Whose “cynical lies”?
The seventieth anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 should be primarily a time of remembrance. Perhaps in some Western European countries it is. Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States, are, however, finding themselves increasingly under an “information war” attack from the present regime in Russia.
This anniversary should also be a time of reflection, most especially on terrible and treacherous mistakes made including both the 1938 Munich Agreement and the 1939 non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. With Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel arriving the day before the ceremonies of remembrance on 1 September, presumably for friendly talks and the increasingly aggressive tone taken by both Russian leaders about Ukraine, Poland and the “correct view of history”, reflection on those past mistakes seems urgently needed.
On 30 August in an interview to the TV Channel “Rossiya”, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev claimed that the Parliamentary Assembly of the countries of Europe had said that Nazi Germany and the USSR bore equal responsibility for the Second World War. He stated that this was a “cynical lie”. It is, but it was never made by either the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Both these assemblies have called for 23 August to be marked as a “Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes”. The OSCE Resolution states that “in the 20th century, European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Stalinist, which brought along genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity;” It was certainly something of a statement to choose the day the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact was signed as Remembrance Day, yet there remains no assertion that they were both equally responsible.
False allegations become no less false for being repeated, however if you can assume that nobody will ask uncomfortable questions, then repetition has its uses. On Russian television those assumptions have long been possible, and judging by other ominous remarks made by Medvedev in the interview, the aim is to ensure that children never even think to ask awkward questions.
No more “muddled heads”?
Following Vladimir Putin’s lead, President Medvedev also addressed the issue of school history textbooks. Saying that they had been written by different people with different capabilities and ideas, he concluded “this is bad since schoolchildren end up with their heads full of nonsense”. He considers that order needs to be established “so that absolutely obvious things are interpreted in the same way in these textbooks. You can’t call black white. You can’t name, for instance, somebody defending themselves an aggressor”. http://rian.ru/edu_news/20090830/
So what is “obvious”?
Presumably the people appointed by Medvedev in May to his new “Commission for Countering Historical Distortions which harm Russia’s Interests” were deemed to understand what is obvious. One of the members of the Commission, Natalya Narochnitskaya, has been extraordinarily active of late presenting a somewhat specific view of historical events. It has many features in common with Soviet historiography and cannot therefore be considered original, however non-standard it most definitely is.
Before quoting particular statements, it is worth noting that Ms Narochnitskaya echoes key points made in the "Concept plan for contemporary Russian history in the first half of the twentieth century", a guide for Russian history teachers. This 2008 work, and another such guide in 2007, reflects a clear move in Russia towards whitewashing Stalin, minimizing information about repressions, and trying to justify such clear crimes as the Katyń massacre (http://unian.net/ukr/news/news-276590.html) This move was hailed as “positive” by President Putin in June 2007.
The extracts here are from an interview (in Russian) at: http://kp.ru/daily/24350.3/538016/print/ In places the questions are also cited, since in my view they give some indication of the purpose of this text. A previous interview by the same warrior against historical distortion was published on the effectively government controlled “Rossiya” TV channel http://vesti.ru/doc.html?id=311615 on 23 August. Molotov and Ribbentrop also signed for their respective governments a secret protocol which divided Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. It was on the basis of that agreement that the Nazis invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and the Soviet Union occupied its “agreed share” on 17 September (and then the Baltic States in 1940)
(Interviewer) But still, why is it specifically Poland that seems like the victim of the War, particularly of the deal between Hitler and Stalin?
Natalya Narochnytskaya [NN] Poland presents itself as an absolutely innocent victim. Supposedly if it hadn’t been for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler wouldn’t have invaded Poland. Yet there are documents showing that on 1 March 1939 the date of the invasion of Poland had been fixed. And do you know what the Poles were doing during those six months? The Russophobe Minister of Foreign Affairs Jozef Beck was negotiating with Hitler to become his ally, offering assistance in invading Ukraine so that Poland could extend from sea to sea. <>
“As a result of the Second World War we gave the Poles a third of their present territory. So they could behave in a more restrained manner and not slander us”.
Who does she mean by “us” and who is slandering them? There is a clear and thoroughly distressing assumption that the Soviet Union under Stalin and Russia are one and the same, and that any criticism of the Pact is somehow “anti-Russian”.
“In the middle of the 1970s the strategy of the West towards our country changed and there was a determined shift in the treatment of the Second World War. They began saying that Hitler’s main crime lay not in claims to territory and peoples, and not even in the race doctrine, but in the absence of American democracy, and since we also didn’t have Western democracy we were just as awful.”
