Skip to content

Six post-Soviet countries now say they were occupied by the USSR

February 28, 2015

Georgian President and Minister of Defence pay honour to the Memorial of Cadets in Kodjori. Photo by the President’s press office.

Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Azerbaijan consider their countries were occupied by the USSR.

Russia continues to alienate other countries through their aggression.

This is a remarkable change from a short time ago, where Russia was considered a favorable trade partner.

Russia may be in trouble.


2015/02/26

by 

Yesterday, Georgians marked the 94th anniversary of what Tbilisi calls “the battle of the Soviet Occupation” of that country in 1921, a self-definition that means six post-Soviet states now officially view the Soviet system as an occupation and one that marks an important milestone in their separation from Russia and possible future development.

Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians and their supporters in the West always viewed Soviet power in the three as an illegal occupation. That was the source of both the West’s non-recognition policy and their efforts a quarter of a century ago that led to the restoration of their independence.

Moldovans also view their inclusion in the USSR as an occupation, with many of them arguing that they were the “fourth” victim of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and should be viewed as such. And Azerbaijanis, official and unofficial alike, trace their current statehood back to the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan that was occupied by Soviet forces early on.

Such self-identifications are important both because they underscore the commitment of these peoples not to allow that to happen again but also and perhaps even more because they open the way to the kind of developments economic and political that happened in Eastern Europe when the Soviet occupation of that region ended.

Indeed, many analysts there and in the West have suggested that one of the major reasons that Eastern Europe, including the three Baltic states, has been more successful in overcoming the communist past is precisely because its peoples viewed communism less as an integral part of their national lives than as a foreign occupation they were only too happy to throw off.

To the extent that Georgia and Moldova and potentially other former non-Russian Soviet republics move in that direction as well then not only will make the restoration of any Moscow-centered empire far more difficult but will also open the way to a better future, something that Western governments should take note of.

The Day of Soviet Occupation was first marked officially in Georgia five years ago when the parliament voted to commemorate “the hundreds of thousands of victims of political repressions of the Communist occupation regime.”

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that February 25, 1921, was “one of the most tragic days in the history of the country” because the ensuing 70-year-long Soviet occupation had “devastating effects” on Georgia and required Georgians to make enormous sacrifices to recover their independence.

“Despite the communist ideology and the regime,” he added, “the idea of freedom and striving for independence has never vanished in people; their struggle for freedom has never been suspended. Today Georgia is an independent country and it is the result of the devotion of many generations. Our responsibility is to protect this great legacy.”

Putin Establishes New ‘Polite People’ Day in Russia

February 28, 2015

Putin initially denied the “green men” were Russian, now they have a day.

I find that vile, disgusting and insulting. Of course, that was the intention.


February 27 will from now on be marked in Russia as Special Operations Forces Day, according to a decree signed Thursday by President Vladimir Putin and published on the official legislative website.

The Special Operations Forces, a branch of Russian defense apparatus operating both inside the country and abroad, was formed in March 2013. The Chief of the General Staff said at the time of its creation that the new branch was inspired by the experience of “the world’s leading nations,” Russian media reported.

Answering its own question of why Feb. 27 was chosen as the day, an article in government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said: “Remember what happened and where a year ago. And how it all ended.”

One year ago, mysterious troops bearing no insignia appeared in Crimea, which was shortly afterward annexed from Ukraine by Russia. The troops, who said little and declined to reveal their identity but ensured order during the annexation and subsequent referendum on joining Russia, quickly became known as “little green men” in the international media and “polite people” in Russia.

Putin initially denied that Russian troops had been dispatched to Crimea, but later admitted it.

In September 2014 State Duma deputy Igor Zotov called for the celebration of Polite People Day on October 7 — Putin’s birthday.

