Russian myths about a “common victorious war” result from distorted terminology and historical facts
Vladimir Putin’s regime is never tired of turning the “unification” issue of the so-called Great Patriotic War into a cornerstone in Russia’s neo-imperialistic mythology. Russian patriotic films about the tragic - yet victorious - era flourish in the Ukrainian media space. They feature Ukrainians or Belarusians under the command of the main characters with clearly Russian names crushing a “common enemy.” The goal is clear: “normal khokhly”are presented as the opposite of banderivtsi, traitors and allies of Nazis.
HELPING EACH OTHER: KREMLIN STYLE
Russian politicians, let alone international policy analysts, have become experts in Orwellian news speak as they struggle to prove that the Kremlin never occupied the three Baltic States, Western Ukraine or Bessarabia. This is their way of keeping alive long-lived stereotypes shaped over decades through Communist propaganda about the “liberation” of these countries and “saving” them from occupation by Germany, the USSR’s ally in the unfolding of World War II (WWII). For arguments in support of this thesis, they search the tiniest loopholes in international laws that were in effect at that point in time that do not permit a legitimate qualification of actions by the Soviet Union against the three Baltic States, Poland and Romania as one of occupation or annexation. On the other hand, they talk about the dishonesty of the Joseph Stalin administration and its failure to meet commitments contained within the non-aggression pacts.
This was part of the reality, of course and it was Russia’s typical foreign policy. The country quit any international commitments as soon as they proved inconvenient or interfered with its further expansion. But, this does not change the fact that there were forced annexations of Central European sovereign states or parts of them. In 1939-1940, the USSR and Nazi Germany tormented Europe through their secret non-aggression pact. Included in the secret pact, better known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939, was a division of Europe into spheres of influence with the Soviet Union to occupy Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Western Ukraine and Western Belarus.
THE TRAGEDY OF LITHUANIA
Unlike Finland that faced open aggression, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Western Ukraine turned into a circus arena for the Kremlin as it struggled to avoid the label of invader. Moscow used one scenario for every country. Lithuania experienced the following version. On 28 September 1939, Germany and the USSR signed a treaty that outlined Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact provisions on the division of Europe. Lithuania, which was to go to the USSR, was exchanged for the Warsaw and Lublin provinces of Poland, under Nazi occupation, like a stretch of soil between two gardens. Following this, Lithuanian government was forced to sign a treaty of mutual assistance which brought a 20,000-large Soviet army into the country.
The price of this “brotherhood” turned out to be too high. By the end of spring 1940 the Kremlin arranged a series of provocations accompanied by growing informational pressure on the Lithuanian government. This hysteria peaked with the Kremlin accusing Lithuania’s government of being not in compliance with the friendship treaty, of undertaking hostile steps against the USSR, and of kidnapping two soviet soldiers – all provocations concocted by the Kremlin’s secret services. Using this as an excuse, Moscow brutally demanded that Lithuania permit additional military contingents to enter the country and essentially overthrow the government by forcing it to resign and then arresting its members who had become inconvenient for the Kremlin. The Lithuanian military command who knew that Germany had approved the USSR’s occupation of Lithuania refused to resist the renewed soviet occupation.
Lithuaniafulfilled the demand and experienced an occupation in the next four days. From 14-18 June 1940, 34,000 Lithuanians were deported from the still sovereign yet occupied country to Siberia. Thus, over 1 percent of the country’s three-million population were deported. In early January this year Irena Diagutene, the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, said she hoped that the Russian Federation would admit that Soviet crimes had taken place in Lithuania. “Russia has already admitted to the existence of these crimes in Poland, such as the Katyn massacre of Polish officers. The USSR admitted that the Katyn crime had taken place and that people had been murdered. I hope that Soviet and Stalinist crimes committed in Lithuania will be also recognised, as well as victims in both 1941 and 1991,” she said.
The overthrow of the Lithuanian government was followed by the establishment of a puppet government and a fake election guided by Stalin’s dictum of “what matters is how they count, not how they vote.” The so-called Bloc of the Working People controlled by the Communist Party won the expected 99.2 percent of the votes as it had no rivals. Supervised by the Soviet army, the resultant quasi parliament announced the establishment of the soviet Lithuanian republic on 21 July and requested the USSR Supreme Council to accept the country into the Union, which it agreed to do on 3 August 1940. The outcome of this theatrical scenario of the country’s annexation still exists and has been turned into a component of the myth about the Kremlin’s purely protective role over the three Baltic States in WWII.
RUSSIAN UNDERSTANDING OF FASCISM: LOST IN TRANSLATION
The Russian authorities prefer to never mention how the so-called Great Patriotic War started thus confirming its legal and ideological loyalty to the Soviet and Stalinist heritage. Official media outlets label as “fascist” anyone who speaks against the current imperialist policy of seeking revenge in former Soviet states. They interpret the term quite differently than Europeans do. Putin’s restoration doctrine saves pride of place for the “common victorious war against fascism” as the triumph of the Soviet empire that made it a superpower for virtually half a century. It is still used as an ideological and political tool of imperial revival as a “great power,” rather than as a victory over the misanthropic totalitarian regime.
A recent incident in Uzbekistan once again proved the Kremlin’s typical selective approach to the “common war” mythology. The Uzbek administration has nearly always been loyal to the current Russian revivalist line in the CIS. However, the government removed the monument to Sabir Rakhimov, a Hero of the USSR, from the Sabir-Rakhimovski district of Tashkent, the nation’s capital, and the district was earlier renamed Olmazar. Six bulldozers destroyed the four-meter high monument standing on a pedestal in front of numerous police officers and khokimiat, members of the city administration. A subway station named after Sabir Rakhimov was also renamed shortly before this. This decision could have been motivated by the fact that Rakhimov began his career in the Russian Bolshevik army that had crushed the Basmachi Revolt, the uprising against Russian imperial and Soviet rule by the Muslim peoples of Central Asia. All monuments erected in 1975 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Victory Day had been removed earlier by the Uzbek regime.
The Kremlin did not respond to these steps by the loyal Uzbek regime, even though it has been regularly condemning the “profanation” of WWII memorials in Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries. It did not do so because the mythology of the “common victorious war” does not have the same function in its policy of imperial “great power” revival in Central Asia as it does in Ukraine and other former Communist Eastern European states.
Mr. Putin was forced to admit the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been a mistake at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of WWII in Gdansk on 1 September 2009. This came as a shock to average Russians whom Russian propaganda had been claiming that the division of Europe between the USSR and Germany in 1939 was a wise and farsighted move.
Banderivtsi was originally the name for the supporters of Stepan Bandera, leader of one of two wings of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists from 1940. is the Soviet Union used Banderivtsi as a derogatory term for nationalists of all persuasions, Western Ukrainians and even moderates such as Viktor Yushchenko and supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution.