Monday, May 09, 2005

Looking Back, Moving Forward?

Today is May 9, 2005 - the 60th Anniversary of VE Day. Sitting in Gorlovka, Ukraine, today is the revered holiday "Victory Day." All day long I have been watching the news and reading some email journals about the differing opinions concerning Victory Day. The Baltic States do not count it as Victory Day because years of Nazi oppression were replaced by decades of Soviet oppression. In Ukraine there are mixed feelings - in the Russian leaning East (where I live) the day is celebrated with gusto. In the nationalist West there is less gusto because of perceived domination by the Soviet Union (some in the West welcomed Hitler's troops as liberators from the Communists). The Baltic States are demanding that Russia offers an apology for the nearly 50 years of communist oppression - and with President Bush's visit to Latvia, the international press is making a lot of their demands. Russian President Putin, however, is saying that the USSR already apologized in 1989 and will not do so again. "Will we have to do this every year? Every day?" And Putin refuses to grant an apology - even putting the world on notice that a great debt is owed the Soviet Union for their costly role in defeating Hitler. The Soviet Union lost nearly 25 million people during the War.

In my city of Gorlovka there is a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Great Patriotic War (what the Soviets call WWII). More than 10 years ago I saw some elderly women laying flowers at this monument in respect for the dead (maybe their husbands, fathers or brothers). The kids loved to play on this monument for it was built to create a hill and it was rather large (in Soviet fashion). Seeing the elderly ladies fussing at the children for playing on the monument I remember writing in my journal about the tension between a "sacred memorial" and a "sacred playground." The past always creates the present and new generations do not understand the past well. I wrote then that those who died paid such a high price so that their children would be free to play in parks like the one where this memorial was located. By playing on this monument, these kids were unknowingly paying tribute to the sacrifices given for them. When does the past give way to the future?

There is a lot of tension right now about how exactly to talk about the past - particularly the events of May 1945. It seems to me that everyone needs to ask for and/or offer forgiveness. If we keep seeking to blame others and shame people we will never move forward. The Germans offered the people of Ukraine an apology for the events of those years and it was graciously accepted. Perhaps if more leaders would humble themselves and reach out to those they have hurt the world could move closer to healing.

Forgiveness is the answer. Repentance is the key.

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