Friday, May 1, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Duma Draft Law Against Rehabilitating Fascism Dangerous Nonsense, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 1 – A bill under consideration in the Duma designed to counter “the rehabilitation in the new independent states of Nazism,” likely to be passed and signed into law in the coming weeks, makes no sense in legal terms, is historically “stupid,” and opens the door to a dangerous form of “political theater,” according to a leading Moscow commentator.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Yevgeny Ikhlov writes that while neither he nor anyone else is against standing up against any recrudescence of totalitarianism, this particular piece of legislation is hardly the way to go about doing that. Instead, it has the capacity to make its authors and supporters look ridiculous (
First of all, he points out, the draft bill is “a legal nonsense” because, by imposing penalties on those who express a different view on the history of World War II, it directly contradicts an 11-year-old ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions Moscow is committed by treaty to respect and implement.
In September 1998, the Strasbourg court held in the case of Lehideux and Isorni v. France that “the presentation of a point of view on historical events which does not correspond to an officially adopted one does not represent a misuse of freedom of speech,” and consequently, anyone charged under the terms of the new bill would certainly invoke that in his defense.
Second, Ikhlov continues, the draft legislation is “a historical stupidity. “ Instead of focusing attention on Nazism, the bill has the effect of focusing attention on the Soviet past and especially on the Stalinist period.
The bill defines “Nazism (national socialism) [as] a totalitarian ideology and the practice of its application by Hitlerite Germany, its allies, and its accomplices” that involved “totalitarian terrorist methods of power … the propaganda of the supremacy of some nations over others, the committing of military crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”
“Doesn’t this remind you of something?” Ikhlov asks his readers, and he cites the following decision of the Russian Constitutional Court from November 30, 1992, which defined the nature of the Soviet system.
“In the country,” the Russian court held, “over the course of a lengthy period of time ruled a regime of unlimited power of a small group of communist functionaries … who used force. … the leading structures of the CPSU were the initiators and their local structures carried out repressions against millions of Soviet people, including those peoples who were deported.”
“We see,” Ikhlov continues, “that in correspondence with Russian law, in the course of a lengthy period of time … on the territory of the USSR operated a totalitarian terrorist regime. But making a hero out of it is in no way prohibited.” Instead, President Dmitry Medvedev has again made November 7th, when the Soviet state was founded, a national holiday.
Can it be, Ikhlov asks, that “the entire difference is that Nazism ranked nations and not classes?” But that too is nonsensical from the point of view of history. “Hitlerism never drew up a precise hierarchy of ethnoses, [because] it never entered into the heads [of the Nazis] to consider Jews and non-Aryans nations.”
“The sad truth of history,” the Moscow writer suggests, “is that on the territory of the USSR, France, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece, the Second World War was accompanied by [a series of] domestic civil wars,” conflicts that broke out because the German military gave rightist opponentts of leftist governments a chance to fight the latter.
“The hundreds and hundreds of thousands of armed collaborationists were not a form of betrayal; they were a front in a civil war,” Ikhlov says. It is thus “stupid and shameful” to fix “by law the correctness of one of the versions of this civil war, where various peoples were tragically caught “between two, let us use the words of the laws, totalitarian terrorist regimes.”
In this civil war, the Moscow commentator continues, “some ‘defended’ Auschwitz and Baby Yar; others Kolyma and the Butovo polygon.” And the draft bill’s constant but quite often incorrect reference to the decisions of the Nurnberg tribunal at the end of World War II ultimately cannot obscure that reality.
“The tragic truth of history is that all participants in World War II committed crimes of war. But the crimes of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition were called that only by historians and publicists; they were never assessed” by a duly constituted international court, and the proposed Russian legislation would not do that either.
And third, Ikhlov continues, the bill is a piece of “political theater,” intended to make propaganda points rather than become part of the rule of law, and one that appears set to serve as “a false pretext for dimwitted censorship and idiotic conflicts with the neighbors” of the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, the law contains a large number of assertions about the legal standing of the Russian Federation which are simply untrue, including the remarkable and absurd suggestion that “the Russian Federation is the continuer [rather than legal successor] of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”
And on the other, this bill could lead to absurd cases in which leaders of neighboring states – Ikhlov cites the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Estonia – are charged with violating the law, convicted by a Moscow court – since that is where their embassies are – and where the sentence is enforced by Gazprom cutting off the gas to their countries.
Despite these problems, Ikhlov says, the bill is likely to be passed by the Duma and signed by President Medvedev because no one in the Moscow political establishment will want to say anything that their opponents could and would construe as a defense of the totalitarianism of another state. Defending such a system at home, of course, is another matter entirely.

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