COMMEMORATING THE VICTIMS OF WWII WITHOUT GLORIFYING TANKS OR STALIN

The discord that culminated in the Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn 11 years ago, has not yet disappeared from Estonia’s national conscience. And on May 9th, there is nor reason why flowers cannot be laid in peaceful commemoration.

The events of 2007 continue to have a detrimental effect on Estonia’s internal political climate. All attempts to find some consensus on remembering the human tragedy of WWII in the name of freedom and peace in Europe must be appreciated. A wider consensus, however, in not yet possible.

The intoxicating aura of heroism and tragedy on Victory Day remains potent. It helps fuel an obstinate refusal to recognize that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was condemned by the Soviet Union in 1989, was directly responsible for dividing Europe into spheres of influence; the destruction caused by WWII; the extinguishing of freedom in much of Europe and the rise of mass repression.

The communist ideology, its symbolism, and the admiration and deification of a dictator who killed millions, Stalin, must be omitted from the context of the commemoration of the victims of World War II.

Because of my Russian heritage, I’ve reflected on this for a long time. For many Russian people May 9th, is central to family histories and, of course, their political identity. The broad use of orange and black, St. George’s Ribbon, is, incidentally, a relatively new phenomenon that is deployed to expresses this protest-like identity. Yet it should also be noted that there are many people for whom the 9th May is a family tradition and who also love independent Estonia.

The political identity that is connected to May 9th, is often fueled by the Kremlin’s strategy of harnessing the “Great Patriotic War” to further its interests, which seeks to keep Russia and its “compatriot” Russian communities, both at home and abroad, under its tightly controlled influence. It is a cornerstone of the Russian worldview and any attempt to confront it with truth or fact are quickly parried by counterattacks and oblique justifications. The core of this view remains unaffected by mainstream history. If Estonia does not begin to set the fact based course for the historical narrative, someone else will, and in the opposite direction.

The majority of Estonian society has a strong historical memory, which is based on the clear condemnation of the crimes and occupations of Communism and Nazism, and the restoration of Estonian independence. Empathetic Russian-speakers also share this understanding. Our unique history motivates us to protect individual freedoms, democracy and peace, both in Estonia and elsewhere, because it forms the basis of our existence and our beliefs.

Our understandings of history are very different, one side sees the glory of a speeding tank, while the other sees a farmer who tries to restore his life after the tank has shred through it. However, it is not impossible to try to create a social consensus around the remembrance of the victims. This, however, requires us to humanize and de-politicize the Second World War.

Victory Day Toronto, Canada. Photo: UpNorth File

The communist ideology, its symbolism, and the admiration and deification of a dictator who killed millions, Stalin, must be omitted from the context of the commemoration of the victims of World War II. The communist regime murdered millions of Russians after the 1917 coup. Russians owe this regimes nothing but contempt.

On the other hand, the display of Nazi symbols or the attempt to present Wehrmacht as a liberator is also inaccurate – both armies destroyed free Estonia.

The simple Red Army solider, who was nothing but a number on a piece of paper to Stalin, wanted nothing other than to survive the war. He had no other choice. What is uniquely painful to the experience of the Estonian people, is that they were forced to serve and die on the front lines of both of the occupying armies.

There is a myth that, at the beginning of any charge, the Red Army cried “For the homeland! For Stalin!”. A Former Gorbachev era reformer and Red Army veteran, Anatoly Chernayev, once said in an interview that, “Russian men never uttered “For the homeland! For Stalin!” when attacking. He would have only seen these words in battle briefings and those of divisions, or armies.”
This is the human reality of war, not the theatrical illusion created afterwards, whose only goal is to transform government leaders into icons and cover up their crimes. If we apply such a human and logical approach to the war, we can lay the foundation for consensus, because the marjory of people will never spit in the face of victims nor will do they wish to live through another war.
Moreover – doing so will not take anything away from the identity of either Russians or Estonians.

This human approach to healing the trauma of war and occupation, supports and advances the universal human desire for freedom and peace.

Translated from the original at EPL  with kind permission of the author

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