war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Decommunization trials in Lithuania and Ukraine, while Russia defends Soviet past

Halya Coynash
A court in Vilnius has sentenced Yuri Subbotin, a Lithuanian citizen of Russian descent, to 14 months’ restricted liberty for at least one post in which he praised Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the Soviet regime. The norm in Lithuania is similar to one of Ukraine’s decommunization laws, however the penalties are much less severe

A court in Vilnius has sentenced Yuri Subbotin, a Lithuanian citizen of Russian descent, to 14 months’ restricted liberty for at least one post in which he praised Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the Soviet regime.  The court agreed that this fell under 2009 amendments to the Lithuanian Criminal Code which impose liability for publicly expressing approval or denial of Soviet or Nazi aggression and crimes against Lithuania. 

The penalty imposed by the Vilnius District Court on Oct 30 is not particularly onerous, with Subbotin ordered only to remain at home between 22.00 and 05.00 each night.  The 67-year-old has said he will appeal against the sentence and denies writing the comment in 2016 which formed the basis of the charges. 

The comment read: “Thank you Stalin, Sniečkus (Antanas Sniečkus was the leader of the communist party from 1940 to 1974) and the Soviet regime, and those who don’t like being with Russia can get the fuck out of Lithuania, suitcase – station, America”.

The Soviet Union under Stalin occupied Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from 1940, with the atrocities committed by the NKVD a major factor in causing a fair number of members of these Baltic states to initially see the Nazi invasion as liberation.  For many Lithuanians, their country’s occupation began in 1940 and continued until 1991, hence the lack of any distinction in the Criminal Code between the crimes of the Nazi and the Soviet regimes.

In April 2015, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed four ‘decommunization laws’, including the Law on the Condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) Regimes and Prohibition of Propaganda of their Symbols . 

The Law was scrutinized by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) on Dec 21, 2016.  The joint interim opinion  found that the Law had serious failings which could infringe people’s right to freedom of expression and of association.  While stressing that Ukraine had the right “to ban or even criminalise the use of certain symbols of and propaganda for totalitarian regimes”, the experts considered the Law’s scope to be too broad and the sanctions envisaged, which include long terms of imprisonment (5 – 10 years’ imprisonment), too severe. 

The law has since been cited as the reason for banning Ukraine’s Communist Party. During Victory Day demonstrations both this year and in 2016, people were detained and / or protocols drawn up merely over the use of communist symbols.  In May 2017,  a third-year Lviv university student became the first Ukrainian to receive a real, though suspended, sentence under the Law for photos and other material with communist symbols posted on Facebook. 

Meanwhile in Russia

All measures at decommunization by other post-Soviet countries have been fiercely criticized.  Russia denies, for example, that the Baltic Republics were under Soviet occupation.  It has also, however, upheld the sentence against Vladimir Luzgin for posting a text which, quite correctly, stated that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had both invaded Poland in 1939. 

The denial and distortion of historical fact apply particularly to Stalin and the crimes committed during his regime. There was unashamed glorification of Stalin around the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in May 2015, with Stalin’s purge of the military, myopia over Hitler’s plans and total failure during the first weeks of the War largely muffled.

There are now monuments to the bloody dictator, and a museum in the Tver oblast.  Human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov has said that he often sees portraits of Stalin when he visits the offices of investigators, prosecutors, etc.  In July 2015, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wrote in positive terms about the place Stalin held in the country’s memory, while Olga Vasilyeva, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s choice for Education Minister, is known for her specific view on Stalin and denial of the number of his victims.

It is therefore not surprising that by February 2017 a Levada Centre survey found a record number of Russian citizens with a positive attitude to murderous Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin.  If in 2001, soon after Vladimir Putin first became President, the majority of Russians were still negative in their assessment, in January 2017  46% viewed him “with admiration, respect, or liking” (4%, 32% and 10%, respectively). 

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