AUGUST 23: THE EUROPE-WIDE REMEMBRANCE DAY FOR THE VICTIMS OF ALL TOTALITARIAN REGIMES

On 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany concluded a treaty of non-aggression known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (hereinafter the MRP) after its signatories, the Soviet Union’s People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov and Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop. In the secret protocols that accompanied the treaty of non-aggression, the two totalitarian powers divided Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania in violation of international law into respective spheres of influence, which led to Nazi Germany starting the Second World War on 1 September 1939 with its attack on Poland. The MRP and its three secret protocols resulted in comprehensive military and economic co-operation between Nazi Germany and the USSR from 1939 – 1941. The USSR’s significant political and economic support for Nazi Germany allowed the leadership of Nazi Germany to occupy a great part of Europe and begin the widespread persecution and murder of Jews in its occupied territories. Nazi Germany’s support for the USSR made it possible for the USSR to carry out wide-spread oppression in territories occupied by the USSR.

Although the MRP and its secret protocols were well-known to the West, the USSR denied the existence of secret protocols to the MRP until 1989, because the secret protocols were considered evidence of the annexation of the Baltic states.

Remembering the MRP as well as its aftermath, the European Parliament on 2 April 2008 approved the resolution “European conscience and totalitarianism”. The resolution suggests that member states of the European Parliament declare 23 August as the European Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be observed with dignity and impartiality.

The European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Totalitarian Regimes was held in 2015 in Tallinn, Estonia, on August 22 – 23 and organized by the Estonian Institute of Human Rights.

On August 23, 2015, the criminal legacy of communism and Nazism was remembered during the holding of two panels.

The first panel, “Retrospective Truth and Justice” focused on the need to declare communist regimes criminal and culpable for their crimes against humanity. Participants were the Estonian Minister of Justice, Mr. Urmas Reinsalu, Mr. Juozas Bernatonis, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania, Mr. Janis Iesanieks, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Latvia, Mr. Robert Répássy, Deputy Minister of Justice, Chairman of the Human Rights Working Group, Hungary, Mr Wojciech Wegrzyn, Deputy Minister of Justice, Poland, Mr Gocha Lordkipanidze, Deputy Minister og Justice, Georgia, Mr Petr Jäger, Deputy Minister of Justice, Czech Republic, and Mr. Michael Kotlarik, Director General of the International Law Department, Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic.

The second panel (discussion), “Responsinility for Communist Crimes”, focused on measures to prevent the rise of Communism and Nazism in the future. Moderator was Mr. Toomas Hiio, Estonian Institute of Historical Memory and panelists were Dr. Neela Winkelmann, Platform of European Memory and Conscience, Dr Pawel Ukielski, The Institute of National Remembrance, Poland, Tunne Kelam, MEP, member of the Foreign Affairs committee and subcommittee of Security and Defense, Estonia, Mr Aron Mathe, Office of the Committee of National Remembrance, Hungary, Mr Rafal Rogulski, director, European Ntwork Remembrance and Solidarity, Poland.

A Joint Statement of the Conference for the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Crimes Committed by Totalitarian Regimes was made and contained a call for investigation of past crimes committed by Communist regimes. Excerpt below:

-The basis for conciliation and building a future is justice. The competence of the existing supranational courts does not include the investigation of past crimes committed by Communist regimes and the punishing of those guilty of them. We find it necessary to investigate the possibilities of a supranational co-operation in order to give consideration to forming a special institution to investigate the crimes of totalitarian regimes including Communist regime crimes, like the crimes of the Nazi regime were condemned and the guilty parties were punished. It is important to form an expert working group to study the issue.

-We find it necessary to stress that public access to archives containing information about the crimes of all totalitarian regimes must be ensured in all countries.

-We call for the governments of all European countries to provide both moral and material support to the investigation of the history of totalitarian regimes thus preventing manipulation of historical facts and to the introduction of the results of those investigations.

Comment: One can only support the idea of supranational co-operation in order to form a special institution to investigate the crimes of totalitarian regimes including Communist regime crimes. It is necessary to condemn both Communist and Nazi crimes. An expert group is certainly needed to study the issue. The European Union should put pressure on Russia to release information on Soviet crimes. All European countries must be prepared to provide moral and material support for the creation of a working group and a special institution to investigate Communist crimes.

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