What Russia’s battle against “WWII revisionism” is really about

In my Forbes.com article, I talk about efforts by the Russian government (and its servile media) to combat “revisionism” about World War II and alleged attempts to either tarnish or hijack Soviet Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany.  The Duma is now considering a bill that, while harmless and even worthy on its face — it’s titled “On combating the exoneration of Nazis, Nazi war criminals and their accomplices in independent states which were formerly republics of the USSR”  — may, some fear, be used to silence “patriotically incorrect” discussions of the Soviet Union’s conduct and role in World War II and its aftermath.  (Some of the issues include the USSR’s brutal treatment of its own soldiers as well as the postwar enslavement of Eastern Europe and the Baltics.)  

Are those fears unfounded and paranoid?  Well, last night I stumbled on an item in a major Russian daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, that gives a good insight into what kind of things some people in the Russia — not crazies but people well within the mainstream — regard as unacceptable “revisionism” about the war.   (Hint: it includes the recognition of Holocaust victims.)

The item, published on May 8, is an interview with Dr. Yuri Zhukov, a miliary historian and senior scholar at the History Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  The interview, conducted by KP military reporter Viktor Baranets, runs under the title, “Historian Yuri Zhukov: ‘It is time to protect our Victory’; Why is the truth about the Great Patriotic War often helpless before lies about it?”

Zhukov, 71, boldly declares that “Russian citizens who deliberately distort historical facts must face criminal charges.”  Among those he’d apparently like to see in the dock is former Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov, author of the 2007 book, Stalin’s Three Wars.  Among other things, Zhukov is outraged by the fact that Popov labels the final phase of the war  “socialist expansionism”: 

So, according to Gavriil Popov, liberating Poland, the Balkans, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia from the Nazi invaders was all “socialist expansionism”!  Then why not call the Allied landing in Normandy “capitalist expansionism”?

Well, among other thing, perhaps, because no one needed to impose capitalism on France, and no one tried to stamp out communist and socialist parties in France after the war ended.  The analogy is so ludicrous as to defy belief.

Dr. Zhukov then takes great offense at Popov’s suggestion for a number of war-related memorials to be built in Russia.  For instance, to Soviet prisoners of war.   And that’s offensive?  Yes:

There were different kinds of prisoners of war.  Some of them steadfastly endured all the horrors of the concentration camp, but others went to work in German factories to manufacture big guns, tanks and fighter planes.

So slave labor was a personal choice.  Dr. Zhukov goes on:

Also, a Holocaust memorial.  But what does the Holocaust have to do with anything?  What does Russia have to do with the Holocaust?

That is a truly stunning statement — considering that approximately a million Soviet Jews died in the Holocaust.

Zhukov also objects to the idea of a memorial to the Crimean Tatars and other ethnic groups forcibly deported by Stalin after the war, because some of them collaborated with the Germans.  As for a memorial for prisoners of the Gulag, “Gavriil evidently doesn’t want to know that 90% of the Gulag consisted of bandits, rapists, murderers, embezzlers, and wreckers.” 

Zhukov dismisses the common (and pretty much incontrovertible) view that Stalin’s negligence caused Russia to enter the war unprepared, and takes a swipe at “the fairy-tales of Khrushchev, who detested Stalin.”  Finally, when asked about the “delicate subject” of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers at Katyn, he replies:

This issue will be resolved when the Poles answer for the extermination of our prisoners captured in 1920.  About 10,000 of them.

Here is the background on the deaths of Russian POWs and internees in Polish camps.  (Oddly, the figure Zhukov givse is actually lower than the generally accepted one of 16,000-17,000 dead.)  They died from poor conditions in the camps and epidemics of infectious diseases — which is horrific enough, but not quite on the level of cold-blooded and deliberate slaughter.  What’s more, a similar number of Polish POWs around the same time died in Russian and Lithuanian camps.  Besides, paraphrasing Zhukov’s charming remark about the Holocaust, what do the deaths of Russian POWs in Poland have to do with Katyn?  Unless, of course, one adopts the truly barbaric view that the massacre of some 22,000 unarmed, helpless men was justified as a reprisal for the deaths of Russian prisoners some 20 years earlier.  (That view, incidentally, is suggested in the “Filippov textbook” proposed as the standard history text for Russian schools.)

