«Contemporary views on World War II in Central Eastern Europe»

The 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe has been differently observed in different countries depending not only on the military experience but above all on the current political situation, and especially on the degree of the pandemic threat. Central and Eastern Europe is characterized by an ambivalent interpretation of the very date: for peoples of the region it simultaneously symbolizes both victory and defeat. In Eastern Europe the victory over Nazism did not signify the victory over totalitarianism. One calamity brought the subsequent: postwar repressions, closed borders, and disregard for human and citizen rights.

How may events of 1939–1945 serve as a lesson for the contemporary world? Is there any place for victims of other nations in the national narrative alongside the belief in the exclusivity of casualties and losses suffered by the country as a result of World War II? What is the place of the Holocaust victims in this memory? How to combine the memory of the victory over Nazism with the memory of Stalin's repression, the memory of liberators and "liberators"?

Moderators are the historian, journalist, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (2014–2015) Oleksandr Zinchenko, and TV-host of Espresso Channel Maria Gurska.



Ukrainian historian, professor of Ukrainian Catholic University, Director of the Institute for Historical Studies of Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Honorary Professor of NaUKMA.

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Articles [UA]:

«Reading books not actually about the history of Ukraine in World War II, but about the history of World War II in general, it seems that the role of the Ukrainian fact was much more powerful than we imagine. We have to realize this. In fact, the Ukrainian question was an important question. It was a question of resources; it was a totalitarian war: two totalitarian states, weapon of mass destruction. Obviously, Ukraine had the most of these resources. The Donbas coal, the Katerynoslav steel, but for the most part, Ukrainian bread and Ukrainian cannon fodder – as bitter as it sounds. This automatically placed Ukraine with its territory in the center of the race. It was an internal question of several states. That is why it depended on the entire region. Of all major players on this territory Stalin proved the most able. He overplayed Hitler. This is the part of Stalin's victory reflected in this myth. Stalin tried closing the Ukrainian question once and for all as fish in a can. Fortunately, events did not unfold with accordance to Stalin’s regime, for we see weakening of the regime, the liberalization, be it in the Khrushchev thaw or the Gorbachev perestroika, and especially in 1991 when Ukrainians with their voting on the referendum put an end to existence of the Soviet Union. We see that Ukrainian question was never solved the way Stalin wanted, nor the way Putin may have wanted now…».


Polish historian, researcher of the twentieth century in Polish history, co-author of the concept of the Museum of World War II in Gdańsk.

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«Poland has two dominating narratives about World War II. The first narrative we call “the western history.” It is very simple; it is a story of evil Germans, cruel people who occupied western countries, and this occupation was vicious; there were plenty of problems for freedom and democracy, but there were people like Churchill, Roosevelt, who eventually ended the suffering of all these nations and brought them freedom. That is, we have the good guys: American, British and Canadian soldiers, as well as others who helped liberate these countries. In the end the good prevailed. In this version the end of democracy basically started with World War II. Here we have a wonderful story with a happy end. It is a somewhat romantic story. However, we also have the eastern history. Some prefer the Soviet or post-Soviet history: these are stories about bad Germans, the Soviet Union – it was so brutally attacked, and it was such a peaceful and free Soviet Union; it is a history of a very brutal occupation of the Soviet Union, its heroic defenders – Leningrad, Stalingrad, the struggle of the red partisans. Certainly, there were brilliant leaders such as Stalin, Molotov, Zhukov, Rokosovky. They could liberate the Soviet nation; they preserved this freedom and brought this freedom to other nations. Respectively, after many years of suffering the good Soviet soldiers and the Red Army, its partisans, could liberate the country. The empire of the Third Reich, the empire of evil later collapsed. But the fall of the Third Reich did not put an end to the era of horrors, because we had a war after the war. In our part of Europe. Our war did not end with a happy end, and that is why no happiness followed after the victory».


Ukrainian historian, writer, senior researcher at the Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the founder of the public movement “De-occupation. Return. Education”. She is the author of books “A Person in the Soviet Province: Mastering the Discourse and its Rejection”, “Stigma occupation: Soviet self-perception of women in the 1940s”.