Source: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/putin-establishes-new-polite-people-day-in-russia-/516675.html

Putin’s war of words, decoded

February 28, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) poses with World War II veterans after a ceremony of presenting jubilee medals in honor of the 70th anniversary of the victory in the World War II to WWII veterans in the St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, 20 February 2015. Thirty veterans, among them Heroes of the Soviet Union and Full Cavaliers of the Order of Glory, were awarded with jubilee medals in the Kremlin. (EPA/ALEXEY DRUGINYN / RIA NOVOSTI / KREMLIN POOL)

February 26

On Feb. 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin handed out medals in a special ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of World War II, the war Russians know as The Great Patriotic War. This would not be so remarkable – he has handed out literally dozens of such medals over his years in power – were it not for the visual montage on his kremlin.ru Web site. There he is pictured standing in front of guards bearing banners that read “First Ukrainian Front,” “Second Ukrainian Front,” “Third Ukrainian Front,” and “Fourth Ukrainian Front.” On the one hand, these are the banners of those receiving the medals. On the other hand, the message seems designed to signal that the Kremlin leadership still considers Ukraine an integral part of the nation.

Officially, he gave out the medals as part of the “run-up” to the Feb. 23 holiday, the Day of the Defense of the Motherland (the holiday known as Red Army Day in Soviet times). While this was probably planned many months in advance, it is also striking for the contrast to Ukrainian celebrations on the same day. In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Ukrainians commemorated a completely different day, the moment the Maidan protests turned bloody. On this day, according to the BBC, over 50 people were killed last year after Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, now reputed to be in Crimea, gave the order for troops to use live ammunition on demonstrators.

Putin’s language at the ceremony was filled with archaic words and phrases (here is the Russian transcript). Of course, it was natural for him to speak of honoring those receiving medals, but his wording included ancient phrases for warriors [ratnaia sluzhba; voiny]; for honoring both individuals [chestvuem] and “the uniform” [berezhet chest’ mundira]; for not allowing the enemy to subdue Russia [pokorit’ Rossiiu]; and for defending every last inch [piad’] of our native land. (The word translated as “inch” – piad’ – comes from the 12th century and means the distance between the outstretched tip of the thumb and the tip of the forefinger.)

He spoke to the veterans of their “moral tempering” [moral’naia zakalka], a reference to the famous Stalin-era “tempering of the steel.” (In one famous Soviet “Song about Stalin,” Stalin is said to have “tempered the hearts of heroes.”) And he commended them for their work with youth, which he described as “active, patriotic, and educational,” so the youth would know the “truth” [pravdu] about the Great Patriotic War.
At a Gala reception the same evening, Putin equated defending the nation in the war with defending its history today: “These are not just historical facts. These are the memory that lives in every Russian family, and this is our Victory [Pobeda], our history, which we will defend [otstaivat’] from lies and from being forgotten.” Otstaivat’ can mean to defend in conversation, but in the context of Victory with a capital V [not even translated in the English version of kremlin.ru], it clearly means a military engagement, the defending of a nation from an aggressor, be it internal or external.

For Putin, World War II has become a talisman and touchstone, a “holy day” [sviatoi prazdnik]. The problem with fixating on “holy” days is that they mean the speaker – and here it is the president of the largest country in the world – is looking backward toward a mythic time of holy warriors.

Around the country in 2014, numerous groups held events dedicated to reenacting “holy warriors.” Children in Magnitogorsk held “contests in courage” as holy warriors of ancient Rus (the police and bishopric worked on this together). In July, young people were invited to participate in reenacting the beginning of WWII as holy warriors in a small region just west of the Ural Mountains (Kirov oblast). In Moscow one can take tours of the 40 martyred Holy Warriors [Svyatye ratniki] of Sebaste (a place in eastern Turkey).

As I argued in an article I wrote in 2011, “Performing Memory: Vladimir Putin and the Celebration of World War II in Russia,” the reasons for the popularity of this war are many. It serves as a morality tale of suffering and redemption and a foundation myth. It encapsulates a victory myth and a myth of saving Europe. It places current Russian events in the longer sweep of tsarist and Soviet history and reminds Russians of the ostensible unity and determination of the whole Soviet population.

