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Re-nationalizing Soviet History and Who breaks the international rules?

by Leo Ensel Wednesday, May. 17, 2023 at 5:01 PM

The construction of differentiated historical narratives that overcome one-dimensional perpetrator-victim polarizations in discourse with other affected nations and integrate one's own complicity step by step is an extremely laborious, painful process. It will probably take decades.

Re-nationalizing Soviet History

Communism? Only the Russians are to blame! - The posthumous re-nationalization of Soviet history

by Leo Ensel

[This article posted on May 15, 2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, Kommunismus? Daran sind nur die Russen schuld! – Die posthume Renationalisierung der Sowjetgeschichte.]

At least since the end of the Soviet Union, a lively reassessment of over seventy years of communist rule has begun in all successor states, rarely free of national egoisms. At the same time, all sides are not exactly squeamish about their own involvement in the state crimes of the Soviet era: as a rule, they trivialize or simply deny them! By Leo Ensel.

Street fighting is raging in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. No, this time we are not talking about the defensive or reconquest battles against the Russian invaders. It is about "derussification", "decommunization", in other words: "decolonization" of Ukraine. (Needless to say that these terms - at least from the Ukrainian point of view - are synonymous!) In Kiev alone 296 streets are to be renamed.

The monuments to Lenin have long since fallen, the street names of victorious generals of the Red Army were renamed years ago in favor of Ukrainian nationalists from the interwar period - the fact that Nazi collaborators and Jew killers from the Bandera camp were often among them: Bygones! -, and the day of the victory over Hitler's Germany has been brought forward from May 9 to May 8, compatible with the EU and NATO. In contrast, the monument to the victims of the "Holodomor" (is it a coincidence that this word echoes another?), the famine catastrophe of 1932/33, has been standing in front of the St. Michael's Monastery in Kiev since the early 1990s.

Something similar can be observed in another post-Soviet country with NATO ambitions. For some years now, a "topography of terror" has been located not only around the former Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, but also in the Georgian capital Tbilisi - built with the kind support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. What is meant here is the red terror, in particular the Stalinist terror. A series of buildings and squares meticulously demonstrate how the Georgian population suffered under the communist reign of terror.

In the successor states of the USSR, which are speculating on EU and NATO membership, decommunization is in full swing. At the same time, new national historical narratives are being crafted, and they usually boil down to an unspoken simple sentence: Only the Russians were ever to blame for communism!

So it was not representatives of a certain ideology who were the perpetrators, but representatives of a certain nation. The same applies to the victims: Victims were not kulaks, small farmers, aristocrats, priests, dissidents, disagreeable scientists and artists, but simply all peoples of the former Soviet Union - except the Russians! (A perspective that is readily taken up in the West.) In a word: We are witnesses of a remarkable historical revisionist process, which one could somewhat academically and cumbersomely call 'posthumous renationalization of Soviet history'.

Only the Russians?

Of course, these voluntaristically constructed slanted narratives are not correct at all: Stalin and his notorious secret service chief Lavrentiy Beriya, for example, were Georgians. Representatives of other nationalities, such as the butcher of the Kronstadt sailors, Leon Trotsky, the founder of the notorious Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, the directors of the Stalinist show trials Vyshinsky and Yagoda, and the Katyn killer and genocide perpetrator Anastas Mikoyan, were also criminals of the Soviet regime.

In the Georgian birthplace of Stalin, Gori, located about 60 kilometers west of Tbilisi, there is still today a Stalin museum exclusively dedicated to 'the great son of Georgia', whose original Soviet stench, including 'Stalin wine' as a merchandising product, probably surpasses everything that still exists in Russia in terms of analogous buildings and memorials - but nowhere appears in the Georgian "Topography of Terror"! And at the beginning of the 1930s there was also starvation outside Ukraine: not least in the fertile Kuban and black earth regions, in the North Caucasus and in Kazakhstan. Russians also fell victim to this state-induced famine by the hundreds of thousands.

