Five EU states have issued a statement condemning a World War 2-era German-Russian treaty which divided Europe, but Russia has defended the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
The treaty, signed between Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and his Nazi German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop, on 23 August 1939 “sparked World War 2 and doomed half of Europe to decades of misery” the foreign ministries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania said on Friday (23 August), the day of its 80th anniversary.
The pact of non-aggression “contained the secret protocol which effectively carved up eastern Europe into spheres of influence,” they said.
The protocol, which came to light after the war, rearranged the borders of Poland, the Baltic states, and Finland.
It also prompted Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to invade Poland some two weeks after Germany did it on 1 September 1939, but Germany and the Soviet Union later went to war against each other in 1941.
The five signatories said their states had now been “reborn as free and democratic nations” and “vigorous members of the European Union”.
But they complained that there were “those who seek to revive these ideologies [Nazism and Stalinism] or who seek to exonerate these ideologies of their crimes and culpability”.
They also complained that victims of their crimes faced barriers in “ongoing historical investigation” of what happened.
And they said their statement was needed to “counter … disinformation campaigns and attempts to manipulate historical facts”.
The comments on reviving totalitarian ideologies referred chiefly to Russia, where Stalin is being promoted as a great leader by the Russian government and where his approval rating is at an all-time high, even though far-right parties are also on the rise in Austria and Germany.
The Stalinist revival even came to the EU capital back in 2009, when Russian state broadcaster Ria Novosti tried to hire Kreab, a top PR agency, to help whitewash his name.
The complaint on historical investigation also referred to Russia, which has failed to fully open its archives on the Katyn massacre in 1940, when Stalin’s troops killed more than 22,000 Polish officers.
The old wounds remain open in modern EU politics.
When Germany, some 10 years ago, began construction of a gas pipeline to Russia, bypassing Poland and making it more vulnerable to energy blackmail, the then Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, said: “Poland has a particular sensitivity to corridors and deals above our head … that was the Molotov-Ribbentrop tradition”.
That pipeline was Nord Stream 1 and the construction, today, of a second pipeline along the same route, called Nord Stream 2, makes the Polish and Baltic states’ security forces feel the same way.
The fact that Russia recently started the first war of territorial conquest in Europe since World War 2 by invading and annexing parts of Ukraine has compounded fears in the region.
Some of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s comments have also jangled nerves.
“If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw, and Bucharest”, Putin reportedly said to Ukraine’s former president Pietro Poroshenko back in 2014.
And Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, continued to “manipulate historical facts” in Moscow earlier this week.
Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact only because France, Poland, and the UK had tried to “appease” Hitler with their own pacts and treaties, Lavrov said at a conference, entitled ‘Year 1939: The Outbreak of World War II’.
“The Western powers naively believed that the war would bypass them and played a double game trying to channel Hitler’s aggression to the east,” Lavrov said.
“In these circumstances, the Soviet Union had to go it alone to ensure its national security and sign a non-aggression pact with Germany,” he added.
He did not mention the secret protocol on Russia’s invasion of Poland and other territories.
But the Russian minister also drew “lessons” from the past for contemporary European politics.
“It is necessary to get back to the difficult work of creating an architecture of equal and indivisible security and broad cooperation of sovereign states in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia,” he said.