But the current Russian mythologization of that war also contains a number of outright falsifications and dangerous tendencies. Of these the most importance is the practice of referring to the war as lasting from 1941-1945 (an American practice as well, I might add). This ignores the Soviet military annexation of the territories of Poland and the Baltic States in 1939-40. Parts of what is now Western Ukraine were occupied at the very start of the war in September 1939.
Russian panegyrics to “holy Russia” ignore as well the repressions of the many nationalities deported during the war. They ignore the fact that the Soviet Union almost lost the war because of Stalin’s decimation of his own top military in the purges of the late 1930s. And they ignore the fact, as shown by historian John Barber in his The Soviet Home Front, 1941-1945, that the vaunted “buffer zone” of the occupied territories was actually much harder for Moscow to control and defend than genuine Allied territories would have been because the countryside in those regions was riddled with partisans.

Today, Vladimir Putin is waging a war of words but also a war of symbols. To show the banners of the different Ukrainian fronts arrayed behind him is to ignore the complexity of World War II, the deep trauma of the peoples then who went through the war to find themselves in a different country afterwards. And it is also to ignore the sufferings of the Ukrainians on the Maidan on February 20, 2014, who were mowed down by their own police. Above all, it is to blatantly show disregard for the Ukrainians from Donetsk, Luhansk and now Debaltseve who have been displaced and for the thousands who have died.

In the separatist-held region of Donetsk, meanwhile, the rebel fighters held their own “Day of the Defender” celebrations and handed out medals. In a show of masculinity – after all February 23 has long been known as “Men’s Day” [den’ muzhchin] (to pair it with International Women’s Day two weeks later, March 8) — the local leader, Denis Pushilin commented: “Our guys have proven that they’re worthy of the memory of our grandfathers, who once drove the fascist scourge out of Donbass.”

Thus this day of handing out medals has thus become a kind of Soviet competition for being worthy of the memory of grandfathers, of being a “guy” by killing people and honoring people who do so. Militarized masculinity becomes the core of both heroic and ordinary masculinity. The grandfathers and token grandmothers being honored in the Kremlin barely had room for another medal.

Putin himself commented that he had told one gentleman, “it’s almost impossible to find any room to put another medal.”

“You’ll find it,” the gentleman responded.

Unfortunately, giving medals for “glory” without any reference to the tragedy of lives lost, displaced, and wounded is a show that has too many spectators.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/26/the-military-medal-race-in-russia-and-ukraine-a-symbolic-competition/

Russia to Draw Half Its Reserve Fund to Support Budget

February 28, 2015

Workers finish their shift at the Sibirginskaya coal mine near Myski on Tuesday. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

Russia’s economy is looking very bad.

Perhaps the assassination of Boris Nemtsov was a distraction?

Russia is going down in flames, perhaps Vlad is getting desperate?


MOSCOW—Russia sharply raised the amount it plans to draw from its reserve fund to support this year’s budget, as revenues fall along with oil prices and Western sanctions cut the country off from international financing.

In addition to tapping the fund—money the government put aside in the years when oil prices were high—spending by ministries and departments will be cut 10% to keep the deficit from growing too much, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Friday.

President Vladimir Putin has also cut salaries for workers in the Kremlin by 10%, Interfax news agency reported, citing presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

And in another sign of how strained relations with the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine are reverberating in the economy, Russia signaled it would consider allowing Chinese investors to take majority stakes its strategic oil and natural gas fields, reversing years of opposition.

First Deputy Finance Minister Tatiana Nesterenko said that the authorization for tapping the reserve fund—the first in six years—would have to be raised to 3.2 trillion rubles ($52.3 billion), or more than half its value. The original expectation in mid-January was for 500 billion rubles.

