Russia seeks to outlaw denial of Soviet Union's victory over Nazis
FEARS that Russia is protecting and propagating a Soviet version of history have been heightened after a government minister warned that foreign leaders could be punished under a planned law that would make the denial of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War a crime.
Sergei Shoigu, the emergency situations minister and a member of Vladimir Putin's dominant United Russia party, this week called for a law that would make it a criminal offence to question the USSR's role in the defeat of Hitler's forces, in which about 27 million civilians and soldiers died.
While he added that it would be based on the Holocaust denial laws seen in some western European countries, Mr Shoigu also issued a veiled threat to leaders in eastern and central Europe. Most of them regard the advance of Soviet forces into German- occupied Europe as a second occupation, and Estonia sparked outrage in Russia a few years ago when it relocated a statue of a Soviet soldier from the centre of the capital, Tallinn, an event not lost on Mr Shoigu.
"Our parliament should pass a law that would envisage liability for the denial of the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War]," the minister said.
"The presidents of several countries who deny this would not be able to come to our country and remain unpunished, and the mayors of several towns would think twice before they dismantle monuments to Soviet warriors."
Mr Shoigu's suggestion, which has popular support in the Russian parliament, has added to concerns that Russia is promoting a version of history that has changed little since it emerged from the Stalinist propaganda machine as a means of bolstering support for Mr Putin and his government.
Critics of Mr Putin, the former president and now prime minister, have often accused him of trying to return the country to autocracy, and fostering a culture that tends to glorify Russia's dictatorial past and castigate any deviation from the official line.
Earlier this month, acclaimed British historian Orlando Figes claimed political reasons lay behind his Russian publisher's decision to postpone the release of his book The Whispers, which examines the private lives of Soviet citizens in Stalinist Russia.
Although the publishers attribute their decision to the economic crisis, writing on his website Mr Figes, a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London, said: "The Kremlin has been actively campaigning for the rehabilitation of Stalin. Its aim is not to deny Stalin's crimes but to emphasise his achievements in building the 'glorious Soviet past'."
As further evidence of this, Mr Figes referred to a Russian history textbook covering 1945 to 2006. He said that one of its authors, Pavel Danilin, argued the aim of the book was to present Russian history as "not a depressing sequence of misfortunes and mistakes but one to instil pride in one's country".
A growing adherence to one particular line of historical thought could well breed further frustration in many of Russia's border states.
Poland, for one, has long been irritated with Russia's refusal to hand over, or even grant access to, all the documents concerning the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers and civilians by Soviet forces in the Katyn forest in 1940.
Continual Russian obstruction into Polish investigations has led many Poles to believe Moscow is seemingly unable to accept the fact that the Soviet Union committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Producers accused over Zhukov documentary
THE extent of resistance in Russia to any revisionist version of Second World War history can be gauged by the reaction to a recent documentary highlighting the failures of a campaign in 1942-43 by the famed Marshal Georgy Zhukov.
Aired last month on Russia's NTV channel, the producers showed re-enactments of the fighting and spoke to German survivors from the Rzhev Battles, a number of offensives launched against German forces near Moscow, which became known as known as the "Rzhev meat grinder", with Soviet losses estimated at between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men.
Instead of being praised for their research, the producers were branded part of the "Jewish conspiracy" by some sections of the media, while a former general accused the makers of smearing the "heroic deeds of the Soviet people".
Some Russian politicians have even advocated making it a crime to question Soviet military tactics in the conflict, in addition to the proposed measures.
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