Opinion: Instrumentalizing history - Moscow and May 9 | Opinion | DW | 09.05.2015
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Opinion: Instrumentalizing history - Moscow and May 9

The German government wants to commemorate with Russia the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis. DW's Ingo Mannteufel says that Vladimir Putin's attempts to exploit May 9 are making this task difficult.

Seventy years ago World War II ended in Europe with the surrender of Nazi Germany. However, this year's commemoration of the defeat of Hitler's Germany is taking place at a time of strained relations between Europe and Russia.

Fighting fascism - then and now?

Eastern Ukraine exists in an amorphous state, oscillating between war and peace due to the aggressive politics of destabilization practiced by the Kremlin. And with its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Russia has blatantly disregarded the principles of the sovereignty of national borders, national territorial integrity, and the renunciation of the threat or use of force. The core ideals of lasting European peace that grew out of the Cold War and were codified in the Paris Charter of 1990 are now being put into question by Russian policies.

Further still, the Kremlin seeks to justify its actions in Ukraine by calling them a fight against a "fascist putsch government" in Kyiv. For months, Kremlin-run media outlets have been hammering the Russian people and foreign audiences with messages that "fascist politicians and US intelligence agencies" have taken over neighboring Ukraine after the fall of its corrupt and authoritarian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Mannteufel Ingo

DW's Ingo Mannteufel

Historic victory with powerful symbolism

The 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany comes at just the right time for the Kremlin. The victory over Germany in World War II was used in Soviet days as a vehicle to project the USSR as being among the moral victors, despite the crimes of Stalin and the communist dictatorship. No one can - nor do they want to - question the significant role of the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler. However, an undifferentiated view of the World War II era hinders critical reflection on the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century.

Yet, even in post-Soviet times, the Kremlin has continued to politically exploit the symbolic power of that victory. This year it is very clear: Russian leadership is attempting to use the victory over fascist Germany 70 years ago to legitimize its current interventions in Ukraine as well as its anti-Western approach to foreign policy. The May 9 parade on Red Square will be a demonstrative highlight of this confrontational mood.

It is therefore absolutely appropriate that this year many of the West's most important politicians have chosen not to attend the commemoration, underscoring the fact that Russia has isolated itself internationally with its policies toward Ukraine. The presence of some foreign dignitaries as well as the participation of Chinese, Indian and Mongolian military units in the parade do little to weaken that reality. The contrast to celebrations of the 65th anniversary five years ago could hardly be greater: not only did world leaders gather in Moscow, American and Polish soldiers marched in the military parade on Red Square - unthinkable in today's political climate.

It is therefore deeply regrettable that the 70th anniversary of victory over National Socialism is being exploited and abused in Russia in an attempt to legitimize a dangerous and aggressive foreign policy toward its neighbor Ukraine.

Remembering the suffering of victims together

Nonetheless, it is clearly a priority for Germans to show that they are fully aware of their own historical guilt and their responsibility for injustices brought upon millions of people as they mark the 70th anniversary of the war's end. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's participation in the May 7 commemoration ceremony in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, is therefore an important symbol of German-Russian reconciliation. In German society, the name Stalingrad stands for crimes committed against Russia. Foreign Minister Steinmeier's attendance of a commemoration ceremony there, of all places, speaks to the conviction within modern Germany that war and confrontation shouldn't be the solution for political differences.

In this same spirit, Chancellor Angela Merkel will join Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 10 to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow. Both visits are important in signaling to the Russian people that Germany and the West do not seek confrontation with them.

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