Monday, August 03, 2009
Battle over History in Russia's Near Aboard
World War II is typically viewed as the ultimate "good versus evil" story. This narrative is muddled in the front where the German Reich fought the Soviet Union. Here two of histories mass killers, Hitler and Stalin, faced off. The ethnic groups caught in between have their own narratives concerning these events.
Ukrainians feel the pain from both sides. Before the war Joseph Stalin allowed famine conditions to spread which resulted in the deaths of up to ten million in an event known as Holodomor. The Nazis were viewed as liberators in Ukraine at first. However, the Germans viewed the Slavs as sub-human and began to cleanse Ukraine of Ukrainians. In other places like the Baltic States the Germans are still held in a higher regard. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were independent countries until the Soviet invasion in 1940. When the Germans invaded many of the Balts joined them due to long standing historic ties. Baltic SS groups formed and they aided the Nazis in fighting the Soviets and killings Jews. When the Soviets pushed the Germans out it was viewed by many to be something less than liberation.
As the European former Soviet states continue their realignment away from Moscow the topic of World War II and related events has become a controversial one. Ukraine demands Russia recognize the Holodomor as an ethnic genocide while Moscow retorts everyone died and to suggest politics was behind the famine is wrong as Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. Meanwhile, the Balts are beginning to view those who helped the Germans as patriots, much to the anger of Russia. Russia is so angry that it wants to make the denial of the Soviet Union's role as "liberator" in World War II an international crime.
The battle over history will only heat up as Ukraine slowly decides whether it wants to be closer to Moscow or Brussels, Moldova becomes more European, and Russia tries to organize pro-Russia populist movements in the Baltic states.