Vienna, September 23 – Sixty-nine years ago today, Soviet and Nazi German soldiers marched together in a military parade in Brest, just one month after Hitler and Stalin had concluded the non-aggression pact that made their countries allies, opened the way for World War II in Europe, and led to Moscow’s occupation of half the continent for 50 years.
That event and even more that alliance – which ended when Hitler invaded the USSR almost two years later -- are not things that most Russians are inclined to recall, especially because of the parallels such recollections invite between the policies of the Soviet government and those of the Nazi one.
But remembering such things is becoming ever more important not only for the sake of historical accuracy but because of the growing tendency among some Russian government officials and many ordinary Russians to put a positive spin on some of the most odious aspects of the Soviet past, including state terrorism.
That makes an article entitled “Soviet-Fascist Friendship” that appears in the current issue of Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta” especially important. It provides details about these events that neither the current Russian regime nor most Western observers know or even want to pay attention to (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/70/20.html).
Few Russian officials and relatively few Russians want to talk about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or to acknowledge the existence of the secret protocol that divided Europe between the two totalitarian dictators, but the “Novaya gazeta” article shows just what that meant both in terms of an alliance between Moscow and Berlin and for the people in between.
Shortly after the Germans invaded Poland, Soviet forces followed suit. The armies of the two totalitarian states came together at Brest. The Germans got there first but because of the agreement between Hitler and Stalin, that Polish city was part of the USSR’s sphere of influence and had to be handed over to the Soviet army.
Instead of simply withdrawing to the lines agreed to, the German commander, Heinz Guderian, decided after consultations with Semen Krivoshein, the commander of the Soviet 29th tank brigade, to organize a joint military parade as a demonstration of “Soviet-German friendship.”
When in Khrushchev’s time, Moscow acknowledged some of Stalin’s crimes and erected monuments to some of his victims, the Soviet government erected a monument in Brest to Soviet soldiers who defended that fortress city against the German invasion of 1941. But neither then nor now, the Moscow paper says, does it make reference to the Soviet-German actions of 1939.
Such distortions of history and especially of the crimes of the Soviet past are once again increasing. Fortunately, in addition to the article just cited, there are additional brave people in Moscow willing to speak out against a trend that not only distorts the past but opens the way for more abuses in the future.
In its current issue, for example, “Gazeta” denounces recent Russian government efforts to “mythologize” and “revise” history especially when it concerns what the Soviet regime and especially its secret services did to the population by outright falsifications, selective indignation, or the suggestion that “everybody did it” (www.gzt.ru/politics/2008/09/21/230039.html).
One of the worst examples of this, the article suggests, is “the new myth” being propagated by Russian nationalists inside and outside the government about the Red Terror. Increasingly, the newspaper points out, Russian textbooks suggest that the Whites and the Reds during the Civil War both engaged in terror in roughly equal manner.
That is not true, and while one can understand the motivation of some not to “divide society into good and evil” by suggesting one side was right and the other wrong, this “balanced” approach in fact lands both its authors and their readers into an even more morally problematic place.
On the one hand, the Red Terror was something very different from any terror the Whites engaged in. “It was, if you will the first case in history when terror against one’s own population was not a means but in essence the goal of the state. The first time when terror became the government’s official policy.”
And on the other, “the number of victims of the Red Terror” behind the lines was “’not less than two million’” according to contemporary estimates, “an order of magnitude higher” than the number of deaths in combat and one that reflects the cavalier way in which the Soviet leadership behaves.
At one meeting of the Soviet government, Vladimir Lenin handed Cheka chief Feliks Dzerzhinsky a piece of paper with the question: “How many counterrevolutionaries are in our jails just now?” The secret police chief answered “About 1500.” Lenin put a cross over that number. And Dzerzhinsky left fully prepared to do Lenin’s bidding to kill them all.
Such actions by the Soviet secret police during the Russian civil war and by Soviet forces in Poland in cooperation with the Nazis must be remembered, especially at a time when Vladimir Putin says that the destruction of the Soviet Union was “the greatest tragedy of the 20th century” and when his supporters want to re-erect the statue of Dzerzhinsky in front of the Lubyanka.