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Photo of the publication Why should we remember August 23, 1939
Roger Moorhouse

Why should we remember August 23, 1939

23 August 2022
  • communism
  • World War II
  • Stalin
  • nazizm
  • Hitler
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Shortly after midnight, on the night of August 23, 1939, Joseph Stalin drank a toast to Adolf Hitler.  The occasion, of course, was the signature of the Nazi-Soviet Pact – or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – the non-aggression treaty between Moscow and Berlin which gave a green light to Hitler’s aggression against Poland and so paved the way for the outbreak of World War Two in Europe.  It is a date which is seared into the memories of many millions of people in Poland, Finland Romania, and the Baltic States – or those whose origins lie there – yet its significance is still strangely unrecognized in the standard western narrative of the war.  

Our collective ignorance of the subject is surprising.  For many of us, World War Two has a prominence today which seems to grow, rather than diminish, with each passing year.  For some countries, it has passed from history into something like a national religion, as evidenced in the groaning bookshop shelves and repetitive television documentaries.  In history publishing, it has become commonplace for every campaign of the war, every catastrophe and curiosity, to be subjected to endless reinterpretations and re-assessments, resulting very often in competing schools of thought and competing historical volumes. 

Yet, for all that, the Nazi-Soviet Pact still barely features in the Western narrative; passed over often in a single paragraph, dismissed as an outlier, a dubious anomaly, or a footnote to the wider history.  Its significance is routinely reduced to the status of the last diplomatic chess move before the outbreak of war, with no mention made of the baleful Great Power relationship that it spawned.  It is instructive, for example, that few of the recent popular histories of World War Two published in Britain give the pact any significant attention.  It is not considered to warrant a chapter, and usually attracts little more than a paragraph or two and a handful of index references.

When one considers the pact’s obvious significance and magnitude, this is little short of astonishing.  Under its auspices, Hitler and Stalin – the two most infamous dictators of 20th Century Europe – found common cause in destroying Poland and overturning the Versailles order.  Their two regimes, whose later conflict would be the defining clash of World War Two in Europe, divided Central Europe between them and stood, side by side, for almost a third of the conflict’s entire timespan.

Neither was the pact an aberration: a momentary tactical slip. It was followed up by a succession of treaties and agreements, starting with the German-Soviet Border and Friendship Treaty of 28 September 1939, whereby Poland was divided between them and both sides vowed not to tolerate Polish “agitation” on their territory. Thereafter, across two expansive economic treaties, they traded secrets, blueprints, technology and raw materials, oiling the wheels of each other’s war machines. Stalin was no passive or unwilling neutral in this period, he was Adolf Hitler’s most significant strategic ally.

For all these reasons, the German-Soviet strategic relationship – born on 23 August 1939 – fully deserves to be an integral part of our collective narrative of the war.  But it isn’t.  It is worth speculating for a moment on the myriad reasons for this omission.  To some extent, it can be attributed to the traditional myopia that appears to afflict the Anglophone world with regard to Central Europe; the mentality so neatly expressed by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who dismissed Czechoslovakia in 1938, as “a faraway country”, inhabited by “people of whom we know nothing”.  1938 is a long time ago, but to a large extent the sentiment still prevails, in spite of the recent outpouring of support for Ukraine.

In addition, there is also what one might call the “asymmetry of tolerance” in Western political discourse, in which the crimes of communism are more readily wished away or ignored than the crimes of fascism.  The logic underlying this is that the excesses of the left were somehow more noble in inspiration – motivated as they supposedly were by spurious notions of “equality” or “progress” – than the excesses of the right, which were motivated by base concepts of racial supremacy.  This serves, in part, to explain how the so-called Overton Window – the spectrum of acceptable political discourse – has shifted markedly leftward in recent years, and how Lenin and Che Guevara are still considered “edgy” on many university campuses.

There is also the problem of historiography.  The Western narrative of World War Two traditionally struggles to see past the villainy of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich; and the centrality of the Holocaust to that narrative only tends to cement that bias.  German historiography, too, is largely predicated upon the ‘original sin’ of Nazism, relegating all other sinners to the status of, at best, bit-part players.  The villainy of Stalin’s Soviet Union, therefore, remains largely overlooked; minimised and relativised, a footnote to the Western narrative, rather than a headline.

In such circumstances, Soviet and later Russian propaganda – which has sought to minimise and relativise the pact and its consequences – has been largely pushing at an open door.  Nonetheless, the Nazi-Soviet Pact has proved to be something of a touchstone, an obvious embarrassment to the Kremlin, which required more than the usual efforts at obfuscation, diversion and deflection.  The first blast in this offensive came shortly after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, in 1941, when Stalin – now desperately courting the Allies – sought to distance himself from the Pact by describing it as a last resort, something forced on an unwilling USSR by circumstances.  It is perhaps testament to the power of Stalin’s “useful idiots” in the West, that – more than eight decades on – this interpretation is still routinely heard. 

In 1948, the Soviet propaganda offensive was ramped up a notch.  In response to the publication of the text of the Secret Protocol to the Nazi-Soviet Pact by the US State Department, Stalin himself penned a counterblast entitled Falsifiers of History which – of course – declared the Secret Protocol to be a capitalist fake, and criticised Western perfidy for failing to halt Hitler in the first place.  He also floated a new interpretation of the Pact, seeking to justify it by painting it as a defensive masterstroke – a delaying of the inevitable rather than a cynical collaboration.

Soviet denial of the Secret Protocol – the most incriminating document from the negotiations surrounding the pact – would prove remarkably durable.  Towards the end of his life, in 1983, Vyacheslav Molotov was asked by a journalist about the existence of the Secret Protocol.  His reply was unequivocal.  The rumours about it were designed to damage the USSR, he said: “There was no Secret Protocol”.  Less than a decade later, in the face of widespread popular protests in the Baltic States, Gorbachev would publish the text of the document – signed by Molotov – from the Soviet archive.

In the years that followed, the brief flowering of Glasnost – or ‘openness’ – under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, would give way to a new culture of secrecy and dogged denials.  Archives, briefly opened to the world’s scholars, would be closed to all but the most loyal and dependable commentators.  The memory of World War Two would in time become one of the cornerstones of Putinism; a cult of maudlin manufactured remembrance that would increasingly take the place of the once promised prosperity and stability.

Under Putin, however, the narrative was not just a retread of the Soviet story of the war; the Nazi-Soviet Pact, for instance, was rebranded as a demonstration of the Kremlin’s strength, and an implicit warning to Russia’s neighbours.  When Moscow published a trove of archival documents relating to the pact, in 2019, the underlying message was clear: the same brutal logic that had motivated the pact – the logic of “spheres of influence” and of the Darwinian right of the strong to dictate to the weak – was once again enjoying currency in the Kremlin.   

In these circumstances – with a disinterested West and a mendacious, revanchist Russia – it is easy to see how any honest assessment of the Nazi-Soviet Pact is very difficult to achieve.  Yet, honestly assess it we must, if for no other reason than for the sake of historical honesty and accuracy.  The Nazi-Soviet Pact is one of the most significant treaties of World War Two.  We forget the link, perhaps, but the pact led directly to the outbreak of war; isolating Poland between its two malevolent neighbours and scuppering the rather desultory efforts of the Western powers to thwart Hitler.

The Great Power relationship that the pact forged is similarly significant. The war that followed carried its malevolent stamp. Poland was invaded and divided between Moscow and Berlin.  Finland, too, was invaded by the Red Army and forced to cede territory. And, with Hitler’s connivance, the independent Baltic states were annexed by Stalin, as was the Romanian province of Bessarabia, their brave, dissenting populations doomed to be deported to the horrors of the gulag.  The Nazi-Soviet Pact is no parochial concern therefore, not a subject of purely local significance.  At a conservative estimate, it directly impacted the lives of some 50 million people.

So, it is clear then, that the Pact is something that needs to be commemorated and needs to be remembered.  In the main, it has fallen to those most directly affected to commemorate it.  In the late 1980s, Baltic and East European refugees from communism in the west established “Black Ribbon Day” – on 23 August – as a focus for anti-Soviet protests.  Soon after, in 1989, the inhabitants of the Baltic States protested against their annexation by the USSR – facilitated by the Nazi-Soviet Pact – by the mass demonstration of the Baltic Way; a 2-million strong human chain that snaked for over 400 miles across the three republics on 23 August.

In 2009, such popular initiatives found an official echo with a resolution, presented to the European Parliament in Brussels, proposing that 23 August should henceforth be recognised as the “European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.”  It was passed with a few votes against from communist MEPs, one of whom described the juxtaposition of the Nazi and Soviet regimes as “indescribably vulgar”.

Russia, naturally, also cried foul, with then-president Dmitry Medvedev establishing in response the “Presidential Commission to Counter Attempts to Falsify History” – a deliberate echo of Stalin’s earlier attempt to stifle the truth of the pact.  According to the new decree, transgressors could be fined or imprisoned for 5 years for deviating from the new, strictly laudatory line on the Soviet performance in World War Two.  It was all rather reminiscent of the old Soviet joke: “the future is certain, it’s only the past that is unpredictable.”

Now, since 2014, the European Network of Remembrance and Solidarity (ENRS) – an international governmental initiative to promote the study of European 20th-century history – has taken up the challenge of commemorating the Nazi-Soviet Pact through its educational campaign, entitled “Remember: August 23”.  Its initiatives, which range from distributing pin badges to the production of short films to highlight the stories of some of the victims of the totalitarian regimes, are intended to disseminate knowledge, free of falsehood and disinformation, and provoke honest discussion.

Some might imagine that, with Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine plunging the European continent once more into war, arguments about the finer points of 20th century history are somehow a luxury that can be ill-afforded.  I would argue the contrary, however.  Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of its neighbour is merely the latest instalment of a bloody continuum; a new offence in a catalogue of crimes – stretching back to the Nazi-Soviet Pact and beyond – which betray the mindset of suspicion, paranoia and naked aggression that has long guided the Kremlin’s world view.  Now is the time for the scales, finally, to fall from our eyes; for us to realise – in bloody technicolour – the true vicious nature of Europe’s neighbour to the east, and to redouble our efforts in studying and disseminating the darkest chapters of its history.  In that endeavour, August 23 can and must play a central, defining role.

Photo of the publication The Causes and Circumstances of the Outbreak of the Second World War
Jan Rydel

The Causes and Circumstances of the Outbreak of the Second World War

07 January 2020
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • Stalin
  • Second World War
  • Hitler
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
  • Soviet Union

The order set by the Treaty of Versailles that shaped interwar Europe and sanctioned the appearance of myriad independent states in East-Central Europe had a number of weaknesses, the key one being the absence of two large continental powers Germany and Russia while it was being decided. As regards the former, the public in the countries of the Entente affected by population losses and destruction as well as exhausted by a war of several years was so much reluctant towards Germany that it was plain impossible to treat it as a partner during the Paris peace conference. At the time of the event, Russia was experiencing a hard-thought civil war between Bolsheviks and representatives of the ancien regime, whose resolution was nowhere to be seen, and as a result – despite attempts at mediation – it proved futile to determine which party to the conflict should represent the country. Given the terms of peace dictated to Germany and isolation to surround victorious Soviet Russia, both powers rejected the Versailles system and sought its revision. That general attitude brought them closer and in 1922 they concluded an accord in Rapallo that formed the basis for their friendly political relations, intensive economic and military cooperation in the area of technology and the arms industry, as well as training.

In 1925, Germany signed treaties in Locarno with France, Belgium, Great Britain and Italy that guaranteed its western border as laid down in the Treaty of Versailles. However, it refused to sign a similar treaty with Poland and Czechoslovakia, which caused much concern in those countries, both because of the unambiguous though indirect threat issued by Germany and the stance taken by France, which by accepting that and not some other arrangement put into question its own loyalty towards Poland and Czechoslovakia. After Locarno, thanks to support of France and Great Britain, Germany joined the League of Nations and even received the status of a permanent member of its Council, the equivalent of today’s UN Security Council. That meant that Germany’s isolation was over and the country had become a member of the international community in its own right. Symbolic of those changes was the Nobel Peace Prize received by the German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann. As the new German policy caused concern in Moscow as regards future cooperation, the partnership between Germany and the Soviet Union was reinforced by a friendship accord concluded in Berlin in 1926 and extended in 1931.

At the turn of the 1920s and the 1930s, the Soviet Union took steps in order to ensure the country’s full participation in international relations and was an active and constructive participant in negotiations on the international Kellog-Briand Pact assuming renunciation of war as a tool of international policy (Treaty for Renunciation of War). Before that pact entered into force in February 1929, the ‘Litvinov Protocol’ was signed in Moscow where the USSR and its western neighbours, including Poland, decided that the provisions of the Kellog-Briand Pact would come into force even before its formal ratification. The Protocol paved the way towards intensification of Polish-Soviet relations, which resulted in the signing of a non-aggression pact between Poland and the USSR on 25 July 1932. It was a highly precise document which foresaw that the parties to it were also to treat as aggression: any act of violence that affects the integrity and inviolability of the territory or political independence of the other Contracting Party, even if such actions are not accompanied by a declaration of war and its all possible manifestations.

At the time of the Polish-Soviet rapprochement, Europe was experiencing growing tensions related to the successes of Adolf Hitler’s party heading for power in the German Reich. It was particularly strong in Polish-German relations, which is why Polish diplomats discreetly probed the French ally on several occasions, trying to establish how strong France’s response would be in the case of an armed conflict with Germany. The last such probe took place after Germany’s leaving the League of Nations on 14 October 1933. As all the attempts rendered negative results, the value of the alliance with France seen from the Polish perspective was significantly reduced. In the circumstances, the Polish envoy in Berlin Józef Lipski asked Adolf Hitler whether Germany took into consideration compensating Poland for its decreased sense of security as the former had left the League of Nations. That opened the way for the signing, on 26 January 1933 after intensive and secret negotiations, of a Declaration between Poland and Germany on non-application of violence. The European public was much surprised by the document since the Polish-German antagonism was considered insurmountable. Consequently, it was suspected that apart from the publicly known text of the declaration some secret convent was made under which Poland was joining the German side, which was not true, and – what is more – the declaration did contain a statement that its signing did not have any impact whatsoever on the legality of previous treaties and commitments made by the parties to it. To appease the Soviets, who also had concerns as to the true meaning of the Polish-German declaration, Poland concluded an agreement with them already in 1934 concerning the extension of the non-aggression pact until as late as 1945.

At that time, Polish politicians became convinced that the alliance with France – given its passive and submissive stance – might not continue to be the only pillar of the Polish security policy. Also, Poland had never harboured any illusions as to the ability of the League of Nations to ensure peace in Europe. Similarly sceptical was Poland’s attitude to the French-promoted attempts to set up a collective security system in East-Central Europe with an instrumental participation of the USSR, their obvious and direct result being ceding hegemony in this part of the continent to the Soviets. For that reason Marshal Józef Piłsudski, Poland’s de facto political leader, championed the notion that Warsaw needed to keep an even distance between Berlin and Moscow, as exemplified by somewhat symmetrical agreements concluded in 1932 and 1934, respectively. Soon to pass away, Piłsudski was at the same time issuing the warning that such a balance around Poland would not last for more than four years.

Thanks to the signing of the declaration, the relations between Poland and Germany improved very soon. Germany ended a customs war with Poland dating back to the time of the Weimar Republic and both sides adopted a milder attitude as regards their respective national minorities as well as softened virulent press propaganda. Some contacts were also established in the field of culture and high-level visits became relatively frequent. The initiative concerning closer ties came mostly from Germany, hoping to win Poland as an ally against the USSR. Yet it was a wrong calculation. Germany did not recognise the border with Poland, which for the latter was a sine qua non condition for any possible further rapprochement. No open or secret Polish-German political or military alliance took place. Poland – despite incentives – did not join the Anti-Comintern Pact, a loose grouping of countries allied with the Third Reich. Poland did not plan making any territorial gains in cooperation with Germany. The circle of Piłsudski’s supporters in power in Poland (known as the Sanation) did not support national socialism, and there were hardly any supporters of that movement among members of the opposition. Last but not least, there were also no cooperation between Poland and Germany as regards discrimination of Jews.