Zhukov goes on:

As much as I’ve worked in the archives, not a single document has been found that would directly say: Shoot and wipe out these Poles.  And not a single champion of the Poles in the Katyn affair can present such documents.

Perhaps Wikipedia can help.

There is also the obligatory shot at … the United States.  When Baranets asks, “What should we make of all this?  Is it honest error?  Playing fast and loose with facts?  A ‘new view’ of history?  Sabotage?”, Zhukov replies:

It is a strong expression of a pro-American, anti-Russian view of what we rightly call the Great Patriotic War.  Some do this knowingly, some out of ignorance.

However, Zhukov also has a word of praise for the U.S.  When complaining about the lack of a standardized history textbook in Russia, he notes:

By the way, when I visited the USA, I held in my hands an American history textbook for schools.  A single, standard one — they don’t have three or twenty like we do.

Yes, the rest of Zhukov’s claims are just as reality-based.

Again: this is not some wacko with a website.  It is a man holding a prestigious post at the History Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  A man who expresses repulsive pro-Stalinist views with a flavor of anti-Semitism (what, us? build memorials to some dead Jews? whatever for?) and an even stronger flavor of what can only be called Russian fascism.  A man who sounds as stupid as he is vile. 

And after that, Russians complain that their country gets no respect.


Filed under anti-Semitism, Russia, Stalinism, World War II

5 responses to “What Russia’s battle against “WWII revisionism” is really about

  1. Is this Zhukov related to (son of: age is about right?) the WWII general? He does sound rather like the Turks on the Armenians and/or flat-earthers.

  2. Sorry about the late reply. I don’t think he’s related to the Zhukov — the connection would surely have been mentioned. And yeah, the flat-earther analogy is quite accurate.

  3. I totally agree on Zhukov.

  4. Paulo

    So, Cathy, maybe you should read more about Russia’s History, maybe you should check out all the problems of falsification on Russia’s archives, and how the deputy of the Duma Viktor Ilyukhin died in a strange way when he was putting forward an parliamentary investigation against Yeltsin’s regime for falsification of documents in Russia’s archives. And among the falsified documents, it was the ones about Katyn.

    Maybe you should stop reading wikipedia and thinking that this will solve the problems of contemporary history, especially the problems of anti-communist propaganda – which received millions and millions of dollars of investment by the US and it’s allies. And that doesn’t ended with the “Cold War”, we have Cuba as an example of criminal propaganda being made by the mass media monopolies of the capitalist world. And the propaganda it’s not only media related, it’s also in “science”, as we have Robert Conquest, Viktor Suvurov and other people like them to prove that.

    And also you should learn that Russia wasn’t unprepared for war. You show absolutely no knowledge about Russia’s history. The fact is, no army in the beggining of the war was able to stop the new mobile warfare tactics of the German. Much like the french, the soviets had lines of defense a lot like the WWI, and these lines were easily broke by the german army. Ah, if you cared about the subject, you would know that all major soviet marshalls and generals (such as Zhukov) said that the Soviet Union was ready to war, and that Kruschev really lied about that – like he lied about everything else. And they said this things after Stalin’s death, in the 60’s. And more than that, you would go after the military production of USSR at the eve of war and see that it’s military production was growing really fast, becoming even larger than the production in Germany. But I guess you will only see that as a “proof” that Stalin was “militaristic”, as your terribly biased opinions sugests.

    And you should really read Zhukov’s researches and not create a biased opinion on him because of an interview, as if someone opinion about some subjects can destroy their works. He worked decades on archives, researching and researching, writing a lot of articles and books. He read a lot of historiography, has a massive knowledge in his area and you think that by attacking him with ad hominem “arguments” will make you look better than him? Or more truthful than him? Or maybe, using wikipedia against him will have any effect?

    And that is what people calls “journalism”.

  5. Very intresting article. You should read No simple Victory by Norman Davies It’s a very informative book that breaks some of the taboos of the second world war. For example Mr.Davies points out the millions of russian p.o.w ‘s who perished in nazi captivity,and at the same time points out that the largest concentration camp in war time europe was in vorkuta ,siberia. As Mr.Davies states “If history truely belongs to the victor, what happens when there is more than one side declaring victory?”.

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