Renewed fight over history in Russia





The Kremlin has posted a decree that aims to prevent what are described as efforts to falsify history and harm the interests of Russia. The government move to set up a commission to deal with the issue, comes after the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for measures to criminalize the defamation of any Soviet contribution to victory in World War II.

The Kremlin Web site posted a decree Tuesday signed by President Dimitry Medvedev on May 15 that authorizes the establishment of a presidential commission to counter what are described as attempts to falsify history.

Writing on his Internet blog on May 7, Mr. Medvedev said Russia is being increasingly confronted with determined, malicious and aggressive historical falsifications. He said the number of interpretations of wartime history, some controversial, is also increasing.

The Kremlin leader acknowledges that every field of knowledge can have its own analysis, but he says perhaps the reason for reinterpretation of the war is because there are fewer and fewer people who fought in it and saw it with their own eyes. He says the vacuum being created, either through ignorance or to some extent deliberately, is being filled by a new vision and new interpretations of the war.

The president of Russia's Academy of Military Sciences, Makhmut Gareyev, told VOA there has been what he called an endless stream of suggestions in Russian media that the Soviet Union did not win the war, or that it would have been better had Hitler won.

Gareyev mentioned in particular Russian journalist Alexei Pivovarov who recently aired a controversial nationwide TV documentary on the 1942 Battle of Rzhev on the Volga River. The Nazi-Soviet encounter is little-known in Russia, though it claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people, two-thirds of them Soviets.

Pivovarov's account of what historians call the Rzhev meat grinder strayed from typical Russian accounts of noble heroism and wise Kremlin leadership.

Veterans have since branded Pivovarov a traitor. Makhmut Gareyev also rejects the contention of many historians in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics that they were occupied by Soviet forces.

Gareyev asks how was it possible for Soviet forces to destroy Hitler's armies and to liberate the Baltics or Poland without entering their territory. He notes that American troops remain in Germany and wonders why they are not considered occupiers, but Soviets in Eastern Europe were.

Most Western historians argue that British and American troops were not occupiers, but liberators who advanced from the west to destroy Nazi power and liberate German-captured territories.

In Kyiv, the director of the History Institute at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Stanislav Kulchytsky, notes that Ukrainians and other nationalities fought in the Soviet Army with Russians and therefore share a common history. But Kulchytsky told VOA each country has a different interpretation of the events.

Kulchytsky says Russian media, particularly television, are currently showing many historical features with various interpretations of Ukrainian and Russian history. He says negative portrayals of Ukrainians create a wall of misunderstanding, indeed lack of understanding, which results in an image of Ukraine as a nation with a very negative attitude toward Russia, which he rejects as not true.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko stirred controversy in 2007 when he posthumously decorated Roman Shukhevych, the leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or UPA, which struggled for an independent Ukraine during World War II. Moscow portrays the UPA as Nazi collaborators. The unit, which fought Soviet forces, initially welcomed the Germans as liberators, but soon waged war against them as well. UPA resisted Soviet rule into the 1950s.

Moscow and Kyiv are also at odds over the Holodomor, an event described in Ukraine as artificial famine perpetrated by the Kremlin, which claimed the lives of millions in the early 1930's. Ukrainians consider it an act of genocide. Russia says it was not genocide, because peasants of various ethnicities, not just Ukrainians, were also victimized.

Moscow was also outraged two years ago when Estonia relocated the statue of a Red Army soldier from a central location in Tallinn.

Meanwhile, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu has introduced legislation in Parliament that would make it a crime to deny the Soviet victory in World War II. Foreigners deemed guilty would be banned from entering Russia. Historians have expressed concern the measure could also create a climate of fear that would further close access to already limited Russian archives.


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