|WORLD VETERANS FEDERATION
20th Meeting of the
Standing Committee on European Affairs
10-14 May 2006, Prague (Czech Republic)
Working Group on Central and Eastern Europe
CELEBRATION OF THE 60th ANNIVERSARY OF THE END OF
WORLD WAR II IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
At the last meeting of the Standing Committee on European Affairs in Zagreb (20-23 October, 2004), a special Recommendation presentation was made To Honour the World War II Veterans on the 60th Anniversary of V Day”.
It could have been expected that a round anniversary of ending the largest military conflict in human history – in which 61 countries from all continents participated, 110 million soldiers were drafted, 56 million persons were killed or missing in action, 72.5 % of which were European and 52% Central and Eastern European, 35 million persons were wounded – would be celebrated in all countries, in particular in those affected by the War, in the spirit of the adopted Recommendation, i.e. through:
expression of respect and honour for the soldiers and officers of the Allied Forces and resistance who gave their lives fighting against the Nazi foe to achieve victory;
expression of appreciation to the soldiers and officers of the Allied Forces and resistance who survived the war, and to all disabled war veterans;
calling upon the member associations to glorify the great efforts of all men and women who fought and gave their lives for a better world: a world of peace without war and hate among nations.
It is worth considering the course of the celebrations not only from the perspective of the Recommendation mentioned above or the Communique of the World Veterans Federation of 2 September 2005, but also from the perspective of the participation of veterans, veteran organizations – members of WVF – and the management of the Federation.
The consideration of available programmes of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of World War II in Central and Eastern Europe and of the implementation thereof, provide for sharing certain remarks and changes which have been taking place in this part of Europe.
It should be stressed that the celebration of the 60th anniversary of World War II in Central and Eastern Europe was affected, apart from historical factors, by political transformations which have taken place in those countries after 1990. It has been reflected, inter alia, by the European Parliament’s Resolution on the end of World War II, which:
pays homage to those members of the Allied Forces who gave their lives and to those nations, in particular to the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, which fought against Nazism and fascism;
recognizes the success of nations of Central and Eastern Europe in the establishment of the rule of law and observance of human rights as a result of democratic revolutions which overthrew communist regimes and provided for a liberation of those nations;
gladly accepts the fact that ten countries from the Central and Eastern Europe has or soon will, join the European Union.
The parliaments of Central and Eastern European countries – some jointly, e.g. the Baltic countries – also adopted relevant political resolutions, proclamations or statements on the round 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The veteran movements and the celebration of the
60th anniversary of the end of World War II
Political transformations, which have taken place in Central and Eastern European countries after 1990, also affected the veteran movement in individual countries. For example, in the past, veteran organizations belong only to one international organization, i.e. FIR, whereas nowadays only some of them remained in it and all of them joined WVF. Moreover, the veteran movement has been undergoing gradual changes regarding the understanding of historical problems, e.g. the date of the end of World War II or the only slogan of all celebrations of that anniversary for 45 years after the war.
1. Change of date and slogan regarding the end of World War II
It known that the anti-Hitler coalition has been divided by the very date of the end of World War II. The United States, the United Kingdom and France adopted 8 May 1945 as the date, i.e. the enforcement of the unconditional capitulation of the Third Reich signed by general A. Jodl in the headquarters of Allied Expedition Forces of general D. D. Eisenhower. However, the ex-Soviet Union adopted the next day as the date of the end of the war due to the fact that the capitulation was re-signed by Field Marshall W. Keitel in the headquarters of the Soviet Marshall G. K. Zukov on 8 May 1945, and according to the Soviets the unconditional capitulation of German came into force on 9 May 1945.
Thus, for 45 years until 1990, the veterans of Central and Eastern Europe celebrated the end of World War II each year on 9 May as an official state holiday under the slogan “The Victory Day”.
The process of political changes in this part of Europe also affected the attitude towards the date of the end of World War II in Europe, the main slogan, an the form of celebrating the anniversary.
Today, out 12 countries of this part of Europe only three – Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine – celebrate 9 May as “The Victory Day”. Veterans from those countries participate in relevant celebrations on that day. Other countries recognize 8 May 1945 as the end of World War II, and 8 May is not a holiday.
