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Monday, May 19, 2008

EDITORIAL: Russian History Takes Another Beating


Russian History Takes Another Beating

A May 15th story in the Moscow Times about the repugnant parade of Soviet military hardware through Red Square a few days earlier stated:
After the parade, Medvedev hosted a champagne reception at the Kremlin for veterans. Medvedev has also sent out congratulatory telegrams to the leaders of other former Soviet republics. In his note to Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, Medvedev warned him against any attempt to justify the Nazi crimes and "question the liberating mission of the Soviet Army," the Kremlin said. Many in Ukraine sided with Nazi Germany during the war, and Ukrainian veterans who fought against the Soviets have been recognized and praised under Yushchenko. Putin, for his part, sent out congratulations to the prime ministers of the same countries, and in his telegram to Tbilisi he wished peace and well-being to the Georgian people. Relations with Georgia recently sank to a new low after Moscow increased the number of peacekeepers in Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, sparking fears of an armed conflict.
Andrei Richter, an Associate Professor at the School of Journalism of Moscow State University, responded in a letter to the editor as follows:
When I read this story, I was reminded of a recent trip to Kiev. While I was there, I picked up a copy of Kyiv This Month magazine only to be stunned by its column titled "History In Brief," which read: "1944 -- Soviet army occupies Ukraine again. In WWII, both German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million deaths." When I wrote the editor of this magazine, I received a reply referring me to another web page from where this phrase was copied, almost word-for-word. To my surprise, the web page was taken from the official site of the CIA. I wonder what would happen if a Russian official web site wrote about, for example, French history something like this: "1944 -- U.S.-British army invaded Normandy. In WWII both German and Allied troops were responsible for some 600,000 French deaths." Wouldn't that cause uproar in the West? Why do our wartime allies believe they can twist history as they like?
Interestingly, Professor Richter had no interest in asking why Russians themselves believe they can twist their own history as they like. Last week, just for instance, we published Paul Goble's report on yet more evidence of the Kremlin's efforts to whitewash Russia's litany of outrages and glorify the Soviet past. Just click the "history" label at the bottom of this post to see a whole lot more such evidence.

Equally interesting, Professor Richter likewise didn't seem to notice the irony embodied in calling himself a "professor of journalism" in a country that simply doesn't know the meaning of the word. He works for a university that is run by the Kremlin that destroyed Anna Politkovskaya and a whole host of other journalists and has seized control of every major publishing forum in the country. Neither Russian history books nor Russian newspapers or television give Russians the remotest clue about the actual facts of history, either their own or anybody else's, and yet so many Russians, like this poor sap, arrogantly imagine they have the right to sit in judgment based on the ridiculous falsehoods they've been fed since birth.

But back to the point: Which is what, exactly? As we understand it, Professor Richter (who obviously finds expressly himself clearly in writing quite challenging) is saying that he once read in a Ukrainian magazine that Russians killed 7-8 million Ukrainians during the World War II period, roughly as many as the Germans killed when they invaded, and claims this is false. Apparently, that's not what Russian history books say, and according to him there's no chance they could be wrong. Russians, in other words, know the history of Ukraine better than Ukrainians do. Moreover, he believes that this magazine is engaged in some sort of conspiracy with the CIA to foist false information about Russia onto Ukrainians -- apparently, he thinks this is the reason that many Ukrainians hate Russians and want independence from them, something that he apparently thinks is totally unjustified.

But note well, dear reader, that Professor Richter makes no specific mention of the source of his information that these murders did not occur, though he has no problem citing with specificity the sources that outrage him with their alleged CIA propaganda. Is he suggesting that Russians would never murder their allies? Is it just a myth too, then, that after liberating Poland Russia murdered thousands of Polish military officers, in cold blood, in the dark corners of the Katyn forest? Is it also a rude foreign plot that Russians murder Russians, that the dictator Josef Stalin slaughtered at least 20 million of them in his gulag archipelago? Is Alexander Solzhenitsyn's epic text by that name in reality just a work of fiction?

