Countries of the former Communist Bloc are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the end of Soviet domination. Russia, after a promising start of opening up about its past under President Boris Yeltsin, has now increasingly adopted a stance of denial.
In sharp contrast to post-war Germany and some other countries, Russia has never taken responsibility for Soviet war crimes or crimes against humanity committed during and after World War Two on it own territory or in Central Europe. The Central Europeans, Baltic nations and Ukrainians accuse the Soviets of genocide in Ukraine, mass deportations from Poland, the Baltics and Hungary, as well as the largest ethnic cleansing in history, that of 21 million ethnic Germans after WWII.
Now an editorial in the Wall Street Journal says Russia has taken a further step in covering its dark past by creating a presidential inter-department commission to promote the old Soviet version of history.
The commission has no historians, only officials from government, military and intelligence agencies and members of parliament. Chairman Sergei Naryshkin, who is also chief of staff to President Dimitry Medvedev and supports Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who many see as the real power in Russia today, leads the commission. It is tasked with responding to “anti-Russian” works that damage the country’s image. The Journal editorial points out that many Russians see the new body as suspiciously similar to Soviet institutions that controlled scientific and historical “truth.”
The new commission would have some frightening, and decidedly un-democratic powers if a new law were passed. Lawmakers from the ruling United Russia Part (URP) have called for changes to the penal code aimed at making what they call the “falsification of history” a criminal offence. Should this law be passed by the Russian parliament’s lower house, the Duma, anyone could be convicted for “rehabilitating Nazism”
The editorial argues that the draft bill is not aimed at Neo-Nazis, but rather anyone who questioned whether the Soviet Union “liberated” the Eastern half of Europe, or whether they just swapped one oppression for another. Recent reports said the Russian human rights group Memorial was raided and their database on Russian and other victims of Soviet repression was confiscated.
It is feared that this might even open the door to legal campaigns against leaders in neighbouring countries of what Russia calls the “near abroad,” former nations of the Soviet Union itself, such as Ukraine, Georgia and the three Baltic states, who reject this new/old version of history.
The looted watch can clearly be seen on the soldier's upper forearm, along with the one on the wrist. According to eyewitnesses interviewed by DJ reporter Chris Szabo, the looting Soviet's cry was: "Wine, women, watches."
Ukraine, for example, refers to its famine in 1932/33 as the Holodomor and calls it genocide, which Russia vehemently denies. Georgians reject the argument that they welcomed first Tsarist, then Soviet Russian soldiers and to the Baltic states, the idea that the Soviets “liberated” them is ludicrous.
Thus the chance of Russia apologizing, and perhaps making reparations, to the vast number of people its army or secret services harmed is shrinking into the distance.
This is likely to lead to increased tensions between the former victims, who cannot help remember that the Soviet Red Army raped an estimated two million women, and murdered those who tried to protect them, like Hungary’s Bishop Vilmos Apor, that it looted money, artworks and the private property of ordinary people, that it deported millions for so-called “malenkiy robot” (a little work) to the GULAG, hundreds of thousands of whom never returned.
In 2006, Hungary managed to get the return of the library of the Hungarian Reformed Church, which contained first edition Hungarian-language Bibles and other irreplaceable artefacts, and which was looted by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, returned. However, the Russian government never admitted to the crime, but instead made Hungary pay for “storage.”