Right before Christmas, some interesting and strange things have surfaced in news reports, writes MEP Rasa Juknevičienė.
Attempts to rehabilitate Stalin’s regime
The thing that surprised many analysts the most – even in Russia – was Vladimir Putin’s sudden interest in history. And it was not just history in general. Rather, it was the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of World War 2 in particular.
The pretext for his unexpected interest was clearly identified in his speeches delivered in the week before Christmas. It was the resolution on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe which the European Parliament adopted in September by an overwhelming majority.
According to Putin, the resolution is completely unacceptable, because it equates communism with fascism and states that both Hitler and Stalin, who signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols, thus partitioning Europe, paved the way for the outbreak of World War 2.
By the way, this was not the first time the European Parliament spoke out on fascism and communism, which makes it hard to believe that it was not until recently that Putin got frustrated with it. Back in 2009, on the same occasion, the European Parliament adopted its resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism.
This resolution also refers to both Nazism and Communism as criminal regimes, while devoting an entire paragraph to Communism alone. It states that the European Parliament “is convinced that the ultimate goal of disclosure and assessment of the crimes committed by the Communist totalitarian regimes is reconciliation, which can be achieved by admitting responsibility, asking for forgiveness and fostering moral renewal.”
Unfortunately, what we have heard in Putin’s speeches allows us to conclude that the opposite is actually happening. In particular, we have witnessed and observed a complete and utter moral decay. The president of the Russian Federation, the successor of the USSR, which once spread communist terror throughout most of Europe, has not only failed to admit responsibility, let alone ask for forgiveness, but has also mainly initiated the rehabilitation of Stalin.
Even though I was preoccupied with making Christmas cookies that week, I was following closely all the events on the Kremlin’s propaganda sounding boards before Christmas, since I myself was directly engaged in the initiation, drafting and adoption of the 2019 resolution in the European Parliament.
The first message condemning the said resolution appeared in Putin’s interview for the German press.
What came after that was even more interesting. On December 20, 2019, Putin invited the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for a meeting where he spent an entire hour (!) making a speech on the inevitability of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin’s valiant efforts to rally an anti-fascist coalition, and theories on who should have been blamed for sparking the war.
Apparently, it was Poland whose authorities were flirting with Hitler that was supposed to take the blame for the outbreak of the war. This theory is actually not news to those who are well aware of the Soviet and Stalin-era propaganda, and Putin has simply repeated the old clichés by spicing them up with a few specifically selected archival documents.
For several days in a row, the Russian president kept repeating his emotional historical overviews at different events, including a press conference and a meeting with the representatives of the Ministry of Defence.
Soon afterwards, the entire propaganda machine followed the President’s suit. Vladimir Solovyov, a TV host notorious for his increasingly aggressive outbursts, has recently invited some helpful historians to his show to prove an old theory on Stalin.
By the way, a few things need to be pointed out as regards the latest attempts to revive Stalin’s cult in Russia. The Kremlin under Putin is slowly but consistently making efforts to bring Stalin back to the Russian public life.
Those of us brought up in the Soviet times used to watch war-related films of the time with no portraits of Stalin in them. By contrast, over the recent decades, Stalin has been turned into a worshipped hero in the eyes of ordinary Russians, with monuments being erected in his honour and with his 140th birth anniversary being pompously commemorated.
Moreover, the Russian organisation Memorial, which is committed to investigating Stalinist crimes, has been brought to the verge of extinction. What is more, the museums of former gulags and sites of deportation are being closed down.
This kind of policy is already showing some results, because the latest opinion polls indicate that as many as 70 percent of the Russian population have a positive view on Stalin’s personality.
Thus the recent speeches by Putin have been nothing but a continuation of the old policy. The difference, though, is that the bloody tyranny was condemned even by Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev, former leaders of the USSR, and by Boris Yeltsin, a former head of state of the Russian Federation, whereas now the criminal totalitarian regime that claimed millions of lives and annihilated entire nations is being rehabilitated and glorified at the highest level.
That week before Christmas, Poland was dealt the biggest blow in the shows staged by the Kremlin. References were made to the Piłsudski-era Polish ambassador in Germany and the history on the partition of Czechoslovakia. The world got to witness an extremely rich vocabulary of Putin, with him dropping words like “scum” and “anti-Semitic pig” in his speeches.
