75 years since the end of WW2: Europe looks back

On 8 May 1945 Germany surrendered to the allied troops. The Second World War and the Nazi occupation of Europe were over. Large-scale celebrations - such as the vast military parade planned in Moscow - have been called off due to coronavirus this year. But commentators' reflections about the anniversary are not being overshadowed by the pandemic.

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NV (UA) /

Russian chauvinism

Germany is not the only power to blame for World War II, writes Iryna Herashchenko, a political companion of former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, in nv.ua:

“The symbol of May 8 is the red poppy, which reminds us of those who lost their lives. ... The ideology behind Russia's chauvinistic show of weapons is: 'We can do it again.' There is a parallel to today's attempts to conquer territory and redivide the world. … On the day of commemoration and reconciliation, we remember that the war started with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. With this pact, two totalitarian regimes agreed to divide the world between themselves. … My thanks goes to all Ukrainians who fought against two totalitarian regimes.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Lack of knowledge and culture of debate

The anniversary marking the end of WWII has degenerated into a row over the past, Lidové noviny complains:

“Of course history must be discussed. But based on facts. We Czechs know pitifully little about what actually happened. Only a handful of our politicians can explain what the Vlasov army was. Hardly anyone is able to name at least a few leaders of the 1945 Prague Uprising. The mistake may lie in our childhood. Not much time is devoted to the Second World War in schools. That does not give us a good basic knowledge. And as long as that doesn't change we'll remain unable to have a real discussion, and will continue to distort and ideologise history.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

A day of remembrance, not celebration

Berlin has made May 8 a one-off public holiday this year. Now there are growing calls for it to become a regular public holiday. Der Tagesspiegel, however, believes the day should be reserved for the victors of World War Two:

“A reason to celebrate - for those nations who paid a high price for overthrowing the Nazi regime instated by the Germans, for those who were liberated from concentration and labour camps, and for all the Germans who thereafter were able to live in a free country. ... We should leave it to the victors to celebrate the day and to the Germans to remember humbly that they were the perpetrators; that the majority of Germans shared responsibility for National Socialism and supported it to the end. ... A reason why May 8 should be an official memorial day in Germany - but not a public holiday.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Nationalism and populism are not defeated

Democracy and international cooperation did not just happen automatically after 1945, historian Agostino Giovagnoli underlines in Avvenire:

“After the war there was no climate of spontaneous international solidarity. The Italians, for instance, didn't distance themselves from the fascist mentality, and border issues became a highly emotional issue. However the people, including our people, found democratically elected ruling classes who assumed responsibility for leading their countries: after the war it was the ruling classes that planned and implemented a world of peace and cooperation, even against the will of their own voters. Here is the most important lesson for today: populists and demagogues are the most dangerous enemies of their own people.”

Právo (CZ) /

The Soviet Union paid the highest price for victory

It was the USSR which brought the Germans to their knees, Právo points out:

“But the price for the victory and liberation of the country and other peoples of Europe was terrible: 27 million Soviet citizens, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Georgians and members of other nationalities lost their lives. A man-against-man battle on Stalingrad's doorstep decided whether the Czechs would end up as German slaves somewhere beyond the Urals. The Americans and British were also well aware that without the Soviet victory they wouldn't have been able to beat Hitler. In the end, the Soviet victims also paved the way for European integration. It all depended on eliminating German Nazism and militarism.”

Wedomosti (RU) /

Kremlin exploiting the war for propaganda

Vedomosti criticises the current Russian leadership for exploiting the topic of the war for current political and propaganda purposes:

“Only in Russia is the image of an ever victorious, immaculate state which makes wise decisions, which is unwavering in the face of external pressure and which protects national interests, imposed on the population today. But with such an understanding of the Great Patriotic War, the state has no interest in a detailed and objective analysis of history - instead it needs to reanimate old myths about the war and create new ones to manipulate social consciousness. This is the way to reaffirm the insidious behaviour of the West and its neighbours towards the Soviet Union - even though the latter is barely distinguishable from Russia.”

Deutsche Welle (BG) /

With all due respect, Red Army didn't bring freedom

May 8 is an ambivalent date for Eastern Europe, comments political scientist Ivan Krastev on Deutsche Welle Bulgarian website:

“The millions of Soviets who died in the struggle to drive the Nazis out of Eastern Europe do not give Moscow the right to decide when the countries of Eastern Europe should celebrate their liberation. The self-sacrifice of the Soviet soldiers deserves respect, and any attempt to belittle the role of the Soviet Union in the victory over Hitler is tantamount to historical revisionism. Yet the monuments of Soviet marshals and tanks in Eastern Europe can never be monuments to freedom - simply because this is not what they represent in the eyes of Eastern European societies.”

The Conversation (FR) /

Will Austria drop the victim discourse now?

The refusal of part of the Austrian population to confront the country's past has enabled the far-right FPÖ to take power, but the discourse could be changing now, historian Thomas Serrier comments in The Conversation:

“Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), who has been chancellor since 2017, is a monster of opportunism. As Europe's youngest head of government he is currently ruling with the Greens, after leading a blue-black coalition of conservatives and right-wing populists for a time. The Green politician Alexander van der Bellen has been president since 2017. This constellation could mean that the strategic victim discourse that has worked for so long loses traction, especially now that Kurz, having managed the coronavirus crisis so effectively, has little to fear from the FPÖ.”