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Historical revisionism to justify militarism

Peter Schwarz Correspondent
In a speech in Estonia on the 78th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democratic Party, SPD) sought to whip up nationalist resentment against Russia.

The German president was paying an official visit to the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

His first stop was the Estonian capital, Tallinn, where he gave a presentation on August 23 titled “Germany and Estonia — a changing history, a common future” at the Academy of Sciences.

On that day in 1939, the German and Soviet foreign ministers, Ribbentrop and Molotov, signed the German-Soviet non-aggression pact. The pact gave Nazi Germany a green light for its invasion of Poland and led to the eventual incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union.

Steinmeier used the anniversary to threaten Russia and boost Estonian nationalism, which draws directly from the traditions of the Nazis.

Addressing Moscow, he warned that Berlin would never “recognise the illegal annexation of the Crimea” nor “accept covert interference through hybrid means or deliberate disinformation,” as has supposedly taken place in Estonia.

Steinmeier accused the Russian leadership of “deliberately defining their country’s image as different from, or even in hostility to us in the West.”

He then falsely presented Estonia and the other Baltic states as havens of freedom and justice.

“The very first message echoing here in Tallinn is the power of freedom — a force which no inhuman ideology or totalitarian rule can restrain in the long term,” he gushed.

Steinmeier knows very well this is not true. As is the case across Eastern Europe, where Stalinist regimes collapsed or were overthrown between 1989-91, there has been no flourishing of democracy and prosperity in the Baltic states. Instead, power was shared between competing capitalist cliques, whose interpretation of “freedom” is the unrestrained exploitation of the working class. They have maintained power primarily by fomenting nationalism and racism.

In Estonia, for example, the Russian minority, which accounts for more than one quarter of the country’s 1,3 million inhabitants, is subject to systematic discrimination. About half of the minority lack an Estonian passport and can only acquire one by completing a difficult Estonian language test, which is particularly hard for the elderly.

Income and career prospects for the Russian minority are correspondingly lower. Economic growth, based on low wages, meagre social benefits and limited workers’ rights, benefits only a small minority. The average income of a full-time employee is one-third of that in Germany, and unemployment is relatively high, officially 7 percent. Around 100 000 Estonians work abroad due to lack of work at home.

Nevertheless — or precisely for this reason — Steinmeier praised Estonia as a role model for the European Union.

“Many people in Germany are grateful for the fresh European wind that blows over the Baltic Sea from the Baltic states at a time when some Europeans are turning away from unification and its values,” he said.

Steinmeier’s accusation directed at the Russian leadership of “defining their country’s image” in opposition to another is much more true of ruling circles in Estonia, which campaign in a hysterical manner against Russia. They go so far as to glorify the Nazis and their collaborators.

In 2012, the Estonian parliament adopted a resolution honouring the voluntary Estonian members of Hitler’s Waffen-SS as “freedom fighters” and “fighters against the communist dictatorship.”

Some 80 000 Estonians had joined the Nazis in World War II in order to fight the Red Army. August 28, the day on which the Waffen-SS recruited members of the Estonian Defence League in 1942, is a national holiday, celebrated every year with marches.

Neo-Nazis take part, including those travelling from abroad, while leading politicians send their greetings. There is no corresponding tribute for the 30 000 Estonians who fought in the Red Army against the Nazis.

The Hitler-Stalin Pact is used to argue that the Baltic states were more oppressed and persecuted by the Soviet regime than by the Nazis. “August 23 has long since been a day of anti-Russian emotions at this historical intersection between East and West,” the correspondent of the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes from Tallinn.

“The memory of communism times is more alive than the German occupation.”

Steinmeier exploits this historical revisionism to justify the return of German militarism. The argument that the Soviet regime was worse than the Nazi regime and National Socialism, as a justified reaction to the crimes of “Bolshevism”, has long been a weapon in the hands of right-wing extremist historians, from Ernst Nolte to Jorg Baberowski.

Stalin’s pact with Hitler was undoubtedly criminal, delivering a severe blow to dedicated Communists and anti-fascists all over the world and undermining their fighting morale.

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