Yalta still divides Europe

Article published on May 12, 2005
community published
Article published on May 12, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

On May 12, the European Parliament came to a compromise over how best to commemorate the end of the Second World War, which for the ex-communist countries was far from finished at Yalta.

Cities across Europe have witnessed garlands of flowers, national anthems, bands and fanfares, liberated veterans and local dignitaries decked out in all their splendour. Brussels doesn’t need to issue an order for people to harmonise their rituals commemorating 60 years since the end of the war - at least as far as Western Europe is concerned. But the Yalta agreement, signed by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin in February 1945 and which split the European continent, is still dividing old and new Europe. The Cold War continues.

"Western Europeans didn’t suffer like we did behind the iron curtain"

The battle scene was the European Parliament. A group of Baltic MEPs had proposed a resolution to condemn Yalta as giving communist hegemony in Central and Eastern Europe a free rein. "Westerners didn’t suffer like we did behind the Iron Curtain" explained one of the MEP’s behind the proposal, the Estonian Socialist Toomas Ilves. But the political groups in the Parliament themselves are split over the subject because, as Martin Schultz, the leader of the Socialist Group, points out "the Red Army played a part in defeating Nazism and bringing the Holocaust to an end". A compromise was finally reached on May 12 with the Parliament issuing a resolution on commemorating the ‘end’ of the war in a more balanced manner.

The Berlin Wall: symbol of freedom or oppression?

Many of these Western European MEPs who voted for the resolution are the political activists of the 1960s who, from the comfort of the cafes on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, extolled Mao’s communist China where people were dying of hunger. They are the old resolute pacifists who demonstrated against 'Euromissiles', while ignoring Soviet rearmament. They’re the people who still proudly call themselves 'Communists' with the excuse that Stalin defeated Hitler.

There are other issues which still embarrass parts of the West. Was the wall which divided Berlin for 28 years a symbol of freedom or oppression? Were the Soviet tanks which violently suppressed the Budapest revolt on 23 October 1956 forces of peace or repression? Were the nuclear warheads aimed at Munich, Paris and London instruments of stability or aggression? Were the self-inflicted flames which enveloped Czech protestor Jan Palach a year after the Warsaw Pact countries extinguished the Prague Spring, flames of freedom or desperation?

The European Parliament responded to these questions in a language of compromise, mixing wooden rhetoric, so typical of the Western capitals, with their condemnation of the Soviet regime. But peace, democracy and economic liberalisation in Europe were not achieved by Yalta or the death of Stalin. Rather we had to wait until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the alliance between democratic European countries and the United Sates and eastwards enlargement of the European Union. So is the EU going to learn from its mistakes or repeat the error of Yalta at its borders, having to give its excuses 60years from now to oppressed Europeans in Belarus or Chechnya?