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End of WWII Marked End of One Struggle, Beginning of Another

This week, millions around the world are commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany 60 years ago. But for millions more in Eastern Europe, the anniversary is bittersweet.

Sixty years ago, in a schoolhouse just outside Paris, more than five years of war in Europe were brought to an end with the signing of Nazi Germany's surrender. Cities around the world erupted in bedlam celebrating the victory over Nazi Germany.

But for the war-ravaged countries of Eastern Europe, Radek Sikorski of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington says, victory in Europe simply meant replacing one horror with another.

"We were liberated from the Nazis and that that was very important because it meant Auschwitz crematoria stopped working and that extermination stopped. But democracy didn't arrive either," says Radek Sikorski.

Mr. Sikorski is a former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister of Poland. He says what did arrive was a half century of Soviet tyranny. That fate was sealed three months earlier in Yalta, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin agreed to carve up Europe into zones of control ceding much of Eastern Europe to the Soviets.

The plan was to have the world conference which led to the creation of the United Nations, decide the post war world structure. Facts on the ground in Europe changed that.

"The reality was that Stalin was in military occupation of those areas and therefore could do pretty much what he pleased. And I think it was a mistake to give a veneer of legitimacy to that," says Mr. Sikorski.

Many have criticized the western leaders for "giving" half of Europe to the Soviets. But James Goldgeier of the Council on Foreign Relations believes they had little choice. He says, "They had certain realities that they were faced with, unfortunately. Again, after the exhaustion of that war, to start a new war over territory - it just wouldn't have had domestic popular support and especially again the Soviet Union had been an ally in this war and - in Europe - defeating Germany was the main thing."

The Allies also still had to defeat Japan and needed the Soviet's help.

Leaders of the Baltic nations and Poland are using the 60th anniversary of Victory Day to renew calls for Russia to account for the darker aspects of Soviet History. Most notably, the non-aggression pact signed with Nazi Germany in 1939, leading to the Soviet occupation of part of Poland that year and the Baltic States a year later. So while Russia cites the Nazi invasion in 1941 as the start of World War II, in reality, Mr. Sikorski says, it began two years earlier.

"So you see, the Soviet Union sees itself as a victim as purely a victim of the second world war, when actually it had a hand in starting it," explains Mr. Sikorski.

Now, 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many, including Mr. Sikorski, believe if Russia wants to accept the glory for winning the Second World War, it must also come to terms with the darker side of Soviet history.