At first, the course of events in Europe confirmed that Piłsudski’s predictions were correct. In March 1935, Germany announced that it would not respect the arms restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. That step did not meet with any de facto response from France while Great Britain concluded a naval pact with Germany that sanctioned a considerable extension of the German navy. A year later, on 7 March 1936, German troops entered the Rhineland in a blatant violation of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno. In the circumstances, Poland ensured France yet again of its readiness to meet its obligations stemming from their alliance in case of a conflict with Germany. However, neither France nor any of western countries, or the League of Nations, did anything more than issue purely verbal protests. Still, after long negotiations, on 6 September 1936 France granted Poland a large loan for modernisation of its armed forces, a proof that, although weakened, the Polish-French Alliance continued to be in force.

In May 1935, France and the USSR as well as Czechoslovakia and the USSR entered into bilateral agreements on mutual assistance in case of a German invasion. The Soviet-Czechoslovak accord was to become operational only under the condition that France offer military support to Czechoslovakia first (casus foederis). Looking good on paper, the agreements in question were de facto dead politically, inter alia because no serious attempt was made to agree with Poland how the Soviet Union sharing no border with Germany or Czechoslovakia was supposed to render military assistance to its new partners.

Poland’s political standing began to change radically when in 1938 Germany triggered the implementation of its expansive agenda and annexed Austria (12–13 March 1938), took control of Klaipeda at the expense of Lithuania (23 March 1938) and, in particular, partitioned Czechoslovakia. During a conference in Munich (29–30 September 1938), Czechoslovakia, although the most loyal ally of France, was pressed by its allies and agreed to cede to Germany a vast borderland known as the Sudetenland important in economic and strategic terms. Although no party to the conflict or participant of the Munich conference, Poland nevertheless forced crisis-ridden Czechoslovakia to cede Zaolzie (lands beyond the Olza River) to it. The contentious area populated mostly by Poles had been stealthily attacked and seized by Czechoslovak troops in 1920 when the Bolshevik army was poised for attack near Warsaw. Even if the taking control of Zaolzie by Polish troops on 2 October 1938 was much justified and the entire operation did not result from any arrangements with Germany, the impression it made in Europe was that Poland collaborated with Hitler.

On 24 October 1938, the Polish envoy in Berlin Józef Lipski received a list of demands from the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop intended as the basis for a new general arrangement of mutual relations between both countries. The German demands included the incorporation of the Free City of Gdańsk to the German Reich, the construction of an extraterritorial motorway and a railway link between East Prussia and the rest of the Reich, Poland’s joining the Anti-Comintern Pact as well as permanent political consultations between Poland and Germany. The objective behind the demands, extraordinarily moderate according to the Germans, was to force Poland to decide whether it supported Germany or not. Polish diplomats were greatly surprised by the German demands. For its part, Germany was astonished by Poland’s veiled and then unambiguous refusal to accept them as its conclusion was that such a step would turn the country into a German fiefdom while the Polish Government treated Poland’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as inalienable. When interned in Romania in 1940, the Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck did not mince words about the consequences of Poland’s hypothetical agreement: We would have conquered Russia together with Germany and then we would have been grazing cows for Hitler in the Ural.1 The resolution of that stage of the Polish-German dispute came as a result of the German seizure of territorially reduced Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, with the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia established in Czechia and Slovakia becoming an independent state ‘under the care of the German Reich’. That move meant a violation of the relatively fresh Munich agreement as well as a crude exposure of the British and French appeasement policy, which both powers could not stomach any more. Responding, Great Britain decided to give Poland assurances on 31 March 1939, the basis for the British-Polish alliance. Conditioning its own policy towards Germany on Great Britain at that time, France also renewed its alliance with Poland. In response, on 28 April Adolf Hitler renounced the non-aggression pact with Poland as well as the naval accord with Great Britain. On 5 May 1939, Józef Beck delivered his great speech at the Sejm rejecting the German demands. It was clear that Poland and Germany were on a collision course now.

The events in Europe were closely followed by Joseph Stalin and Soviet diplomats. They were aware of their comfortable position as they could choose which side of the escalating conflict to support and which one would assure them more benefits. Since April, talks had been going on in Moscow with representatives of Great Britain and France yet no progress was being made as both countries treated them mainly as a kind of demonstration targeting Germany. In actual fact, Stalin had already decided to change the paradigm of the Soviet foreign policy, i.e. initiate cooperation with Hitler. The obstacle was the Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov, a son and brother of rabbis from Białystok born as Meir Wallach, distinguishing himself as a staunch enemy of Nazism and a passionate champion of bringing the USSR closer to western democracies. Already on 15 April 1939 during a sitting of the Politburo of the Bolshevik Party, Stalin rejected Litvinov arguments for an alliance with Great Britain and France. On 3 May 1939, Litvinov was formally dismissed and a purge took place among Soviet diplomats of Jewish origin. Litvinov was now replaced by Stalin’s blind follower, the cynical chair of the Council of People’s Commissars (equivalent of a Prime Minister) Vyacheslav Molotov. Talks went full steam ahead in the last days of July 1939. First, an extensive economic agreement was negotiated, providing for, inter alia, large supplies of Soviet raw materials to Germany. Following that success, the parties agreed to enter into political talks. Joachim von Ribbentrop flew to Moscow, and in the night from 23 to 24 August he negotiated a non-aggression pact with the Soviet partners. A more important and sensational part of the agreement was laid down in a secret protocol. It provided for a division of East-Central Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union, the sphere of influence of the latter including Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia in Romania. As regards Poland, the Soviet Union additionally committed to invade it and occupy its eastern part up to the line marked by the rivers Narew, Vistula and San.

Thanks to the conscious action of an opposition-minded diplomat from the German embassy in Moscow, the content of the secret protocol was transmitted without delay to US, Italian and French diplomats. The British also had incomplete knowledge about it and it was they that passed on a veiled warning to the Polish ambassador Edward Raczyński who sent it to Warsaw. Unfortunately, Polish authorities at that time had an entirely false image of the Soviets and their politics. Polish intelligence in the USSR ‘got blind’ as a result of the ‘great purges’ of 1937–1938, and minister Beck was most probably surrounded by Soviet agents of influence. As a result, he was not aware of the Kremlin’s changed course towards Germany and he also thought that after Stalin’s great purges the Soviet Union and the Red Army were seriously weakened and de facto unable to launch any large-scale operations. Consequently, he failed to grasp how precarious Poland’s position had become. His optimism was reinforced by the signing of a military alliance with Great Britain on 25 August 1939.

Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. On 3 September, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, which meant that one objective of the Polish foreign policy had been reached, that of not reducing the Polish-German war to a local conflict. Now, in compliance with the military agreements in force, the fighting Poles expected the allies to launch full-scale military operations within 15–16 days. Unfortunately, the allied commands concluded already on 4 September that they would not be able to effectively help Poland and that they would limit themselves to military demonstrations against Germany, focusing on preparations for future military action. That decision was finally confirmed by a conference of French and British Prime Ministers accompanied by highest-ranking commanders taking place in Abbeville on 12 September 1939. Those arrangements were not transmitted to Poland as that could have broken its spirit of resistance. It is known now, however, that the arrangements made in Abbeville were known to Soviet intelligence in no time at all. In that way, the Soviets were assured that the campaign mounted by Poland was doomed and they could safely hit the country from the east. In the morning of 17 September 1939, the Polish ambassador in Moscow Wacław Grzybowski was summoned to appear at the Foreign Affairs Commissariat where a note was read out to him saying that as the Polish state had ceased to exist, the non-aggression pact was not valid anymore and the Soviet army was entering Polish territory in order to protect the population of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus. The Soviet note was based on a blatant lie as at the time of the Soviet invasion still around a half of Poland’s territory, including important administrative centres, was not occupied by the Germans and the Polish Government and chief command were present in Poland preparing the defence of the south-eastern part of the country (known as the Romanian Bridgehead). Despite Soviet assurances that the USSR was not involved in a war with Poland, bloody fights were taking place along the entire border, in some locations lasting until the first days of October 1939. The ‘Polesie’ Operational Group led by Gen. Franciszek Kleeberg fighting with Germans and Soviets capitulated on 6 October 1939. The German-Soviet brotherhood in arms was symbolically sealed by a joint victory parade in Brest-Litovsk received by Generals Heinz Guderian and Semyon Krivoshein. It took place as early as 22 September 1939.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Stalin-Hitler Pact, paved the way for the latter’s attack on Poland, as it gave him certainty that no real help from the outside would reach Polish territory in the decisive weeks of the campaign. Further, the pact guaranteed Hitler that, not threatened from the east, he would be able to de facto conquer or control the entire continental Europe, install his occupation regimes throughout it and execute the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’. Managed from Moscow, the Comintern ordered communist parties across the world to stop anti-fascist propaganda and change entirely the course towards Germany, now together with the Soviet Union making a ‘camp of global peace’. The Polish state authorities – both when still in the country and later when in accordance with the Polish constitution they began to operate in exile, still enjoying full international recognition – on numerous occasions confirmed a state of war with the Soviet Union. However, they did not make a formal proclamation of a state of war with that state as its allies France and Great Britain remained neutral towards the USSR. Finland’s case was different as on 30 November 1939 it – a part of the Soviet sphere of influence specified in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – was attacked by the USSR and duly protested at the League of Nations, which after considering the complaint on 14 December 1939 stripped the USSR of its membership as an aggressor and called on its member states to aid Finland. In summary, it can be concluded that despite preliminary losses and obstacles, Germany and the Soviet Union in the interwar period became respected members of the international community in their own right yet as totalitarian regimes they betrayed that status by unleashing the most dreadful of wars inflicted on the human race to date.

JAN RYDEL is a historian and his research areas are Central and Eastern Europe and Polish-German relations in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the author of ‘Politics of History in Federal Republic of Germany. Legacy – Ideas – Practice’ (2011) and ‘Polish Occupation of North Western Germany. 1945–1948. An Unknown Chapter in Polish- German Relations’ (2000, German edition 2003). Until 2010 he was a researcher and a professor at Jagiellonian University and is currently a professor at the Pedagogical University of Cracow.


1. Cited after Marek Kornat, ‘Idee i podstawy polityki zagranicznej II Rzeczypospolitej’, in: Marek Kornat, Wojciech Materski, Między pokojem a wojną. Szkice o dyplomacji polskiej, Warsaw 2015, p. 30

Photo of the publication That old Soviet idea
Marek Kornat

That old Soviet idea

27 August 2015
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • Poland
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop contract
  • 20th century history
  • Second World War

Poland’s decision to reject the Soviet demands as regards the Red Army passage did not matter from the perspective of Stalin’s motivation, yet it awarded him a pretext used by Soviet propaganda and historiography.

“Once it became obvious that Hitler pushes for a war, France and Great Britain tried to set up a front to counter the aggression and sent a delegation to Moscow so as to agree a programme for cooperation. The Soviets did not exclude a possible agreement, saying that they could accept the proposal under the condition that the Red Army troops (...) were allowed to move through Poland. Proud and suspicious, the government in Warsaw rejected the idea and the Soviets interpreted the response as a manifestation of distrust towards them. There might not have been any Ribbentrop-Molotov pact (and maybe the Second World War, either), had the Poles not believed so much in their own ability to counter the German troops. As regards the Soviet entry into Polish territory, the Soviet decision was understandable. Since Poland, as Germany intended, was to disappear, why would Russia not restrict the German expansion by taking a slice of the country for itself?” Such are the reflections presented a few days ago in the “Corriere della Sera” daily by the Italian writer, journalist and diplomat Sergio Romano.

Unfortunately, the successive “round” anniversaries of the outbreak or end of the Second World War make that old Soviet idea recur. Let us recall the fact then.

In the night from 11 to 12 August Allied military delegations arrived in Moscow to hold talk with the Soviets (the British headed by Admiral Drax and the French by General Doumenc), which meant that the efforts to negotiate a tripartite alliance treaty between Great Britain, France and the USSR entered into the decisive phase. The leader of the Soviet delegation in the Moscow talks Marshal Voroshylov demanded the use of Polish and Romanian territories for fighting with the Germans. He stated that as the USSR did not share a border with Germany, the Red Army was unable to take part in the war and deliver on the commitments it had made. On 18 August, the ambassadors of France and Great Britain to Poland presented the issue to the Polish government in Warsaw.

The Soviet demands concerning the Red Army “passage” through Poland and Romania were an unambiguous proof that the Soviets wished to break off the negotiations with the Allied Powers, as it would have been inconceivable to imagine that the Polish reply would be anything but negative. And indeed, such was the Polish stance communicated to the ambassadors of the Allies several times between 18—22 August. Already on 19 August, a German-Soviet economic treaty was signed in Berlin, and von Ribbentrop was invited to Moscow a week later. On Hitler’s personal request to Stalin, the hastened trip took place as early as 23 August. The talks in Moscow resulted in the well-known agreement concerning the division of the “spheres of interest” in Eastern Europe between both totalitarian powers.

To satisfy the Soviet demands would have been tantamount to an agreement to have the east of Poland occupied and a death sentence voluntarily signed. Upon the Soviet entry on Polish territory, Poland would have lost independence just as the Baltic States had lost theirs: having let in the Red Army in October 1939, they were unable to put up resistance in June 1940.

One must have no illusions concerning Stalin’s policy in 1939. His pronouncements concerning Poland and the Versailles order reveal his true intentions. The 7 September 1939 entry in Georgi Dimitrov’s Diary quotes Stalin’s very clear words about Poland: “Doing away with that country in conducive circumstances would mean one bourgeois fascist state less. What wrong would that be if as a result of shattering Poland we spread the socialist system over a new territory and population?” True, the Soviet dictator was forced in 1934 to proclaim his orientation towards cooperation with western democracies, yet this did not mean any fundamental change to the strategic principle: the notion that the Versailles order had to be demolished, put briefly. Highly important and suggestive remain his words from July 1940, where in a conversation with the British ambassador to Moscow Stafford Cripps the USSR leader said that before the outbreak of the Second World War no Soviet-British rapprochement was possible as his country focused on the demolition of the “old” balance of powers built after the First World War without Russia, while Great Britain fought for its retention. “The Soviet Union wanted to change the old system of powers (…), while England and France wished to keep it. Also Germany wanted to make a change in the power system and this joint wish to do away with the old system became the basis for the rapprochement with the Germans.”

One should repeat after the German historian Martin Broszat that Hitler found in Stalin a partner for waging a total war of destruction, a “partner equally eager to treat foreign territories lightly”. Because of this, “Hitler’s way of thinking in terms of dividing spheres of interest on vast areas which he tried to propose to the English in vain, met with a mutual sentiment (...).” This, in turn “must have been a potent stimulus and incentive to start just in Poland the implementation of the nationalist-socialist concept of a new large-scale system of relations in terms of territory and population.”

Poland’s decision to reject the Soviet demands as regards the Red Army passage did not matter from the perspective of Stalin’s motivation, yet it awarded him a pretext used by Soviet propaganda and historiography. Currently, the propaganda of Putin’s Russia makes use of such ideas. In Russia, history was and still is a political tool. What remains more striking is the fact that the Soviet version of the interpretation as to the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War keeps finding believers outside Russia.

In the summer of 1939, the Soviet Union and the German Reich, two totalitarian powers, struck an agreement. Although it would not be long-lasting, it was definitely real. The Polish government could be nothing more than a passive observer of the developments. No Polish policy was able to take the Soviet authorities away from their intention to pursue cooperation with Germany in order to secure new territories in Eastern Europe. No Polish policy was able to prevent the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, or to change the inevitable course of the events leading to the war.