However, when referring to the USSR’s invasion of Polish territories, he resorted to a milder vocabulary. For instance, he described the invasion by saying that the Soviet troops “entered” Poland (Rus. “советские войска зашли в Польшу”), as if the troops of the gracious Soviet Union – the only country in the world whose leader at the time was relentlessly fighting fascism, rallying an anti-fascist coalition, and protecting Jews – simply came over or dropped by... That was the picture the Russian president painted to the rest of the world right before Christmas.
Presumably, all that needs to be added to this picture is saying that Poland was the one that partitioned itself and attacked itself from both the west and the east.
Why the sudden interest in history?
Many are keen to learn why Putin got all of a sudden so interested in historical affairs.
I have to admit that Putin’s hour-long lecture on history to the leaders of the CIS states, who were not even trying to conceal their wonder, reminded me of my young days in occupied Lithuania. At the time, Leonid Brezhnev, the then ageing leader of the USSR, started writing books that we had to study at school. I only remember his Little Land (Rus. Малая Земля).
Apparently, Putin’s Russia will also resort to compiling textbooks. This is already on the radar of loyal propagandists. Discussions in Russia are also focused on possible legislative amendments prohibiting attempts to equate fascism with communism, thus making it a crime punishable by imprisonment.
So what is the reason?
One thing is clear. The Kremlin is preparing for a pompous commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day in May 2020. Moreover, 20 years of Putin’s leadership has wearied the Russian nation. In economic terms, there is not much to show.
Propaganda against Ukraine is beginning to sound like a broken record. And the people really do not care about the Russian troops in Syria. Naturally, this calls for finding ways to identify new enemies, invoke new emotions, and seek new forms of mobilisation.
Accordingly, until spring, we will be forced to cope with a wave of strange and dated propaganda about the existing fans of fascism in Poland and the Baltic States as well as elsewhere, for instance, in Romania and certainly in Ukraine. One might expect fascism in Ukraine to be of particular character because of the Jewish origin of their new president.
Putin has also promised to publish a historical article on the subject of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, while his supporters have pledged to organise a dedicated conference in the European Parliament. However, there have been some complaints that the people loyal to the Kremlin can hardly do anything about it in the European Parliament.
Anyway, of all the events that week, the one that disappointed me most was the dismissal of the contribution authored by Andrius Kubilius and myself. Both of us were engaged in drafting and editing the said resolution.
Its first draft was put together on the computer of our associate Mantė Meškelevičiūtė, and it was adopted with only a few changes. However, the Kremlin’s propaganda gave all the credit to Poland. Now, that is not fair.
As for my final and most important remark on the Russian president-turned-historian, I have to say that I do not find Putin’s lectures appealing. They have simply not been nor will ever be appealing, because the truth will always prevail over lies. After all, Putin has not released any archival documents on the attack against Finland.
And let us not forget other experiences of the past, such as the Katyn massacre, closing of the USSR border to Jews trying to escape the part of Poland occupied by Hitler, killings of millions of people, Russians included, and mass deportations to Siberia. Traces of these events of the past still exist and are generally known to all.
If Putin has become so interested in archives, perhaps he could instruct his former subordinates from the previous workplace to return the KGB archives stolen from Lithuania in 1991. He could likewise build a monument in tribute to General Jonas Žemaitis–Vytautas, commander of partisans and de facto president of the occupied Lithuania, who was tortured in Butyrka prison and eventually burnt to ashes.
He could also order the obedient film directors of the Kremlin to produce a film about Red Army men who were given the permission to rape women as soon as they entered Königsberg region (now Kaliningrad) in 1944. They could include a depiction of how Red Army troops used to cut open the women with their swords to remove their unborn children from their wombs and how they used to shoot their older children as they were trying to cross the river Nemunas to escape to Lithuania.
However, we will be the ones doing all the work, because Europe is about to be hit by yet bigger waves of lies. But we are ready for this.
The question, though, is whether the return of Stalin’s cult represents a part of the parallel world of the ageing leader of Russia or signs of the future in the making.
Rasa Juknevičienė is a member of the European Parliament (EP) and a signatory to the Act of Independence of Lithuania. She is a member of the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats and sits with the EPP group in the EP.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of LRT.