Gabrielius Landsbergis: Why don’t we learn our lessons?
By Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs
The capitulation of the Nazi regime in Reims, France and Berlin, Germany, on 7th and 8th of May, in 1945 is considered the Victory Day all over the free world. It really commemorates a remarkable Victory against one of the most terrible regimes of the 20th century.
‘The world must know what happened, and never forget,’ – General Dwight D. Eisenhower said back then during a visit to one of the Nazi death camps. The world will probably never ever forget the horrors of Nazism. It has learned a lesson.
However, for millions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the Day of Victory against Nazism was the beginning of new enslavement, suffering, and repressions. Tens of millions of people were exiled, imprisoned and killed by the Soviet Union in an attempt to destroy all those who opposed its totalitarian regime. That, too, must never be forgotten.
However, as Eastern Europeans observe Russian soldiers strutting in the Victory Day parade in the Red Square of Moscow on 9th of May, they cannot but be reminded of millions of their peaceful compatriots who were raped, imprisoned, sent to concentration camps, tortured, massacred, deported, deprived of basic human rights and dignity by the brutal Soviet predecessor of the Russian Army which was out celebrating yesterday.
Yet it’s the same brutality and disregard for human life that we see today, more than 70 years later, played out in the streets of Bucha, Irpin, Kramatorsk, and Maryupol, atrocities performed by the very Russian Army which is out parading in the Red Square. It glories in violence and barbarity while presenting itself the savior of humanity from Nazism. It is the flag-bearer of Putinism – the Nazism of the 21st century.
The lessons that were not learned then, in 1945, remind of themselves in the most horrible way today. The world must open its eyes and take steps to correct mistakes.
The first lesson is that authoritarianism is inhumane and must be condemned regardless of whether it is a winner or a loser in the war. This is particularly evident today. A closer look at what the Soviet regime did after WWII and what the Putinist regime is doing today would reveal many tragic similarities. Terror, politically motivated persecutions and imprisonments against real, potential, or imagined opponents back then are not very different from the way Russian authorities and siloviki treat opposition activists and even ordinary people who want to have their say today. Soviet occupation of sovereign states, such as the Baltic countries, mass exile, displacements, and even genocide-like actions against a score of nations in the 1940s and 50s hardly differ from today's Russia’s attempts to impose the Russian world on Ukrainians, Belarusians, Moldovans or Georgians.
The other lesson to learn is that atrocities and crimes against humanity cannot be hidden under ideological sound-bites. ‘Denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine, as declared by the regime in Kremlin, is, in fact, an attempt to physically destroy those who disagree with the lies, crimes, and inadequacies of the regime in Russia, even if it means the destruction of entire nations and states in the name of its survival.
And this is happening in the center of Europe, in the 21st century, propelled by the previous passivity and indifference of the rest of the world. The regime in Kremlin has learned its lessons well: the global response to the invasion of Georgia (and occupation of South Ossetia) in 2008, to the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Donbass in 2014 was, unfortunately, underwhelming. These examples illustrate how the absence of a united, resolute, and powerful response from the West has led to a growing sense of impunity and to committing increasingly horrific crimes. It looks as though the lessons of history – shameful Munich agreement of 1938, violation of Budapest memorandum of 1994, or total disregard of Minsk agreements of 2015 - have been once again ignored.
It is time to start learning lessons, and do it very fast. Unless we don’t care about freedom, democracy, and justice anymore. Unless we are resigned to allowing Putinism – the fascism and Nazism of the 21st century - to destroy Europe once again.
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