Photo of the publication Truncheons in the display case
Wojciech Stanisławski

Truncheons in the display case

20 August 2013
  • communism
  • transitional justice
  • Museum
  • genealogies of memory
  • commemoration

For a quarter of a century we have sought to memorialise the victims of communism by erecting monuments and opening museums. But at times it seems that the most important things continue to be left unsaid.

The concept of the ‘museum’ has a long and convoluted heritage. It is generally held – and no-one has described it better than Krzysztof Pomian – that it all began with the collections of oddities in the Renaissance. There, in fascinating disorder, lying side by side, were minerals, seashells, ancient coins and drawings. In time, collectors of paintings and coins concluded that it would be better to tidy things up to better exhibit their collections. Collectors of drums and masks from the Southern Seas, entomologists, hunters, lovers of maps, copper engravings, book-plates and side arms followed suit.

But there also exists one of the oldest trails of human remembrance: the preservation of famous battlefields and massacre sites, places where kings duelled and gathered. There are separate trails leading across specific mountains and through olive gardens to places where mortals met deities and where all of Europe's once common historia sacra unfolded.

Much closer to our contemporary thinking is the notion of memorialising elements of daily life to show to the posterity the entire civilisation of their ancestors rather than just their most outstanding achievements. This idea arose in Scandinavia, with the development of skansens (open-air museums and collections of historical structures). Exotic villages and temples, reconstructed for World Fairs by colonial powers proud of their subjects, competed with (and certainly came out victorious against) windowless Laplander huts.

But they provided as much knowledge about the world as the old German-born merchant Mincel did when lecturing a shop assistant in his broken Polish in a scene from the 19th-century Bolesław Prus novel The Doll.(‘See vas ist in dis drawer. Es ist Zimmt or cinnamon. And ven do ve need cinnamon? In soups and desserts ve need cinnamon. And vas ist cinnamon? Er ist de bark from dis one tree. And ver do dis one tree live? In India lives dis tree. Look on de globus – here lies India. So gif me cinnamon for a tenner...’). It wasn't until the mid-20th century that museum curators and managers began giving thought to ways of conveying other cultures in a consolidated manner within a limited time and space.

Cast-iron corpses

Those for whom memorialising everyday life under communism for posterity is close at heart have tried all these means and formulae. Small towns attempt to lure tourists with ‘collections of oddities’ such as amusing signs saying ‘Attention farmers! Wash your eggs at the procurement stations’ or the humorous labels on cheap fruit wines. The cast-iron corpses of former monuments lie in the grass in parks on the outskirts of big cities (Memento Park in Budapest) or even behind royal residences such as Mogoşoaia Palace, which once belonged to the rulers of Romania. Great art museums have separate rooms for grim propaganda paintings, and collectors of A2-sized posters greatly fancy communist-era appeals for vigilance and productivity. To show the ugliness of daily life under communism, here and there between the Elbe and Danube yet another flat in a tower block is adapted and fitted out with a wall unit, PVC flooring and a yearbook of the magazine Woman and Life on the table. (In Warsaw a similar skansen can be found on Grochowska Street.) But it isn't easy to complete the furnishing: the vintage artefacts now cost a fortune on auction sites.

Time and again a titanic notion arises to bring it all together and create a kind of ‘total museum’ of the epoch. This should not only show the annals of the system and highlight its victimisers and victims, but also explain the mechanics and conditions of totalitarianism while offering the visitor a wealth of details. Probably the boldest project of this type has been SocLand, created over the past decade or so by enthusiasts led by Czesław Bielecki.

The scope and fantasy of this project are truly impressive. It was to have been situated beneath Warsaw's Parade Square and, thanks to an ingenious trick, would have ‘subordinated’ the huge Stalin-era Palace of Culture, symbolically reducing it to the size of one of the other period exhibits. This was also a judgement-of-Solomon-style solution to the insoluble dispute between the advocates and opponents of demolishing the Palace of Culture. But the reasons behind its failure included the scope of the project, as shown by the visualisations, combined with the pettiness of Warsaw's city-hall officials. But dreams of a museum of communism have not disappeared. Evidence of this was provided in mid-November by the authorities of the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, who have come up with the idea of turning a large part of their city covering an area of more than 120 hectares into a museum of the Soviet Union. However, the internet is probably the best-suited medium for a project of this type. A certain American foundation, whose co-founders were Zbigniew Brzezin ski and Vaclav Havel, has been working for fifteen years or so to create a similar ‘virtual museum of communism’.

The snap of the bolt-lock

But what of those who seek the truth about the past and need tangible evidence, even if they are not allowed to touch it? Such people will sooner or later make it to several Central European museums ranging from the Teror Haza (House of Terror) in Budapest to the KGB Dungeon Museum in the Estonian city of Tartu. They share one thing: both are housed in old, converted security service buildings where prisoners were incarcerated, interrogated and sometimes killed.

The originators of the KGB Dungeon Museum, the Museum of Genocide in Vilnius, Romania's Museum of Remembrance in Sighet, and even the more modest Leistikowstraße Memorial in Potsdam have followed in the footsteps of the victims of Nazi totalitarianism. Warsaw's former Gestapo headquarters in Aleja Szucha as well the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz have been turned into museums of Nazi terror. The reason is partly because no ‘socially beneficial’ use could be imagined for these places other than bearing witness to past atrocities, but above all because this role was deemed the most meaningful.

A question remains as to the devices curators can use to recreate the atmosphere of horror and violence. Some elements such as a prison's very look and feel are always effective. Whether climbing the rattling metal stairs of Sighet or crouching low in the 1.5-metre-high dungeon in Andrassy Avenue in Budapest, everywhere it is equally stuffy, cramped and threatening amid the snap of bolt-locks being closed, eye-wearying bare light bulbs and beds of boards. The interrogation rooms are the same in Budapest and Vilnius, with massive oak-veneer desks confiscated from some ‘enemy of the people’, pink-rimmed NKVD hats near their edge and interrogation lamps shined in the prisoner's face. In such a setting, the question asked by Polish writer Marek Hłasko inevitably returns: ‘Are the scoundrels shown in films imitating the real ones, or is it the other way round?’ When we sit on a chair meant for an interrogated prisoner, we can easily imagine being on the set of Ryszard Bugalski's film Interrogation.

The creators of the memorial in Tuol Seng, recalling the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, seem to have taken things the furthest. Only a few years ago were they persuaded to abandon a map of Cambodia made of victims' skulls. But, all in all, doesn't the silence and mounds of hair at Auschwitz cry out the loudest?

Killing fields

This aspect of communism – not violence against the individual but genocide, whose victims were entire social or ethnic groups – is easiest to evoke by means of a museum exhibition in Russia. On the islands of the Gulag Archipelago, prisoners' hair was not shorn with a view to stuffing mattresses. But maybe a stretch of a railway embankment, to which the corpses of forced-labour-camp victims were added to improve its stability in permafrost conditions, would suffice. And next to it a barracks with narrow beds of boards, a tin bowl, and a torn quilted jacket. Such crude reminders suffice if we look at the faces of visitors leaving the former Nazi German extermination camp at Majdanek in Poland or Washington's Holocaust Museum.

But no such collection has been created and it is doubtful whether one ever will be. This in itself is very meaningful. Beginning in the late 1980s, several monuments have been erected in Russia, mainly through the efforts of the Memorial association. Usually they have taken the simplest (albeit most eloquent) form of a commemorative boulder, the most famous of these standing outside Moscow's Lubianka prison and former KGB headquarters. Among the best-known exceptions are the sculptures of Ernst Nezvestny. One of them titled ‘Mask of pain’ was erected in Magadan in Asiatic Russia; and one in Elista in Russia's Kalmyk Republic is dedicated to the victims of forced exile.

And what about museums? Even the most modest ones? These can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. Usually on a wave of pro-perestroika enthusiasm, local museums would set aside a room containing a few photos, photocopied documents and rusty pick-axes. But the museum in Vorkuta tells more about Russian historical memory than volumes of research ever could. There, side by side, is an exhibition devoted to a labour camp theatre (it looks like things weren't that bad after all!) and a display case proudly highlighting heroes of the Great Patriotic War (as the Second World War is known in Russia).

But efforts continue. In her book Gulag Remembrance, Zuzanna Bogumił compiled a list of probably all known attempts to create makeshift semblances of museums dedicated to communism. In the village of Kuchino, several barracks of the Perm-36 labour camp have been preserved and exhibitions have been set up in them. A small museum has been opened in Yagodnoye, and several display cases have been set up in Solovki. Young people from the Perm section of the Memorial association have for years been trying to safeguard the ruins of the Stvor labour camp on the River Chusovoy. And that's about it! That's about it in a country covering one-sixth of the earth's surface. Nearly two decades ago, Tomasz Kizny photographed the ‘road of death’, or what was left of the Salekhard-Igarka railway line, built by Gulag prisoners, and remarked that woodworm and permafrost would finish it off. But the terror was hardly limited to the Arctic Circle. It is estimated that the ‘Ukrainian killing fields’ in Bykovnia contain the remains of over 100,000 people, the victims of the 1937 Soviet wave of terror as well as murdered Polish officers. This very site was alluded to in a poem by Janusz Kotański:

the way to the kyїv road
is shown by a sign
with the word ‘memorial’
behind it are wooden stakes
adorned with red stars
after a few kilometres
one passes amid
rectangular hills
overgrown with young woodlands
a woman standing there
of middle age
begins to silently
weep in despair
the hilly terrain
overgrown with pines
stretches over an area
of a dozen hectares


This article was originally published in a special appendix to Rzeczpospolita daily for the 'Genealogies of Memory' conference on 27 November 2013.


Photo of the publication Nuremberg Is Not Enough
Jan Rydel

Nuremberg Is Not Enough

20 August 2013
  • Nazism
  • transitional justice
  • Germany
  • Nuremberg
  • Nazi crimes

Nazis are still being prosecuted in Germany; however, many have never been tried due to political considerations and society’s reluctance to come to terms with the past.

It is difficult to imagine a greater turning point in the life of a nation than that experienced by Germany after the end of the Second World War. Unconditional surrender, occupation and the rule of foreign powers went hand in hand with the breakdown of German notions of their superiority and power. However, society could not dissociate itself from a closed historical chapter, since it faced the colossal problem of coming to terms with the ideology and crimes of National Socialism. 7.5 million members of the Nazi Party, 850,000 members of the SS, newsreels across the world showing heaps of corpses in liberated concentration camps, perpetrators of crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust, blending into the crowd and keeping a low profile, doctors killing en masse the disabled and the terminally ill, a corrupt judiciary, youth brainwashed by Nazism – this was only a fraction of the burden under which German society began to build its future. At the same time relatively few people in Germany were aware of the scale of the problem and for certain no-one had any idea of how to solve it.

Nuremberg Known and Unknown

Aware of the immense support that Hitler’s regime had enjoyed in German society, the Allies doubted the Germans’ ability to cleanse themselves. Therefore, as early as in 1942 they took on the responsibility of punishing those charged with war crimes, and ordered the relevant documentation to be drafted. In November 1943, it was decided that those charged with war crimes were to be extradited to the countries where they had committed their atrocities, and those whose deeds concerned multiple countries – belonging to the category of main perpetrators – were to be brought before an international court. Thus in August 1945, the Allies signed a treaty establishing the International Military Tribunal. It operated during the Nuremberg Trials, where from 20 November 1945 to 1 October 1946, twenty-two principal war criminals from the highest levels of the Third Reich were tried. They were selected in a manner assuring a representation of the Nazi system’s main areas of activity (including Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann – Nazi Party leaders; Julius Streicher, Alfred Rosenberg –ideologists of Nazism; Joachim von Ribbentrop, Konstantin von Neurath – foreign policy; Ernst Kaltenbrunner – the SS and police; Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, Erich Raeder, Karl Dönitz – armed forces; Hans Fritzsche – propaganda; Baldur von Schirach – Hitler Youth; Albert Speer and Hjalmar Schacht – the economy, Hans Frank and Artur Seyss-Inquart – the occupation policy). During the trial, 19 convictions were handed down, including 12 death sentences.

However, an often overshadowed fact is that from 1946 to 1949 twelve other large trials were held in Nuremberg, such as the Ministries Trial (management of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs); the trial of concentration camps doctors (the Doctors’ Trial); Einsatzgruppen; the management of the Kruppa and I. G. Farben companies; the SS Race and Settlement Main Office, and the SS Main Economic and Administrative Department. Oswald Pohl, the head of this key unit tasked with operations including organisation of the concentration camps, was sentenced to death and executed on 8 June 1951 at the American military prison in Landsberg, Bavaria. This was the last execution carried out in the Federal Republic of Germany, since the death penalty had been abolished with the founding of the country in 1949.

Further trials between 1946 and 1951 were made possible due to Law No. 10 of the Allied Control Council, enacted as early as 1945, which expanded the powers of the military governors of individual occupation zones. This law was rescinded in 1951, when West Germany received many attributes of a sovereign state. Hence over several years, the Allied system of courts and prisons across Germany was eliminated. It should be noted that as early as 1950, the USSR had closed down its ‘special camps’ where Nazi prisoners were interned, and completed its prosecution of war criminals in East Germany. The last relict of the post-war period of Nazi war crimes trials was the joint military prison in Spandau, maintained and operated by the Allies, where prisoners sentenced at the Nuremberg Trials were detained. In existence as long as the last prisoner was alive, it was closed in 1987 after the suicide of Rudolf Hess.

In the initial post-war period, a great majority of Germans felt an aversion to the trials of war criminals. Even the Nuremberg Trials failed to exert the psychological effect expected by the occupying powers. It was generally viewed as a form of revenge on the defeated and the belief was that the verdicts of the victors could not be just. Besides, the nascent Cold War meant that friendly relations with the Germans were important to both sides. Thus the enthusiasm of the occupying powers to prosecute the Nazis quickly dampened. Extradition to East European countries was abandoned as early as 1947, and soon the practice of early release for convicts from Allied prisons spread.

In his first address to the opening of parliament in 1949, West Germany Chancellor Konrad Adenauer already spoke about a blank slate when coming to terms with the recent past. Most probably he was convinced that the rebuilding of West Germany would not be possible without the advocates of National Socialism. They were too numerous and too many belonged to the country’s professional elite. For this reason, in the West Germany of Adenauer’s era an unwritten agreement was reached between the new authorities and the advocates of Nazism, under which the authorities guaranteed them impunity (with the exception of a very small group of people charged with the most severe crimes) and freedom of professional development; while they, in turn, renounced their public anti-system and racist activity. The first amnesty act was passed as early as 1949, which freed from responsibility thousands of Nazis convicted for lesser crimes. In 1951, the West German Parliament passed another act, under which they regained public posts (including in the police) in a short period of time. It is therefore no surprise that in the 1950s the number of Nazi war criminals tried by West German courts dropped dramatically.

The Guilt of the Fathers

However, the situation in West Germany changed with the coming of age of the younger generation, who opposed concealing the guilt of their parents’ generation. Gradually, thanks to researchers, knowledge about Nazi Germany and the crimes committed during the period improved. Now and again, wishing to discredit West Germany, the East German security services revealed compromising facts about the Nazi past of West German politicians and high-ranking officials. In an atmosphere of gradually mounting interest in bringing Nazis to justice, the trial of ten members of Einsatzkommando Tilsit (Einsatzgruppe A), who were charged with murdering many thousands of Jews in Lithuania in 1941, gained wide publicity. Despite the fact that each defendant’s personal responsibility for executing at least several hundred Jews by firing squad had been proved, the sentences handed down during the trial, held in Ulm in 1958, ran contrary to the fundamental sense of justice (between 3 and 15 years’ imprisonment).