In the worst case, she said, the fund, which stood at 5.89 trillion rubles as of Feb. 1, could fall to around 1 trillion rubles by the end of the year.

“The current year will be challenging for the Russian economy. A sharp drop in oil prices, sanctions, all these require a serious alteration in the Russian economy, an adjustment to the new external conditions,” Mr. Siluanov told a gathering of finance officials.

Western sanctions related to the Ukraine crisis have had a visible impact on Russia, sending its economy into recession and cutting it off from international capital markets. This has limited its borrowing capacity and for the first time in recent years, the budget plan doesn’t envisage any specific amount of borrowing.

The finance ministry had long been planning to balance the budget by 2015, betting initially that prices for oil, Russia’s main export, would stay around $100 a barrel.

The new estimate reflects the government’s more conservative economic forecast for this year, which forecasts an even, lower average oil price of $50 per barrel, from $60 in the previous version, and a deeper contraction in gross domestic product.

The combination of the two will cut budget revenues sharply, forcing the government to take more money from the reserve fund to meet spending commitments. This year’s revenue will be the lowest in 15 years, Ms. Nesterenko said.

Without the use of the reserve fund, the 2015 budget deficit could reach 4.7% of gross domestic product, compared with around 1% in 2014.

Dipping into the reserve fund will also further drain Russia’s international reserves, of which the fund is a component. Reserves slipped below $365 billion for the first time since 2009 this week.

The risk of a rapid depletion of Russia’s reserves was one of the key reasons behind a decision by Moody’s Investors Service Inc. to downgrade the country’s rating to junk a week ago.

Meanwhile, as the Kremlin searches for investment in needed to develop its energy reserves, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said “there are no political obstacles” for Chinese investors.

“We are on the threshold of a serious investment breakthrough,” he said.

Russia’s oil industry needs modern technology and expertise as well as investment to develop its fields, and to extend lives of the old ones. But for years the Kremlin limited foreign participation in developing large oil and gas fields to minority stakes.

However, with the Western sanctions over Ukraine affecting Russian energy companies, the Kremlin has started to push for closer relations with Asia. Energy-hungry China has long sought a bigger role in Russia’s oil and gas production

Last year Russia signed a $400 billion deal with China to supply it with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from 2019. There is no significant upstream oil production so far in projects with the Chinese companies.

Write to Andrey Ostroukh at andrey.ostroukh@wsj.com

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-to-draw-50-billion-from-reserve-fund-to-support-budget-1425050629

Alexander Litvinenko death: UK announces public inquiry

February 28, 2015

Russia will be investigated in yet another way, to a probable connection with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

Even without the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, linking Russia to the death of Litvinenko will be a damning accusation of Putin’s government.

This speaks volumes and the reputation of Putin’s government would be damned in the eyes of the world.


  • 22 July 2014

A public inquiry will be held into the death of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

Mr Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who became a British citizen, died in 2006 in a London hospital after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium.

The investigation will examine whether the Russian state was behind his death.

Mr Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, said she was “relieved and delighted”, saying the “truth will win out in the end”.

Announcing the inquiry, Mrs May said she hoped it would be of “some comfort” to Mrs Litvinenko.

The inquiry will be chaired by senior judge Sir Robert Owen, who was the coroner at Mr Litvinenko’s inquest last year.

Sir Robert delayed the inquest and called for a public inquiry because the inquest could not consider sensitive evidence because of national security fears.

That inquiry will now go ahead, with much of the evidence in public but some closed sessions for sensitive evidence.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, died after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium while drinking tea with two Russian men, one a former KGB officer, at a London hotel.

His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

Speaking at a press conference, Mrs Litvinenko – who had legally challenged the government’s earlier decision not to hold a public inquiry – said she had pursued the case “for justice”, adding: “I did this for truth.”

One of the suspects, Andrei Lugovoi, told the Russian Interfax news agency the decision to launch an inquiry was “the height of cynicism”.

