șerpeni represented a very costly operation for the Soviets, which ended with many failures, but this truth didn’t suit and does not suit the eulogistic narrative about the successes of the Soviet army in 1944 and affect the image of the annual events to commemorate the Iasi-Chisinau offensive. This way, the German counteroffensive of May 11-12 on the Șerpeni plateau destroyed practically the whole 8th army led by the famous general Chuikov, while the bridgehead formed back at the start of spring turned into a piece of swamp of the winding Nistru, which was situated right under the high bank of the other side and could be easily shelled by the German artillery. In those battles of the spring of 1944, the Soviets stuffed heavy losses, with the number of the injured, the dead and prisoners exceeding 7,000.

Infuriated at the disorderly withdrawal of his units from the Butor-Șerpeni plateau, Chuikov, in the style of the Soviet generals of that war, ordered to send as punishment by two officers from each unit that withdrew from the battlefield to the penal battalion. Shortly afterward, to what remained of the Șerpeni bridgehead, which was an easy target for the German units, more penal companies were brought, including sailors, from all over the front, including soldiers and officers released from German captivity in Belarus and Poland. The latter went through NKVD filtration camps and, even if the security guards didn’t find discrediting facts in their past, the Soviet homeland doubted the loyalty of these people and wanted to test their faithfulness with blood.

German and Soviet soldiers were then sacrificed together

The penal Soviet units were sent to the most dangerous battlegrounds. The Șerpeni bridgehead met all the criteria of a military danger, while the Soviet officers and soldiers from penal companies died almost fully in the battles on this bridgehead. They were consciously sacrificed by the Soviet command as they didn’t have big chances of survival, being in case of withdrawal shoot from behind by the so-called “protective detachments” (which punished those who withdrew without being ordered to).

The picture of the massacre in Șerpeni was made whole on the night of August 18, 1944, when the soldiers of penal battalions were brought a barrel of vodka and each of them got by two cups of vodka. Early in the morning, without artillery preparation, the penal units launched an offensive on the positions of the 6th German Army through mined fields. This attack was swiftly repelled by the Germans, the attacking Soviet troops having to withdraw to a narrow land strip along the Nistru. To maintain the situation under control, the Soviet command attacked the Șerpeni bridgehead by a continuous artillery and air offensive, the bullets and bombs hitting both the German troops and the Soviets. This way, many of the Soviet soldiers who were buried on the Șerpeni plateau were killed not by Germans, but by the own artillery and aviation. This is a painful truth avoided by the Soviet propaganda and by all its successors.

They speculate on Soviet nostalgia, including at electoral level

In the discussions on the consequences of the Iasi-Chisinau operation, the Soviet viewpoint continues to prevail in the Republic of Moldova. Even if an increasing number of people consider that it cannot be said that Bessarabia was liberated by the Soviets in August 1944, there are yet too many people who pompously celebrate the victory of the Soviet Army. Despite the different opinions, the Iasi-Chisinau operation continues to be in Chisinau the most evident expression of the association of the victory against Nazism with the liberation of the Moldovans from foreign occupation. The maintaining in collective memory of the distorted recollections of the great victory and of the “liberation” is consciously cultivated by the pro-imperial forces that speculate on the Soviet nostalgia, including at electoral level.

Direct and indirect effects of Iasi-Chisinau operation on Moldovans

The actions to discretionarily glorify the role of the Soviet army in the anti-Hitler war are not sufficiently substantiated and tinted by the unfavorable consequences of the establishment of the pro-Moscow regimes in the Soviet occupation areas. In this regard, it is sufficiently relevant the fact that in Moldova eastward the Prut, together with the termination of the Iasi-Chisinau operation and the return of the Soviet administration, about 150,000 men from Bessarabia were mobilized and sent to fight in the most difficult theaters of the Soviet-German war during the first following months. Each third of them didn’t return home, dying on the battlefield. According to historians, these people didn’t have sufficient military training as they were taken in a hurry from their homes and used as cannon fodder in battles. At the same time, for many of the Bessarabians the war didn’t end on May 9, 1945. They remained to fight against Japan that hadn’t yet surrendered. Others were sent to take part in the reconstruction of Soviet towns destroyed in the war. After the war, a not less difficult period for the republic’s population started, with the organized famine of 1946-47 and the wave of deportations as part of which 90,000 people were deported overnight. That was a real genocide against the population’s republic aimed at Sovietizing it faster.

The most surprising fact in this situation is that sociological polls show that almost half of the population of the Republic of Moldova wants the Soviet state, which committed, without gross exaggeration, abominable crimes against the republic’s population, to be restored. In the absence of state policies centered on the propagation of the historical truth about the essence of the Soviet regime and state, of the non-truncated role of the Soviet army in World War II, considerable segments of voters in the Republic of Moldova remain vulnerably predisposed to the Soviet nostalgia and this way make the European development course of the state and of Moldovan society vulnerable too. In this connection, the dominant attitude in Moldovan society to the truth about the Iasi-Chisinau operation and its consequences for the postwar history of Moldova eastward the Prut become a real test for the political class and the citizens of the Republic of Moldova concerning their attachment to the Europeanization policy that cannot be successful in the absence of a profound process of de-Sovietization of Moldovan society.   

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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