Molotov-Ribbentrop: The Pact That Changed Europe’s Borders
Historians from Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova and Poland believe that the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact launched the Second World War
On August 23, 1939, the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow. In accordance with this document, the parties pledged to refrain from attacking each other and to maintain neutrality in the event that one of them became the object of hostilities by a third party. In addition, the USSR and Germany refused allied relations with other powers, “directly or indirectly directed against the other side.”.
The agreement was signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries – Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop and went down in history as the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”. The treaty was accompanied by an additional secret protocol on the delimitation of the spheres of interests of Germany and the USSR, concerning a number of neighboring states.
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Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: an alliance of dictators
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About the role played by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact 80 years ago, and how its consequences are affecting today, the correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” talked with historians from countries that were in the “sphere of interests” of the USSR.
Igor Kuznetsov: it was the occupation of Poland by Germany and the USSR
Associate Professor of the Department of Diplomatic and Consular Service of the Faculty of International Relations of the Belarusian State University, Candidate of Historical Sciences Igor Kuznetsov recalled that as a result of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the territories acquired by Poland in 1921 under the Riga Peace Treaty, which ended the war between Soviet Russia and Poland, were transferred to the USSR.
Kuznetsov notes that the Polish authorities pursued a discriminatory policy against the Belarusian minority, but after the “reunification” of Western Belarus with the BSSR, residents of the regions “liberated” by the Red Army learned what Stalinist repressions were..
The historian cites official data: in February 1940, more than 50 thousand people were deported to remote regions of the RSFSR, in April of the same year – 27 thousand, and at the end of June – 22 thousand. “Another remarkable date: the next stage of deportation began on June 20, 1941, and the trains were still at the junction in Brest when the Germans entered the city. This is the paradox of history that is hard to believe! ” – the expert continues.
Summarizing the above data, Kuznetsov summarizes that only according to official documents, about 120 thousand people living in the territories that were transferred to the Soviet Union as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were subjected to deportation. However, he emphasizes that he finds these figures underestimated. “I believe that in total, the real number of those deported from the territory of Western Belarus in the pre-war period alone is no less than 230 thousand people. Indeed, in reality, those categories of people who were not included in the official reports were also deported. And earlier I mentioned only those figures that appear in the report of the People’s Commissar of the NKVD of the BSSR Lavrenty Tsanava to Moscow about how much was taken out for each deportation to remote regions of the USSR. First of all – to Western Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Arkhangelsk region “, – explains the historian.
In a conversation with the correspondent of the Russian service of the Voice of America, Igor Kuznetsov also mentioned the memorandum of Alexander Shelepin, which indicated that 3870 officers of the Polish army had been shot in prisons in Western Belarus. “This figure is absolutely untrue,” says Kuznetsov. – According to my calculations, at least 8 thousand officers were shot alone. And moreover, we forget that a significant part of the civilian officials of the Polish administration was also shot. Therefore, when we talk about the “Belarusian Katyn list”, i.e. about those Poles who were shot in Russia – in Katyn, Medny and so on, we mean only the Polish military, who make up no more than 40% of those shot. That is, another 60% were civilians who, for some reason, do not appear anywhere, and no one says anything about them “.
In general, the number of Poles killed by NKVD officers in Belarus, according to Igor Kuznetsov, ranges from 15 to 16 thousand people.
The expert also notes that in modern Belarusian historiography everything that happened in the republic after the signing of the Soviet-German treaty of 1939 is called a “liberation campaign” or “the introduction of Red Army units.” “I think there can be only one legal term: it was the occupation of Poland by two allies, Germany and the USSR. Therefore, when there are now numerous disputes about whether to equate Germany and the USSR as the culprits in the outbreak of World War II, I believe that this is a debatable issue. But I am just talking about those episodes that have not been resolved within the framework of political and historical problems on the territory of Belarus. The repressed people have not been rehabilitated, the burial places have not been found, the names have not been named. Therefore, the policy of the current Belarusian leadership whitewashes the policy of the pre-war Soviet Union and justifies it in every possible way. And this suggests that the lessons of history, including its tragic pages – such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its consequences, are far from being understood at the present time, ”concludes Igor Kuznetsov.
Mariusz Volos: the pact was directed against the world order and international law
The Treaty of Riga was also mentioned in his commentary for the Russian service of the Voice of America by Doctor of Historical Sciences, Vice-Rector for Science at the Pedagogical University in Krakow, Research Fellow at the Polish Academy of Sciences Mariusz Volos. For a number of years he was the permanent representative of the Polish Academy of Sciences at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He recalled that as a result of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union violated not only the Riga Treaty, but also a number of agreements to which it was a party. In particular, Volos points out, the Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1932 was violated, the Briand-Kellogg Pact signed in 1928 on the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy was violated, the 1933 London Convention on the Definition of Aggression was violated. And finally, the 1934 League of Nations Pact initiated by the USSR and France was violated..
“The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact divided Poland almost in half along the San, Vistula and Narew rivers. And, since both the Third Reich and the Soviet Union were preparing for war for many years, it must be emphasized that Stalin did everything possible to strengthen Hitler’s position against Poland. He created the best conditions for Germany’s attacks on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which happened on September 1, 1939, ”emphasizes Mariusz Volos.
