The Great Victory
No. 2 2005 April/June
Sergei V. Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister since 2004

The events of World War II, which resulted in a dramatic victory over Nazism, have tremendous social and political significance. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the upcoming 60th anniversary since the end of hostilities has given rise to serious debates in many countries around the world. Quite often, those debates have broader scope than simply the interpretation, for example, of one or more wartime events. They contain conflicting moral assessments of the war’s results as they are directly related to the present policies in Europe and the world.

These discussions make us morally responsible to the many people who sacrificed their lives to defeat Nazism, as well as to those who casually view World War II as a distant event. This responsibility demands that we defend the historic truth of this war and foster a correct understanding of its lessons from the perspective of the modern age.

World War II was a truly epoch-making event. Apart from being a global battle which exceeded all previous armed conflicts in scale and scope, it embodied a clash of interests that involved different nations, competing ideologies, and irreconcilably different approaches to the very foundation of mankind’s existence. For the first time in history, the survival of whole nations was at stake. The gas chambers and crematoriums of Auschwitz (Osґwie,cim) present in bold relief the mortal menace of Nazism and exactly what kind of future the “new order” was destined to build.

In essence, the main outcome of the war was much bigger than simply the victory of one coalition of countries over another coalition, as the forces of creativity and civilization emerged victorious over the forces of destruction and barbarism; Life triumphed over Death.

The war brought great tragedy to the peoples of Europe and the world at large regardless of what side they happened to find themselves on. Not a single family, not a single human destiny was left untouched. Historians have an obligation to tell the truth about that tragedy, which must never be used as a ploy in political machinations. Shifts of moral criteria are inadmissible in discussions of the results of that war. President Vladimir Putin, while on a visit to Osґwie,cim, Poland, on January 27, 2005, said that attempts to rewrite history and place an equal sign between the victims and the butchers, the liberators and the occupants, were profusely immoral.

The greater the time that separates us from World War II, the clearer the picture of the central role that our country and its people played in attaining victory; it was truly a monumental feat. Russia has a thousand-year-old history, but it had never seen anything comparable to the ordeal that befell the wartime generation. The desire to achieve victory united the diverse nationalities living in this country, the people of all ages and social groups. That is why the upcoming anniversary of our victory is, most importantly, an opportunity to pay tribute to those people who defended the independence of our homeland and brought long-awaited liberation to the European nations who had been devastated by the Nazis. The forthcoming V-Day festivities remind us of the great spiritual potential inherent to Russia and its people. The history of World War II will remain an inexhaustible source of our strength and confidence for future generations.

Russian diplomacy paved the way to Victory together with the Russian people. The creation of the anti-Hitler coalition became the most significant diplomatic breakthrough of the time. The coalition served as an example of countries with different ideologies and political systems pooling together their resources in the face of a common deadly threat. There is no sense in oversimplifying or adorning history now that 60 years have elapsed since V-Day. Each member state of the coalition pursued its own objectives and had its own national interests. Naturally, mutual trust was difficult to achieve, but they found the strength to put aside contradictions and trivial matters for the sake of winning a common victory. The opponents of Nazism shared the realization that they had to thwart evil without restraint and without compromises, concessions or separate agreements. Today, that lesson remains relevant.

The experience of international camaraderie in arms is acquiring new significance as mankind is now confronting new challenges posed by a new enemy, that is, international terrorism. Today, the very foundation of civilization is being threatened once again. Like Nazism, terrorism has nothing to offer the world besides violence, disregard for human life, and a readiness to crush the fundamental norms of human morality in order to reach its maniacal goals.

Similar to the events 60 years ago, solidarity and mutual trust provide the only ground for overpowering this danger. Double standards are as inadmissible when dealing with terrorists as are the attempts to rehabilitate Nazi accomplices. Giving the floor to terrorists so that they may declare their hatred for humanity is the same as permitting former SS soldiers the right to hold parades in particular countries – some of which loudly trumpet their commitment to democracy.

We have a debt to those people who shed their blood for saving mankind from Nazism. We must erect powerful barriers against the spread of ideas which preach racial, ethnic, or religious superiority. Unity among the antiterrorist coalition countries, harmony between different nationalities and religions, tolerance, mutual respect, cultural diversity and a fruitful dialog of civilizations are the invaluable conditions for victory over the forces of hatred and extremism.

The lessons of World War II are no less relevant from the perspective of the postwar global order. The results of the war had a profound impact on the progress of international relations. Even now that six decades have passed and the world has witnessed fundamental changes, elements of the postwar arrangement in Europe and across the world retain importance for ensuring peace and security on our planet.

The willingness to deliver mankind from war horrors in the future inspired the anti-Hitler coalition nations to set up the United Nations Organization, a global mechanism of ensuring international peace and security. The UN Charter became a universally recognized foundation of contemporary international law, the commonly accepted code of rules for countries and international organizations. Its principles and norms have withstood the test of the Cold War and are the only set of guidelines for forming a safe and just world order during the era of globalization.

The 60th anniversary of victory in World War II  must not be used as a pretext for confrontation, for settling old scores. It is noteworthy that the UN has declared May 8 and May 9 as days of remembrance and reconciliation. Festivities in Moscow, to be attended by the heads of state and government of more than 50 countries and the heads of major international organizations, will be held under that motto. It is essential that the forthcoming holiday promote unity among countries and nations and help develop their solidarity in the face of new threats and challenges which the 21st century has brought with it.