Apparently, Professor Richter believes that the Ukrainian holocaust called Holodomor (known as the "man-made famine") is also just a frivolous fairytale. Apparently, it makes no difference what the Ukrainians say about it, because they're just dupes of the CIA; nobody in Russia, of course, has been duped by the KGB, and certainly not Professor Richter Moreover, reports that Russian soldiers murdered thousands of political prisoners in their jail cells are similarly based on nothing but CIA lies, as are any claims about political purges of the Ukrainian government by Stalin, such as this one:
Ukraine was among the worst-hit areas. Unlike the purges of 1933, during which opponents of collectivization and Ukrainizers had been purged, in 1937 Stalin decided to liquidate the entire leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet government and the CPU. […] By June 1938 the top seventeen ministers of the Ukrainian Soviet government were arrested and executed. The prime minister, Liubchenko, committed suicide. Almost the entire Central Committee and Politburo of Ukraine perished. An estimated 37% of the Communist party members in Ukraine - about 170,000 people - were purged. In the words of Nikita Khrushchev, Moscow's new viceroy in Kiev, the Ukrainian party "had been purged spotless."
And reports of similar activity by Russian soldiers in other countries are just as bogus. If Canadian scholars make such allegations, they too are simply stooges of the CIA.

Professor Richter might like to actually go to Ukraine some day, and visit The Museum of the Soviet Occupation in Kiev. As an article in Izvestia pointed out, the net impact of the museum's exhibits is basically to show that Ukraine was better off under the horror of Nazi rule than under the domination of the Russians. The Russian reporter for Izvestia bristles when the Ukrainians dare to blame the atrocities on "Moscow" rather than "Communism" as if Russians were as much victims as Ukrainians -- but if that is so, where are Russia's memorials to the outrages committed by "Communism" in Ukraine? Look hard, you will find none. Apparently, it has never occurred to Professor Richter that Ukrainians might have exactly the same attitude of outrage towards Russia that he (and many other Russians) has towards the West because Russia treats Ukraine with just as rudely as he perceives Russia to be treated by the West.

For the record, though we may be hapless dupes of the CIA, we'd like to note our understanding, widely documented by Western scholarship, that there was active underground resistance to the Soviet occupation of Ukraine until the early 1950s when it was finally liquidated by the Stalin dictatorship. Things were so bad in Ukraine just before the Nazi's invaded, as we understand it, that many Ukrainians actually welcomed and assisted the Nazi invasion.

In conclusion, we can only say that that we believe Professor Richter's pathologically malignant and insane remarks are indicative of the neo-Soviet character of the Russian state today. The country is run by a KGB dictator and its leading institutions of higher education are dominated by apes like Richter. What can be expected from such a situation other that exactly the same kind of collapse that crippled the USSR?

Come to think of it, though, perhaps we went to far with that remark about apes. It's an unforgivable insult, and we feel we should apologize. To the apes.


elmer said...

In Ukraine today, there is a day of remembrance for the people who were victims of the political repressions of the 1930's and 1940's. Flags are at half staff.

Story in Ukrainian here:

In Russia - political repression continues.

They simply haven't learned from their brutal history

Tomek said...

This is the sadness of Russia today, that they are still mired in 60 year old Stalinist-era lies. If Professor Richter would spend some time in Ukraine, he would discover that Ukraine is undergoing a painful exploration of its past, one that is not always complimentary, as is neighboring Poland. Beginning in the 1930s the OUN and UPA waged an ugly struggle with the Sanacja regime in Poland, which reciprocated in kind with bloodshed. During the war there was a low grade but brutal war between UPA and the Polish AK with atrocities against civilians by both sides. In the 1947 Poland retaliated against continued UPA activity by deporting 500,000 Ukrainians and Lemko from Bieszczady in southeastern Poland. How do I know all this? Because Poland and Ukraine are modern civilized countries and we allow scholars to study and publish the truth. It's not always pleasant, but it's the only way forward. Poland and Ukraine have hung plaques to each others' victims, set up reconciliation meetings with veterans and supported recognition of mutual cultural events where our histories overlap in places like Lwów/Lviv or Jarosław/Yaroslav. And no, the CIA isn't involved. We're just two countries who recognize that although we haven't always gotten along, we need to now.

When Professor Jan T. Gross published his book Sąsiedzy ("Neighbors") about Polish atrocities against Jews during the war in the village of Jedwabne there was a public uproar and denials, but after a few years of study a government commission supported most of Gross' allegations and provided evidence -- a very unpopular move. No one likes to learn unpleasant things about their country, but no country is a saint. The crucial difference is that in Poland, the government uses professional scholarship to support the truth, even when that truth does not reflect well on Poland. In Russia, the government is still in 1950s mode, suppressing the truth of what Russians have done to themselves and others, and painting a pretty lie of the Russians as a Cinderella-like nation. And yet Russians get angry and defensive when they realize they are the pariah of their neighborhood...