Vienna, June 4 – The Russian defense ministry said today that an article which was put on its site a few days ago and which has sparked outrage among some Russian commentators with its suggestion that Poland was to blame for the start of World War II “must not be considered the official point of view of the Ministry of Defense.”
In a statement to journalists, the ministry’s press service said that the article, “Inventions and Falsifications in the Assessment of the Role of the USSR on the Eve and at the Start of World War II” by Col. Sergey Kovalev of the ministry’s Institute of Military History, was only for discussion (www.mil.ru/info/1069/details/index.shtml?id=63460).
But Kovalev’s article, which was posted at www.mil.ru/files/Vimisli_o_role_SSSR.rtf, appears to have been taken down. At the very least, it is not currently listed in the section where it was posted (http://www.mil.ru/940/25260/index.shtml) nor could it be retrieved at least as of this morning.
(An effort to find a cached copy on Yandex today was unsuccessful. But what appears to be an earlier version of that article – it bears the same title and has the same author but is dated October 25, 2008 -- is however available on the Russian Orthodox nationalist site, “Yedinovye Otechestvo” at www.otechestvo.org.ua/main/200810/2520.htm).
The key passage in Kovalev’s article is the following: World War II “was begun as a result of the refusal of Poland to satisfy … extremely moderate demands such as including the free city of Danzig in the Third Reich [and] permission for the construction of extra-territorial highways and railroad, which would connect East Prussia with the rest of Germany.”
Not surprisingly, especially given President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for beginning “a struggle with falsifications of history that harm the interests of Russia,” several Russian commentators jumped on Kovalev’s article as an indication of just how much of a threat to historical accuracy such a campaign would likely be.
One of the most thoughtful is provided by Ivan Sukhov in today’s “Vremya novostei” where he points out that Kovalev not only misuses sources in order to distort the past but seeks to justify what Hitler did in ways that the German Administration for the Defense of the Constitution would see as a violation of the law (www.vremya.ru/2009/96/4/230575.html). “That should not be an occasion for laughter,” Sukhov says, “especially if one keeps in mind that [Russians] live in a country which has never assessed from a legal point of view the crimes committed by bolshevism,” one which even promotes hatred toward minorities like those in the North Caucasus.
That is because “the administration for the defense of the constitution works in Germany, [while] in Russia now there is a government commission for preventing the falsification of history” at least if it harms the Russian state. And that makes articles like Kovalev’s a matter of particular concern.
While complaining about Western writers who talk about “a new cold war,” Kovalev in fact writes in a spirit of precisely that kind of conflict without appearing to recognize that that is precisely what he is doing, the “Vremya novostei” commentator continues. But if he doesn’t recognize this, many Russians and those living in neighboring countries certainly do.
Indeed, Sukhov says, Kovalev’s argument fits in with the pattern of “hysteria” in certain Russian quarters about the removal of the Soviet war memorial from the center of Tallinn, even as Russian companies move similar monuments in Russia itself in order to make “selfish” profits from the real estate beneath them.
And the military writer’s argument also fits with the notion, now enshrined in a Russian history textbook “according to which Joseph Stalin was ‘an effective manager.’” According to Sukhov, texts like Kovalev’s suggest that the time may come when some in Russia will decide to describe Adolf Hitler as “’an effective manager’” too.
But even before that happens, Sukhov suggests, the countries of Eastern Europe which experienced on their own skins both “Soviet and Nazi ‘effective management’” will be declared “guilty” of everything that happened to them, especially if others extend the argument of people like Colonel Kovalev.
(Unfortunately, there are many Russian historians who are prepared to do just that. For an example, see the comment by St. Petersburg political scientist Sergey Lebedev who came out in support of Kovalev today and argued that “Poland had conducted itself like a lion among hyenas.” (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=183205).
Many in Moscow are now talking about how Russia must use “soft power” to influence others, especially among its neighbors, the commentator says. But articles like the one Kovalev offers are not going to help anyone except in one respect: they show that “the struggle with the falsification of history at the expense of Russia will take place again at the expense of Russia.”