In May 2007, the UK said Mr Lugovoi – now a politician in Russia – should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. Russia refused to extradite Mr Lugovoi, who denies any involvement.

Analysis from BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera

Until now, the government has steadfastly resisted holding a public inquiry.

That was because there are layers of secrets surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko. This is thought to include secret intelligence that may relate to whether the Russian state was responsible for his murder.

There are also secrets about Mr Litvinenko’s own relationship with MI6. The government demanded all these secrets be kept out of an inquest.

But the former Russian security officer’s widow has fought a long legal battle to get to the truth.

A public inquiry will now look at where responsibility lies for the death although it does not look as if it will look at whether his relationship with MI6 means that more should be done to have protected him.

Lawyers for Mrs Litvinenko had claimed that the issue of state responsibility was being closed down precisely to try to improve relations with Russia.

If so, then changing times may explain a government’s change of heart. And so we may get one step closer to finding out who was behind a radioactive murder on the streets of London.

line

The inquiry’s remit will include finding out “where responsibility for the death lies” and making “appropriate recommendations”.

But because there was no evidence before the death to suggest Mr Litvinenko was in danger, the inquiry would not examine whether UK authorities “could or should have taken steps” to protect him, the government said.

A Downing Street spokesman said Sir Robert would have the jurisdiction to demand the production of both witnesses – including security agents – and documents from the security and intelligence services.

But the spokesman said the inquiry, which is due to begin on 31 July and conclude by the end of 2015, would have no such powers in relation to evidence from Russia.

line

The Litvinenko case

  • 1 Nov 2006 – Alexander Litvinenko has tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in London
  • 4 Nov 2006 – After three days of vomiting he is admitted to hospital, and dies 22 days later. His death is attributed to radiation poisoning
  • May 2007 – The UK decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. He denies any involvement but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 – Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, prompting a diplomatic row
  • 20 Sept 2012 – Pre-inquest review hears that Russia’s links to the death will be probed
  • May-June 2013 – Inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable
  • Jan 2014 – Marina Litvinenko in High Court fight to force a public inquiry
  • 11 Feb 2014 – High Court says the Home Office had been wrong to rule out an inquiry before the outcome of an inquest

Who was Alexander Litvinenko?

line

Former director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald said: “This was a particularly foul murder; the infliction of a slow, lingering radioactive death.”

He said Mr Litvinenko was “under the protection” of Britain at the time, and if Russia was involved the inquiry would “expose that”.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Whitehall sources had told him the timing of the announcement – coming at the same time as the fallout from the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine – was “a coincidence”.

Western leaders have accused Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine, who they believe shot down flight MH17 with a ground-to-air missile.

Source: http://m.bbc.com/news/uk-28416532

Moscow Bookstore Oozes with Kremlin Propaganda

February 28, 2015

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine is busy in Moscow’s prominent bookstore, Biblio-Globus, with its display of titles pushing paranoia-inducing anti-Americanism and the party line on Ukraine. http://ow.ly/JKgk5


By Hannah Thoburn on 25 February 2015

The titles on the shelves are nothing short of sensational: The End of Project “Ukraine, Kyiv Kaput,World Wars and World Elites, The Defense of Donbas. They all sit prominently displayed in the politics section of Biblio-Globus, a sprawling bookstore just a stone’s throw from the infamous Lubyanka Prison, in central Moscow.

Books offer a more in-depth and targeted vehicle for this politically useful brand of paranoia. The Ukrainian Catastrophe: From American Aggression to World War, abook by Sergei Glazyev, an adviser of President Vladimir Putin, is advertised to those generally uninterested in the issue: “If one thinks that the seizure of Ukraine by a fascist plague does not concern him, and he can wait it out in his own little world, then this new book … will be a warning.”

For those a bit more politically aware, Russian philosopher and activist Alexander Dugin’s book Ukraine: My War sits not far away, surrounded by his other works on Eurasianist political thought. His ideas of a Eurasia with Russia at the center have for some time been expertly used and promoted by the Putin government to help build support for its policies. 

