80 years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: Dividing lines in Europe linger on

Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact / Scanpix

On 23 August Europe will mark the European Day of remembrance for the victims of totalitarian regimes and will commemorate 80 years since the notorious non-aggression agreement between the two biggest totalitarian tyrannies of the 20 century – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The deal, signed on 23 August 1939 and better known as Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, contained secret protocols in which Stalin and Hitler have plotted to divide Europe between themselves, Rasa Juknevičienė, Member of the European Parliament, writes.

By signing the pact, Stalin has paved the way for Hitler to start the military attack on Poland and triggered World War II. The Polish Republic was invaded first by Hitler and two weeks later by Stalin. Two aggressors have celebrated the success of their common military operation against Poland by a joint Nazi-Soviet parade in Brest-Litovsk.

The Soviet Union went on to occupy territories of Romania, in December 1939 started an aggressive war against Finland and in June 1940 annexed by force the independent Republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. During the first 22 months of World War II, the Soviet Union provided Nazi Germany with a secure rear, various strategic goods including oil and grain, and political support by ordering, for example, the French communists not to oppose the Nazi invasion.

EU and NATO membership erase dividing lines

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and its secret protocols resulted in mass murder, ethnic genocide, and the suffering of millions of people on the scale unseen in human history. However, 80 years after, its consequences have only partially been liquidated.

The crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime were evaluated, and some justice was achieved in the Nuremberg process. The crimes of the Soviet regime remain without proper legal and moral evaluation to this date. The modern history proved that only NATO and EU membership were able to finally erase the dividing lines drawn by totalitarian tyrannies in the Baltic States, Poland and other Central European countries.

But countries in the Eastern neighbourhood of the EU – like Ukraine, Moldova and Sakartvelo (Georgia) – remain in the area of active influence of successors of Molotov doctrine in the Kremlin and are still struggling to break free. Just as Hitler was not satisfied after the Munich agreement and just as the Soviet Union showed its real face in dividing Europe for many decades and locking democracies in fear of nuclear threat, today’s Kremlin is also not satisfied with occupied territories in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Putin wants to keep the entire countries to the Kremlin’s sphere of authoritarianism, human rights abuses and lawlessness.

Some politicians and businessmen are actively arguing for “dialogue” with Kremlin. But such a strategy is doomed to fail because appeasement towards a tyrant never works. Ultimate abolishment of the dividing lines in Europe is in more significant part a responsibility of the European democracies, the EU and NATO – help those countries which are willing to join the Euro-Atlantic community of freedom, security, democracy and the rule of law to reform themselves and achieve their goal.

The need for EU strategy for Russia

As you read these lines, many political prisoners, captured in occupied territories in Ukraine continue to suffer in Russian prison cells, just because they spoke out against the Russian occupation and aggression. The police in the streets of Moscow beat up the Russian people who are willing to have their say in elections. Therefore, it is also a moral question for Europeans – do we need a dialogue with Kremlin who invades and occupies territories of neighbours, meddles in democratic elections, actively sows discord among countries and within foreign societies, wages information and other forms of hybrid war.

In fact, to this date, Russia remains the biggest victim of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Not only because later in the war, but it has also paid the greatest human sacrifice. But merely because until today, Russia has not come to terms with its gruesome past. Instead, nowadays the Kremlin openly encourages “nashism“, Soviet nostalgia, hatred towards the European Union and NATO and liberal democracies.

Therefore, the Western democracies should not merely seek a dialogue with Putin, but prepare for a post-Putin Russia. For that, a well thought longer-term EU strategy is needed. The EU also should continue to help countries around Russia on their path of pro-European reforms and prepare itself to eventually invite countries like Ukraine to join the EU. Ukraine’s European success story would be the best example for Russian people, that positive transformation is possible also in Russia.

Educating young Europeans

The real significance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact may be evident for scholars and historians, but there is little awareness of it in more full societies in Europe, especially among the younger generation. However, in today’s world, the lessons of those times are as valuable as ever, with the rise of radicalism, populism and anti-European sentiment and in need of Europe’s resilience against external challenges, such as information wars.

The young generation should be able to understand the broader context and critically evaluate the actions of political leaders and tyrants and be able to analyse reasons and broader consequences of their dealings for Europe. This is also needed to remind the younger generation what are the origins of the European Union, why the EU and NATO are essential, not only as a way of a better life but as the safeguard of values of democracy and freedoms, that must be defended every day. The history of the 20 century Europe, of all its countries, must become a common European history not only in school textbooks but also in our minds.

The commemoration of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact on 23 August is not just about the past. It is about history which is still to be overcome. The generation of Europeans who remember the horrors of Nazism and Communism bears an exceptional responsibility to enable the final abolishment of the blood-soaked dividing lines, drawn by the dictators.

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