This week, veterans groups and individuals gathered in cities around the world to participate in ceremonies marking the Allied liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation. However, many were overshadowed and hijacked by Kremlin coordinated proxy groups in an attempt to rewrite history.
The Kremlin’s May 9th “Victory Day” event, once a significant Soviet era propaganda tool, was resurrected in 2005 by Vladimir Putin. The event is intended to both rehabilitate Stalin’s blood-soaked legacy and intimidate neighbours once occupied and brutalized by Soviet terror. Working closely with local proxy groups around the world, the Kremlin coordinate efforts to glorify the Soviet “victory” in efforts to delegitimize the independence of those states that were occupied by the Soviet Union.
In Toronto, a parade of mock Red Army soldiers marched downtown with Soviet flags and symbols, as onlookers, some of whom were wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the visage of Josef Stalin, rejoiced the bygone era of Soviet imperial might last weekend.
To the uninformed, the event may seem like an innocent commemoration of allied triumph over Nazi Germany. After all, Hitler’s defeat should be commemorated and those who contributed to it, should always be remembered and thanked. And indeed we do so at official events throughout the Western world and they include soldiers who fought Nazism in Canadian, British, French, UK and even Soviet, uniforms.
Yet for millions whose families were victims of Soviet occupation in Central and Eastern Europe, this history is far more complicated than the oversimplified Western version which views it through the simple lens of universal Allied victory. Unlike France and Western Germany, which were truly liberated by Western Allies; the Soviet liberators of Eastern and Central European never left, and continued to terrorize these nations long after their defeat of Hitler’s armies.
As the end of the WWII is commemorated, we must also remember that it began with the signing of a non-aggression pact on August 23,1939, between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. The collaboration agreement supported the September 1939 Nazi invasion of Western Poland and the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland shortly afterwards. The Nazi-Soviet pact carved up Eastern and Central Europe including the Baltic States, which were annexed in 1940 in sham referendums that were mirrored by Vladimir Putin during his 2014 annexation of Crimea. It’s worth noting, that anyone who mentions these facts, faces the risk of fine or even arrest in Putin’s Russia (including the author of this article, and anyone else who questions the Soviet version of history or the Hitler-Stalin pact).
In Estonia, political and civil society leaders, newspapers, churches and synagogues were targeted in the initial rounds of repression during the first Soviet occupation in 1940-41. Mass arrests, torture and murder terrorized the region. Tens of thousands were rounded up in the middle of the night by Soviet authorities and were deported to Stalin’s Gulag slave labour prison camps.
By the time the Germans seized control of the region in late summer 1941, much of the heavy work of repressing and eliminating the democratic opposition had been completed and Nazi authorities spent the following three years completing their elimination of the Jewish communities.
Documentary Film “Memories Denied” by Estonian Historian Imbi Paju about Soviet repression in Estonia
Like elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, Estonians formed anti-Nazi resistance groups to help liberate their country. When the tide of the war turned in 1944 thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians took up arms -mostly alongside the retreating Germans- to stop the Soviet advance, in hopes of re-establishing independence as Hitler’s forces retreated. Thousands of others abandoned their homes, either on foot or by sea, fleeing the return of Soviet terror.
Unlike in Western Europe, where liberation from Nazi occupation meant the restoration of freedom, democracy and even justice for those who suffered terror and genocide, the opposite was true for those “liberated” by the Soviets.
In late Fall 1944, Stalin unleashed a sustained wave of terror that saw the arrests and deportations of millions throughout the Baltic States, Ukraine and other Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe through the early 1950’s.
For anyone, whose families suffered under Soviet and Nazi repression, the symbols of both of these occupying regimes are a traumatic reminder of the terror that their families endured and many fled.
As the flags and symbols of Soviet occupation continue to appear in European and North American cities under the guise of Soviet Victory Day, we must never forget that the Soviet and Nazi regimes collaborated to start the Second World War and that the illegal Soviet occupation of much of Central and Eastern Europe did not end until 1990.
Baltic Refugees Flee Soviet Terror in 1944
While crypto-Soviets may take perverse advantage of Western freedoms to express admiration for Stalin’s repressions in The Baltics, Ukraine, Russia and beyond; we must not accept these distortions of history and reject the symbols of Soviet terror and occupation and recognize them for what they really are.