Does Russia Need a Law against Falsifying History?

The State Duma has received a bill stipulating fines and prison terms for denying or justifying Nazi crimes and criminals, or for condemning the outcome of the Nuremberg Trials. Some historians fear this would make it difficult to draw objective conclusions on the events of World War II. Supporters of the bill emphasize that it may help combat attempts to rewrite history.

Natalia Narochnitskaya: Theoretically, I am not completely against the law. There are precedents for this type of law in global experience. Some countries have laws against denying the Holocaust or questioning its scale. People have been prosecuted under such laws. A Swiss combustion engineer tried to prove that WWII crematoriums did not have the necessary equipment to burn so many dead bodies. He did not deny the fact of the Holocaust, but only questioned its scale. He was sentenced to prison.

France has a law against denying the Armenian genocide. In theory, such laws are prompted by political considerations, so the bill proposed in Russia is nothing new.

But the law was proposed after the Baltic countries passed laws that equate, directly and indirectly, Nazism with Soviet practices. Therefore, they legally formalize a fundamentally different interpretation of the essence of WWII and the Nuremberg Trials.

The Russian bill is justifiable and could even be useful. That being said, the wording of the bill should be approached very delicately to prevent the possibility of a broad interpretation.

The bill does not aim to change, and cannot change, the research done by historians. It can only affect the media’s freedom to disseminate and popularize indiscriminate claims about Russia and its past, specifically the war.

I have worked for years and I have written many books to combat misconceptions of World War II, to prove that it is historically wrong and philosophically absurd to equate Nazism, a pagan doctrine that denies the racial equality of people before God, and Communism, which is part of the philosophy of progress, a “cousin” of modern liberalism.

The bill does not seek to inhibit historical research, but to prevent the popularization of information that is not based on documental evidence but only on an ideological and political view of the past.

Andrei Zubov: The bill is absurd. It proposes to punish people for criticizing the actions of the Red Army, which, like any human community, committed both right and wrong actions. Its leaders made military mistakes, while its soldiers both behaved heroically and were also guilty of crimes, including the crime of pillaging in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Many of them were punished and even executed for that crime during the war.

For example, few Russians are aware of the Red Army’s cruelty in Nemmersdorf and other towns of the Gumbinnen Province in East Prussia in mid-October 1944. Those crimes against civilians – the indiscriminate massacre of women, old people and children, and torture and rape – cannot be justified by the fact that Nazis did the same in the occupied Soviet territories. They were Nazis, and they were punished for their crimes, but it is also the professional duty of historians to write about the crimes committed by the other side in the war.

So the ban on saying anything bad about the Red Army is illogical. It is like prohibiting people from saying bad things about the cruiser Varyag (which became famous for its crew’s stoicism at the Battle of Chemulpo Bay in 1904). Why? People are different, they behave differently in the same situations, and this is exactly what historians are studying.

Now take the Nuremberg Trials. Of course, Nazism is a criminal ideology and the Nazi Party was a criminal organization, and cannot be justified. However, the judgment passed at Nuremberg contains quite a few questionable elements. This is understandable, because judges are human and it is human to err and to say things that are not entirely justified under the pressure of circumstances.

For example, everyone knows that double standards were applied during the Nuremberg Trials, when Nazi crimes were criticized but the crimes of the Allies and the Soviet regime were hushed up. It did not discuss the Katyn massacre, but today everyone knows about Katyn, a crime that was committed during the war. And what about the Soviet attack on Finland, the occupation of the Baltic countries and a multitude of smaller but no less cruel actions?

We can and must discuss all of this, while a law that prohibits people from saying that bad is bad is an amoral law. People must have the right to say that good is good and evil is evil, and it does not matter who did the evil things. If a law prohibits this, it is a criminal law. So I hope that this bill will never be signed into law.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.