This scandal provided an impetus for the creation in November 1958 of a West German institution specialising in prosecuting Nazi crimes, i.e. the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, popularly called the Central Office in Ludwigsburg. Its operations were restricted in numerous ways, the most important of which was that the prosecutors only had the right to prepare indictments, without the possibility of independently filing these with a court. Despite this, the Central Office established a new quality in the German court system and greatly enhanced the prosecution of Nazi crimes in West Germany. To date it has drafted around 7,500 indictments.

Successive breaches in the wall of silence behind which the Germans were hiding came from the exhibition Ungesühnte Nazijustitz, shown for the first time in Karlsruhe in 1959. It proved that tens of highly-placed West German lawyers were guilty of severe judicial crimes perpetrated during the war. While the West German judiciary unshakeably stood and still stands for the principle of judicial immunity, after several years (1962), over 160 judges and prosecutors with Nazi pasts went into voluntary, albeit early, retirement. Regular TV broadcasts from the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem had an even greater impact in Germany. On the rising tide of these West German transformations, the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials commenced in December 1963, at which 20 members of camp staff were indicted. It is worthy of note that during the preparation for the trial, the files of around 800 people were studied, although only the best documented cases were selected. The fact that such a mass trial took place and that a huge body of evidence was gathered, enabling 17 out of 20 defendants to be convicted in December 1965, was by no doubt down to the success of the Central Office of Ludwigsburg and the Attorney General of Hessen, Fritz Bauer. He was the unofficial leader of a group of West German lawyers who understood the need to prosecute Nazi crimes.

Criminals Behind Desks

On the other hand, the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial again exposed the courts’ weakness in bringing Nazism to justice. Contrary to the prosecution’s intentions, the prevailing practice was that of detailed investigation into the individual guilt of the defendants, while the fact that membership of the Auschwitz staff itself made the defendants accomplices to all crimes committed at the camp was ignored. Moreover, the court was very broad in applying the classification of accessory. Under this interpretation, the ‘true’ perpetrators of the crimes were only high-level commanders (e.g. Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heidrich) and those who personally murdered the victims. Thus during the trial, the longest sentences (life imprisonment) were pronounced almost exclusively on lower-ranking personnel and prisoner functionaries (Kapos), while SS officers whose duties included carrying out the selection process on arrival of the transports, thereby sending thousands of victims to their deaths in the gas chambers, were sentenced to several years in prison. Moreover, the court in Frankfurt could not prevent the scandalous behaviour of lawyers, a great many of whom were former Nazis. While acting for the defence, they did not hesitate to mentally torture and insult the former Auschwitz prisoners who had decided to serve as witnesses for the prosecution.

As can be seen, progress in prosecuting Nazi crimes in West Germany after the establishment of the Central Office in Ludwigsburg did not mean at all that those opposed to bringing Nazi criminals to justice gave up. On the contrary, they still enjoyed the support of the majority of the population and also had some major successes. The most important of these was the West German Parliament’s effortless enactment in 1960 of a statute of limitations on all Nazi crimes except murder. From this point, no-one could be prosecuted for the use of torture, medical experiments, theft of fine art or, for example, the destruction of Warsaw. Besides, the acquittal of judge Hans-Joachim Rehse in 1968 emerged as an important precedent. Next to Roland Freisler, he was the most active member of the notorious People’s Court, which during the war sentenced many, including German opposition activists, to death. Thus in practice, the door had been closed to prosecuting former members of the Nazi justice system, even those guilty of the most drastic judicial crimes. In that same year, under circumstances that still remain unclear, ‘someone’ from the Federal Ministry of Justice, unnoticed by legislators, added an article that again broadened the interpretation of ‘accessory’ to the text of an act that had nothing to do with the prosecution of Nazi crimes. From then on, West German courts definitively lost the ability to convict a very important, although specific category of ‘criminals behind desks’.

No Statute of Limitations

Another battle over the prosecution of Nazi crimes centred on the statute of limitations for qualified murders committed during the Nazi era. This took place as early as in 1965, precisely on the 20th anniversary of the end of Second World War. Shortly before that date and following a heated debate, the West German Parliament decided to extend the statute of limitations until the end of 1969. In 1969, a decision to extent the statute further turned out to be easier than before, since a year earlier, following a proposal by Poland, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. For this reason, the statute of limitations on crimes which led to a sentence of life imprisonment was extended from 20 to 30 years, i.e. until the end of 1979. Only then did the parliament pass an act on non-applicability of the statute of limitations for qualified murder. Importantly, during the debates held in 1965 and 1969, public opinion surveys showed that the majority of West German society opted for statutes of limitations. These proportions did not change until 1979.

According to observers, a change in Germans public attitudes was possible due to the last great trial of Nazi murderers, that of the staff of the Majdanek concentration camp, alongside the American TV series The Holocaust (January 1979). While there is no ambiguity as to the psychological impact of TV images, which for the first time clearly showed the persecution and extermination of Jews from the perspective of a particular family, the way in which the trial of Majdanek personnel influenced German public opinion requires an explanation. The trial of the 16 camp personnel in Düsseldorf in 1975 became a show of excesses to an even greater extent than the Frankfurt trial had been. The public gallery in the courtroom was dominated by neo- Nazis, who demonstrated their hostility towards the prosecutors and witnesses. The defence again exerted brutal psychological pressure on former prisoners. After the above series had been broadcast and had so moved public opinion, times had changed when in 1979 the court released four defendants due to the fact that the witnesses who were due to testify against them had died during the trial. The alleged helplessness of the court and the falsely perceived faithfulness to procedures were severely criticised. From then on, the trial was carried out peacefully and with all due solemnity; however, as far as justification and length are concerned, the sentences of 1981 were very similar to those handed down by the Frankfurt court 16 years earlier.

Although the Düsseldorf trial was the last of this magnitude, it was by no means the last of this type. Nazis are still being convicted in Germany. In 2009, a Munich court sentenced former Wehrmacht officer Josef Scheungraber (born 1918) to life in prison for commanding troops who murdered the villagers of Falzano di Cortona in Italy. In May 2011, also in Munich, the widely publicised trial of John Demjanjuk (born 1920), a former guard at Sobibor, resulted in a six-year prison sentence. On that occasion the media used the term ‘the last Nazi trial’. This year, however, the German prosecutor’s office unexpectedly announced that it was preparing to indict several dozen other perpetrators. A trial is being held in Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, of a certain Siert Bruins (born 1921 in the Netherlands), charged with participating in the execution by firing squad of Dutch resistance members. Despite the judiciary’s unexpected surge of activity, these actually will be the last trials of Nazi criminals, since in five years’ time none of them will be capable of standing in front of a court. Critics of the German justice system call attention to the advanced age of the defendants and the fact that during the war they were almost exclusively lower-ranking members of organisations involved in war crimes. At the same time, as a general rule their commanders, holding an immeasurably greater responsibility for the crimes, escaped punishment and are no longer alive. Despite these reservations, the fact that war crimes and crimes against humanity are prosecuted, so long as the suspects are physically able to stand in front of a court, is of great significance. It is a unique phenomenon in modern history.



This article was originally published in a special appendix to Rzeczpospolita daily for the 'Genealogies of Memory' conference on 27 November 2013.


Photo of the publication 23 August: The Genesis of a Euroatlantic Day of Remembrance
Stefan Troebst

23 August: The Genesis of a Euroatlantic Day of Remembrance

15 August 2012
  • Holocaust
  • academic
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • 23 August
  • totalitarianism
  • totalitarian regimes
  • Nazism
  • communism

23 August, the day in 1939 when Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi- Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, gained international recognition in the 1980s. First, in North America, political émigrés from the Soviet Bloc staged public ‘Black Ribbon Day’ ceremonies; this was followed by demonstrations in the Baltic republics of the USSR, culminating in the ‘Baltic Chain’ from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius in 1989. After the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union in 2004, deputies from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and other new member countries in the European Parliament identified 23 August as the lowest common denominator of the enlarged EU’s politics of history. In a discussion process lasting from 2009 to 2011, the Parliament, the Commission and finally the Council of the EU defined 23 August as a ‘Europewide Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Totalitarian Regimes’.


The Battle for Authority of Interpretation

The year 2009 was truly one of multiple European anniversaries: 20 years after the ‘peaceful revolution’ of 1989, 60 years since the foundation of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (and also the establishment of the GDR) in 1949, 70 years since the beginning of the Second World War on 1 September 1939, 90 years since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, 200 years since the foundation of the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Imperial Federation, and 220 years since the French Revolution of 1789, to name only the most important. Amid this spree of jubilees, the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939 did not have a particularly prominent place in the majority of Europe’s national remembrance cultures, the obvious exceptions being those of the directly affected national societies of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Moldova, as well as Finland (and thus, indirectly, Sweden as well). Alongside the looming shadow of the epochal year 1989, it was above all the dominance of the cultural memory of 1 September 1939 – the day of the German invasion of Poland – that eclipsed 23 August. Klaus Zernack has therefore recently classified 1 September 1939 as a day that is ‘today [viewed] worldwide as a date of remembrance for world peace’: 1

In the European perspective there is no need (…) for long discussion as to whether 1 September 1939 – and what followed it for the next six years and after, as the consequences of the Cold War shaped almost the whole century – is an intricate site of memory of a globally comprehended horror story. In the world’s memory of history, however, 1 September 1939 represents the date with the strongest symbolism for the 20th century. In many countries in the world it has been elevated to a day of remembrance to commemorate world peace. Without doubt this is therefore a lieu de mémoire of global significance. 2

The fact that the Polish state ceremony at Westerplatte in Gdańsk on 1 September 2009 attracted worldwide media attention – with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the most prominent guests of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk – makes this statement just as striking as that of the classification of Jan Rydel, Zernack’s Polish colleague, of 1 September as ‘from the Polish point of view the deepest watershed of the 20th century’.3 In other words, as opposed to 1 September, 23 August is of secondary importance, and this in Poland itself, whereas from the ‘Western European’ perspective it is seen as a primarily, albeit not exclusively (Central and) Eastern European matter. 4 Even in Germany, the former treaty partner, amid the circus of the 20th anniversary of the ‘Peaceful Revolution’, the 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, together with the Secret Protocol on the amicable division of Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, was greeted in interested circles with so little media interest that a group of political figures, historians, and intellectuals dealing in history and memory felt compelled to publish an appeal titled ‘Celebrating the year 1989 also means remembering 1939’, and to describe this explicitly as a ‘Declaration to mark the 70th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact on 23 August 2009’. 5 While this appeal was received with great public interest in Poland, 6 in Germany, to a large degree, it typically enough went unnoticed.

The national publics of the wider Europe were similarly unresponsive to the struggle for authority over the interpretation of the historical-political narrative that was sparked by the European approach to remembering the legacy of Nazism and Stalinism, the focus of which was the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact as the culmination of both forms of totalitarianism. The actors in this struggle were on the one side political figures dealing in issues of history and memory from Central and Eastern Europe, who found considerable support in Northern Europe and other parts of the continent, and on the other side officials exercising authority over the politics of history of the Russian Federation, such as the president, head of government, ministers, secret service, Duma, parties, the Church, armed forces, media, NGOs and historians. 7 This struggle was fought out in the arenas of the Parliamentary Assemblies of the European Council and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – two pan-European institutions of which the Russian Federation was (and still) is a member. On top of this were quite a few bilateral Russian-foreign forums and bodies, such as those with Poland and Germany. However, Moscow had no leverage over the European Union and its Parliament, whose members were able to bring their issues related to the politics of history energetically to the table after their accession in 2004. Accordingly, several years of initiatives culminated in the form of a suggestion to proclaim 23 August the ‘European day of remembrance of the victims of Stalinism and Nazism’, which between 2009 and 2011 the EU transformed into a request to the 27 member states to declare 23 August a Europe-wide day of remembrance ‘of the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes’. 8 This inflicted a defeat on Moscow at the end of a heavily symbolic defensive battle over history and memory, which at the same time explains the revision of the state history policy of the Russian Federation in the form of an opening outwards and inwards in 2009. Whilst at the beginning of the year a clear hardening was visible, this gave way in the summer and autumn to a pronounced liberalisation with elements of self-criticism – a change of course that continued in 2010 and into 2011. 9

The initiative of the proclamation of 23 August as a day of remembrance for the victims of the two totalitarian dictatorships of 20th-century Europe, both shaped by state terror and mass murder, using the heavily symbolic name ‘Black Ribbon Day’, came from political emigrants in North America who had come from the Baltic States and other Central and Eastern European countries. At the same time as the beginning of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR, on 23 August 1986, the first demonstrations took place in the Canadian capital Ottawa and several large cities in the USA as well as London, Stockholm, and Perth in Australia. Just one year later, in 1987, dissident groups in the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Soviet republics dared to hold their first public commemoration services, despite the continuing extremely repressive conditions, in which hundreds and even thousands of people participated. And in 1989, on the 50th anniversary of the Pact, over a million Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Russian-speakers sympathetic to the cause formed a 600-kilometre-long human chain – the ‘Baltic Way’ or ‘Baltic Chain’, from Tallinn, via Riga, to Vilnius. Since then, the commemorations of 23 August in the late Soviet era, and the memory of the extremely dangerous conditions under which they were held, have become a pan-Baltic lieu de mémoire.10

The break-up of the Soviet Union, together with the re-establishment of the statehood of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the end of Soviet hegemony over East-Central and South-Eastern Europe, led to numerous states in the region (including the new Russian Federation) being admitted into the Council of Europe, the oldest pan-European institution, founded in 1949. Accordingly, this Strasbourg-based international organisation developed into a forum for initiatives that dealt with the politics of the history of the legacy of the communist dictatorships. This particularly applied to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and its various committees, which sat a number of times a year, their members being drawn from the national parliaments of the member states. By 1996, with Russia and Croatia having recently joined, all the states of East-Central Europe and almost all the successor states of the USSR had become members of the Council; it was in this year that the Parliamentary Assembly first took up the subject of what was to be designated as the ‘legacy of the former communist totalitarian regime’. The applicable ‘Resolution 1096 (1996) on measures to dismantle the heritage of former communist totalitarian systems’ tabled by Central and Eastern European members therefore aimed at decentralisation, demilitarisation, privatisation and de-bureaucratisation as well as transitional justice and the opening of the secret police archives in the course of the transformation process, and only on the margins at ‘a transformation of mentalities (a transformation of hearts and minds)’. 11

Because of its nature, being oriented towards the present and future rather than ‘historical’, the resolution met little resistance from the newly present Russian deputies, particularly as a motion tabled in 1995 by Central and Eastern European, Italian and British deputies on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had not been considered by the Parliamentary Assembly. This had addressed ‘a common approach of solidarity in rejecting the two totalitarian systems which gravely undermined the Europe of this century, namely Nazism and Bolshevism, and of condemnation of their complicity which is tragically embodied in the so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, signed on 23 August 1939.’ 12


The European Parliament as a Major Player in the Politics of History

The accession of eight Central and Eastern European states to the European Union on 1 May 2004 – Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia – now made it possible for these countries to bring their national historical narratives to the forum of the European Parliament. First, however, the parliamentarians of the ‘old’ EU, the ‘EU-15’, laid down a marker for the politics of history. On 27 January 2005, in a programme document titled ‘The Holocaust, antisemitism and racism. European Parliament resolution on remembrance of the Holocaust, anti-semitism and racism’, following the Stockholm Declaration of the International Holocaust Forum of 2000, they proclaimed 27 January – the Day of the Liberation of the Extermination Camp Auschwitz- Birkenau by the Red Army – ‘European Holocaust Memorial Day’ across the whole of the EU. 13 This was a response from the European Parliament to the introduction in 1996 of the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of National Socialism on 27 January in Germany and in 2001 of Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, thus contributing to the proclamation of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (International Holocaust Remembrance Day) by the United Nations General Assembly on 1 November 2005. 14

An opportunity for the Central and Eastern European MEPs came a few weeks later in a parliamentary debate on ‘The future of Europe 60 years after the Second World War’. The diverging meanings of the history of violence in the 20th century that dominated in ‘old (Western) Europe’ and ‘New (Central and Eastern) Europe’ now clashed abruptly. In his opening statement, the Council President, the Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker, attempted to maintain the balance so as to stress, on the one hand, the contribution of the ‘soldiers of the Red Army’:

What losses! What an excessive number of interrupted life stories amongst the Russians, who contributed 27 million lives to the liberation of Europe! No one needs to harbour a great love – although I do – for the profound and eternal Russian State to acknowledge the fact that Russia deserves well of Europe. 15

On the other hand, he addressed the different nature of the historical experience of Central and Eastern Europe:

The restored freedom at the start of May 1945, however, was not enjoyed in equal measure throughout Europe. Comfortably installed in our old democracies, we were able to live in freedom in Western Europe after the Second World War, and in a state of restored freedom whose price we well know. Those who lived in Central and Eastern Europe, however, did not experience the same level of freedom that we have experienced for 50 years. They were subjected to the law of someone else. The Baltic States, whose arrival into Europe I should like to welcome and to whom I should like to point out how proud we are to have them amongst us, were forcibly integrated into a group that was not their own. They were subjected not to the pax libertatis, but to the pax sovietika that was not their own. Those people and nations that underwent one misfortune after another suffered more than any other European. The other countries of Central and Eastern Europe did not experience that extraordinary capacity for selfdetermination that we were able to experience in our part of Europe. They were not liberated. They had to evolve under the regime of principle imposed on them. 16

In the subsequent debate, described by the conservative Polish member Wojciech Roszkowski as ‘perhaps the most important debate on European identity that has been held for years’, the French communist Francis Wurtz spoke vehemently against ‘excusing the Nazi atrocities by pointing the finger at Stalinist crimes’, since ‘Nazism was neither a dictatorship nor a tyranny like any other, but rather the complete break with society as a whole’.