Even Eduard Limonov, he of the banned National Bolshevik Party, has been pressed into service. Hisbook Kyiv Kaput seems almost engineered to help bring his supporters, who have not often been fans of Putin, into the fold. 

The high-caliber and profile of these authors only underscores the importance that the government wants Russian citizens to place on these issues. Russians are notoriously voracious readers, a fact that the Kremlin’s political technologists have exploited in their push to keep Putin’s approval ratings high. The fostering of anti-Americanism and a nation-under-siege mentality are key to deflecting actual criticism of Kremlin policies both at home and abroad. These books are another instrument in a very cynical toolbox. 

                               

Hannah Thoburn is a Eurasia Analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative. The views expressed are her own. Affiliations are provided for identification purposes, and do not suggest institutional endorsement.

Source: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/hannah-thoburn/moscow-bookstore-oozes-kremlin-propaganda

Putin’s war of words, decoded

February 28, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) poses with World War II veterans after a ceremony of presenting jubilee medals in honor of the 70th anniversary of the victory in the World War II to WWII veterans in the St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, 20 February 2015. Thirty veterans, among them Heroes of the Soviet Union and Full Cavaliers of the Order of Glory, were awarded with jubilee medals in the Kremlin. (EPA/ALEXEY DRUGINYN / RIA NOVOSTI / KREMLIN POOL)

Putin’s deliberate use of words and symbology gives high praise to Russians in Donbas.


By Elizabeth Wood February 26

The following is a guest post from MIT historian Elizabeth Wood.

*****

On Feb. 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin handed out medals in a special ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of World War II, the war Russians know as The Great Patriotic War. This would not be so remarkable – he has handed out literally dozens of such medals over his years in power – were it not for the visual montage on his kremlin.ru Web site. There he is pictured standing in front of guards bearing banners that read “First Ukrainian Front,” “Second Ukrainian Front,” “Third Ukrainian Front,” and “Fourth Ukrainian Front.” On the one hand, these are the banners of those receiving the medals. On the other hand, the message seems designed to signal that the Kremlin leadership still considers Ukraine an integral part of the nation.

Officially, he gave out the medals as part of the “run-up” to the Feb. 23 holiday, the Day of the Defense of the Motherland (the holiday known as Red Army Day in Soviet times). While this was probably planned many months in advance, it is also striking for the contrast to Ukrainian celebrations on the same day. In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Ukrainians commemorated a completely different day, the moment the Maidan protests turned bloody. On this day, according to the BBC, over 50 people were killed last year after Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, now reputed to be in Crimea, gave the order for troops to use live ammunition on demonstrators.

Putin’s language at the ceremony was filled with archaic words and phrases (here is the Russian transcript). Of course, it was natural for him to speak of honoring those receiving medals, but his wording included ancient phrases for warriors [ratnaia sluzhba; voiny]; for honoring both individuals [chestvuem] and “the uniform” [berezhet chest’ mundira]; for not allowing the enemy to subdue Russia [pokorit’ Rossiiu]; and for defending every last inch [piad’] of our native land. (The word translated as “inch” – piad’ – comes from the 12th century and means the distance between the outstretched tip of the thumb and the tip of the forefinger.)

He spoke to the veterans of their “moral tempering” [moral’naia zakalka], a reference to the famous Stalin-era “tempering of the steel.” (In one famous Soviet “Song about Stalin,” Stalin is said to have “tempered the hearts of heroes.”) And he commended them for their work with youth, which he described as “active, patriotic, and educational,” so the youth would know the “truth” [pravdu] about the Great Patriotic War.

