Should Putin be invited to Normandy?

Putin’s approach is to claim for Russia all that is creditable in Soviet history—and then to present Russians as the principal victims of every Soviet crime and atrocity, when those crimes are not outright excised or denied. Yet 7 million Ukrainians wore the uniform of the Red Army during World War II. If Putin is entitled to a place on the Normandy reviewing stand to honor the contributions of Russians in 1941-45, why not also invite Ukraine’s president-elect—and, for that matter, Kazakhstan’s and Uzbekistan’s and those of all the successor republics of the Soviet Union? Are too many of those leaders thugs and crooks? Well, what else is Putin? If it’s too embarrassing to invite President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, it ought to be too embarrassing to invite his patron.

In 1994, French President François Mitterrand—himself a former collaborationist—declined to invite Germany’s Helmut Kohl to the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The excuse was that the day belonged only to the victorious Allies. (The true motive seems to have been to remind newly reunified Germany to mind its Ps and Qs.) Since then, a more charitable spirit has prevailed. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined French President Jacques Chirac to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. In explaining the invitation and his decision to accept, Schroeder wrote that on D-Day, “France was liberated from German occupation and we Germans from the Nazi tyranny. This day is much more than victory or defeat. It has become a symbol of the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. It is only right that we Germans take part.” That decision seems just and generous today. And it explains why all the states of democratic Europe deserve an invitation to share the memory of the day—and why Vladimir Putin doesn’t.

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