Alexandra Kamenskaya and Adrian Pabst
This op-ed of Sneige’s founders Alexandra Kamenskaya and Adrian Pabst was initially published in French in L’Opinion on 8 May 2020
In Spring 2020, the ‘war’ against Covid-19 has led to a major questioning of how our societies and international relations are organised. During this time, another war – a military conflict – is coming back to the fore with the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two on 8 May 1945, which offers a key perspective to our questions.
The anniversary reminds us of an era in which a new spirit of fraternity among the nations fostered the rebuilding of countries after six years of a conflict that cost tens of millions of people their lives. A common effort by the Allies, chief of all the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain and free France, ensured victory over the greatest evil of the twentieth century – Nazism – and gave rise to the idea of a society of sharing and solidarity at the international level. This idea was anchored in the creation of new multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, founded upon shared principles including the equality of nations or the prohibition on the use force in international affairs.
The promise of peace and prosperity was renewed in 1989 when the end of the Cold War opened the space for a united Europe. The “common home” from Lisbon to Vladivostok extolled by Mikhail Gorbachev never came about. There has been a reversal in the international atmosphere, as today’s elites in the West and in Russia are pitting the people against one another by demonising the other side. Far from being allies, they have become adversaries, if not enemies.
Russia is excluded from the G8 and most member-states of the European Union view the country as an international pariah state. France’s President Emmanuel Macron was the only Western leader who would have been in Moscow on 9 May, the day when Russia commemorates the end of the Second World War and the victory of the Soviet people over Hitler in the Great Patriotic War. The traditional military parade on the Red Square has been postponed but not cancelled. In this year of the 75th anniversary, the commemorations take on a particularly poignant symbolic meaning in Russia. Thanks to an unprecedented sacrifice of 26 million people, including 10 million soldiers, Russia and its former Soviet neighbours – it has to be said loud and clear – played the decisive role in the defeat of Nazism.
Yet first during the Cold War and then in light of disagreements with the Russia of Vladimir Putin, there is a tendency in the West forget this history. The statistics speak for themselves: in 1945, 57 per cent of the French believed that the USSR has contributed the most to the victory over Nazi Germany, but in 2015 54 per cent attributed this role to the USA, according to polls conducted by IFOP. A new element has recently been added: the Soviet Union is accused of bearing the same responsibility for World War Two as Nazi Germany, if one gives credence to a resolution by the European Parliament last September. The escalation around historical memory has adversely affected relations between Russia and Poland, not least when Putin drew on archival documents to respond and condemn Poland for her alleged collusion with Hitler.
The battle over historical memory reveals the role of ideologies in our relationship to the past. But ideologies also poison the present. They lock us into false certainty and prevent cooperation among the nations, which is indispensable in confronting global challenges. With the advent of the pandemic, what has become clear is that in our societies, security is now more primary than prosperity. If the instinct of retreat is natural in this moment of time and there is a particular strong demand for a protective state in times of crisis, it is equally evident that the people want to see governments which are not only able to govern and to protect but also to cooperate with one another.
In a weakened world that is divided by the epidemic, the cultural roots of the post-war peace project can be the source of a new impetus towards rapprochement. Our common norms and values, such as liberty, equality and the dignity of the person, can 75 years later serve as the basis for strengthening cooperation among the nations, whether between the West and Russia or within the EU or NATO. Today we are deprived of human contact, but the human is finally at the heart of the concerns of politicians. Faced with the dehumanising forces of global capitalism with its quest for profit and domination, Western countries and Russia have the heavy task of defending a model of the world that is centred on the human person and based on the attaining of our common destiny.
As soon as it is possible, the leaders of the world should convene on the Red Square to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the great victory. Thanks to such a strong symbol, we can embark upon the next page of the history of our shared civilisation.