Although before 1990 all veteran organizations in this part of Europe celebrated the anniversary of the end of World War II under the slogan of “Victory”, slogans on the occasion of celebrating the 60th anniversary were varied and detailed: “Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941 – 1945” (Russian Federation and Belarus), but “60th anniversary of Victory over Fascism” (Synod of Russian Orthodox Church), “60th anniversary of Victory in Great Patriotic War” (Ukraine, which adopted 1939 as the beginning of the war), “60th anniversary of Ending World War II” (Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Poland), “Day of the Victory of the Allied Coalition in World War II” (Rumania), “60th anniversary of Liberating Hungary”, etc.
2. A brief review of events of the celebration of the 60th anniversary
of the end of World War II in Central and Eastern European countries
Paying homage to soldiers and members of the resistance movements
who gave their lives in World War II
Apart from Latvia, all other governments in this part of Europe officially participated in organizing the paying of paying homage to dead soldiers and members of anti-Hitler resistance movement. One of main forms was laying down wreaths at the monuments devoted to the victims of World War II, soldiers who liberated those countries, and at cemetery-monuments.
Presidents and prime ministers of those countries participated in those events. The President of WVF, Hamid Ibrahim, participated in the events in Belarus.
The events in Latvia were arranged by non-government organizations, mostly representing the Russian minority; the events included mostly laying down wreaths at local Soviet Army cemeteries. It should be noted that the President of Latvia participated in the events in Moscow celebrating the end of World War II, unlike presidents of Estonia and Lithuania.
Expression of appreciation to living veterans and victims of the war
Authorities of many countries, e.g. Russian Federation, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, and Rumania, issued special medals commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II which were given to the living veterans. In certain countries, many veterans received high state medals and higher military ranks, e.g. in Rumania; in Poland, three veterans were promoted to the rank of general.
Honouring women veterans
In all countries, fighting women and victims were particularly honoured by state authorities during celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. In Sofia, a monument “To Bulgarian women – veterans of World War II” was unveiled, and a “Meeting of Front Women” was organized in Kiev in Ukraine.
Remarks on the participation in celebrations of the 60th anniversary
of the end of World War II in Moscow
The central events of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II were organized by Russian President and Government on 9 May 2005 in the form of a military parade in the Red Square in Moscow.
The participants of the celebration included presidents and prime ministers of over 50 countries of the world, including the Great Coalition: the United Kingdom, France and the United States. The General Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, also participated in the event.
Delegation of veteran organizations, including their presidents, from all over 40 countries were invited to the celebration: WVF with Hamid Ibrahim, Chairman of the Council Jan F. H. Loos and FIR with President Michel Vanderborght and General Secretary Ulrich Schneider. Prof. Michał Chilczuk – Chairperson of Working Group on Central and Eastern Europe of the standing Committee on European Affairs of WVF – also participated in the event.
The military defilade featured 7 thousand soldiers from different formations, including 2500 Russian veterans driven in 130 open military trucks of 1941 with the names of old front units. Several thousand war veterans sat in the audience on specially adjusted seats.
The official reception given by President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and His Spouse in the State Palace of Kremlin featured, apart from official foreign state delegations, Russian and foreign war veterans. The form of the reception was extraordinary, as it was arranged as an informal meeting of war veterans with presidents and prime ministers from different countries. It was a rare and memorable event, when veterans from different parts of the world has a convenient opportunity of meeting and talking to the leaders of the modern world.
It should be also noted that foreign and Russian veterans participated in other events such as: laying down wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall, visiting the Central Museum of Armed Forces of Russian Federation, special concert in the Grand Theatre, a dinner with the Minister of Defence of Russian Federation, and in other events. All foreign veterans received souvenirs.
Attempts of reconciliation of veterans from certain countries
On the occasion of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, leaders of certain countries suggested a noble idea of a reconciliation of veterans fighting on enemy sides.