PEN Ukraine - UA | EN

«In my view, a somewhat stumbling block and inability to draw a line, at least one, is the following situation: Nazism was acknowledged as a hostile and unacceptable ideology which carried and carries the crimes against humanity. Nazism was condemned, while Communism was not. Such non-condemnation of Communism constantly creates traps: of description, analysis, perception, and etc. This normalization of the Soviet is also part of the Ukrainian narrative and Ukrainian everyday life today. When a sociological center conducts a survey “What is your stand on St. George’s ribbon?” If Communism was condemned, it would be “Your stand on Nazi swastika,” and such a question would be impossible to ask, because it would have been illegal. After all, this concept with normalization of the Soviet for Ukraine means a “blind spot” in history».


Ukrainian and American historian, professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University. He is the author of books Ukraine and Russia: Representations of the Past, Yalta: The Price of Peace and The Last Empire, Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front: American Airmen behind the Soviet Lines and the Collapse of the Grand Alliance and others.

PEN Ukraine - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«In fact, Ukraine was the main battlefield during World War II, and now it is a battlefield concerning the memory of war. In my opinion, in Ukraine there are several narratives of World War II, which compete, conflict, and fight with one another. What is on the surface, what is best understood for everyone is one narrative associated with the “Great Patriotic War,” with the “great victory.” Another is a nationalist narrative, associated with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). But if we look closely, then we have at least three different narratives which met and compete in the territory of Ukraine. The third one, which is gaining momentum, the national liberal, is associated with the integration of Ukraine into the pan-European context of the memory of World War II. Of course, there are some differences and conflicts between national and pan-European narratives in each country, but there is also the idea of World War II as a common European, even world experience».


Ukrainian sociologist, head of the Center for Studies of the East European Jewish Culture and History of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Editor-in-chief of publishing house «Dukh i Litera».

PEN Ukraine - UA | EN

«Among events of World War II one of the most terrifying was the Holocaust, the destruction of European Jews by the Nazi during the war. There were numerous other tragedies, but this is a distinctive one, because it targeted destruction of the large community. Due to various circumstances the Jewish tragedy united many people to understand what had happened. Despite all the tragedy of World War II, it wasn’t that terrible in the Western world. There were no Babyn Yars or gas chambers. And the European community is taking this into account. Certain regularities, laws, rules by which humanity should live were reflected upon so that it doesn't destroy itself completely. Meanwhile, in the Soviet environment everything happened differently. There is the so-called “victory,” because it was a relative victory in World War II, because the winners lost 40 million people, while the defeated approximately 10. However, the Soviet authorities weren’t interested in these lives or these tragedies. They kept on doing everything to preserve their power. The concept they developed was a concept of heroism, “pobedobesie”, victory frenzy, not tragedy. Nobody cared about people’s lives».


Lithuanian public person and politician, Vice President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (2011-2012), currently serving as a Member of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and Chairman of its foreign affairs committee, Chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, and President of the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies.

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Articles [UA]:

«We understood that in the 90s Russian democrats were our friends. We remember large rallies with posters “Freedom to Baltic States! Freedom to Latvia” on Manezhnaya Square. Unfortunately, democracy in Russia was dismantled and destroyed. At present, the people, who, in my opinion, should partly take responsibility for the destruction of both Russian democracy and Russian democrats, physically, do the revision of history. It is an incredible attempt to go back into history, transform all achievements of Russian minds and even introduce changes into the Constitution under which people who will try telling the truth in Russia will be subject to the Russian jurisdiction. Historians will not be able to speak freely. It is a remarkable crusade of the Russian authority to the past. We will have to convert history into historical research, which Poland, Czechia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia did, and bring it at the political level».


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Conference Organizing Committee:

Yevhen Bystrytskyi, Myroslaw Czech, Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Leonid Finberg, Ola Hnatiuk, Polina Horodyska, Mykola Kniazhytskyi, Andriy Kurkov, Myroslav Marynovych, Rostyslav Pavlenko, Serhii Plokhii, Mykola Riabchuk (the Head of the Committee), Olena Styazhkina, Tetyana Teren, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Yosyf Zisels.