Western historians and press call the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact), which was signed on 23 August 1939, the trigger for World War Two, because they wish “to deliberately disguise the actual motives of the commencement of World War Two”, “to falsify history” and “to evade responsibility”, because the war was made inevitable by the Munich Agreement of September 1938 regarding the division of Czechoslovakia concluded between Germany, the Great Britain, France, and Italy – this statement has become the norm in the Russian media environment over the last ten years.
It is voiced not only by Russian mass media of varying levels and quality, but also by high-ranking state officials and even historians. In order to demonise Munich even more, the texts intended for the public frequently refer to the agreement not as a “treaty”, but as a “сговор” (plot) - a word that stands for a deliberately malicious agreement that resembles a conspiracy.
Calling the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact a “Pact of Aggression” is a hypocritical western attempt to make Germany and the USSR equally liable for the breakout of the war, in an attempt to “equalise the winners and losers”. “The Munich Agreement laid the foundations not only for the aggression against the Soviet people, but also the peoples of the European countries. Therefore 29 - 30 September - the days of the Munich Betrayal - may and must be remembered as days dedicated to the commemoration of the victims of World War Two,” as recently as September this year, the Russian news website km.ru wrote.
The website of the Russian historical association historyrussia.org, which is a medium of the History of the Motherland fund, created in accordance to an order from the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, already uses academic historians to claim that Munich was the starting point for Hitler’s aggression against other European nations. "We know, why this happened – Great Britain and France gave priority to negotiations with Hitler, actually ignoring the opinion of Moscow and attempting to exclude our country from participation in resolving the most significant key issues of European policy of the time," the professor of history Efim Pivovar writes on this website. He adds that in 1938 the USSR was the most consistent protector of the “weak and oppressed” Czechoslovakia.
Another idea that sometimes flashes in the articles dedicated to the Munich Agreement, with undoubted hints to the current day situation is: Poland has no right to “currently position itself as an innocent victim of two predators – Hitler and Stalin”, because in autumn 1938, when Czechoslovakia was breaking down, Poland “got their hands on” individual borderland territories. In particular this formulation belongs to the historian and political scientist Natalya Narochnitskaya, whose name frequently appears in situations where a historical interpretation that serves to substantiate the geopolitical ambitions of Russia is required.
Poland has already apologised to its neighbour for its immoral action in 1938. For instance, in 2009, the president of Poland Lech Kaczyński called the participation of pre-war Poland in the division of Czechoslovakia “not only a mistake, but a “sin"".
Meanwhile the contemporary concept of the USSR as the “sole protector of peace” in Europe in 1938/1939, and the Munich Agreement as the source of all evil, which is popularised in contemporary Russia, is nothing new; it is a return to Soviet historiography. The concept is currently, as well as previously, used to “neutralise” the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. During the time of the USSR, the latter was consistently, but in current Russia - almost always, just called a non-aggression treaty between the USSR and Germany. Any mention of the secret protocol that was fatal for the Baltic states and Poland in avoided.
The Munich Agreement is definitely not something that the Western World has ever tried to conceal or that it would be proud of. It has never been positioned like that in historical interpretation. It has always been an infamous sign of dishonour, a symbol of cowardly “appeasement policy" and a diplomatic disaster. Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and France, without inviting Czechoslovakia decided that, for the sake of peace in Europe, the Sudettenland region, which was predominantly inhabited by Germans, must be surrendered to Germany.
However, this agreement was not a secret and Prague, although after the signing of the documents, was notified thereof. Needless to remind that neither the residents of the Baltic states, nor Poles or Finns were informed of their fate after the drafting of the additional protocols to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
Munich did not mean the liquidation and division of Czechoslovakia as a state, because the British and French had the illusion that Hitler would “calm down:” and the war in Europe would be prevented. Meanwhile, the secret protocols to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact definitely provided for the division of the territories of other countries between Germany and the USSR. When Hitler went further and, in March 1939 occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who, after the signing of the infamous treaty returned to London on 30 September 1938, stated that he had brought “peace in our time”, became alarmed and finally understood that the country must urgently prepare for war.
The head of the Commission of Latvian Historians for the Administration of the President of Latvia, Professor Inesis Feldmanis has previously qualified the attempts of Russian historians to divert attention towards the Munich Agreement, in order to reduce the degree of criminality of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, as a weird position that is beneath all criticism.
“The Munich Agreement and Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact are actually incomparable values. In terms of international law, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was much more of a criminal deed than the illegal Munich Agreement, which, at least, attempted to preserve peace. Meanwhile the pact of 23 August enabled the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, as well as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to start the war by assaulting their neighbours and to create the situation, where “territorial and political restructuring” occurred, followed by the wide seizure of foreign territories and the elimination of independence in neighbouring countries,” Feldmanis writes. The Munich Agreement, however ill advised, was a “pact of peace”, while the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was definitely a “pact of war”.
Soviet and contemporary Russian historiography tends to emphasise the fact that the occupation of Czechoslovakia provided Hitler with a foothold for the invasion of Poland, where the starting position for further attack on the USSR was gained. It completely ignores the fact that it was not Munich that released the bindings from Hitler’s hands to invade Poland, but his agreement with Stalin on 23 August 1939. Before it started its devastating activity, before Germany and the USSR divided Poland, Germany did not even have a common border with the USSR!
Supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia