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4 Feb, 2010 05:39

The Yalta Conference: end of one war, beginning of another

On this day, February 4, 65 years ago the Allies, in their fight against Nazi Germany, met in Yalta to decide the shape of the post-World War II landscape.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and leader of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin – collectively known as the “Big Three” – were united in their wish to save future generations from the horrors of war. Unfortunately, more than six decades later, it seems their efforts are not equally appreciated.

In February of 1945, most of Eastern Europe was already liberated from Nazi occupation by the Soviet army, while British and American troops had fought their way into Belgium from the West. The Nazis' defeat was just a matter of time. In a few months the Second World War would come to an end.

As such, the Big Three met in Yalta, the capital of Crimea in the Soviet Union, to discuss Europe’s post-war reorganization.

As a result of the conference, Germany – the country that initiated both World Wars – was demilitarized and split into four zones. Each zone was controlled by the three powers, along with France. In addition, Berlin was obliged to pay $20 billion in reparations for the damage it caused.

Not to allow a terrible repetition of history, the sides promoted the creation of the United Nations as a force to help prevent war. Taking over from the League of Nations, it was to guarantee peace and prosperity for generations to come.

“I always admire how harmonious that conference was. The Allies seemed to act as one. There were many important and just agreements signed, new border lines drawn. It seemed that the world would recover soon and never repeat its mistakes,” says Georgy Kumanyov from the Center of Russia's Military History. “But this wasn't to be. Just as the Allies were writing the final pages of one war, another – the Cold War – was around the corner.”

Today, walking along London’s Bond Street, one can see a statue of two bronze gentlemen sitting on a bench talking to each other and smiling. They are Roosevelt and Churchill, and the monument, called “Allies”, commemorates 50 years of peace.

However, the former Soviet leader is nowhere to be seen, despite the pivotal role the Soviet Union played. When questioned on the matter, Londoners are unanimous in their opinion: a bronze Stalin should not be sitting alongside Roosevelt and Churchill.

“No, because he was a tyrant,” said one passerby. “Despite the so-called union in World War II, I don't think it's sufficient to justify [Stalin] sitting here in the statue,” believes another.

Despite the end of the Cold War, the Soviet legacy remains a divisive historical issue.