The Hungarian Fidesz member József Szájer countered: ‘The one who frees the innocent captive from one prison and locks him up in another, is a prison guard, not a liberator’. Practically all the MEPs from Central and Eastern Europe emphasised that focusing on 8 May 1945, regardless of what happened on 23 August 1939 was incomprehensible. Roszkowski argued explicitly against the memory politics of Russia at the time, with its relativisation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the crimes of Stalin himself. 17 The ‘European Parliament resolution on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945’ adopted on 12 May 2005 accordingly invoked the need for ‘remembering that for some nations the end of the Second World War meant renewed tyranny inflicted by the Stalinist Soviet Union’. 18

The previous day, Russian president Putin had taken the opportunity to once again underline the official position of his country in a press conference, calling the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact ‘a personal matter between Stalin and Hitler’, not of the ‘Soviet people’. On the one hand he described the content of the pact as ‘legally weak’, yet on the other he termed the territorial changes that resulted from it a mere ‘return of the regions’ that had fallen to Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. With reference to the condemnation of the Pact along with the Secret Protocol by the Second Congress of People’s Deputies of the disintegrating USSR on 24 December 1989, he expressed his annoyance, adding:

What else is wanted then? Are we supposed to condemn it again every year? We consider this subject closed and will not come back to it. We’ve expressed our position on it once, and that’s enough. 19

Russian statements such as this deepened the trench in the politics of history which was dividing the now considerably expanded European Parliament. No small number of Central and East European MEPs saw many of their colleagues from Western Europe as naïve victims of (post-) Soviet propaganda, whereas some West European leftists viewed certain Central and Eastern European right-wingers as notorious Russian haters, even anti- Semites. This became tellingly clear in a plenary debate on 4 July 2006, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of General Francisco Franco’s 1936 coup in Spain, during which the right-wing nationalist Polish MEP Maciej Marian Giertych described the Caudillo as the saviour of Central and Western Europe from the ‘communist plague’:

The presence of figures such as Franco […] in European politics ensured that Europe maintained its traditional values. We lack such statesmen today. It is with some regret that we observe today the phenomenon of historical revisionism, which portrays all that is traditional and Catholic in an unfavourable light and everything that is secular and socialist in a favourable light. Let us remember that Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy also had socialist and atheist roots. 20

It was no coincidence that it was a German MEP who hit out vociferously at his Polish colleague: ‘what we have just heard is the spirit of Mr Franco. It was a fascist speech and it has no place in the European Parliament.’ 21

The European Parliament exhibited a broad spectrum of opinions at the time, and its majority followed a balanced line towards the Soviet participation in the history of Europe after 1945. In contrast, in 2006 the members of the Council of Europe continued their course, set ten years earlier, to ‘overcome the legacy of the communist totalitarian regime’. After discussing a report produced by Göran Lindblad, the Swedish member of the Council of Europe Political Affairs Committee, which was unmistakably inspired by the ‘Black Book of Communism’ published in 1997 and prepared by a French-Polish-Czech group of authors, 22 they passed ‘Resolution 1481 (2006) – Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’. This stated that:

2. The totalitarian communist regimes which ruled in central and eastern Europe in the last century, and which are still in power in several countries in the world, have been, without exception, characterised by massive violations of human rights. The violations have differed depending on the culture, country and the historical period and have included individual and collective assassinations and executions, death in concentration camps, starvation, deportations, torture, slave labour and other forms of mass physical terror, persecution on ethnic or religious grounds, violation of freedom of conscience, thought and expression, of freedom of the press, and also lack of political pluralism.
3. The crimes were justified in the name of the class struggle theory and the principle of dictatorship of the proletariat. The interpretation of both principles legitimised the ‘elimination’ of people who were considered harmful to the construction of a new society and, as such, enemies of the totalitarian communist regimes. A vast number of victims in every country concerned were its own nationals. It was the case particularly of the peoples of the former USSR who by far outnumbered other peoples in terms of the number of victims. (…)
7. The Assembly is convinced that the awareness of history is one of the preconditions for avoiding similar crimes in the future. Furthermore, moral assessment and condemnation of crimes committed play an important role in the education of young generations. The clear position of the international community on the past may be a reference for their future actions. (…)
10. The debates and condemnations which have taken place so far at national level in some Council of Europe member states cannot give dispensation to the international community from taking a clear position on the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes. It has a moral obligation to do so without any further delay.
11. The Council of Europe is well placed for such a debate at international level. All former European communist countries, with the exception of Belarus, are now members, and the protection of human rights and the rule of law are basic values for which it stands.
12. Therefore, the Assembly strongly condemns the massive human rights violations committed by the totalitarian communist regimes and expresses sympathy, understanding and recognition to the victims of these crimes.
13. Furthermore, it calls on all communist or post-communist parties in its member states which have not yet done so to reassess the history of communism and their own past, clearly distance themselves from the crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes and condemn them without any ambiguity.
14. The Assembly believes that this clear position of the international community will pave the way to further reconciliation. Furthermore, it will hopefully encourage historians throughout the world to continue their research aimed at the determination and objective verification of what took place. 23

It is notable that this declaration was passed by an assembly that included members of the communist parties of France, the Russian Federation, Greece and other states, as well as numerous representatives of post-communist parties from Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and elsewhere, without such highly ideologised debates as occurred in the European Parliament the previous year.

The further the jubilee year of 2009 cast its shadow, the more intensive the pan-European actors’ activities in the field of the politics of history became, with those from Central and Eastern Europe again being the driving force. 24 It was thus that, on 3 June 2008, the participants in a conference organised by the government of the Czech Republic, including Václav Havel, Vytautas Landsbergis, Joachim Gauck, the aforementioned Göran Lindblad, and other mostly Czech politicians and intellectuals, passed the ‘Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism’, which stated:

1. reaching an all-European understanding that both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes each to be judged by their own terrible merits to be destructive in their policies of systematically applying extreme forms of terror, suppressing all civic and human liberties, starting aggressive wars and, as an inseparable part of their ideologies, exterminating and deporting whole nations and groups of population; and that as such they should be considered to be the main disasters, which blighted the 20th century,
2. recognition that many crimes committed in the name of Communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity serving as a warning for future generations, in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal,
3. formulation of a common approach regarding crimes of totalitarian regimes, inter alia Communist regimes, and raising a Europe-wide awareness of the Communist crimes in order to clearly define a common attitude towards the crimes of the Communist regimes, (…)
7. recognition of Communism as an integral and horrific part of Europe’s common history, (…)
9. establishment of 23 August, the day of signing of the Hitler- Stalin Pact, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as a day of remembrance of the victims of both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, in the same way Europe remembers the victims of the Holocaust on January 27 (…)
15. establishment of an Institute of European Memory and Conscience which would be both - A) a European research institute for totalitarianism studies, developing scientific and educational projects and providing support to networking of national research institutes specialising in the subject of totalitarian experience, B) and a pan-European museum/memorial of victims of all totalitarian regimes, with an aim to memorialise victims of these regimes and raise awareness of the crimes committed by them (…).25

The message that the day of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact should be made an international ‘anti-totalitarian’ day of remembrance was thus sent to Brussels. Katrin Hammerstein and Birgit Hofmann rightly argued in 2009 that ‘The demand “Never again Auschwitz” seems on the European level to be being replaced by the formula “Never again totalitarianism”.’ 26 The symbolic value of 23 August moved in this way over a 20-year-long process into the consciousness of the European public sphere; this was finally reflected in the ‘Declaration of the European Parliament on the Proclamation of 23 August as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism’ – and the ‘Central and East European’ rule of three ‘Nazism = Stalinism = Totalitarianism’ had now become an (EU-) European one:

The European Parliament, (…)
– having regard to Resolution 1481 (2006) of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on the need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes, (…)
A. whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939 between the Soviet Union and Germany divided Europe into two spheres of interest by means of secret additional protocols,
B. whereas the mass deportations, murders and enslavements committed in the context of the acts of aggression by Stalinism and Nazism fall into the category of war crimes and crimes against humanity, (…)
D. whereas the influence and significance of the Soviet order and occupation on and for citizens of the post-Communist States are little known in Europe, (…)
1. Proposes that 23 August be proclaimed European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, and at the same time rooting democracy more firmly and reinforcing peace and stability in our continent;
2. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the parliaments of the Member States. 27

It is difficult to say whether in doing this the MEPs simply overlooked the fact that on the list of international days of remembrance 23 August had already been ‘taken’ by UNESCO in 1998, which declared it the ‘International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition’ with reference to a slave uprising in Santo Domingo in 1791, 28 or whether this coincidence was consciously taken into account. In any case, duplications of days of remembrance by different international organisations are nothing unusual.

One month later the European Parliament took a further step in terms of the politics of memory which was unusual in involving, in contrast to the 2006 debate on the Franco dictatorship, not a member country of the EU, but a non-member state, namely Ukraine. The ‘European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933)’ served primarily to support the reforms of the Ukrainian president and ‘hero’ of the ‘Orange’ democracy movement, Viktor Yushchenko, yet on the other hand showed an approach that was construed as hostile in Russia, for it stated that ‘the Holodomor famine of 1932-1933, which caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians, was cynically and cruelly planned by Stalin’s regime in order to force through the Soviet Union’s policy of collectivisation of agriculture against the will of the rural population in Ukraine’, and called on ‘the countries which emerged following the break-up of the Soviet Union to open up their archives on the Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932-1933 to comprehensive scrutiny so that all the causes and consequences can be revealed and fully investigated’. 29 Even if the Holodomor was not, in accordance with the terminology prescribed by the Ukrainian president, described as genocide (henotsyd), but ‘only’ as ‘an appalling crime against the Ukrainian people, and against humanity’, the declaration was interpreted by authorities in the field of the politics of history in Moscow as a challenge and ‘interference’ in post-Soviet ‘domestic affairs’.30 A further reason for the increased attention devoted by the EU with regard to coming to terms with the past à la russe alongside the developments in Ukraine was the Russian-Estonian conflict, which was triggered by the powerful protest that Moscow issued in response to the moving of a Soviet war memorial in 2007 in Tallinn, the capital of the EU member state Estonia.31 The way in which Russia tried to force its small neighbour to conform to its own memory narrative not only led to surprise and criticism within EU circles, but also provoked infuriation towards the attitude of Estonia and its kowtowing to Moscow.

The two decisions of the European Parliament of September and October 2008 on 23 August and the Holodomor, together with the other characteristic responses to the Holocaust, the end of the war in 1945 and the Franco dictatorship quoted above, and, moreover, the one made in 2009 to the Serb massacre of 8000 Bosnian Muslims on 11 July 1995 in Srebrenica,32 formed part of an ambitious plan by MEPs, which can be described as a ‘to-do list’ for the ‘EU-standard’ of dealing with dictatorial pasts. Within the parliament, the body responsible for coordinating these issues, there has since May 2010 been an all-party informal group of 35 MEPs chaired by the suitably distinguished former Latvian foreign minister and EU commissioner Sandra Kalniete. The group has given itself the task of promoting the ‘reconciliation of European histories’ (in the plural), and in its ranks include (or have included) such competent and respected members as the Dutch historian of Eastern Europe Bastiaan Belder (who died in 2011), the Hungarian expert on minority rights Kinga Gál, and the German former president of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering. 33 At the same time, the Parliament is clearly showing through its actions that it feels responsible for the whole political field of coming to terms with the past in Europe – and this is not only confined to EU member states, but also to states such as the specifically named Russian Federation – and that it is determined to create the appropriate instruments and to prompt the EU Commission to make the necessary tools available. The proclamation of 23 August as the ‘Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality’ is therefore accorded a prominent role. This extremely substantial list of tasks was made public in the extensive ‘European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism’:

The European Parliament, (…)
– having regard to Resolution 1481 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of 25 January 2006 on the need for international condemnation of the crimes of totalitarian Communist regimes,
– having regard to its declaration of 23 September 2008 on the proclamation of 23 August as European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism,
– having regard to its many previous resolutions on democracy and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, including that of 12 May 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945, that of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, and that of 15 January 2009 on Srebrenica,
– having regard to the Truth and Justice Commissions established in various parts of the world, which have helped those who have lived under numerous former authoritarian and totalitarian regimes to overcome their differences and achieve reconciliation,
– having regard to the statements made by its President and the political groups on 4 July 2006, 70 years after General Franco’s coup d’état in Spain, (…)
A. whereas historians agree that fully objective interpretations of historical facts are not possible and objective historical narratives do not exist; whereas, nevertheless, professional historians use scientific tools to study the past, and try to be as impartial as possible,
B. whereas no political body or political party has a monopoly on interpreting history, and such bodies and parties cannot claim to be objective,
C. whereas official political interpretations of historical facts should not be imposed by means of majority decisions of parliaments; whereas a parliament cannot legislate on the past, (…)
E. whereas misinterpretations of history can fuel exclusivist policies and thereby incite hatred and racism,
F. whereas the memories of Europe’s tragic past must be kept alive in order to honour the victims, condemn the perpetrators and lay the foundations for reconciliation based on truth and remembrance,
G. whereas millions of victims were deported, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes during the 20th century in Europe; whereas the uniqueness of the Holocaust must nevertheless be acknowledged,
H. whereas the dominant historical experience of Western Europe was Nazism, and whereas Central and Eastern European countries have experienced both Communism and Nazism; whereas understanding has to be promoted in relation to the double legacy of dictatorship borne by these countries,
I. whereas from the outset European integration has been a response to the suffering inflicted by two world wars and the Nazi tyranny that led to the Holocaust and to the expansion of totalitarian and undemocratic Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as a way of overcoming deep divisions and hostility in Europe through cooperation and integration and of ending war and securing democracy in Europe,
J. whereas the process of European integration has been successful and has now led to a European Union that encompasses the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which lived under Communist regimes from the end of World War II until the early 1990s, and whereas the earlier accessions of Greece, Spain and Portugal, which suffered under longlasting fascist regimes, helped secure democracy in the south of Europe,
K. whereas Europe will not be united unless it is able to form a common view of its history, recognises Nazism, Stalinism and fascist and Communist regimes as a common legacy and brings about an honest and thorough debate on their crimes in the past century,
L. whereas in 2009 a reunited Europe will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which should provide both an opportunity to enhance awareness of the past and recognise the role of democratic citizens’ initiatives, and an incentive to strengthen feelings of togetherness and cohesion,
M. whereas it is also important to remember those who actively opposed totalitarian rule and who should take their place in the consciousness of Europeans as the heroes of the totalitarian age because of their dedication, faithfulness to ideals, honour and courage,
N. whereas from the perspective of the victims it is immaterial which regime deprived them of their liberty or tortured or murdered them for whatever reason,

