Looking back at the past "serves as a pointed reminder to do everything humanly possible to preserve the peaceful order in Europe", as Foreign Minister Steinmeier underscored in an article published today to commemorate the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He also gave a speech in the Bundestag in the afternoon.
A war of aggression of unprecedented ferocity
"In the early hours of 22 June 1941 ... all hell broke loose", as Foreign Minister Steinmeier begins his article published in the Russian newspaper "Kommersant", the Ukrainian weekly "Zerkalo Nedeli" and the Belarusian newspaper "Sowjetskaja Belarusia". The price paid by the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Belarusians and the many other peoples of the Soviet Union is, as the Minister continues, "immeasurable and has not been forgotten to this day – not in the countries of the former Soviet Union nor here in Germany".
The German war of aggression left behind unspeakable destruction, claimed the lives of more than 25 million people in the Soviet Union and left many more starving, destitute and displaced. Thus, preserving the memory of the horrors of World War II and of Germany’s guilt remains "an indispensable and imperative prerequisite for reconciliation between our two countries", as Steinmeier continues.
Common ground and partnership, and even friendship, have taken root following the brutality and barbarity
The "Great Patriotic War" is still part of people’s consciousness in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus: "not as a memory from the distant past, but as a present fact, with all its horrors, but also with pride for the participants’ stalwart defence in their enforced fight for their lives".
Seventy years after the end of the War, Germany maintains thriving diplomatic, political, economic and cultural relations with all the states that emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Steinmeier emphasises: "We know that this is by no means to be taken for granted".
We Germans are infinitely grateful for the fact that, considering the atrocities and crimes committed in Germany’s name, the people of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union have reached out to us in reconciliation.
Looking back 75 years serves as a pointed reminder to do everything humanly possible to preserve the peaceful order in Europe
Especially at times like this, when Europe is "at risk of splitting along new divides", the Minister believes we must again remind ourselves of "the importance of this culture of joint commemoration". Peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted, as the German Foreign Minister underscored. According to Steinmeier, it is only together that we can preserve a lasting and stable peaceful order in Europe. "Dialogue and joint commemoration, close ties between our societies, and in particular between the young people of our countries, can help and indeed must help to prevent us from gradually becoming strangers to each other."
The "unilateral shifting of borders in breach of international law and the failure to respect the territorial integrity of neighbouring countries" would on the contrary take Europe back to "the times from which we believed we had escaped", times that nobody can wish for, as Steinmeier cautions. The Helsinki Final Act, the major disarmament treaties, the Charter of Paris, the process of European integration – all these achievements should be "respected, preserved and jointly advanced".
Peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted – not even today! Peace will only last if we work for it – day by day! Wherever it is threatened, we, the leaders of today, have the duty to draw the right lessons from our common past.
Moving away from "an endless spiral of violence"
Speaking in the Bundestag in the afternoon, Foreign Minister Steinmeier warned against allowing "a future of extremes" to follow on from "a history of extremes". He said that the lessons from the violence of the 20th century included not allowing oneself to be drawn into "an endless spiral of escalation" but for all sides to seek ways to move away from confrontation. He added that the idea that military strength alone could create security was an illusion, but that this did not mean that everything "could merrily continue as if nothing had happened". Nonetheless, the Foreign Minister stressed, "We cannot allow prejudices and reflexes from times long past to be resurrected as if they had never been overcome", and called for double dialogue with Russia: dialogue on what divides us and dialogue on what we have in common.
He explained that Germany's responsibility for peace in Europe was inextricably linked with its responsibility for German‑Russian relations. He went on to say that it was the responsibility of those who had damaged the European peaceful order by violating the sovereignty of Ukraine to ensure that "a history of extremes" was not followed by "a future of extremes". However, he added that this was also a German responsibility.
Remembering the prisoners of war
The war against the Soviet Union resulted in a considerable number of prisoners of war: 5.7 million on the Soviet side, 3.15 million on the German side. For many soldiers and officers, the imprisonment brought misery, for many others, it brought death. More than 3 million Soviets and 1.11 million Germans did not survive their imprisonment.
In order "to reinstate the names of the German and Soviet prisoners of war and internees whose personal fate was previously undocumented and to enable those who come after them to honour their memory", Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov today launched the German-Russian project to search and digitise archive materials relating to Soviet and German prisoners of war and internees. The two Foreign Ministers declared: "We see our joint endeavour not only as an expression of our commemoration of those who fell amid the horrors of war but also as a sign of the forward-looking nature of German-Russian cooperation".
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Joint declaration by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the Russian-German project to search and digitise archive materials relating to Soviet and German prisoners of war and internees