Yeltsin bids farewell on 'the day of final reconciliation'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
'FAREWELL, Germany, farewell,' sang the Russian soldiers, in a rousing chorus. Finally, the curtain had come down. Fifty years of extraordinary history came to an end yesterday, in the warm sunshine at the Soviet military memorial, in east Berlin.

This was the final pull-out of Russian troops from east Germany, and from all Eastern Europe. President Boris Yeltsin declared: 'Today's date will go down in the history of Russia, Germany, and all Europe.' In the words of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, 'It is a day on which to take leave and remember the past. But it is also a day to make a fresh start and hope for a better future for us all.'

And yet, many things were left unsaid, as the barracks were finally emptied, and as the last military train prepared to depart. Mr Kohl spoke of German crimes against Russia by saying: 'Our peoples inflicted terrible suffering on one another in the past' - as though there were an equivalence between the injustices of Soviet rule, on the one hand, and the millions of Russians who died because of Hitler's invasion, on the other.

Mr Yeltsin's speech, too, was notable for what it omitted. He paid tribute to the achievements of the Russian troops, who had 'come as liberators, and left as friends'. He added: 'They gave the right to freedom and happiness, not just for their own people, but also for the German people, for the whole world.' He made no reference to the installation by Moscow of a one-party state, and the part played by Moscow in ensuring that democracy did not take hold, in the 40 years thereafter.

For both sides, it was, in Mr Yeltsin's words, 'the day of final reconciliation'. This was, Mr Yeltsin suggested, 'a difficult but necessary step for veterans of that war'.

Five years ago, there were 350,000 Russian troops in Germany, and another 200,000 dependants. Yesterday, just a few hundred were left, for the final send-off at Treptow, the Russian military memorial, where both President Yeltsin and Chancellor Kohl laid wreaths. Mr Yeltsin told the Russian troops: 'Welcome back to your motherland]' The Russian soldiers sang: 'Remember us, the soldiers of the Russian army, who saved the world from the brown plague . . . The flame of war is long vanished, and we part as friends.'

Then, the soldiers marched one last time, carrying the regimental flags - still bearing the hammer and sickle, and even the old slogan 'For Our Soviet Motherland'.