1. Expresses respect for all victims of totalitarian and undemocratic regimes in Europe and pays tribute to those who fought against tyranny and oppression;
2. Renews its commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Europe founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights;
3. Underlines the importance of keeping the memories of the past alive, because there can be no reconciliation without truth and remembrance; reconfirms its united stand against all totalitarian rule from whatever ideological background;
4. Recalls that the most recent crimes against humanity and acts of genocide in Europe were still taking place in July 1995 and that constant vigilance is needed to fight undemocratic, xenophobic, authoritarian and totalitarian ideas and tendencies;
5. Underlines that, in order to strengthen European awareness of crimes committed by totalitarian and undemocratic regimes, documentation of, and accounts testifying to, Europe’s troubled past must be supported, as there can be no reconciliation without remembrance;
6. Regrets that, 20 years after the collapse of the Communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe, access to documents that are of personal relevance or needed for scientific research is still unduly restricted in some Member States; calls for a genuine effort in all Member States towards opening up archives, including those of the former internal security services, secret police and intelligence agencies, although steps must be taken to ensure that this process is not abused for political purposes;
7. Condemns strongly and unequivocally all crimes against humanity and the massive human rights violations committed by all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes; extends to the victims of these crimes and their family members its sympathy, understanding and recognition of their suffering;
8. Declares that European integration as a model of peace and reconciliation represents a free choice by the peoples of Europe to commit to a shared future, and that the European Union has a particular responsibility to promote and safeguard democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, both inside and outside the European Union;
9. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to make further efforts to strengthen the teaching of European history and to underline the historic achievement of European integration and the stark contrast between the tragic past and the peaceful and democratic social order in today’s European Union;
10. Believes that appropriate preservation of historical memory, a comprehensive reassessment of European history and Europe-wide recognition of all historical aspects of modern Europe will strengthen European integration;
11. Calls in this connection on the Council and the Commission to support and defend the activities of non-governmental organisations, such as Memorial in the Russian Federation, that are actively engaged in researching and collecting documents related to the crimes committed during the Stalinist period;
12. Reiterates its consistent support for strengthened international justice;
13. Calls for the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience to provide support for networking and cooperation among national research institutes specialising in the subject of totalitarian history, and for the creation of a pan-European documentation centre/memorial for the victims of all totalitarian regimes;
14. Calls for a strengthening of the existing relevant financial instruments with a view to providing support for professional historical research on the issues outlined above;
15. Calls for the proclamation of 23 August as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality;
16. Is convinced that the ultimate goal of disclosure and assessment of the crimes committed by the Communist totalitarian regimes is reconciliation, which can be achieved by admitting responsibility, asking for forgiveness and fostering moral renewal;
17. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the parliaments of the Member States, the governments and parliaments of the candidate countries, the governments and parliaments of the countries associated with the European Union, and the governments and parliaments of the Members of the Council of Europe.34

With this resolution, whose numerous demands were, as will be shown, generally accepted in 2010 by the Commission and in 2011 by the Council of the EU, the European Union proclaimed itself the central authority for the politics of history with pan-European responsibility and competence, thus de facto withdrawing another policy area from the Council of Europe - which had in any case been fading since 2004 in terms of competences, and in the politics of history had frequently been thwarted by Russia and Turkey. This became possible first because of the greater legitimacy, better infrastructure and incomparably greater financial resources of Brussels, and second as a result of the fact that the Central and Eastern European initiatives regarding the politics of history within the EU framework did not meet the resistance of Russia.

The ‘anti-totalitarian’ resolution of April 2009 did, however, meet with vehement ‘Western’ resistance, with the argument being that the raising of 23 August to the status of an EU day of remembrance unacceptably devalued the significance of the 27 January memorial. In this view, the parallel remembrance of the victims of both forms of totalitarianism represented a qualification of the Holocaust as an unprecedented breach of civilisation through a certain de-contextualisation. Yehuda Bauer, one of the initiators of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, founded in 1998, stated in direct reference to the resolution:

The two regimes were both totalitarian, and yet quite different. The greater threat to all of humanity was Nazi Germany, and it was the Soviet Army that liberated Eastern Europe, was the central force that defeated Nazi Germany, and thus saved Europe and the world from the Nazi nightmare. In fact, unintentionally, the Soviets saved the Baltic nations, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Czechs, and others, from an intended extension of Nazi genocide to these nationalities. This was not intended to lead to total physical annihilation, as with the Jews, but to a disappearance of these groups ‘as such’. The EU statement, implying a straightforward parallel between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, therefore presents an a-historic and distorted picture. (…) World War II was started by Nazi Germany, not the Soviet Union, and the responsibility of the 35 million dead in Europe, 29 million of them non-Jews, is that of Nazi Germany, not Stalin. To commemorate victims equally is a distortion. (…) One certainly should remember the victims of the Soviet regime, and there is every justification for designating special memorials and events to do so. But to put the two regimes on the same level and commemorating the different crimes on the same occasion is totally unacceptable.35

The Austrian historian Heidemarie Uhl, according to whom the remembrance day of 23 August represented an ‘antithesis’ to 27 January, as it was connected to it by an image of history ‘that denies the recognition of the Holocaust as the central point of reference of a European historical consciousness’, added a further argument to Bauer’s criticism:

In the European memory of the Holocaust remembrance of the victims is connected with the question of the involvement of one’s own society in the Nazi atrocities, and memory is understood as the duty to fight against racism, anti-Semitism, the discrimination of minorities based on ethnic, religious, sexual categories. In the remembrance culture of the post- 1989 societies one’s ‘own people’ is seen as an innocent victim of the cruel suppression from outside, [and] the involvement of [one’s] own society in the communist system of rule can in this way be externalised. What can be observed in the post-communist countries is in a certain sense a déjà vu of the stories of victims as we know them from the European postwar myths and the conquering of which is the precondition for the new European memory culture. Making the model of the post-war myths the basis of a pan-European remembrance day rather achieves the opposite: the rifts between the Western European and the post-communist memory culture are likely to deepen.36

Meanwhile, the leader of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation, Günter Morsch, lamented – with pro-Russian and anti-Polish undertones – the fact that ‘the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is misused as a fight over the interpretation of the politics of memory’:

If it was really just about including the victims of communism in the memory, the date of the October Revolution in 1917 could have been chosen. Yet the emphasis on the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact devalues 1 September, that is the actual beginning of the Second World War, and qualifies 27 January as a day of remembrance for all Nazi victims. One gets the impression that the war and genocide are the result of a conflict in which the totalitarian states on the one side were confronted with the democratic states on the other. Nothing could be less true. The Nazi decision to invade Poland was certain from 1933, whereas until the Munich Agreement of 1938 the Soviets were in serious negotiations with the Western powers and Poland. Poland too was an authoritarian state which until the beginning of 1939 fostered friendly relations with the ‘Third Reich’ and in November 1938 had a military part to play in the division of the democratic Czechoslovakia. The attempt to create a culture of anti-totalitarian remembrance therefore accepts an alarming decontextualisation and homogenisation, the consequences of which are immeasurable. Anybody wishing to learn from history for the future development of a common European future must not pay this price.37

However, these misgivings do not provoke much of a response from many people in European politics. Moscow greeted the resolution of the European Parliament not with open criticism, but with sublimated annoyance that the EU, acting as the ‘conscience of Europe’, wanted to ‘support and defend’ a Russian NGO like MEMORIAL – from whom? – was interpreted by the so-called Russian ‘power vertical’ as just as much of a provocation as the demand, which had been raised again, for 23 August to be treated as a Europe-wide ‘anti-totalitarian’ remembrance day. Yet from Moscow’s point of view it was even worse when the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE – of which the Russian Federation is a founding member, as well as being, in its own perception, one of the heavyweights in this international organisation ranging ‘from Vancouver to Vladivostok’ – declared itself in favour of 23 August as a European day of remembrance as well as a parallel condemnation of Nazism and Stalinism at its session in late June/early July 2009 in Vilnius. Its ‘Resolution on Europe – divided and reunified’, tabled by Slovenia and Lithuania, it stated:

3. Noting that in the twentieth century European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, Nazi and Stalinist, which brought about genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity, […]
10. Recalling the initiative of the European Parliament to proclaim 23 August, when the Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact was signed 70 years ago, as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly:
11. Reconfirms its united stand against all totalitarian rule from whatever ideological background; (…)
13. Urges the participating States:
a. to continue research into and raise public awareness of the totalitarian legacy;
b. to develop and improve educational tools, programmes and activities, most notably for younger generations, on totalitarian history, human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, pluralism, democracy and tolerance;
c. to promote and support activities of NGOs which are engaged in areas of research and raising public awareness about crimes committed by totalitarian regimes; (…)
16. Reiterates its call upon all participating States to open their historical and political archives;
17. Expresses deep concern at the glorification of the totalitarian regimes, including the holding of public demonstrations glorifying the Nazi or Stalinist past (…).38

The resolution was passed with 213 votes in favour to eight against, with four abstentions. However, 93 members, probably including all the Russians, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kyrgyz and most of the Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians, did not take part in the vote. The protests from Moscow appeared particularly weak as they came only from the Duma. The reason for this was the dramatic changes that were taking place in the domestic and external politics of history of the Russian Federation in the summer of 2009.

Since the declaration of the European Parliament regarding 23 August made on 23 September 2008, a whole series of bodies dealing with the politics of history in Russia had realised that the transatlantic anti-Hitler coalition, which apart from a few cracks and breaches was still visible on 9 May 2005 at the ceremony in Red Square to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, was now crumbling. While in Moscow in 2005 only the Latvian president, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, had demanded an apology from Russia for the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact (as well as for the renewed annexation, camouflaged as ‘liberation’, of the Baltic States by the USSR in 1944),39 the parliament of a European conglomerate of states numbering 27 members as well, indirectly, as the parliamentary pillars of the OSCE, were now proclaiming 23 August as a pan-European day of remembrance. And this was done with some success, as the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 2009 was celebrated publicly not only by the countries that were in Russian eyes the ‘usual suspects’ – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Georgia – but moreover by Sweden, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and even Bulgaria as well.

Jerzy Buzek, the liberal Polish European Parliament president who had emerged from the Solidarity movement, crowned the ‘anti-totalitarian’ memory politics of Central and Eastern Europeans in October 2009 by making the Brussels parliament building available as a venue for an international conference organised by the three Baltic States with the title ‘Europe 70 years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’. In his opening address Buzek recalled the historical occurrence, according to the Central and Eastern European interpretation, in distinct words:

In August 1939 when the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed to the great shock of the world’s democracies, Time Magazine called it the ‘Communazi Pact’, perhaps a better name for a deal between two totalitarian regimes who proceeded to divide Central and Eastern Europe between themselves. Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Finland lost 10% of its territory and 12% of its population, Eastern and Northern Romania, as well as the three Baltic States were directly annexed by the Soviet Union. Up to 700,000 Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians were deported, from a population of six million. In Poland, some 1.5 million people were deported, of these 760,000 died, many of them children. When we are looking at these figures, we can imagine the scale of the whole tragic story. One in ten adult males was arrested; many were executed in a policy of decapitating the local elites. In April, the European Parliament adopted its resolution on ‘European Conscience and Totalitarianism’, which called for the proclamation of August 23rd as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, and called on the European public to commemorate these victims with dignity and impartiality. We can never forget those victims, for they are a reminder of where we come from, and show us how much we have achieved.40

And to the ‘Dear Friends’ gathered in the European Parliament building, he described an arc from 1939 via 2004 to 2009:

When the new member states joined five years ago, we brought with us our own history and our own stories; one of those tragic stories was the ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’. (…) Today we are a reunited and integrated continent because we have learnt the lessons of the Second World War, and the pact that allowed it to happen.41

The remembrance day then acquired a transatlantic dimension a few weeks later through the unanimously passed resolution of the Canadian lower chamber of 30 November 2009, which declared that they were cognisant of the ‘infamous pact between the Nazi and Soviet Communist regimes’, and that 23 August would be the ‘Canadian Day of remembrance of the victims of the Nazi and Soviet atrocities’, designated as ‘Black Ribbon Day’.



1) WHEREAS the Government of Canada has actively advocated for and continues to support the principals enshrined by The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260 (III) A of 9 December 1948;
2) WHEREAS the extreme forms of totalitarian rule practised by the Nazi and Communist dictatorships led to premeditated and vast crimes committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights on a scale unseen before in history;
3) WHEREAS hundreds of thousands of human beings, fleeing the Nazi and Soviet Communist crimes, sought and found refuge in Canada;
4) WHEREAS the millions of Canadians of Eastern and Central European descent whose families have been directly affected by Nazi and/or Communist crimes have made unique and significant, cultural, economic, social and other contributions to help build the Canada we know today;
5) WHEREAS 20 years after the fall of the totalitarian Communist regimes in Europe, knowledge among Canadians about the totalitarian regimes which terrorised their fellow citizens in Central and Eastern Europe for more than 40 years in the form of systematic and ruthless military, economic and political repression of the people by means of arbitrary executions, mass arrests, deportations, the suppression of free expression, private property and civil society and the destruction of cultural and moral identity and which deprived the vast majority of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe of their basic human rights and dignity, separating them from the democratic world by means of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, is still alarmingly superficial and inadequate;
6) WHEREAS Canadians were instrumental during the 1980s in raising global awareness of crimes committed by European totalitarian Nazi and Communist regimes by founding an annual ‘Black Ribbon Day’ on 23 August , to commemorate the legal partnership of these two regimes through the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT every victim of any totalitarian regime has the same human dignity and deserves justice, remembrance and recognition by the Parliament and the government of Canada, in efforts to ensure that such crimes and events are never again repeated;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Parliament and the Government of Canada unequivocally condemn the crimes against humanity committed by totalitarian Nazi and Communist regimes and offer the victims of these crimes and their family members sympathy, understanding and recognition for their suffering;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Government of Canada establish an annual Canadian Day of Remembrance for the victims of Nazi and Soviet Communist crimes on 23 August, called ‘Black Ribbon Day,’ to coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the infamous pact between the Nazi and Soviet Communist regimes.42

The anchoring that has now occurred of 23 August as an ‘anti-totalitarian’ international day of remembrance, which Russian diplomacy was unable to prevent, has had two entirely different, indeed opposite effects: firstly, Russia reacted by isolating itself and displaying aggressive outward signals, and secondly came a reinterpretation of the country’s own imperial and national history based on a new orientation of the politics of history that were accompanied with clear signs of a readiness to make outward concessions.43 The latter tendency was carried forward by an internal Russian debate, also culminating in 2009, on the topic of ‘victory without Stalin?’ Was Stalin the ‘architect of the victory’ of 9 May 1945, or did the Russian ‘people’ – or to use the earlier term ‘the peoples of the Soviet Union’, or as it is now called, the ‘Russian nation’44 – achieve this victory ‘in spite of Stalin’? This question was accorded a double significance when ‘the victory’ in the ‘Great Patriotic War 1941-1945’ was also ascribed the function of a foundation myth of the Russian Federation – once the use of the Soviet founding myth of the ‘Great Socialist October Revolution’ was discontinued for reasons of ideology. In other words: in the Russian discourse on the Soviet-German pact whose name there is known in the order ‘Ribbentrop-Molotov’, together with the Secret Protocol, the question was and remains not only the role to be ascribed to Stalin in the official national memory of the war, but much more the raison d’être of this, the largest product of the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the cement of an identity bound by memory that is intended to hold together the particularly disparate federation of Russians and numerous non-Russians.

