8.06.05. Anniversary of the Great Victory, The article by Petr Stegniy in The Turkish Daily News

Sunday, May 8, 2005

May 8 and 9 have been designated by the United Nations as Days of Remembrance and Reconciliation. These are the dates when, 60 years ago, the Nazis were finally defeated and World War II, the bloodiest war in human history, ended. The celebrations that will be held on this occasion in Moscow are due to be attended by heads of state and governments representing more than 50 nations and leading international organizations, including the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoan. The upcoming event is to contribute to the strengthening of solidarity among the world's nations in the face of the global challenges of the 21st century.

May 9 -- Victory Day -- has a special meaning in Russia. There is hardly a family in our country that has not been scathed by the flames of that war, known in our history as the Great Patriotic War, a war that took from us more than 27 million lives before victory. It was in the face of these grievous ordeals that the people of the Soviet Union manifested the true greatness of the human spirit and the numerous examples of heroism and true patriotism.

World War II was indeed an event of immense magnitude. It was not only a global battle that exceeded in scale all previous armed conflicts in world history. It was not merely about a collision of interests and even not so much the conflict of ideologies: What it was really about was a clash between opposing, irreconcilable approaches to the definition of the human experience. Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Salaspils and other death camps' gas chambers and crematoria have clearly shown what fascism was about and what kind of future its so-called new order had in store for the world.

The main outcome of the war has not just been the victory of one coalition of states over the other. In essence, it was the victory of the constructive forces of civilization over the forces of destruction and barbarity, the victory of life over death.

Our duty to the post-war generations is to comprehend and to tell the truth about this immense tragedy of human history. It is not an easy task. Every nation has quite naturally its own vision of the course and the outcome of the war, as well as the extremely complicated international situation of that time. But the moral lessons of the victory over Nazism are common. The memory of millions soldiers who gave their lives fighting for Europe's liberation is sacred. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Auschwitz memorial near the Polish town of Oswiecim on Jan. 27, 2005, described deeply immoral attempts to re-write the history of the war by treating equally the victims and their hangmen, the liberators and the occupiers.

The logic of history is often tragic, sometimes controversial. Making judgments on the turbulent past according to today's political conjuncture leads nobody anywhere because of many reasons, but mainly because it brings political events out of their historical context. Of course, reassessment of recent and sometimes distant history becomes crucial for national self-identification. In the course of democratic transformation our country reassessed negative aspects of its totalitarian past, including fundamental and impartial condemnation of the Secret Protocols to the Molotov -- Ribbentrop Pact and the Katyn tragedy. But the main criterion for analysis of an historic process has always been its outcome. It should not be forgotten either that most of the states who claim no difference between the Nazi atrocities and Soviet occupation thereafter, exist today within their ethnic boundaries, guaranteed by the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, not in spite of, but rather because of the new Russia that was among the first former Soviet republics to declare its sovereignty on June 12, 1990, and thus paved the road to the independence of others.

The war turned out to be the greatest tragedy for the nations of Europe and the world. Neither did Turkey manage to avoid completely its aftermath. Let me mention just one episode from the memories of the diplomats of the Soviet Embassy in Ankara. S. A. Vinogradov, the then Soviet ambassador to Turkey, was on vacation in Moscow when Hitler's armies invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. It was during these hard days that he had a meeting with Joseph Stalin, who then asked him a single question, Is it possible that Turkey will enter the war on Hitler's side? The firm answer of this rather young (then just over thirty years old), yet experienced diplomat who realized the full burden of his responsibility, was no. History has proved that this answer was indeed based on his deep knowledge of Turkey's internal situation and the international reality of the time. Under the most complicated conditions of the era spanning 1939 to 1945, the Turkish government pursued the policy of neutrality, finally acceding to the Anti-Hitler Coalition in 1945 and thus joining themselves among the founding members of the United Nations. Upon the end of the war, Ambassador Vinogradov was decorated with the nation's highest award -- the Order of Lenin.

The establishment of the Anti-Hitler Coalition can be quite rightfully called the greatest diplomatic breakthrough of the time. The coalition became an example of the states of different ideologies and political systems rallying in the face of a common mortal danger. Today, 60 years on, there is no need for us to simplify or embellish history. Each of the Anti-Hitler Coalition member states pursued its own goals with its own national interests. Their mutual trust was not achieved easily. But still they managed to overcome their differences and put aside all that was non-essential, for the sake of achieving their principal task: the common victory. A common understanding united the opponents of Nazism that evil had to be resisted jointly and that no effort was to be spared for that, allowing no compromises, no concessions or separate deals. This lesson remain no less relevant today.

This experience of such brotherhood-in-arms during the war years has its particular significance today, when humanity is being globally challenged by yet another threat: international terrorism. This new enemy is no less dangerous, no less cunning, no less merciless than the Nazis; thousands of innocent people have already become its victims. The foundations of civilization themselves are once again threatened.

Just as it was 60 years ago, the only way to cope with that kind of threat today is through solidarity and mutual trust. Double standards with regard to terrorists are as unacceptable as the attempts to rehabilitate the fascists' accomplices. Giving terrorists a public platform for stating their man-hating views is as immoral and unnatural for contemporary Europe as the parades of former Waffen S.S. members in the countries claiming adherence to democratic values.

Our primary duty towards those who shed their blood for the salvation of mankind from fascism is to put an end to the further dissemination of the ideas of intolerance, racial, national, religious superiority, which often hide the ambitions for global dominance and provide the ground for new potential threats. The unity among the anti-terrorist nations, the harmonious development of relations between various ethnic and confessional groups, their mutual tolerance and respect, the preservation of cultural diversity, the development of open, constructive dialogue of civilizations -- these are the prerequisites for our victory over the forces of hatred and extremism.

The desire to deliver humanity from the scourge of war for good inspired the nations of the Anti-Hitler Coalition to establish the United Nations as a global mechanism for safeguarding peace and security. Its charter has become a generally recognized basis for contemporary international law and a fundamental code of conduct for states and international organizations. The principles and standards of the U.N. Charter, which stood the test of the Cold War, are today the basis for the emerging new world order of security and justice for the era of globalization.

It is a good old tradition among the nations of the former Soviet Union to meet on May 9 and to raise a toast to the sacred Victory Day holiday and to pay tribute to the memory of those who fought for our countries' independence and for the liberators of Europe from the fascist plague.

For some people, especially the veterans, this holiday also has a very intimate, personal meaning. Sadly, they are slowly departing from us, and I'd like to avail myself of this chance to express my deepest gratitude to the Turkish companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have made the necessary arrangements for a trip to Antalya for a group of Russian war veterans. No doubt this gesture will receive the highest appreciation in the heart of any Russian and it will also be a symbol of the new period in the history of political, economic and humanitarian contacts between our two countries.