Rasa Juknevičienė. How European History can heal the wounds of the past

2020-11-20 |

Like very many other families, generations of my family – my parents, my grandparents – had a mission: to preserve the history of our country for the future through their children.

We spent a large part of our lives in occupied Lithuania, where history was fabricated and concealed, hidden. Falsification of history was a cornerstone of the rule of the Soviet Empire. My brothers and I, we learned our history from the stories that our mother and grandmother told us about their life in Siberia. Those stories saved our minds from drowning in the Soviet lies.

Our mission – to preserve the history of our country

Many families in my country did the same. But it took longer to fully understand our history. Even after we regained our freedom, we needed time to open our hearts and comprehend the full horror of the Holocaust that took place in Lithuania, occupied by Nazis. We needed time to acknowledge the cruelty with which the Soviet regime crushed the partisan resistance in the forests of Lithuania. The resistance that was (and still is!) so little known in Europe, but which was also hidden from Lithuanians by the Soviets. Only recently have we discovered and properly reburied the bodies of our resistance fighters and leaders.

EP resolution that damaged Kremlin’s historical attack

Now is the time to acknowledge our European history as the history of all of us. As a member of the European Parliament, I see the question of European historical memory as one of my priorities. I started my first term at the European Parliament in July 2019, right before the 80th anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. The idea to initiate a European Parliament resolution commemorating this day that was so important for the history of all Europe came during a conversation with Tune Kelam – an Estonian politician that had finished his term at the EP last year.

Today we have an official EU document that we can rely on when we talk about the importance of history for the future of Europe, how can European History heal the wounds of the past or when we are faced with disinformation that aims to distort it. On 19th September 2019, a resolution was adopted at the European Parliament by 535 votes in favour. It is important to remind that the EP adopted the resolution with similar content on 2009. Looking from a historical approach, one of the main provisions in the text of the new resolution which is mentioned for the first time in the history of resolutions is this: – Treaty of Non-Aggression, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and its secret protocols, dividing Europe and the territories of independent states between the two totalitarian regimes and grouping them into spheres of interest, paved the way for the outbreak of the Second World War;

This sentence was the main reason why this resolution was noticed by Kremlin. The resolution became a focus for Vladimir Putin in December 2019. We understood that with this document, we severely damaged a huge historical attack, that was prepared for the 75th anniversary of the victory of WWII. If not for the pandemic, this date had to be celebrated with pompous parades and the participation of Western leaders, assessing the victory according to Stalin’s historical doctrine. According to the plan, not only Russia’s public sphere but also EU public sphere had to be filled with Stalinist WWII narratives.

Kremlin‘s attacks against Poland

I was really surprised at first that the Kremlin’s attack against EP resolution was directed towards Poland and Polish members of the Parliament, although the original text was born in Lithuania, in the computer of my assistant. Most probably the Kremlin missed the beginning of resolution’s preparatory work and some small Lithuanians seemed completely insignificant. When I was gathering the necessary support for the idea and adoption of the resolution, Latvians, Bulgarians, Romanians and, of course, Poles joined the process. Their amendments were very important. It seems that the attack against Poland was directed because it was necessary to find a weapon to deny the most important provision of resolution – that WWII was started by the agreement of both dictators, both totalitarian regimes. This provision was written in the preliminary text of the resolution and during the debates of European Parliament it did not receive any critique or doubts, it was adopted without amendments, left unchanged, as it was on the computer of my assistant. This indicates that for most representatives of EU countries in the Parliament, this provision does not raise any doubts. Hopefully, Putin’s attempts to erase obvious facts will not resonate in Europe.

Communism and Nazism are equal

For some members of parliament from the Southern states of Europe, especially from the left parties, it was difficult to understand why we propose to equate nazism and communism. The wording of the Resolution after the discussion stage slightly changed, however this provision remained in the text. So displaying the parallels between communism and nazism, as well as the statement that WWII was started by both – Hitler and Stalin – are the most inconvenient to the different WWII narrative planned by the Kremlin.

According to them, the Soviets must be regarded as the only antifascists, and those who don’t agree with such story are fascists. The countries neighbouring Russia are facing the brunt of its attacks. That’s why it was very important to adopt the resolution with an overwhelming majority and to send a very clear message that we are united. However, the most important target is Russia’s society and especially the youth. At home the Russian political leadership takes aim not only at the Soviet nostalgic electorate, but also at the younger generation. They are to be trained in a nationalistic ideology including a hostile view of the West. Moto “Those who control the past control the future”.

Stalin’s role is being heroised, the crimes of that period are not only justified but also glorified. It’s important to see it and act unanimously, because the silence of democratic world will cultivate even greater aggression. Could anyone imagine monuments built to Hitler in Germany? Most certainly not. However, such monuments to Stalin are still being built in Russia. Communist crimes have not been condemned as nazi crimes have, therefore Stalinism is returning to Russia in other, aggressive forms. We are being tested, how far Kremlin can go with history falsification attacks.

Until the time comes when Russia reflects on its history as Germany did, World War II or R / M dividing lines will remain alive on the European continent. The distinguishing feature of those lines are the spaces of democracy and autocracy. Today’s events in Belarus also demonstrate this. It‘s necessary to stop Russia’s disinformation war against EU states However, Russia itself continues to suffer the most from Soviet totalitarianism, failing in any way to overcome the blackest tumours of its history.

The resolution also contains an important sentence on this: “… Russia remains the greatest victim of communist totalitarianism and that its development into a democratic state will be impeded as long as the government, the political elite and political propaganda continue to whitewash communist crimes and glorify the Soviet totalitarian regime; calls, therefore, on Russian society to come to terms with its tragic past.”

It‘s necessary and possible to stop Russia’s disinformation war against EU states (using history) if the EU has a strong common understanding that European history is not just Western European history. With the end of WWII, the bloody Holocaust ended. However, a big part of the current EU sank into the darkness of communism, with millions of people still tortured in Stalin’s camps after the war. No one ever liberated them the way Auschwitz was liberated, and so far, no EU leader has laid flowers anywhere in Norilsk or Krasnoyarsk.

A clear strategy is needed so that history is not used as a weapon against the EU. We need to have an ambitious plan for teaching history at schools, as called for in the resolution adopted by the EP. In Lithuania, I often hear words of disappointment from my constituents that the West does not understand our history. But do we in the European Northeast understand the history of the Spanish, Italian, or Greek while they lived under totalitarian regimes? Probably not.

We, therefore, need to make the EU not only a common economic market, not only a common space for those travelling without borders but also a common space for our different historical experiences and memories. In the EP, we established an informal Remembrance Group. We recently had a virtual meeting with Vera Jourova, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency.

We agreed to work together to implement the key provisions of the resolution. I would also like to remind that the EP resolution calls on the Commission to provide effective support for projects of historic memory and remembrance in the Member States and for the activities of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience and to allocate adequate financial resources under the ‘Europe for Citizens’ programme to support commemoration and remembrance of the victims of totalitarianism, as set out in the Parliament’s position on the 2021-2027 Rights and Values Programme. I wish us all to heal the wounds of the past. A speech by Rasa Juknevičienė – Member of the European Parliament – in the conference Past for the Future