Hero or Villain? – CEE Countries Defy Russia‘s Bid to ‘Falsify’ History

Written by | Monday, May 11th, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and nine Central and Eastern European foreign ministers took a swipe at Russia on Thursday (7 May), denouncing what they described as Moscow‘s “regrettable effort to falsify history”. They released the joint statement ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII to honour the victims and “all soldiers who fought to defeat Nazi Germany” but also to recall that May 1945 “did not bring freedom to all of Europe” as the then Soviet Union forcibly imposed communist rule in Eastern Europe. “The Baltic States were illegally occupied and annexed and the iron grip over the other captive nations was enforced by the Soviet Union using overwhelming military force, repression, and ideological control,” the joint statement says, adding that “Manipulating the historical events that led to the Second World War and to the division of Europe in the aftermath of the war constitutes a regrettable effort to falsify history.”
In Prague, the Czech capital, a city mayor and two distric mayors are now under police protection, fearing they are the targets of a Russian assassin carrying a deadly toxin, and Russian-Czech relations are in crisis. After the dismantling of a statue of a Russian WWII hero and the renaming of a Prague square, relations between Prague and Moscow are taking a turn for the worse amid what the Czechs see as Russia’s growing assertiveness over its interpretation of history. At the center of the dispute is last month’s removal of a statue of Soviet Marshall Ivan Konev from the district of one of the mayors, which caused outrage in Russia for what it sees as attempts to diminish the nation’s decisive role in defeating the Nazis. In contrast, from the Czech perspective, Marshall Konev is denounced for his leading role in crushing the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary, his contribution to the construction of the Berlin Wall and the preparation of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed liberal reforms known as the Prague Spring.
Another controversy is boiling in neighboring Poland that was recently accused by President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials of bearing some responsibility for the outbreak of the war, a claim rejected by Warsaw and its Western allies as false revisionism. Polish leaders condemned President Putin for making these statements, saying Moscow was lying to deflect attention from recent failures. Moscow has also attempted to downplay the secret 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact that was concluded before the start of WWII to carve up Europe and it also refuses to recognise the 1944-45 Soviet takeover of the three Baltic states as an occupation, and it has never offered an apology or reparations. In response, the Baltic presidents also released their own statement on Thursday (7 May), challenging Moscow’s view of history and called for “truth and justice” in recognising communist-era crimes and Moscow’s responsibility for the war’s outbreak. “For us, the war ended in 1993 when the last Russian soldier left,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda stressed.

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