June 11, 2009
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As European democracies celebrate the 20th anniversary of
their liberation from communism and the Soviets, Moscow seeks to restore its dominance over
former satellites. Rewriting Russian history is part of this plan. The
Putinist notion of a progressive Soviet system in the past is designed to
provide justification for Russia's
current assertiveness in the region.
annual May 9 parade, which celebrates the "victory over fascism" on
the anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender to the Allies. The entire
exercise is based on a monumental national delusion fostered by the Kremlin.
Although Russia was one of
the victorious powers at the end of World War II, Moscow
continues to disguise the historic record that the Soviet
Union itself helped launch the war in close alliance with Nazi
Germany. Through the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Stalin schemed with Hitler to
carve up Eastern Europe.
has recently intensified its revisionist campaign, claiming that it
voluntarily gave up communism and the Soviet Bloc and that the Cold War ended
in a draw with the West. Russia's
state propagandists maintain that the USSR never occupied its
neighboring states after World War II, but rather liberated them from
tyranny. And they minimize the Kremlin's imposition of a totalitarian system
over the region that stifled its political and economic progress for almost
half a century. Unlike post-war Germany,
Moscow has never paid reparations for Soviet
crimes and expropriations in Central and Eastern Europe.
also disguises the fact that Stalin murdered more Russians and other Soviet
citizens than Nazi Germany. Its official figure of 27 million war dead
includes several millions of Stalin's victims during Soviet civilian
deportations and military purges.
Instead of admitting that it was a perpetrator and an
opportunist in the destruction of Europe, Russia,
as the successor state to the Soviet Union,
depicts itself as a victim and a victor.
took another step to revise its history last month when it formed a
presidential inter-departmental commission to promote the Soviet version of
history and to tackle alleged "anti-Russian" propaganda that
damages the country's international image. The commission's mandate is to
formulate policy options to "neutralize the negative consequences"
of what they consider to be historical falsifications aimed against Russia.
This is in particular a response to steps by neighboring governments in Estonia, Poland,
and elsewhere to talk openly about Soviet repression and to remove monuments
that glorify the Soviet occupation.
The committee has no independent historians, and is
comprised of bureaucrats from government ministries, representatives from
military and intelligence agencies, several pro-Kremlin spin-doctors, and
The chairman of this "historic truth"
commission, Sergei Naryshkin, is chief of staff in President Dmitry
Medvedev's administration and a loyal supporter of Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin. As Russian liberals have pointed out, this commission bears an eerie
resemblance to Soviet institutions that established a monopoly over
scientific and scholarly truths.
Additionally, legislators from the ruling United Russia
Party have proposed amendments to the penal code that will make the
"falsification of history" a criminal offence. If passed by the
Duma, this could result in mandatory jail terms for anyone in the former Soviet Union convicted of "rehabilitating
This draft bill is not designed to fight neo-Nazis or
fascist ideology. Instead, it would allow the criminal prosecution of
individuals who question whether the Soviets really "liberated"
Eastern Europe toward the end of the war or whether countries such as Georgia
welcomed their annexation by the Czarist Empire. This would open the door to
possible legal campaigns against political leaders in neighboring countries,
including Ukraine, Georgia, and the three Baltic states, who
distorted version of history.
Last month's parade, where soldiers in Czarist-style
uniforms carried the red flag with the yellow hammer and sickle across the Red Square, was an almost exact reenactment of
Soviet-era self-glorification. The spectacle sent an unmistakable message to
all formerly occupied territories that Russia remains the strongest
military continental power and continues its Czarist and Soviet traditions.
During the May display President Medvedev warned unnamed
adversaries who were supposedly contemplating "military adventures"
against Russia -- a thinly
veiled threat to keep Ukraine
out of NATO. The Kremlin's new historiography of Russia as a proud, virtuous
neighbor to those in its sphere helps provide an intellectual underpinning
for such posturing. Western countries, including the former Soviet
satellites, can take steps to expose Russia's historical revisionism
by sponsoring international conferences and symposia, by opening up all
pertinent state archives to scholars, by educating the younger generation
about communist crimes, and simply by talking openly about the Soviet era.
glosses over its dark past and flexes its muscles, the fear is that those who
rewrite history may also be determined to repeat it.
Mr. Bugajski is director of the New European
Democracies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
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