«World War II, Totalitarianism and Challenges for Europe Today»

After the collapse of Communism new governments of nearly every country in Central and Eastern Europe, new members of the European Union, and Ukraine faced the challenge of transformations: primarily of political system, and economy. Nevertheless, the completion of the first stage of these transformations and the prospects of Ukraine’s membership in the EU showed that much deeper changes are required, those pertaining all spheres of civil and political life – democratization is required. For societies in countries of Central and Eastern Europe democratic values have become the foundation for countering contemporary challenges: the new war, the fight against the enemy, the fight against the pandemic.

What conclusions from the events of World War II can be useful for Europe, which is facing new challenges? Why should we talk about World War II not only as a historical past, but also as a warning about the future? Is there a place for the memory of World War II in modern European and national politics? What are the challenges facing Ukraine and Europe today?

Moderators: Svitlana Orlovska, TV host at Pryamiy TV channel; Tatas Berezovets, TV host at Pryamiy TV channel.



Ukrainian businessman and politician who served as the 5th President of Ukraine from 2014 to 2019. He served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2009 to 2010, and as the Minister of Trade and Economic Development in 2012. From 2007 until 2012, Poroshenko headed the Council of Ukraine's National Bank. Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

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Articles [UA]:

«For the predominant majority of Ukrainians the victory over Nazism is a landmark event and a grand holiday. It has been so for 75 years in a row. But only during the recent decades – especially the latest five years – we have been gradually liberating from stereotypes of Russian propaganda. We have begun to look at the history of World War II not through Russian twisted mirrors, but through our own impartial perspective. Many facts that the Kremlin kept sealed from us have been declassified… And it still conceals them from their own Russian people. The war against Ukraine and Ukrainians was conducted by Stalin’s regime back in the 30s, when millions of our fellow citizens perished during the Holodomor, when intelligentsia was destroyed, when hundreds of thousands people were killed or exiled to concentration camps. Memory of these crimes has to be part of European and of entire humankind memory, because only then will it be possible to understand reasons for the union of Hitler and Stalin – the two, seemingly, irreconcilable ideological foes. In the first stage of the war the Soviet Union was an ally of the Nazis and along with them divided Europe into spheres of influence. And after liberation from the Nazis and up until the defeat of the USSR in the cold war, the region remained under the Soviet occupation. It took decades and not one revolt in order to be liberated from the “liberators”. Take Budapest in 1956, and Prague in 1968, and Polish “Solidarity” in 1980-81, and velvet revolutions in the late 80s, and Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine today».


Danish politician who was the 24th Prime Minister of Denmark (2001-2009) and the 12th Secretary General of NATO (2009-2014).

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Articles [UA]:

«World War II taught us a very important lesson. We understood that freedom is not free, and May of 1945 did not bring freedom to entire Europe. After the war, owing to the USA, we committed ourselves to make sure these horrors will never be repeated, and the guilty will not be left unpunished. Respectively, we managed to overcome powers of the tyranny and fascism, but still we haven’t wiped them off the global map. The international system was built to act as a deterrent force to prevent autocrats or dictators, so that they do not appear again. But recently we have forgotten the warnings that history gave us. American political and ideological leadership is absent at the moment. Russian authority is trying to rewrite or even fabricate the history of the Soviet Union and the war. It also includes the 1939 pact with the Nazis».


Polish politician, who was the President of the European Council from 2014 to 2019. He served as the Prime Minister of Poland from 2007 to 2014. On 20 November 2019, Tusk was elected as the president of the European People's Party (EPP), Europe's largest transnational political party.

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Articles [UA]:

«In May 1945 the triumph and tragedy were closely interlinked. The most clear reason for this is why one of the two cruelest totalitarianisms in human history – Hitler’s Germany – had just been vanquished. The other one – Stalin’s Soviet Union – was one of the winners. Not only a winner, but actually able to expand its empire beyond any foreseeable limit deep into Central Europe. I personally have only realized in my last six years in Brussels how difficult it is for Western Europeans to grasp the tragedy of Yalta. The consequences of oppression, deportation and distortion of half of the continent continue until today. Another tragic element is that at first implicitly and in recent years more and more explicitly the celebrations of the Victory Day went hand in hand with a frank and open justification for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 . And in the Kremlin’s narrative, this infamous pact between the two most lethal totalitarian empires in history was more than a tactical necessity. It was also a union against liberal democracy, against the West. In Moscow today the commemoration of May 9 of 1945 is used to legitimize open and hybrid aggression against Ukraine since 2014. The Kremlin uses three elements to achieve its objective, and they all bear references to 1939 and 1945. One: it equalizes today’s Ukraine with fascism, which not only trivializes real fascism, but also deflects attention from the kind of fascism which is alive and kicking in Putin’s Russia itself and in the radical right-wing movements the Kremlin supports today. This accusation against Ukraine is particularly hideous when considering how much Ukraine actually suffered during World War II. Two: the Kremlin uses help for ethnic Russians as an argument to threaten, bully and attack Russia’s neighbors – not just Ukraine. As you remember, exactly this very argument was used to justify the attack on and annexation of eastern Poland in 1939. And three: it [the Kremlin] ultimately denies Ukraine’s existence as a nation, just like Poland’s existence as a nation was denied in 1939».


American diplomat, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2008-2009) and served as executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership (since 2011). He worked also as the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine (2017-2019).

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«The Kremlin is engaging in a strenuous effort to erase the part of history. I want people to remember: the reason that this war began is connected directly to the nature of those regimes – the nature of the Nazi regime in Germany, the nature of Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union. They saw repression domestically as justified; they saw aggression against neighbors, domination of neighbors and conducting warfare as justified. Today we see a similar situation, whereas Russia has become more autocratic; it is also engaged in increasing aggression against neighbors whether that is in Ukraine with the seizure of the Crimea, with the war in Donbas, with the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the efforts to support the separatist regime in Transnistria. As we think about the impact of the coronavirus and where we come out of this, there is a great danger that authoritarian regimes will enter this post-pandemic world with renewed appetite and, perhaps, even some advantages».


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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.