On 8 May 2005, prime minister of the Republic of Estonia Andrus Ansip – both at the Maarjame cemetery near Tallinn before a plaque commemorating “participants of defensive fights against the Red Army”, i.e. the Estonians fighting at the Germany side in the Estonian SS division, as well as at the Holocaust monument in Klooga – called in his speeches upon all veterans living in Estonia, who fought on different sides, to reconcile. Only few Red Army veterans participated in those events. The red Army veterans and local Russian minority celebrated the 60th anniversary of World War II at the monument of the Heroes of World War II.
In his declaration on the 60th anniversary of World War II, President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko called for a reconciliation between Ukrainian veterans fighting in the Red Army and veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who fought against the Soviet Russia.
International conferences on the 60th anniversary of World War II
with the participation of foreign veterans
On the 60th anniversary of World War II, international scientific conferences, featuring representatives of veteran organizations, initiated by veteran organizations, were taking place in certain countries, often presided by presidents, parliament chairpersons, prime ministers and supported by state institutions, in particular by defence and foreign affairs departments.
Some of those conferences are worth mentioning: International Conference in Budapest on 2-3 April 2005 “Hungary – 60 years of peace, 1 year in the European Union”, Scientific Conference in Sofia (Bulgaria) on 20 April 2005, or International Forum of Children and Adolescents “Peace Generation without War” which took place in Kiev Ukraine on 10-12 May 2005.
Remarks on the participation in the International Conference in Budapest
The Conference was initiated by the Hungarian Federation of Resistance Fighters and Antifascists – member of WVF and FIR – with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and under the auspices of the Speaker of the Parliament of Hungary and Prime Minister of Hungary. The Conference was presided by Vilmos Hanti, President of Hungarian Federation of Resistance Fighters and Antifascists (MEASZ) and Janos Nagy CM of the WVF for Hungary.
The participants of the Conference included – apart from Hungarian veterans and representatives of various governmental and non-governmental organization of Hungary – representatives of veteran organizations from 19 countries, including 8 from Central and Eastern Europe: Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Russian Federation, Rumania, Slovakia and Ukraine. The participants also included representatives of WVF: Chairperson of the Standing Committee on European Affairs, general Ian Townsend, Chairperson of the Working Group on Central and Eastern Europe, prof. M. Chilczuk, and representatives of FIR: President Michel Vanderborght (Belgium) and FIR General Secretary dr Ulrich Schneider (Germany).
On the first day of the Conference, after the presentation of the history of the Holocaust, resistance and fight against fascism in Hungary, 14 representatives of different countries took the floor. Their speeches and discussions focused on different forms of fight against fascism, intolerance, co-operation with younger generations, and exchange of experience in this respect at the forum of the international veteran movement.
The second day featured a meeting of the participants of the Conference with Hungarian World War II veterans in the Hungarian Parliament, which was opened by the Speaker of the Parliament, Ms. Katalin Szili. During the meeting, speeches were given by FIR President Mr. Michel Vanderborght and Ian Townsend, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on European Affairs, highlights of whose speech are quoted below:
“In your most imposing Parliament building, I speak as an ex-soldier, not as
a politician. We all have much in common in our fight for peace and justice. For me it is most important that we continue to remember the victims of war and terrorism in order that we may educate a new generation about the horrors of conflict and to ensure that its victims receive proper recognition for service and disabilities and for so many the ultimate sacrifice.(…)
We have a common requirement in Europe to establish where the needs of veterans and their families are greatest and to continue our efforts to solve their problems. We have new initiatives in place to understand their health and welfare needs and to look specifically at issues affecting women victims of conflict.(…)
As I said – I speak from a soldier’s view point so it is particularly important to me that in recalling the pain and suffering of all those involved in World War II, as we are doing in our universal commemorations of the 60th Anniversary of the ending of that conflict, we continue to remember particularly the pain and suffering still being endured by many veteran soldiers, sailors, airman and their families and many other people. And to ensure that they are properly looked after in their declining years.
It is to me an opportunity to renew our dedication to relieving the pain and suffering of all veterans and victims of conflict and terrorism both in the past and today. Only by doing this can we both ensure that their post conflict years are as comfortable and as rewarding as possible and in so doing educate that younger generation, about whom I spoke, to try to ensure that we never again see the rise of extremism that caused so much pain in the past”.
Prof. Michał Chilczuk
Chairman of the Working Group
on Central and Eastern Europe, SCEA