Marking the end of the Second World War has been a source of contention since 1945, but this 70th anniversary year promises to be unusually divisive.
The Allies record the end of the war on different days – the US and Britain mark Victory in Europe Day on May 8 while the Russians celebrate Victory Day on May 9. This difference reflects Stalin’s anger that the Anglo-American allies accepted Germany’s surrender at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, France, on May 7, 1945, in a ceremony which failed to recognize that the Soviet Union had ‘borne the main burden of the war’.
At Moscow’s insistence a second ceremony was held on the outskirts of Berlin at midnight on May 8 – already the following day by Moscow time – during which the surrender document was accepted by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, commander of the Soviet assault on the capital.
A major military parade is planned for Moscow on May 9, but many leaders including Barack Obama are boycotting it in protest at Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is also staying away, though she plans to visit Moscow on May 10 – thus stretching the anniversary to a third day – to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and thereby show respect for victims of the war while not endorsing Putin’s role in the Ukraine.
Among leaders who are expected to go to Moscow are President Xi Jinping of China, and Kim Jong Un of North Korea – perhaps providing a chance for their first meeting. Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are expected to send high-level representatives. The Kremlin has blamed the ‘aggressive core of the European Union’ for limiting participation.
The diplomatic complexities do not end there. China has invited European leaders to attend a 70th anniversary military parade on September 3 to mark the end of the war in Asia. In China the end of hostilities is known as ‘Victory day of the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression’. Though the Second World War is usually described in European history books as beginning in 1939, a less Euro-centric date would be 1937, when Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China, or 1931, when Japan seized Manchuria.