Russia revives a vicious lie
IMAGINE Nazi rule in Germany surviving for decades, with Hitler undefeated in war and succeeded on his death in the early 1950s by a series of lacklustre party hacks who more or less disowned his “excesses”. Imagine then a “reform Nazi” (call him Michael Gorbach) coming to power in the 1980s and dismantling the National Socialist system, only to fall from power as the Third Reich collapsed in political and economic chaos.
Imagine a shrunken “German Federation” suffering ten years of upheaval, before an SS officer (call him Voldemar Puschnik) came to power, first as prime minister and then as president. Under eight years of rule by Herr Puschnik, Germany regains economic stability, largely thanks to a sky-high coal price.
The Soviets did it
That would be distasteful to put it mildly. But it might be tolerable. The SS, for all its faults, attracted bright, ambitious people, and Mr Puschnik’s career in its external espionage division meant that he was not directly tainted by the crimes of the past. Better a stable Germany than a chaotic one. Any big country is going to have its own security interests, and the Dutch, Czechs, Danes and Poles would safeguard their regained independence best by trying to get along with Mr Puschnik, rather than harping on about the evils of Nazism.
It’s much the same in Russia. It would be quite wrong to blame modern Russians for Stalin-era crimes. Russia is not going to go away, and Poles, Balts and others should try not to provoke the Kremlin unnecessarily. The KGB had a dreadful history, but Mr Putin’s role was seemingly anodyne.
But that calculus holds only if modern day rulers show no hint of sympathy for their predecessors’ atrocities. If Herr Puschnik, our putative leader of a post-Nazi Germany, starts flirting with Holocaust denial, every alarm should ring.
Vladimir Putin has already come dangerously close to this in Russia. He has claimed that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was legal. He sees no need to apologise to Baltic victims of Stalinism.
But the Russian media is going further. In the past six months no fewer than four different outlets have revived the outrageous falsehood that it was the Nazis, not the Soviets, who murdered 20,000 captured Polish officers at Katyn in 1940. That Stalin-era lie, enforced at gun-point in post-war Poland, viciously aggravated the original crime. It was buried in 1990, with solemn Kremlin support.
The falsehoods are not in fringe publications. It started with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a state-owned newspaper, on September 18th last year. It was repeated by the mass-market Komsomolskaya Pravda on October 22nd and again by TV Tsentr—a station in effect run by the Moscow Mayor’s office—on November 4th. Now it has been repeated again by what used to be an upmarket broadsheet, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in its weekend supplement on military affairs.
This comes not in response to some Polish provocation, but at a time when the government in Warsaw has been bending over backwards to soothe relations with Moscow.
The Russian media—in theory at least—can print what it likes. But it is hard not to conclude that this outbreak of revisionist history comes with at least tacit official blessing.
The best way to dispel this would be for the Kremlin and the Russian foreign ministry to come out with a clear and forceful statement saying that from the official side at least, no doubt whatsoever exists that the Soviet secret police, acting on Stalin’s orders, carried out the Katyn massacre. Failure to do that suggests at best atrocious cynicism and at worst a nauseating sympathy with the perpetrators.