In his contribution to this volume, Wolfram von Scheliha traces how in 2009 President Dmitry A. Medvedev, with the acceptance of his predecessor Prime Minister Putin, despite considerable opposition, drafted and introduced a new approach to the politics of history, both domestically and for international use. Von Scheliha arrives at the surprising and at the same time convincing conclusion that the formation on 15 May 2009 of a ‘President of the Russian Federation’s Commission for the Struggle against Attempts at Falsification of History Damaging Russia’, which met with harsh criticism and great misgivings, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and Germany, was the result of liberal, even ‘pro-European’ forces in the Kremlin who were successfully keeping in check dogmatists nostalgic for Soviet times.45 Indeed, the president subsequently went out on a limb in terms of memory issues in a way that justifies this interpretation. ‘Simply put,’ said Medvedev in a newspaper interview the day before ‘Victory Day’ in 2010, ‘the regime that was established in the USSR can only be described as totalitarian.’ At the same time, he rejected the (post-) Soviet interpretation of 9 May, and thus indirectly also the Russian interpretation of the ‘Great Patriotic War 1941-1945’:

For quite some time the war was perceived exclusively as a Great Victory of the Soviet people and the Red Army. But the war also stands for an immense number of victims and for the colossal losses that the Soviet people suffered together with other European countries. (…) There are absolutely evident facts: the Great Patriotic War was won by our people, not Stalin and not even the military, with all the importance of what they achieved. (…) If we speak of the state evaluation of how Stalin is to be appraised through the leadership of the country in the last years, from the moment of the establishment of the new Russian state, this meaning is clear: Stalin committed an abundance of crimes towards his people. 46

In the same interview, however, Medvedev said that ‘those who place the role of the Red Army and those of the Fascist occupiers on one and the same level are committing a moral crime’, in conjunction with criticism of the Baltic states and praise for the reunified Germany.47

A minor sensation was caused by Medvedev’s decision to invite the chairman of MEMORIAL, Arseny Roginsky, to cooperate with the Presidential Council in working on the development of civil society and on human rights. At a session of this body on 1 February 2011 in Ekaterinburg, the two discussed a memorandum prepared by MEMORIAL, ‘The Immortalisation of the Remembrance of the Victims of the Totalitarian Regime and National Reconciliation’, which demanded financial support for surviving victims of gulags and their full legal rehabilitation, and likewise the establishment of monuments and memorials in visible locations in the public space, the creation of a database of victims, free access to the files of the NKVD secret police, and a ‘political-legal evaluation of the crimes of the communist regime’.48 Roginsky himself, however, was sceptical regarding the seriousness of Medvedev’s liberalisation in memory politics. According to him, the president and prime minister were now acting as ‘anti-Stalinists’ as well as proponents of an explicitly state-Russian, not ethnoculturally Russian national identity, because they feared an excessive strengthening of Stalinist and Russian nationalist forces in the country.49


The state of affairs in 2011

The aforesaid resolution of the European Parliament of 2 April 2009 on the ‘Conscience of Europe and on Totalitarianism’, along with the Council of the EU’s demand in November 2008 to assess the need for EU guidelines against the trivialisation of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, prompted the EU Commission to intensify its activities. Having already held a seminar in November 2007 on the question ‘How to deal with the totalitarian memory of Europe: Victims and reconciliation’, they commissioned in 2009 a comprehensive study ‘on how the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe is dealt with in the Member States’, which was submitted in early 2010. 50 Based partly on this, the EU Commission produced a report titled ‘The memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe’, which was presented to the Parliament and Council in December 2010. In this they were able to report that five member states – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Sweden – had transferred the remembrance day of 23 August stipulated by the European Parliament to their national legislatures and recommend that further member states ‘examine the possibility to adhere to this initiative in the light of their own history and specificities’. The Commission also listed those aid programmes whose money could be used for measures of this kind, including the ‘Active European Remembrance’ action of the Europe for Citizens programme, in the framework of which the Platform of European Memory and Conscience supported by the Parliament could also be financed.51 In June 2011, in connection with the aforementioned Commission report of 2010 and the Parliament resolution of 2009, the EU Council passed its ‘conclusions on the memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe’:

The Council of the European Union
Considering that many Member States have experienced a tragic past caused by totalitarian regimes, be it communist, national socialist or of any other nature, which have resulted in violations of fundamental rights and in the complete denial of human dignity; (…)
Noting, that totalitarian regimes in Europe, although different in their origins, political justification and expression, form part of Europe’s shared history; (…)
4. Highlights the Europe-wide Day of Remembrance of the victims of the totalitarian regimes (23 August) and invites Member States to consider how to commemorate it, in the light of their own history and specificities; (…)
7. Invites the Commission to pay attention to the questions of the participation of smaller organisations to EU financial programmes, including schools and higher education institutions, as well as to examine how to foster participation of the beneficiaries from the Eastern partnership countries and Russia in common initiatives and project financed by these programmes. (…)
9. Invites all interested parties to make full use of existing EU programmes to establish a Platform of European Memory and Conscience to provide support for current and future networking and cooperation among national research institutes specialising in the subject of totalitarian history.52

As a result, within three years the project of the proclamation of 23 August, a Europe-wide day of remembrance had successfully negotiated the path through the EU bodies – from the Parliament, via the Commission, to the Council. And so, together with the resolution of the Canadian parliament from 2009, the last stage of the rise of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a Euro-Atlantic lieu de mémoire, together with the remembrance day of 23 August, was complete. The first stage was the time of perestroika, leading to the negotiated transitions of 1989. The second, in the 1990s, was that of the European Council’s dealing with the legacy of the ‘ totalitarian communist regime’. The third began in 2004, with the accession of the Central and Eastern European states to the EU and the subsequent debates in the European Parliament. The fourth was the stage described above, lasting from 2008 to 2011.

All of this influenced the domestic as well as the external policy of the Russian Federation in an increasingly polarising sense: the European Parliament’s call to declare 23 August as a Europe-wide day of remembrance led in the build-up to the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in Russia to a battle for authority over interpretation between the nationalist idolisers of Stalin and the power pragmatists, who viewed themselves as liberals, in which President Medvedev, who to date has in the public space been numbered among the latter camp, was able to come out on top. While the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has by no means lost its quality as an expressly non-site of memory in the CIS (with the exception of Moldova), it is no longer a taboo subject in Russia’s external memory politics. The reasons for this include the debate raging internally in Russia since 2011 about what is now known as the de-Stalinisation (destalinizaciya) of the country; the palpable improvement in Russian-Polish relations since 2009 – strengthened since the Smolensk plane disaster of April 2010, and including the subject of Katyń, which is comparable in its shattering effect to the 1939 Pact; the German-Russian special relationship, recently described as a ‘modernisation partnership’; and finally the debates in the pan-European forums of the European Council and the OSCE – and especially the intensified activities of the European Union since 2004 in the field of the politics of history.

It is important to emphasise once again, however, that only in exceptional cases do the negotiations at the EU, OSCE and European Council level and their effects, in terms of the politics of history, have repercussions in the media, public sphere and politics (as well as in the academic study of memory). 53 The culture of remembrance in Europe as well as the rest of the world is first and foremost a national matter, which as a rule has few transnational common spaces. Like Europe Day on 9 May, or 27 January, 23 August as Black Ribbon Day or the European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Stalinist and Nazi Atrocities remains in the shadows of most national cultures of remembrance in the Northern Hemisphere. The fact that it has over the course of almost three decades even been anchored as such must, however, be assessed as a genuine success of pan-European /trans-Atlantic, and here primarily Central and Eastern European, politics of history and memory. The misgivings of intellectuals and academics, based on reasons pertaining to teaching about memory, on the perceived devaluation of 27 January, and even the implicit equation of the Holocaust on the one hand with the gulags, Holodomor and the Great Terror on the other, prove to be of little political importance given the broad transnational- parliamentary consensus of 23 August. Yet whether the new Euro- Atlantic day of remembrance will turn out to be of great significance in all or at least the majority of the cultures of memory of the national societies of Europe, Eurasia, and North America is a question to which the answer lies in the future.



Prof. Dr. Stefan Troebst, University of Leipzig. Born in 1955 in Heidelberg, 1974-1984 Studies in History, Slavic Studies, Balkanologie and Islamic Studies at the Free University Berlin and at the universities of Tübingen, Sofia (Bulgaria), Skopje (Yugoslavia, now Macedonia) and at Indiana University Bloomington, (USA) 1984; 1984-1992 Wiss. Staff and Assistant Professor of East European History at the Eastern European Institute at the Free University of Berlin, Since 1999, Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Leipzig, East Central Europe, also a senior fellow at Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas.




1. K. Zernack, ‘1. September 1939: als hochstes Stadium “Negativer Polenpolitik”’, in: E. Francois and U. Puschner (eds), Erinnerungstage. Wendepunkte der Geschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Munchen, 2010), pp. 305-318 and 437-440, here p. 317.

2. Ibid., p. 305.

3. J. Rydel, ‘Der 1. September als ein Fokus der Erinnerung’, in: S. Raabe and P. Womela (eds), Der Hitler-Stalin-Pakt und der Beginn des Zweiten Weltkrieges / Pakt Hitler- Stalin i wybuch II Wojny Światowej (Warszawa, 2009), pp. 7-12, here p. 12. The Warsaw historian Jerzy Kochanowski, however, has at the same time pointed out that the Polish lieu de mémoire ‘1 September 1939’ has in the meantime been given stiff competition by that of ‘17 September 1939’ – the day of the Red Army invasion of eastern Poland – ‘The ‘German’ part of the Polish history of World War II has been pushed to the side to such a degree that one might gain the impression that the war began not on 1 September 1939, but 17 days later.’ Cf. id., ‘Der Kriegsbeginn in der polnischen Erinnerung’, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 36-37 (2009), pp. 6-13, here p. 12.

4. S. Troebst, ‘Der 23. August 1939 – ein europaischer lieu de mémoire’, Osteuropa 59 (2009) 7-8, pp. 249-256, also www.eurozine.com, accessed: 30.06.2011.

5. ‘Das Jahr 1989 feiern, heist auch, sich an 1939 zu erinnern! Eine Erklarung zum 70. Jahrestag des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts’. Berlin, 23. August 2009, Die Zeit 35 (20.08.2009), pp. 22. See also www.23august1939.de, accessed 01.06.2011. You can also find versions in German, Russian, Polish, Czech and Hungarian here.

6. ‘Przepraszamy za 1939, dziękujemy za 1989. List niemieckich intelektualistow w 70. rocznicę II wojny światowej’, Gazeta Wyborcza, 21.08.2009, p. 1, wyborcza.pl, accessed 26. 06. 2011.

7. On this and other dividing lines in memory culture in Europe cf. C.S. Maier, ‘Heises und kaltes Gedachtnis. Zur politischen Halbwertzeit des faschistischen und kommunistischen Gedachtnisses’, in: Transit. Europäische Revue 22 (2001/2002), pp. 153-165; S. Troebst, ‘Holodomor oder Holocaust?’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 152 (04.07.2005), p. 8; id., ‘Jalta versus Stalingrad, GULag versus Holocaust. Konfligierende Erinnerungskulturen im groseren Europa’, Berliner Journal für Soziologie 15 (2005), pp. 381-400; U. Ackermann, ‘Das gespaltene Gedenken. Eine gesamteuropaische Erinnerungskultur ist noch nicht in Sicht’, Internationale Politik 61 (2006) 5, pp. 44- 48; H.-A. Winkler, ‘Erinnerungswelten im Widerstreit. Europas langer Weg zu einem gemeinsamen Bild von Jahrhundert der Extreme’, in: B. Kauffmann and B. Kerski (eds), Antisemitismus und Erinnerungskulturen im postkommunistischen Europa (Osnabruck, 2006), pp. 105-116.

8. For the context cf. K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische “Interventionen”: Resolutionen und Initiativen zum Umgang mit diktatorischer Vergangenheit’, in: K. Hammerstein et al. (eds), Aufarbeitung der Diktatur – Diktat der Aufarbeitung? Normierungsprozesse beim Umgang mit diktatorischer Vergangenheit (Gottingen, 2009), pp. 189-203; K. Hammerstein, ‘Europa und seine bedruckende Erbschaft. Europaische Perspektiven auf die Aufarbeitung von Diktaturen’, in: Werner Reimers Stiftung (ed.), Erinnerung und Gesellschaft. Formen der Aufarbeitung von Diktaturen, Berlin (forthcoming).

9. Cf. essentially W. von Scheliha, ‘Der Pakt und seine Falscher. Der geschichtspolitische Machtkampf in Russland zum 70. Jahrestag des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts’ (in this volume) and id., ‘Die List der geschichtspolitischen Vernunft. Der polnischrussische Geschichtsdiskurs in den Gedenkjahren 2009-2010’, in: E. Francois, R. Traba and S. Troebst (eds), Strategien der Geschichtspolitik in Europa seit 1989 – Deutschland, Frankreich und Polen im internationalen Vergleich, Gottingen (forthcoming). See also T. Timofeeva, ‘“Ob gut, ob schlecht, das ist Geschichte”. Russlands Umgang mit dem Hitler- Stalin-Pakt’, Osteuropa 59 (2009) 7-8, pp. 257-271, and Jutta Scherrer’s contribution to this volume.

10. On this cf. the contributions of A. Bubnys, K. Wezel and K. Bruggemann in this volume.

11. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Resolution 1096 (1996) on measures to dismantle the heritage of former communist totalitarian regimes. Strasbourg, 27 June 1996, assembly.coe.int, accessed 01.06.2011.

12. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Motion for a Resolution on the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, presented by Mr Paunescu, Romania, UEL, and others. Strasbourg, 12 July 1995 (Doc. 7358), assembly.coe.int, accessed 01.06.2011.

13. European Parliament resolution on remembrance of the Holocaust, antisemitism and racism. Brussels, 27 January 2005, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011. For the background cf. H. Schmid, ‘Europaisierung des Auschwitz- Gedenkens? Zum Aufstieg des 27. Januar 1945 als “Holocaustgedenktag” in Europa’, in: J. Eckel and C. Moisel (eds), Universalisierung des Holocaust? Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik in internationaler Perspektive (Gottingen, 2008), pp. 174-202; Jens Kroh, Transnationale Erinnerung. Der Holocaust im Fokus geschichtspolitischer Initiativen (Frankfurt a. M./ New York, 2008); D. Levy and N. Sznaider, Erinnerung im globalen Zeitalter: Der Holocaust (Frankfurt a. M., 2001), pp. 210-216.

14. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on the Holocaust Remembrance (A/RES/60/7, 1 November 2005), www.un.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

15. European Parliament, plenary debates. Strasbourg European Parliament. Plenary debates. Strasbourg, 11 May 2005, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. European Parliament resolution on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945. Strasbourg, 12 May 2005, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

19. Putin o pakte Molotova-Ribbentropa: ‘Chorošo ėto bylo ili plocho – ėto istorija’, Regnum. Informacionnoe agentstvo (10.05.2005), http://www.regnum.ru/news/451397.html, accessed 29.06.2011. On this see also Jutta Scherrer’s contribution in this volume.

