May 8, 1945, not just a day of victory, but start of new terror (The Straits Times)

IT IS the 70th anniversary of the unconditional surrender of German forces.

This event is rightfully celebrated all over Europe as the day of liberation from Nazism – hence the big parades in Moscow and often national holidays in other European countries.

But May 8, 1945, was also the day that the French army opened fire in Setif, Algeria, on demonstrators calling for national independence. Thousands were mown down in the slaughter that followed. It was the opening of the near 20-year war that followed.

And it was the day the modern Islamic conflict with Europe may be said to have begun, as Muslim bodies fell to European bullets.

For eastern Europe, the great victory of the Red Army was the beginning of a new occupation and colonialism, as the defeat of one disastrous 20th century ideology based on suppression of freedom and European values was followed by the triumph of another one – Stalinist communism, which imposed itself by force and suppression of freedom and European values.

The violence was worst in Greece, where ultra-Stalinists launched an armed insurrection, forcibly moving up to 500,000 people, especially children, to communist Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria in order to be turned into model socialists.

The violence in Greece began a pointless and unwinnable civil war, encouraged by Moscow, which cost 80,000 Greek lives – more than those lost in the Italian and German invasions and subsequent occupation.

It took another 30 years and the Portuguese revolution before western European imperialism surrendered power. It had done so much damage in former colonies in the way Britain, France and Portugal tried to cling onto power, or at least control, in its areas of influence (Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen for Britain; and Vietnam, Algeria and Syria for France).

The end of the post-1945 era in Europe came with the first elections in Poland in 1989, followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

So while fascism was destroyed, divide-and-rule imperialism by the Western powers rose up again after May 8, as did Stalinist colonialism.

Seventy years after May 8, 1945, the oasis of relative calm called the European Union faces fractures, as pre-1939 nationalism, populism and xenophobia sink roots.

Eurosceptic think-tanks like Open Europe call for the EU to become de-politicised and to turn instead into only a marketplace. But the messy politics of power- sharing, or sovereignty-sharing, is a pre-condition for open borders for trade and for the movement of capital, ideas and people.

The lands between the Channel and the Pripet marshes, where Germans fought Russians and then an Anglosphere army, are now free of armed violence.

But all around on the North African coasts and the regions bordering the eastern Mediterranean and stretching to the Gulf, the flames of Islamist and Persian- Arab conflicts rose.

Europe left behind a disastrous network of either feudal states in the Gulf or deformed military- authoritarian ideologies in power in Iraq and Syria.

Now, the south-eastern regions of Europe, like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, face a new aggression that would have been instantly recognised by Catherine the Great, whose key objective in the 18th century was the annexation of Crimea.

The 70th anniversary of May 8, 1945 is not a moment to hail victory, but should be a time to ask why it all went so badly wrong for so many years and what mistakes are being made today that will ignite new conflicts.


The writer is a former British minister for Europe and a contributing editor to The Globalist.