European Commissioners Frans Timmermans and Vera Jourová released a statement marking August 23, the Europe-Wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, saying that “a Free Europe is not a given but a choice, every day”.
The day is marked on August 23 because it is the anniversary of the signing by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which divided Central and Eastern Europe and led to the violation of fundamental rights for tens of millions of people during one of the darkest periods of Europe’s history, the European Commission said.
In their joint statement, Timmermans and Jourová said: “Every August 23, we honour the memory of the millions of victims of all totalitarian regimes.
“The signature of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on this day in 1939 opened a dark chapter in European history. A time during which citizens were neither free to make their own decisions nor had a say on political choices. A Europe in which freedom and democracy were not more than a dream.
“Tens of millions of victims were deported, tortured and murdered under totalitarian regimes in Europe. Because of this cruelty, lack of freedom and disrespect for fundamental rights, in parts of Europe several generations never had the chance to enjoy freedom and democracy.
“This year we also mark the 30 years of events in 1989 when citizens of Central and Eastern Europe stood up and broke through the Iron Curtain and accelerated its fall. The courageous actions of citizens brought back freedom and democracy to all of Europe.
“They helped overcome divisions and unify Europe. This then is a collective European legacy that we all must cherish, nourish, and defend.
“Eighty years have now passed since 1939 and the generation that has witnessed the scourge of totalitarianism is almost no longer with us; living history is turning into written history.
“We must therefore keep those memories alive to inspire and guide new generations in defending fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy. It is what makes us who we are. We firmly stand together against totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of all kinds. A Free Europe is not a given but a choice, every day,” the joint statement said.
The European Commission noted that the Baltic Way demonstration took place on August 231989, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Baltic citizens formed a 600 kilometre human chain all the way through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It was a peaceful demonstration that united the three countries in their drive for freedom.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic, a peace demonstration event that took place on August 19 1989 in Sopron, a city near Hungary’s border with Austria. Citizens gathered around the border fence to show solidarity and friendship in an event organised by the authorities of both countries. The Pan-European Picnic is one of the events in 1989 that paved the way to unification and the end of the Iron Curtain, the EC said.
(Photo: Sébastien Bertrand)