20. European Parliament. Plenary debates. Tuesday, 4 July 2006 – Strasbourg: 70 years after General Franco’s coup d’etat in Spain, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

21. Ibid. (Speech of the Social Democrat Martin Schulz.) The debate took place in the context of the ‘Recommendation 1736 (2006) Need for international condemnation of the Franco regime’, passed by the European Council on 17 March 2006. This had given Spain’s government detailed recommendations for dealing with the memory of the legacy of the Franco dictatorship of 1939 to 1975. Cf. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Recommendation 1736 (2006) Need for international condemnation of the Franco regime. Strasbourg, 17 March 2006, http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/adoptedtext/ta06/erec1736.htm accessed 01.06.2011; K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische ‘Interventionen’’, pp. 194-196. On the structural parallels of strategies for dealing with the past of the late and post-dictatorial periods between Southern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe see S. Troebst, Diktaturerinnerung und Geschichtskultur im östlichen und südlichen Europa. Ein Vergleich der Vergleiche (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitatsverlag, 2010), www.uni-leipzig.de/gesi/documents/working_papers/GESI_WP_3_Troebst.pdf, accessed 30.06.2011.

22. On this subject cf. B. Hofmann, ‘Europaisierung der Totalitarismustheorie? Geschichtspolitische Kontroversen um das ‘Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus’ und die Europaratsresolution zur ‘Verurteilung der Verbrechen totalitarer kommunistischer Regime’ in Deutschland und Frankreich’, in: id. et al. (eds), Diktaturüberwindung in Europa. Neue nationale und transnationale Perspektiven (Heidelberg, 2010), pp. 331-347; K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische “Interventionen”’, pp. 196-202.

23. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly: Resolution 1481 (2006) Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes. Strasbourg, 25 January 2006, assembly.coe.int, accessed 01.06.2011.

24. The Slovenian EU Presidency of the EU Council thus held a hearing on 8 April 2008 in Brussels, primarily with the participation of experts from Central and Eastern Europe, on the crimes of the totalitarian regimes, with communist state crimes being of central concern. On this cf. the comprehensive report by von Peter Jambrek (ed.), Crimes Committed by Totalitarian Regimes. Ljubljana 2008, 316 pp. www.mp.gov.si, accessed 01.06.2011.

25. Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism. Prague, 3 July 2008, www.praguedeclaration.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

26. K. Hammerstein and B. Hofmann, ‘Europaische “Interventionen”’, p. 196. See also F. Wenninger and J. Pfeffer, ‘Total normal. Zur diskursiven Durchsetzung des Totalitarismus-Begriffs in Debatten des Europaischen Parlamentes’, Conference Papers, Momentum-Kongress 2010 (Hallstatt, 21.-24.10.2010) (forthcoming). However, even the influential Copenhagen document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe of 1990, passed at the climax of the euphoria over the collapse of communism in 1990, stated ‘The participating States clearly and unequivocally condemn totalitarianism’. Cf. Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (Copenhagen, 29 June 1990), Point 40, http://www.osce.org/odihr/19394, accessed 01.06.2011.

27. Declaration of the European Parliament on the proclamation of 23 August as European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. Brussels, 23 September 2008, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

28. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: 23 August: International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and of its Abolition, portal.unesco.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

29. European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008 on the commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933). Brussels, 23 October 2008, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011. On the historical background cf. G. Kasianov, ‘The Great Famine of 1932-1933 (Holodomor) and the Politics of History in Contemporary Ukraine’, in: S. Troebst (ed.), Postdiktatorische Geschichtskulturen im Süden und Osten Europas. Bestandsaufnahme und Forschungsperspektiven (Gottingen, 2010), pp. 619-641; and W. Jilge, ‘Geschichtspolitik in der Ukraine’, Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 8-9 (2007), pp. 24-30.

30. Cf. also the plenary debate on the motion for the resolution in the European Parliament on 22 October 2008, in which Helmuth Markov, the Brandenburg MEP from the party ‘The Left’, argued in favour of Russia: European Parliament. plenary debates. Strasbourg, 22 October 2008. 14. Commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukraine artificial famine (1932-1933) (debate), www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=CRE&reference=20081022&secondRef=ITEM-014&language=EN&ring=P6-RC-2008-0571, accessed 01.06.2011.

31. M. Lehti, M. Jutila and M. Jokisipila, ‘Never-Ending Second World War: Public Performances of National Dignity and the Drama of the Bronze Soldier’, Journal of Baltic Studies 39 (2008), pp. 393-418; K. Bruggemann and A. Kasekamp, ‘The Politics of History and the War of Memories in Estonia’, Nationalities Papers 36 (2008), pp. 425-448; K. Bruggemann, ‘Denkmaler des Grolls. Estland und die Kriege des 20. Jahrhunderts’, Osteuropa 58 (2008) 6, pp. 129-146. On the comparable tensions between Russia on the one side and Latvia and Lithuania on the other cf. the contributions from K. Wezel, A. Nikžentaitis and C. Scheide in the same issue of Osteuropa as well as D. Bleiere, ‘Overcoming the Communist and Authoritarian Past in Latvia: History and Monuments in the Political Discourse’, in: S. Troebst (ed.), Postdiktatorische Geschichtskulturen, pp. 330- 404.

32. European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2009 on Srebrenica. Strasbourg, 15 January 2009, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011. On the mass execution in the UN protection zone, classified by international law as genocide, cf. Julija Bogoeva/ Caroline Fetscher, Srebrenica. Dokumente aus dem Verfahren gegen General Radislav Krstić vor dem Internationalen Strafgerichtshof für das ehemalige Jugoslawien in Den Haag, Frankfurt a. M. 2002.

33. On this see the website of the group: Reconciliation of European Histories. For a better understanding of Europe’s shared history, eureconciliation.wordpress.com, accessed 01.06.2011.

34. European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism. Brussels, 2 April 2009, www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2009-0213+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN, accessed 01.06.2011. The resolution was passed with 553 votes in favour, 44 against and 33 abstentions. A public hearing on the subject ‘European Conscience and Crimes of Totalitarian Communism: 20 Years After’ had taken place previously on 18 March 2009 in the European Parliament on the initiative of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council. The program of the hearing can be found on the website of the Hungarian Fidesz MEPs, http://fidesz-eu.hu/galeria/File/Invitation_18_March_2009.pdf, accessed 01.06.2011.

35. Y. Bauer, ‘On Comparisons between Nazi Germany and the Soviet regime’, undated, www.gedenkdienst.or.at, accessed 01.06.2011. On the state of historical knowledge on this issue cf. M. Geyer and S. Fitzpatrick (eds), Beyond Totalitarianism. Stalinism and Nazism Compared (Cambridge, 2009); J. Baberowski and A. Doring-Manteuffel, Ordnung durch Terror. Gewaltexzesse und Vernichtung im nationalsozialistischen und im stalinistischen Imperium (Bonn, 2006); D. Diner, ‘Gedachtnis und Erkenntnis. Nationalsozialismus und Stalinismus im Vergleich’, Osteuropa 50 (2000), pp. 698-708; D. Beyrau, ‘Nationalsozialistisches Regime und Stalin-System. Ein riskanter Vergleich’, ibid., pp. 709-720; I. Kershaw and M. Lewin (eds), Stalinism and Nazism. Dictatorships in Comparison (Cambridge, 1997).

36. H. Uhl, ‘Neuer EU-Gedenktag: Verfalschung der Geschichte?’ On the website: science ORF.at’, 21 August 2009, sciencev1.orf.at, accessed 01.06.2011.

37. G. Morsch, ‘Schlachtfeld EU. Wie der Jahrestag des Hitler-Stalin-Pakts fur einen erinnerungspolitischen Deutungskampf missbraucht wird’, Jüdische Allgemeine (20.08.2009), www.juedische-allgemeine.de, accessed 01.06.2011.

38. Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, Resolution on Divided Europe Reunited: Promoting Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the OSCE Region in the 21st Century, in: Vilnius Declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Resolutions Adopted at the Eighteenth Annual Session, Vilnius, 29 June to 3 July 2009 (AS (09) D 1 G), pp. 48-49, www.oscepa.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

39. Cf. on the wording, Katja Wezel’s contribution to this volume, and on the background E.-C. Onken, ‘The Baltic States and Moscow’s May 9th Commemoration: Analysing Memory Politics in Europe’, Europe-Asia Studies 59 (2007), pp. 3-46. However, US President George Bush had declared, during a stopover on 7 May 2005 in the Latvian capital Riga on the way to Moscow: ‘For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. (...) The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.’ Cf. ‘President Discusses Freedom and Democracy in Latvia’. Riga, Latvia, 7 May 2005, www.whitehouse.gov.edgesuite.net/news/releases/2005/05/print/20050507-8.html, accessed 01.06.2011.

40. The President of the European Parliament, 70th anniversary of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact. Brussels, 14 October 2009, www.europarl.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

41. Ibid.

42. House of Commons, Resolution to Establish an Annual Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Europe’s Totalitarian Regimes. Ottawa, 30 November 2009, www.blackribbonday.org, accessed 01.06.2011.

43. On the memory politics of the Russian Federation since 2008/09 cf., alongside the cited analyses of Wolfram von Scheliha and the contribution of Jutta Scherrer in this volume, see especially C. Kuhr-Korolev, ‘Erinnerungspolitik in Russland. Die vaterlandische Geschichte und der Kampf um historisches Hoheitsgebiet’, Neue politische Literatur 54 (2009), pp. 369-383 and J. Morre, ‘Die Erinnerung an den Zweiten Weltkrieg im heutigen Russland’, Jahrbuch für historische Kommunismusforschung (2011), pp. 253- 256; B. Dubin, ‘Soziologische Perspektiven auf das ‘kollektive Gedachtnis’ des heutigen Russland, in: S. Troebst and J. Wolf (eds), Erinnern an den Zweiten Weltkrieg. Mahnmale und Museen in Mittel- und Osteuropa (Leipzig, 2011), pp. 113-119; I. Scherbakowa, Zerrissene Erinnerung. Der Umgang mit Stalinismus und Zweitem Weltkrieg im heutigen Russland, (Gottingen, 2010); A. Vatlin, ‘Die unvollendete Vergangenheit: Uber den Umgang mit der kommunistischen Geschichte im heutigen Russland’, Jahrbuch für historische Kommunismusforschung (2010), pp. 279-293; Themenausgabe „Geschichtspolitik und Geschichtsbild”, Russland-Analysen Nr. 196 (12.02.2010), www.laender-analysen.de/ russland/pdf/Russlandanalysen196.pdf, access 29.06.2011; E. Zubkova, ‘The Filippov Syndrome’, Kritika 10 (2009), pp. 861-868; A. Roginski, ‘Fragmentierte Erinnerung. Stalin und der Stalinismus im heutigen Rusland’, Eurozine (02.03.2009), www.eurozine.com/articles/2009-03-02-roginski-de.html, accessed 29.06.2011. On the traditional lines of memory politics which shaped the memory of Stalinism and the World War from Leonid Brezhnev via Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin, see B. Dubin, ‘Erinnern als staatliche Veranstaltung. Geschichte und Herrschaft in Russland’, Osteuropa 58 (2008) 6, pp. 57-65; Lev Gudkov, ‘Die Fesseln des Sieges. Russlands Identitat aus der Erinnerung an den Krieg’, Osteuropa 55 (2005) 4-6, pp. 56-73; B. Dubin, ‘Goldene Zeiten des Krieges. Erinnerung als Sehnsucht nach der Brežnev-Ara’, ibid., pp. 219-233.

44. A typical example of the concept of a ‘Russian nation’ (rossijskaja nacija) or the ‘multinational people of the Russian Federation’ (mnogonacional’nyj narod Rossijskoj Federacii), as it was termed in the constitution of 1993, can be found in the leading article of one of Medvedev’s advisers in the New Year’s edition of the Kremlin-backed newspaper Izvestija: V. Nikonov, ‘Ideja našej nacii’, Izvestija (30.12.2010-10.01.2011) 246/247 (28261), p. 7, www.izvestia.ru/comment/article3150213/, accessed 01.06.2011.

45. On this cf. ‘Russland kampft. Gesetz und Kommission gegen Geschichtsfalscher’, Osteuropa 59 (2009) 7-8, pp. 273-275; MEMORIAL, ‘Zur neuen Kommission beim Prasidenten der Russlandischen Foderation. Erklarung der Gesellschaft MEMORIAL. Moscow, 22 May 2009, ibid., pp. 277-278; and Wolfram von Scheliha, ‘Funf Jahre Haft fur Kritik an Stalin. Die russische Staatsmacht kampft um die Deutungshoheit uber die Geschichte’, in: Hoch und Guck (03/2009) 65, pp. 68-70.

46. Interv’ju Dmitrija Medvedeva gazete Izvestija. Gorki, 7 May 2010, www.kremlin.ru, accessed 01.06.2011.

47. Ibid.

48. Stenografičeskij otčet o zasedanii Soveta po razvitiju graždanskogo obščestva i pravam čeloveka. Ekaterinburg, 1 February 2011, www.kremlin.ru/transcripts/10194, accessed 01.06.2011.

49. A. Roginskij, ‘Erinnerung und Freiheit. Die Stalinismus-Diskussion in der UdSSR und Russland’, Osteuropa 61 (2011) 4, pp. 55-69, here pp. 66-69.

50. Study on how the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe is dealt with in the Member States. Submitted by Prof. Dr. Carlos Closa Montero, Institute for Public Goods and Policy, Centre of Human and Social Sciences, CSCIC, Madrid, Spain (Contract No JLS/2007/C4/006). Madrid, January 2010, 480 pp. ec.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

51. European Commission: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council: The memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe (COM(2010) 783 final). Brussels, 22. 12. 2010, ec.europa.eu, accessed 01.06.2011.

52. Council of the European Union, Council conclusions on the memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe. 3096th JUSTICE and HOME AFFAIRS Council meeting. Luxembourg, 9 and 10 June 2011, www.webcitation.org/5zO7mIFTb, accessed 01.06.2011.

53. The most recent and relevantly titled publications contain no reference to the establishment of 23 August as a European day of remembrance. Cf. pars pro toto C. Joerges, M. Mahlmann and U.K. Preus (eds), ‘Schmerzliche Erfahrungen der Vergangenheit’ und der Prozess der Konstituierung Europas (Wiesbaden, 2008); B. Strath and M. Pakier (eds), A European Memory? Contested Histories and Politics of Remembrance, (London, New York, 2010), M. Blaive, C. Gerbel and T. Lindenberger (eds), Clashes in European Memory: The Case of Communist Repression and the Holocaust (Innsbruck, Wien, Bozen, 2010). The same is true of the chapters on Europe in A. Assman, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik (Munchen, 2006). An exception that stands out is C. Leggewie and A. Lang, Der Kampf um die europäische Erinnerung. Ein Schlachtfeld wird Besichtigt (Munchen, 2011), which states that ‘the memory of 23 August 1939, when the pact was concluded between Hitler and Stalin’ belongs ‘no longer just to the margins’, but to ‘a truly Europeanised politics of memory’ and ‘a pan-European history narrative’ (p. 11), and where the content and results of the resolution of the European Parliament of 2 April 2009 are described (p. 192). Cf. also ibid., pp. 58, 65, 68 and 77-78, and id.: ‘Schlachtfeld Europa. Transnationale Erinnerung und europaische Identitat’, in: C. Bieber, B. Drechsel and A.-K. Lang (eds), Kultur im Konflikt. Claus Leggewie revisited, Bielefeld 2010, pp. 29- 44, with commentaries from W. Schmale, S. Troebst, H. Uhl und S. Kattago, in: ibid., pp. 45-64. It was no coincidence that Leggewie participated as an expert in the ‘Study on how the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Europe is dealt with in the Member States’ of 2010 commissioned by the EU Commission and cited above.



This article has been published in the first issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies.