Here is an important announcement for researchers. Kommersant reports:
Russia’s Defense Ministry has declassified archive documents of Red Army and Navy for 1941 to 1945, RIA Novosti reported referring to Colonel Sergey Ilienkov, who heads the Archive Service at Defense Ministry.
The secrecy labels were removed from documents stored in Defense Ministry’s Central Archive in Podolsk, where over four million dossiers of the WW2 time, 250 pages each, were kept closed for public at large. The Central Naval Archive in Gatchina and Military Medical Archive in St. Petersburg, containing hundreds of thousand documents, were opened as well.
The work is underway to process archive documents and create an electronic database, the so-called Electronic Archive, by late February or early March. Once emerged, the Electronic Archive will make more precise the WW2 casualties of the Soviet Union, Ilienkov said.
According to the current data, the overall death toll of the Soviet Union in WW2 stands at 26.600 million, including 8.660 million as military casualties.
Electronic Archive! Oh how I dream of the day when Russian archives could be accessed on the net. The only archive I know of that is currently available in digital form is the Comintern. And who really cares about that?
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Yaroslav Kuzminov, the head of the Higher School of Economics (VShE) in Moscow received a disturbing letter from the Main Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD). The letter strongly recommended that the dean expel “politically unreliable” students, reports Nezavisimaya gazeta. “Politically unreliable” in the police’s opinion, are those youth who participated in last December’s Dissenters March sponsored by “Other Russia.” Six students from VShE’s Economics and Political Science departments were detained as they were leaving the Mayakovskaya metro station on their way to the demonstration. They never made it. Now the police recommends that the university consider expelling them. NG reports:
The most specific passage of the document is: “Participation in unsanctioned protests are one type of extreme activity and have a high level of social danger that demands security organs to take the adequate measures of reaction.” GUVD asked “to examine the question about removing conditions that contribute to the perpetration of offenses” and “to decide on the necessity to continue educating the aforementioned persons.” After this the security organs spelled out the appropriate measures.
This is not all. The heads of two departments, political science and economy, were ordered to answer an inquiry into “extremists” and to force the most frequent perpetrators to sign declaratory statements. The names of “said persons” in the letter were numerous.
How VShE will officially respond remains to be seen. They have to make an official declaration by 4 Feburary. In the meantime, Tatiana Chetvernina, the university’s vice dean gave this comment to Nezavisimaya:
“The letter that came from the police was a recommendation. They, of course, have the right to recommend what they think is necessary. Just like the university has the right to make a decision in accordance with the workings of laws on the property of the Higher School of Economics. And namely, if a student participates in meetings and groups and if he is not breaking the law, then that is the private affair of the students. We live in a free country and we have a working Constitution. If they break the law then the university will look into it. But, certainly, this question is connected not so much with dismissal as with violating law and order. Participating in groups has no relation to studying.”
Olga Kolesnikova, the school’s press secretary, was more blunt. “We can dismiss students if they are underachievers,” she said. “But if they study well, what right do we have to expel them? They are not criminal offenders, why should we forbid them from studying? In a word, we don’t let anyone get at our children.”
Of course, the letter harks back to both Tsarist and Soviet times when students were expelled for participating in political activities. Except this time, in the words of Oleg Shchebakov, a Moscow lawyer, where the parameters of acceptable political ideology are murky unlike in Soviet times the ideological lines were clearer. “The punished understood and clearly accepted that he lived in a rigidly ideological political system.” Now, he contents, “There is no general ideology! We complain about its absence all the time. It is simply undeveloped! So excuse me, what kind of ideology should these students use that someone has established? Today fascists are even permitted to go out into the streets. And no one singles them out . . . Evidently, they are not politically suspect in the opinion of the authorities.”
Moskovskii komsomolets reports that similar letters were sent to other universities in Moscow. And apparently, the cops can’t even get their information straight when they send out such “recommendations.” Of the six students named in the letter to VShE, two don’t even study there.
By Sean — 8 years ago
Victory Day. The most sacred holiday in Russia. The day when razzle and remembrance blend. The day when Russia becomes a smooth space. All the antagonisms and hierarchies in Russian society should collapse, if only for a brief moment, into the semblance of unity. World War II, or The Great Patriotic War as it’s referred to in Russia, is the most important event for post-Soviet Russian national identity. Its memory is supposed to bind even if the actual experience of the war divided, dislocated, and dismembered Soviet society.
Yet, while Victory Day allows for unity, the event that symbolically commemorates and represents that unity, the parade, is a mediated experience for most Russians. Granted, the Russian landscape is dotted with local Victory Days which localize the war’s memory, yet, in a way, all of these flow, like Russian state power itself, from Red Square. And that parade, as I experienced last year, turns that smooth space into a striated one not just with its security barriers, metro station closings, and street closures, but also the narratological barriers the politics of the present erects around its memory. One can point to many silences that disrupt the war’s smooth narrative: the deportations of the Chechens, Ingush, Germans, Finns, Crimean Tatars, Karachais, Kalmyks, Balkars, Kabardins, Poles, Kurds, Turks, and others, Gulag labor, the dismemberment of Poland and the Katyn Massacre, the Soviet occupation of the Baltics, the draconian “Not a step back” Order No. 227, blocking units, and punishment brigades, the Red Army’s revenge pillaging, raping, and killing as it moved west, the forced imposition of imperial rule over Eastern Europe, and finally, the role of Stalin himself. Also where the Holocaust fits into Russians’ historical memory of the war remains unresolved. As does the question of the seemingly interchangeable categories of perpetrators and victims. All of these, and more, pound on the walls of the Russia’s national memory of the war at the same time they erect new barriers and fortifications in the creation of an overarching history, memory and commemoration of the war not just in Russia, but in Europe as a whole.
Nor does it look like this problem of the war’s history and memory and experience and narrative will be resolved anytime soon. In fact, consensus on these issues is becoming increasingly remote, and others would argue, the debate is moving into potentially historically and politically dangerous territory as some seek to create narratives of the 20th century in general and the war in particular where the victims of Nazism and Communism are rendered equivalent. This move toward equivalence is viewed by some as violating perhaps the taboo of taboos, the historical uniqueness of the Shoah.
The place of the Holocaust in the general memory of WWII has been undergoing gradual marginalization particularly in post-communist Europe, where some see “Holocaust envy,” as best articulated in the Prague Declaration in 2008, and resolutions by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, has taken hold. In 2005, the late Tony Judt noted this trend of equivalence as Eastern Europe reckons with a half century of communism:
The difficulty of incorporating the destruction of the Jews into contemporary memory in post-Communist Europe is tellingly illustrated by the experience of Hungary. In 2001 the government of Viktor Orbán established a Holocaust Memorial Day, to be commemorated annually on April 16 (the anniversary of the establishment in 1944 of a ghetto in wartime Budapest). Three years later Orbán’s successor as prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, opened a Holocaust Memorial Center in a Budapest house once used to intern Jews. But much of the time this Holocaust Center stands nearly empty, its exhibits and fact sheets seen by a thin trickle of visitors—many of them foreign. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Hungarians have flocked to the Terrorháza.
The Terrorháza (“House of Terror”), as its name suggests, is a museum of horrors. It tells the story of state violence, torture, repression, and dictatorship in Hungary from 1944 to 1989. The dates are significant. As presented to the thousands of schoolchildren and others who pass through its gloomy, Tussaud-like reproduction of the police cells, torture equipment, and interrogation chambers that were once housed there (the House of Terror is in the headquarters of the former security police), the Terrorháza’s version of Hungarian history draws no distinction between the thugs of Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross party, who held power there from October 1944 to April 1945, and the Communist regime that was installed after the war. However the Arrow Cross men—and the extermination of 600,000 Hungarian Jews to which they actively contributed—are represented by just three rooms. The rest of the very large building is devoted to a copiously illustrated and decidedly partisan catalog of the crimes of communism.
The not particularly subliminal message here is that communism and fascism are equivalent. Except that they are not: the presentation and content of the Budapest Terrorháza make it quite clear that in the eyes of the museum’s curators communism not only lasted longer but did far more harm than its neo-Nazi predecessor. For many Hungarians of an older generation this is all the more plausible for conforming to their own experience. And the message has been confirmed by post-Communist Hungarian legislation banning public display of all representations of the country’s undemocratic past: not just the swastika or the Arrow Cross symbol but also the hitherto ubiquitous red star and its accompanying hammer and sickle. Rather than evaluate the distinctions between the regimes represented by these symbols, Hungary—in the words of Prime Minister Orbán at the opening of the Budapest House of Terror on February 24, 2002—has simply “slammed the door on the sick twentieth century.”
But that door is not so easy to close. Hungary, like the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, is still caught in the backdraft.6 The same Baltic states which have urged upon Moscow the duty to acknowledge its mistreatment of them have been decidedly slow to interrogate their own responsibilities: since winning their independence neither Estonia nor Latvia nor Lithuania has prosecuted a single case against the surviving war criminals in their midst. In Romania—despite former President Iliescu’s acknowledgment of his country’s participation in the Holocaust—the “Memorial of the Victims of Communism and Anti-Communist Resistance” inaugurated at Sighet in 1997 (financed in part by the Council of Europe) commemorates assorted interwar and wartime Iron Guard activists and other Romanian fascists and anti-Semites now recycled as martyrs to Communist persecution.
In support of their insistence upon “equivalence” between the suffering under fascist and communist regimes, commentators in Eastern Europe can point to the cult of the “victim” in contemporary Western political culture. We are moving from winners’ history to victims’ history, they observe. Very well, then let us be consistent. Even if Nazism and communism were utterly different in intent—even if, in Raymond Aron’s formulation, “there is a difference between a philosophy whose logic is monstrous, and one which can be given a monstrous interpretation”—that was scant consolation to their victims. Human suffering should not be calibrated according to the goals of those responsible for it. In this way of reasoning, for those being punished or killed there a Communist camp is no better or worse than a Nazi camp.
Indeed, you can see some of this presently being played out on Victory Day in Ukraine, as this report from Russia Today shows:
Russia, with much justification, views this transformation of the memory of liberation into the memory of conquer as deeply insulting. Yet the whether one thinks about the legitimacy of these moves, they nevertheless raise some quite uncomfortable questions about the basis for history, memory and identity. How to reconcile all these memories of victimhood into a general narrative, where the field of victims in the war can be objectively be dispersed between the war’s winners and losers? Can it be done? Should it? Or is the European memory of the war, as Tony Judt suggests, ever to remain “deeply asymmetrical”?
Or to put it another way, can national identity for the 21st century, particularly in post-communist space, kick the historical hangover of the 20th? Only time will tell, but with each Victory Day it appears increasingly doubtful.
Image: Totally Cool Pix
By Sean — 2 years ago