Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Putin takes control of the past


IN what is being condemned as a huge blow to free speech, Vladimir Putin is forcing his version of wartime history on his people.  

The Russian president has made it illegal to compare the Soviets to the Nazis, and is ordering that the USSR’s ‘decisive role’ in the ‘humanitarian mission’ of liberating Europe during the Second World War must not be denied. 

Putin signed off the new law – which threatens offenders with up to five years in jail – last week. It follows his contentious claim in May that the Soviets faced the Germans alone during the war. 

Critics say the clampdown is an attempt to curb freedom of expression to appease conservative Russians, Putin’s main support base.  

When the legislation was introduced, veteran TV host Vladimir Posner said he believed its aim was ‘to shut the mouths of journalists, historians and writers’.   

Ironically, it comes into force 80 years after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin acknowledged that the USSR was not alone in its fight against Hitler. As German armies swept towards Moscow, he made a landmark radio broadcast in which he assured his people that Britain and the US would be their friends and allies in the titanic conflict that was unfolding.  

Stalin spoke on July 3, 1941 – 11 days after the start of the invasion – after recovering from his initial shock at the blitzkrieg, which had left him slumped and despondent in his dacha outside Moscow.  

‘In this war of liberation we shall not be alone,’ he said. ‘In this great war we shall have true allies in the peoples of Europe and America, including the German people which is enslaved by the Hitlerite misrulers.  

‘Our war for the freedom of our country will merge with the struggle of the peoples of Europe and America for their independence, for democratic liberties.  

‘It will be a united front of the peoples standing for freedom and against enslavement and threats of enslavement by Hitler’s fascist armies.  

‘In this connection the historic utterance of the British Prime Minister, Mr Churchill, regarding aid to the Soviet Union, and the declaration of the United States government signifying readiness to render aid to our country, which can only evoke a feeling of gratitude in the hearts of the peoples of the Soviet Union, are fully comprehensible and symptomatic.’  

Of course, the British-Soviet pact was forged only out of the need to combat the common enemy, Hitler. In all other respects, Churchill and Stalin were foes and by the war’s end their harmony had turned to enmity as the Soviet Iron Curtain descended across Europe and the Cold War began.  

But the fact was that Britain and America did fulfil their pledges to come to the aid of the USSR, costing the lives of soldiers, sailors and airmen as they delivered vital war material. In 1943 at the Tehran Conference, Stalin acknowledged that the massive volume of supplies had helped turn the tide against the invader.   

So what of Putin’s new law? No one would deny that the USSR won the land war against Germany in Eastern Europe and played a decisive role in the downfall of the Nazis. Whether it was the decisive role is another matter.  

However, to call the Soviet fightback against Hitler a ‘humanitarian mission’ of liberation beggars belief. Tell that to the people of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, the Baltic States and all the other territories which subsequently fell under communist rule.  

As for Putin’s ban on comparing Stalinism to Hitlerism, it would be laughable if were not so serious. The reigns of both dictators were among the bloodiest in history – monstrous and inhuman.  

Churchill best summed up the two ideologies in 1939 after the Soviet pact with Germany enabled both countries to attack Poland, triggering the Second World War. Nazism and communism, he said, were ‘opposite but similar barbarisms’.  

It remains to be seen whether Putin’s history law will claim any victims. But if the scenario seems familiar, it is because we have already seen a version of it – in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Party has total control over the record of the past and can manipulate it at will.  

‘Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date,’ Orwell wrote. ‘In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record.  

 ‘All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.’  

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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