According to the VOA interlocutor, there was a consensus in Polish society regarding the Soviet-German non-aggression pact: “It was a terrible treaty between two dictators who built totalitarian systems in their countries against other European countries, against the world order and against international law. … And the most dangerous thing was hidden in secret appendices, where it was said about the division of spheres of influence between these regimes “.
At the end of his commentary, the Polish historian turned to his colleagues in Western Europe. “In fact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was related not only to Poland, the Baltic countries, Finland and Romania, which partially or completely lost their territories, undergoing Soviet aggression. But it was also directed against the West as a whole, because Stalin, I believe, had the idea to do everything so that, after the collapse of Poland, Hitler would start a war in Western Europe. And so that this war lasts so long that both sides will weaken, and then the USSR, which has increased its military power, will go, using Soviet terminology, will go on a “liberation campaign of the Red Army” to the west of Europe. It seems to me that the countries of Western Europe do not emphasize this, therefore now, on the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; we need to talk about this as much as possible ”, – convinced Mariusz Volos.
Arunas Bubnis: the place of one occupier was taken by another “
Initially, Lithuania was included in the sphere of German influence, and the Soviet Union got two other Baltic republics, recalls a member of the International Commission for the Assessment of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania Arunas Bubnis. He also notes that, after the attack on Poland from the west and the east, namely on September 28, 1939, the USSR and Germany signed another document called the “Treaty on Friendship and the Border.” “Then a new geopolitical reality was created and it was necessary to redo the borders again. Now Lithuania was also included in the Soviet sphere of influence, and in return Germany received the Lublin Voivodeship and the eastern part of the Warsaw Voivodeship, ”states Bubnis. – As a result, these treaties opened the way for World War II and for the occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia by the Red Army in the summer of 1940. And the consequences of these treaties were evident for several decades after the end of the war. “.
Arunas Bubnis also recalled that after the attack by the Wehrmacht and the Red Army on Poland, the governments of all three Baltic countries declared their neutrality. “Although Nazi Germany, through its diplomats, wanted to involve Lithuania in the war against Poland back in 1939. The argument was that in this case Lithuania would be able to regain its historical capital Vilnius, which after 1920 was occupied by Poland. But the Lithuanian government and President Antanas Smetona refused to enter the war against Poland on the side of Germany, ”the historian notes..
He also emphasizes that during the war the Nazi government treated the Baltic states not as independent states, but as parts of the Soviet Union: “And it turned out that the place of one occupier was taken by another. Germany was not going to restore the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In her plans was the colonization of these countries and their accession to the Third Reich “.
The Voice of America interlocutor also recalled that at the end of the 1980s, the disclosure of the truth about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the secret supplements to it played an important role in the national revival of the three Baltic republics. “Lithuania was striving for the return of state sovereignty, and the secret protocols were confirmation that Lithuania did not voluntarily become a part of the Soviet Union, but was forcibly incorporated into it. Therefore, the promulgation of these documents was very important both for the policy of Lithuania and for our historical consciousness, ”the historian states..
Igor Kasu: there is a division of historical memory in two parts of Europe
On August 23, in Gdansk, on the basis of the Museum of World War II, an international conference will be held, timed to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. In addition to Polish historians, the conference organizers invited experts from Germany, USA, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Moldova.
The Moldovan delegation, in particular, includes a professor at the Chisinau State University of Moldova, director of the Center for the Study of Totalitarianism, Doctor Igor Kasu. His specialty is the history of political repression of the Soviet period. On the eve of the opening of the conference, he spoke with the correspondent of the Russian service of the Voice of America.
“The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is part of our history, but it also applies to what has been happening in the post-Soviet space over the past five years. That is, we can say that this is the past, which does not want to end, ”notes Dr. Kashu. Explaining this idea, the historian notes that the events in Ukraine associated with the seizure of part of Donbass and the annexation of Crimea are a direct continuation of the policy of dividing Europe into spheres of influence, which formed the basis of the Soviet-German pact..
“For Moldova, August 23, 1939 is a tragic date, since it predetermined the events of the next year, when on June 28 the Red Army occupied part of the eastern territories of Romania – Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertz region. Moreover, if Bessarabia was discussed in the secret protocols to the pact, then the last two regions were not mentioned in it, since they never belonged to the Russian Empire, unlike other territories that fell into the “Soviet sphere of influence.” Hitler was against their annexation to the USSR, but Stalin captured them anyway, “Igor Kashu explained..
In Moldovan society, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact began to be actively discussed since 1989, after the second congress of the USSR people’s deputies, at which the report of the commission of Alexander Yakovlev was heard. “We have this report and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact itself were actively discussed during events organized by the Popular Front and other informal organizations. And it was used to delegitimize the Soviet Union as a fact of the occupation of Bessarabia. Moreover, this pact is mentioned in our Declaration of Independence, and its condemnation is one of the foundations of our statehood, ”says the Moldovan historian.
Referring to modern events, Igor Kasu states: “There is a division of historical memory in two parts of Europe – eastern and western – on a number of issues, including totalitarianism. In the West, they study the Holocaust and other crimes of Nazism, and the crimes of communism there are marginal the topic is in history textbooks, and in discussions of scientific circles. This is a big problem, and I, together with my colleagues from the Baltic countries, Ukraine and a number of Eastern European states, are working to ensure that both in history textbooks and in the minds of Europeans in general, the crime of not only Nazism, but also communism would be adequately reflected ”.
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