But the new narratives serve not only to whitewash the country's own history. They can also be instrumentalized for the ideological debate in the New West-East Conflict in general and, of course, especially with regard to Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. Thus, when at the beginning of March last year a Russian shell hit the Kiev radio station on Melnikova Street, a few hundred meters from Babiy Yar, where at the end of September 1941 SS task forces with logistical support from the Wehrmacht and Ukrainian auxiliary policemen had shot 33,771 Jews within two days, the media said that the Russians had shelled Babiy Yar. Andriy Yermak of the Ukrainian Presidential Office sounded a full-throated note on Twitter: "These criminals are killing the victims of the Holocaust for the second time." Later, they went one better. Now it said, "The whole of Ukraine has now become Babiy Yar!" The own complicity at this place and the bloody anti-Jewish pogroms by the Ukrainian population during the invasion of the Wehrmacht in Eastern Galicia (today's Western Ukraine), to which alone in Lviv about 4,000 Jews fell victim, were kept quiet.

This did not diminish the caring mothering by the West. In the course of the Crimea crisis and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, the Greens had already tried - in vain - to push through a resolution in the Bundestag on Germany's "historical responsibility for Ukraine. (Today, they would certainly be more successful in this regard.) According to this resolution, it was not the Soviet Union but Ukraine that was invaded by the Wehrmacht on June 22, 1941. Involuntarily, one asked oneself at that time: 'Where does that leave Belarus, which famously lost a quarter of its population in World War II?' But at that time, not enough Belarusians had taken to the streets against President Alexandr Lukashenko, so Belarus would have to wait until the summer of 2020 to enjoy special green welfare as well.

The choice of words is decisive

How the post-Soviet states come to terms with the era of the Soviet Union is their own business. For the discussion in Germany, I suggest the following use of language: Not Ukraine (alternatively Belarus, Russia) was victim of most serious German crimes in the II World War, but on the territory of today's Ukraine (alternatively Belarus, Russia) most serious crimes were committed by Germans in the II World War! This choice of words is a little bit more awkward, but it is resistant against posthumous nationalistic appropriations.

The construction of differentiated historical narratives that overcome one-dimensional perpetrator-victim polarizations in discourse with other affected nations and integrate one's own complicity step by step is an extremely laborious, painful process. It will probably take decades, as the struggle to come to terms with the past in Germany has shown.

In the meantime, all sides - especially during wartime - should at least refrain from overly simplistic accusations of guilt.


Who breaks the international rules?

[This article posted on 5/13/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Several Japanese media have recently reported that China will be asked to abide by international rules at the upcoming G7 summit in Japan. The international community is baffled: what international rules are we talking about here? How can a few Western countries like the U.S. accuse China of not abiding by international rules?

When it comes to international rules, there is only one set of rules in the world, namely the basic norms of international relations based on the goals and principles of the UN Charter. But from the mouths of some Western countries, represented by the United States, "UN Charter" is rarely heard. Among them, the term "rules-based international order" is often used. It is an ambiguous term that does not appear in the UN Charter, in the declarations of heads of state and government at the UN, or in the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council. A Chinese representative has openly asked the question in the Security Council, "What kind of rules is the so-called rules-based international order based on? What is the relationship between these rules and the international order?"

These questions have not yet been clearly answered by the United States and some other Western countries. Are they afraid of the answer? Or are they simply incapable of answering? The concept of these rules looks great, but in reality it is a cover for the G7 to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, cause global unrest, and foment confrontation between camps, and it is the rules that draw boundaries according to ideology and values. Such rules serve the interests of a few countries, like the United States, rather than the common interests of the international community.

We have seen the United States and other countries violate and break international rules at will under the banner of the so-called "rules-based international order."

The principle of non-interference in internal affairs is an important principle of the UN Charter and a fundamental norm of international relations. In recent years, however, the United States has promoted the "New Monroe Doctrine" in Latin America, instigated "color revolutions" in European and Asian countries, and the "Arab Spring" in West Asia and North Africa, leading to chaos and disaster in many countries. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, in which the U.S. continues to intervene in the 21st century, have produced a total of 27 million refugees.

Both history and reality show that the U.S., Japan and other countries are the biggest violators of international rules. Who is breaking the international rules? This "small circle" should perhaps take a look in the mirror.

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