We commemorate the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes
We have been commemorating the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism in the countries of the European Union for more than a decade. The date of August 23 refers to the anniversary of the conclusion of the agreement between Stalin and Hitler, in which they agreed on the division of spheres of influence in 1939. The document, which also set the rules for further mutual cooperation between the two totalitarian powers, was signed by representatives of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union by the then foreign ministers, therefore it is also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Unforgettable and shared historical experience
The decision to declare August 23 as a memorial day for the victims of both totalitarian regimes was taken by Members of the European Parliament in 2008. Their intention was to reverently commemorate the victims of extermination, deportations and other mass repressions, which often remain "nameless" for the public, and also to draw attention to the importance of democracy for peace and stability throughout the continent.
Awareness of fellowship also stems from shared experiences - and the experience of a totalitarian regime that ruled the country from within or tried to do so from abroad, as well as the tradition of defiance, embarrassment from collaboration and common victories, are among the defining historical moments in Europe of the 20th century.
Significant international commemorations have taken place in the EU on August 23 since 2011, when the Warsaw Declaration was adopted - a joint call to support the documentation of crimes committed by these regimes and maintain public awareness of their consequences.
Normalisation scenarios of 1939
The temporary "tuning" of relations between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union in 1939 was noticeably reflected in the then policy of the Slovak war state. After months of an intense campaign against "godless Bolshevism," the tone of the official supporters´ press has changed dramatically. It suddenly praised Stalinist nationalism, anti-Semitism, and efforts to create a "new man." The image of the domestic communists disappeared from the media as the main target, and their place was taken by a common enemy, which was the defiant democrats, treacherous emigrants and friends of the "old order" with contacts to the west.
In November 1939, on the anniversary of the October Revolution, President J. Tiso and Minister of Foreign Affairs F. Ďurčanský sent a congratulatory telegram to Moscow "on the national day of the USSR", to which the President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, M. I. Kalinin, responded with gratitude. A month later, Tiso did not miss the opportunity to congratulate Stalin directly on his sixtieth birthday. The text of the congratulatory telegram excelled in the Soviet environment due to its obtrusiveness, so the Slovak envoy sent a strong warning from Moscow no longer to use the address "president" or “highness”, but that "it is enough to address Mr. Stalin".
Parallel friendly relations with both powers have been cultivated in Slovakia for a few more months. For example, at the inauguration of V. Tuka as the rector of the Slovak University on January 14, 1940, the official representation of Stalinist academics, led by the Minister of Soviet Higher Education S. V. Kaftanov, was also revered among the delegations from friendly universities. A sudden reversal in the situation and thus in the official dictionary did not occur again until after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 when the totalitarian contractual partners again became open enemies.
Victims of two regimes
The experience of totalitarian regimes is common but diverse for European states. They came into contact with their power for various lengths of time, and the brutality of its manifestations also varied. As part of the international project European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, there is, therefore, a repeated call to communicate to the public the historical experience of Nazism and Stalinism through the fates of individual people, which have often remained almost unknown to the public.
So let's join this challenge and dedicate today's remembrance to Dorota Kováčiková from Bratislava. To the scout leader Dolly, who was the only Slovak girl to be the holder of the silver Czechoslovak Junácky Cross, awarded "for the participation of scouts in the fight for liberation". The Golden Cross was awarded only in memoriam, silver and bronze to the survivors. Her own family also knew little about the details of her work in the resistance. Fragments of information suggest that during the uprising, the inconspicuous refuge in the mountain village became an important intelligence post due to her language skills. She was not even eighteen years old at the time.
Dorota´s father, a lawyer, gained direct experience with the Bolsheviks as a prisoner in the First World War. His fears for a free future were confirmed over time, so after the communist coup, the family decided to emigrate. Mr. Kováčik and his wife and younger daughter were detained and sentenced to long prison terms in a failed attempt to escape from a barbed-wire-enclosed state. Dorota Kováčíková, a university student, scout Dolly, a heroine from the uprising, was shot dead by border guards near Kopčany on May 9, 1951. She was then twenty-three years old.
Text: Marína Zavacká, Institute of History SAS