Defense minister: World War Two then and now, 75 years after its end

Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa). Source: Aurelia Minev/ERR

While World War Two, at least in Europe, ended 75 years ago to the day, its legacy is still as relevant as ever, particularly against the backdrop of those who would seek to rewrite history, writes defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa).

World War Two in Europe ended 75 years ago. We now commemorate then tens of millions of victims of that war, the vast majority of whom were defending their home land - simple soldiers who obeyed orders from aggressors and occupiers, and peaceful civilians from all belligerent sides.

Estonia's fate during and after World War Two was particularly difficult and tragic. Neutrality did not help our country to stay out of the war and avoid Soviet and Nazi occupations, because totalitarian powers do not respect international law, the love of peace and the right to independence of small states.

Nazi Germany signed the definitive and unconditional Act of Capitulation on the evening of May 8, 1945. Weapons fell silent, the unprecedented destruction and killing in the old continent stopped, but many nations in Central and Eastern Europe could not enjoy their freedom, and suffered under repressions by the Soviet Union and its imposed communist regimes.

The Baltic states fell in 1944, their second time under the occupation of their "liberators".

Estonia is one of the countries that suffered the most because of World War Two if we consider the entire period of occupation from 1940 to 1991. Our human losses were terrible. Almost no Estonian family remained untouched. Many Estonians, and people of other nationalities, died or were lost during the war. The tentacles of the NKVD, the Gestapo, the Red Army, and the SS, reached innocent people on land and at sea, in dark cellars, in the forest, and on the beaches.

In addition, Estonia lost tens of thousands of war refugees, victims of mass deportations and murdered freedom fighters.

The population of Estonia on the January 1 1945 was, within its present territory, 200,000 inhabitants fewer than before the occupations of 1940.

Estonia lost in the 10 years following the outbreak of World War Two – including the victims of mass deportations and other atrocities – almost a quarter of its population.

Western Europe rose from the embers after the war like a phoenix.

Economic assistance from the U.S., but above all else by its own efforts, and the establishment of NATO and the EU, brought long-term peace and prosperity to Europe's western half.

The Cold War prevented the spread of totalitarian ideology to the West. The Estonian people had to wait for the White Ship – a popular, messianic belief in the arrival of salvation and a better life – for 50 years, until a new window of opportunity opened.

We, too, rose like a phoenix from the ashes, if we look at where we were just 30 years ago.

World War Two and especially the periods that immediately preceded and succeeded it taught very clear lessons to Estonia.

First, its geopolitical position makes Estonia's independence unthinkable without economically and militarily powerful democratic allies.

Membership of NATO and the EU is however not just an inevitable security policy choice. We are Europeans – this is our historic and cultural identity – and therefore we naturally belong to Europe.

Second, we must take our eastern neighbour's pulse. This means that we must follow permanently, and understand thoroughly, the developments in Russia, because military and so-called hybrid threats have not faded away in pandemic conditions, and will not disappear, for an indefinite time.

Estonia's independence is very dear to us, and thousands of Estonians have given their life to achieve and defend it. I thank veterans who fought for Estonia's independence on Estonian soil. I am grateful to those who have fought and are fighting in on-going international operations. I bow my head to those who perished for our freedom. We will defend Estonia in any circumstances.

Finally, Estonia and its NATO Allies are doing their best to deter Russia and prevent war. A conflict might nevertheless break out, not in the Baltic Sea region, but thousands of kilometers away, and this is why Estonia cooperates with its allies in the Middle East and in Africa.

The commemoration of the end of World War Two, with demonstrations of rough military might, is unthinkable in the common space of Western values. We also do not accept being silent about, altering or altogether reversing entirely the meaning of historic facts related to the war.

No, Great Britain and France did not plot, and Poland did not instigate, World War Two.

Historian Yuri Dmitryev discovered a mass grave of thousands of people killed by the Stalinist regime in Sandarmokh, in Russia's Karelian Republic, yet he is now imprisoned by Kremlin as a "criminal".

The Kremlin follows its usual tactics, and now accuses Finland of being the perpetrator of those atrocities. This is simply ridiculous.

May 8 is for Europeans and North Americans the day when they commemorate those who lost their lives or their well-being during the war.

It is also Europe Day, and we should always remember that the main reason for the foundation of the EU and its forerunners was the preservation of peace by cooperation in all fields, but also solidarity and friendly relations among allies and partners.

A video of defense minister Luik's address is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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