Despite the harmony at the ceremony, the way those countries view role of the Soviet Union in World War II is creating controversy in Russia today.
Some former Soviet Republics and Eastern European countries say the long years of Soviet domination was similar in nature to the Nazi occupation. For them, liberation arrived only when the USSR collapsed.
In May, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced the creation of a special presidential commission to deal with what the Kremlin calls “attempts to falsify history.” He also proposed legislation that would make such actions a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Independent opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov says the initiative could lead to a ban on any criticism of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
One point of disagreement is the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, signed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on the eve of war’s outbreak. Under its secret provisions, Germany and the USSR agreed to divide up Eastern Europe.
Russian historians recently published a book of declassified intelligence reports from that period in an effort to defend Stalin’s role.
Alexander Dyukov is the director of the Historical Memory Foundation in Moscow – and the author of the book.
Yet many Soviet archives are still classified, unavailable for students or teachers to study in history class. Teacher Elena Silkina says until all limitations are lifted, Russia as well as the other former Soviet states and allies – will have a hard time coming to terms with the Soviet past.
“To accept, realize and pay for your mistakes, financially as well, is kind of a national heroic deed, not to hide anything,” Silkina says. “It is clear that we have not processed the Stalin era – as well as the Soviet-era epoch and the 1917 Revolution, because not all archives are accessible, not all documents, and it all is still alive and painful.”
Russia has also taken issue with the July resolution by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said the countries of Europe suffered under two major totalitarian regimes during the 20th century – Nazism and Stalinism.
There are numerous objections, Alexander Dyukov.
Vladimir Ryzhkov says Russia’s inability to simply renounce Soviet crimes and turn a fresh page is bound up with its self-image as a superpower, which was a key outcome of the Soviet victory over Germany.
On May 9 this year, just like every year since the end of World War II, a grand Victory Day parade took place on Red Square including tanks, flyovers by fighter jets, and nuclear missiles. It was meant both to commemorate Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany – and to demonstrate Moscow’s military might in the 21st century.
Pic: President Dmitiv Medvedev of Russia