At a Gala reception the same evening, Putin equated defending the nation in the war with defending its history today: “These are not just historical facts. These are the memory that lives in every Russian family, and this is our Victory [Pobeda], our history, which we will defend [otstaivat’] from lies and from being forgotten.” Otstaivat’ can mean to defend in conversation, but in the context of Victory with a capital V [not even translated in the English version of kremlin.ru], it clearly means a military engagement, the defending of a nation from an aggressor, be it internal or external.

For Putin, World War II has become a talisman and touchstone, a “holy day” [sviatoi prazdnik]. The problem with fixating on “holy” days is that they mean the speaker – and here it is the president of the largest country in the world – is looking backward toward a mythic time of holy warriors.

Around the country in 2014, numerous groups held events dedicated to reenacting “holy warriors.” Children in Magnitogorsk held “contests in courage” as holy warriors of ancient Rus (the police and bishopric worked on this together). In July, young people were invited to participate in reenacting the beginning of WWII as holy warriors in a small region just west of the Ural Mountains (Kirov oblast). In Moscow one can take tours of the 40 martyred Holy Warriors [Svyatye ratniki] of Sebaste (a place in eastern Turkey).

As I argued in an article I wrote in 2011, “Performing Memory: Vladimir Putin and the Celebration of World War II in Russia,” the reasons for the popularity of this war are many. It serves as a morality tale of suffering and redemption and a foundation myth. It encapsulates a victory myth and a myth of saving Europe. It places current Russian events in the longer sweep of tsarist and Soviet history and reminds Russians of the ostensible unity and determination of the whole Soviet population.

But the current Russian mythologization of that war also contains a number of outright falsifications and dangerous tendencies. Of these the most importance is the practice of referring to the war as lasting from 1941-1945 (an American practice as well, I might add). This ignores the Soviet military annexation of the territories of Poland and the Baltic States in 1939-40. Parts of what is now Western Ukraine were occupied at the very start of the war in September 1939.

Russian panegyrics to “holy Russia” ignore as well the repressions of the many nationalities deported during the war. They ignore the fact that the Soviet Union almost lost the war because of Stalin’s decimation of his own top military in the purges of the late 1930s. And they ignore the fact, as shown by historian John Barber in his The Soviet Home Front, 1941-1945, that the vaunted “buffer zone” of the occupied territories was actually much harder for Moscow to control and defend than genuine Allied territories would have been because the countryside in those regions was riddled with partisans.

Today, Vladimir Putin is waging a war of words but also a war of symbols. To show the banners of the different Ukrainian fronts arrayed behind him is to ignore the complexity of World War II, the deep trauma of the peoples then who went through the war to find themselves in a different country afterwards. And it is also to ignore the sufferings of the Ukrainians on the Maidan on February 20, 2014, who were mowed down by their own police. Above all, it is to blatantly show disregard for the Ukrainians from Donetsk, Luhansk and now Debaltseve who have been displaced and for the thousands who have died.

In the separatist-held region of Donetsk, meanwhile, the rebel fighters held their own “Day of the Defender” celebrations and handed out medals. In a show of masculinity – after all February 23 has long been known as “Men’s Day” [den’ muzhchin] (to pair it with International Women’s Day two weeks later, March 8) — the local leader, Denis Pushilin commented: “Our guys have proven that they’re worthy of the memory of our grandfathers, who once drove the fascist scourge out of Donbass.”

Thus this day of handing out medals has thus become a kind of Soviet competition for being worthy of the memory of grandfathers, of being a “guy” by killing people and honoring people who do so. Militarized masculinity becomes the core of both heroic and ordinary masculinity. The grandfathers and token grandmothers being honored in the Kremlin barely had room for another medal.

Putin himself commented that he had told one gentleman, “it’s almost impossible to find any room to put another medal.”

“You’ll find it,” the gentleman responded.

Unfortunately, giving medals for “glory” without any reference to the tragedy of lives lost, displaced, and wounded is a show that has too many spectators.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/26/the-military-medal-race-in-russia-and-ukraine-a-symbolic-competition/

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,393 other followers