The Lithuanian embassy held a Black Ribbon event at the Isabel Bader Theatre on September 12 to remember the 80-year anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, and  to recognize the victims of totalitarian and fascist regimes.

The keynote speaker, chessmaster, and notable opponent of the Kremlin, Garry Kasparov, drew from his experiences to compare Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s regimes.

“Hitler and Stalin were allies,” Kasparov explained. “They started World War II together.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was a non-aggression treaty between Stalin and Adolf Hitler, which was signed on August 23, 1939. The pact enabled the German invasion of Poland nine days later, which is regarded as the inciting incident that began World War II.

Professor Matthew Light, who specializes in Eastern European and Russian politics, explained in an interview with The Varsity that Stalin “essentially carved up eastern Europe with Hitler, and after the war, imposed Soviet rule on the Baltics and communist regimes in Poland and other eastern European states.” Those states included Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and more — many of which had representatives at the Thursday event.

Kasparov on Hitler, Stalin, Putin

Professor Light argues that painting Stalin as a hero against the Third Reich is a tool in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, “whose leadership Putin and his regime frequently refer to as ‘fascists’ and seek to associate with the Nazis.”

In 2009, during a visit to Poland, Putin denounced the pact as a “collusion to solve one’s problems at others’ expense.’’ 2014 — the same year Russia annexed Crimea — Russia’s Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact a “colossal achievement of Stalin’s diplomacy.”

“I could only envy Canadians because they enter elections and they don’t know who’s going to win,” Kasparov joked in his keynote address.

“[Young people] want to hear about the future. And what can Putin can offer? Nothing. They could see wars. They could see growing tension there. Most of them are pro-Western and they could see that there’s a growing gap between Russia and the free world.”

“Corruption in Russia is not a problem, it’s a system,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Kasparov remains an optimist, adding that “whatever happens after Putin, it will be some sort of regrouping, but I think Russia will move in the right direction. It’s a big chance and hopefully, unlike in 1991, we will not miss it.”