“The Munich Deal of 1938, signed by Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler and Mussolini, the division of Czechoslovakia is a disgrace for the West. (Quite correct, however her bellowing is only for local consumption. Nobody in other countries is disputing that this was an act of betrayal - HC) Later Hitler swiftly extended his success, and western states wanted to appease him only at the expense of the East. And literally on the eve of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the British were holding secret negotiations with Hitler and Goerring was supposed to fly to London to sign a separate agreement with Germany. The diplomatic struggle of the last pre-war year revolved around the question of who Hitler would invade first. It was clear to everybody that war was inevitable and would be on two fronts. Everything had the smell of war. And we fruitlessly tried to reach a comprehensive agreement with the West against Hitler, understanding that we were being led by the nose, and at the last moment outwitted the West in that game! Even former American Secretary of State Kissinger admits that the “measure of Stalin’s achievement can be deemed to have been a change in the timetable of the war, and of Hitler’s priorities”. [I have omitted only one sentence regarding Kissinger’s view on the Machiavellian nature of the trick. No details about the allegations made are provided].
“[Interviewer] If the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had not been signed, how would events have developed?
Hitler would have invaded us first and we were not at all ready for war. [Ms Narochnitskaya clearly considers it simply too “obvious” to explain how exactly Hitler could have done this. Presumably we are meant to assume that the invasion would have been with the full support of Poland whose territory is, after all, somewhat in the middle].
<> “All the European part, all of Ukraine and Byelorussia would have been wrenched away from us, i.e. we would have had what happened in 1991, only with the total destruction of the state. And that would have been the end of our history. As for the territory which our forces went into after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, let’s look at what was Western Ukraine, which Warsaw calls “Eastern Poland”. That was territory of the Russian Empire occupied by Josef Pilsudsky’s Poland during the Civil War. Except for a piece of Bukovyna which before the First World War was not Russian. Why is the carving up of Ukraine and Byelorussia by Pilsudsky not considered a crime, while the return of these territories to the historical borders of the Russian state, albeit of the communist regime, branded as a crime?
<> “England wanted to turn Hitler to the East in order to make itself safe in the West. Not to mention its permanent desire to deprive us of the Baltic Coast. .<>
Britain’s dream from the time of Peter the Great was to topple us from our position [as a great state]. Therefore the West was so delighted when the Soviet Union collapsed. Finally the hated Russian empire had collapsed. After all, the price paid by Gorbachev for totalitarianism was 300 years of Russian history.”
She says that the original classifying of “Trophy” Archives for 60 years has been extended for several decades. “It’s quite possible that material will be found there which undermines many accepted clichés and labels. For example, there might be material on secret negotiations between Hitler, the USA and Britain. Anything who can think of! And maybe they’ll show that they were all up to their ears. It’s no accident that there’s unanimity between the rivals – the USA and our country - that we have to hold fire”.
<> “[Interviewer] Natalya Alexeevna, why do we so seldom recall the death of hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers in Polish captivity in the 1920s?
It’s completely unfair when they keep throwing Katyń at us, which Yeltsin apologized for by the way. Not to mention that the issue of Katyń has not been studied fully. There were undoubtedly NKVD crimes, however the Nazi crime also left its trace. And for some reason nobody blames Poland over the fact that in 1920 on the territory occupied by Pilsudsky around 100 thousand Red Army soldiers ended up prisoners of war on the territory occupied by Pilsudsky. And those prisoners of war were simply starved to death. They were deliberately not given food and watched as they died. …
[Interviewer] That was in essence the prototype for the Nazi concentration camps?
Yes, yes. Poles don’t want to remember that, yet they constantly demand apologies from us. Well, apologize for the invasion of Moscow in 1612…. And what did you get up to on Ukrainian and Byelorussian territory after the First World War?
There, incidentally, the ancestors of present-day Ukrainian radical nationalists excelled. During the years of the Great Patriotic War SS men were stunned by the atrocities of the Uniates – those same Bandera-people whom Yushchenko now glorifies. “
If the reader is not familiar with any of the “historical information” provided here, I would earnestly recommend that they look it up. There is, after all, plenty of material freely available. If, on the other hand, it all seems so crass and primitive as to be laughable, then I would respectfully suggest that this is anything but the case. Children and teenagers will be growing up hearing nothing else, with school textbooks, the media and, of course, politicians bellowing about historical distortions while feeding an unknowing audience on an extremely specific diet of information and interpretation. . They will simply not know to ask questions.