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70 years later, the world is still fighting World War II

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hold their earpieces as they address a press conference following talks at the chancellery in Berlin, on March 23, 2015. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, but, in some ways, the epochal conflict is far from over. A host of commemorations are opening up old wounds in parts of the world, or have become staging grounds for current geopolitical disagreements. Here's how the global legacy of World War II remains very much a source of tension. (Not unlike the war seven decades ago, Russia plays a big part in the story now.)

A demand for German reparations

Greece's economic woes, which include a crippling $300 billion debt, are very much a problem of the present, but their new leftist government has decided one solution lies in seeking redress for the past. Greece's justice minister recently said he'd be willing to allow authorities to seize millions of dollars in German assets in Greece in compensation for war crimes carried out in World War II. Germany already paid reparations to Greece as part of an agreement in 1960, as WorldViews outlined here, but Greeks contend that the millions paid did not account for all the damage the Greek state incurred during the Nazi occupation.

As the main engine of the European economy and a bulwark of the E.U., Germany has played a prominent role in the international project to keep Greece in the eurozone, and is blamed by many Greeks for foisting destructive policies of austerity on Athens.

"It's not a material matter, it's a moral issue," said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, at a meeting Monday with German officials.

Putin avoids the Auschwitz commemoration

On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered what was left of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Its soldiers were the first to encounter the horrors of the facility, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, had been killed by the Nazis. Yet when world leaders staged a memorial earlier this year, Moscow's top politician was nowhere to be seen. The absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event in Poland was a consequence of Russia's power play in Ukraine, which has led to a severe deterioration of relations with other Baltic and Eastern European countries wary of Putin's ambitions, including Poland.

[Maps: How Ukraine became Ukraine.]

The specter of fascism in Ukraine

And what about Ukraine? Ever since a political crisis exploded a year ago, the legacy of World War II has cast a huge shadow. After Moscow annexed Crimea, Putin repeatedly grandstanded on the sacrifices Soviet soldiers made defending the strategic Black Sea peninsula from invading Nazi forces. Some 27 million people in total from the Soviet republics perished during the war.

Meanwhile, Russian media and politicians have frequently accused the newish government in Kiev of harboring neo-fascists and Nazi sympathizers. That's because a segment of Ukraine's nationalist right-wing, active in anti-Moscow street protests a year ago, embraces controversial Ukrainian heroes such as Stepan Bandera, a guerrilla who fought the Russian and Polish occupation of what's now Ukraine and won Nazi patronage.

Moscow's critics say the real fascism lies in the neo-imperial ideology supposedly motivating Putin.

Forgotten in Central Asia

Last week, authorities in the city of Angren, Uzbekistan, demolished a tall, spire-like statue of a Soviet soldier bearing a rifle. It had been erected in 1970, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II. Uzbek authorities aren't as sanguine about the war's history as their Russian counterparts appear to be -- tens of thousands of Uzbek soldiers were drafted to fight and die in battles far from their homeland. The Soviet Union may have been in the frontlines of the war against the Nazis, but it is still remembered as an occupying power by many in countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

According to Radio Free Europe, authoritarian Uzbek leader Islam Karimov changed the name of the May 9 holiday that marks the war's end -- known as "Victory Day" in Russia -- to the Day of Remembrance. Official media have been discouraged from referring to the conflict as the Great Patriotic War, the term used in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

East Asia's endless disputes

For Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, the war bubbles up each time a Japanese leader visits the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including 14 individuals convicted of war crimes by an Allied tribunal in 1948. Beijing and Seoul frequently fume about the supposed revisionism found in some Japanese school history textbooks, which downplay the atrocities carried out by Japan's military during its occupations of parts of Asia. This includes the widespread use of "comfort women," or sex slaves forced to serve Japanese soldiers.

The planned World War II speech of hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is expected to express "remorse" over the conflict, has been the source of months of scrutiny in the region. A commentary published by China's state news agency Xinhua this week condemned Abe's "attempts to mitigate or deny" Japan's war guilt -- a longstanding Chinese grievance that surfaces during far more current territorial disputes.

"To be a responsible political leader," Xinhua advises, "[Abe] should at least resist the urge to do so as history may repeat itself unless lessons are learned."

A special visitor in Moscow

On May 9, Moscow will mark Victory Day with a grand military parade, attended by a host of international dignitaries. Its current acrimonious relationship means that a number of prominent leaders, including President Obama, will not count among the at least 26 heads of state expected to attend.

A more likely guest? Kim Jong Un, portly despot of North Korea, a closed, hidden land still frozen in the Cold War.

As WorldViews reported earlier, it's not totally clear Kim himself will arrive in Moscow or, instead, may be represented by a top figure within his regime. If so, it will be the first official foreign visit Dennis Rodman's North Korean best friend has made in the three strange years since he came to power.

Related links

What a Soviet soldier saw when he entered Auschwitz

Why Putin says Crimea is his Jerusalem

Greece's leftists want Germany to pay for Nazi crimes