Hundreds of Russians who fought in the Second World War are in for a pleasant outing. The Investigation Committee led by Gen. Bastrykin has asked them to come over and finger perpetrators of Nazi wartime crimes.
Actually, ‘asked’ is the wrong word. They were issued summonses, each ending with a warning that “If you fail to appear without a valid reason you may be arrested according to Articles 54 and 113 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.”
Now, the youngest war veterans are at least 93 years old: 1927 was the last conscription year of birth. Considering the state of public health in Russia, people who have exceeded the average life expectancy by a third would find it hard to make the trip even under the best of circumstances – which these aren’t.
Those over 65 are actually forbidden to leave home due to Covid. Just in case they dare disobey, the state has thoughtfully removed their discounts for travelling on public transport. The arithmetic can’t be faulted: since most crumblies survive on a pension of £100-150 a month in our money, they can’t afford even bus fare.
Now they’ll have to: since the Investigation Committee combines the functions of our Crown Prosecution Service, Special Branch and MI5, its summonses aren’t to be ignored. Not that those who have lived under the Soviets are likely to ignore such orders.
Most of those nonagenarians are probably trembling in mortal fear. Indelibly burned into their minds is the memory of such summonses in times olden, when a visit to any law enforcement agency typically started with a beating and ended in imprisonment, or worse. Today’s heirs to that fine tradition are perhaps laxer on imprisonment, but beatings and torture proceed unabated.
My heart goes out to the poor old chaps, while my mind is focused on understanding this bizarre development. Gen. Bastrykin is happy to clarify: “The Nuremberg trials did not convict all those responsible. Irrespective of whether or not they are alive, we must name those names.”
This desire to name names is commendable, and would be even more so if it weren’t so selective or, in this case, superfluous. After all, quite apart from the Nuremberg trials, Nazi crimes have been exposed thousands of times over.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Soviet citizens were punished for wartime misbehaviour, be that collaboration, cowardice, desertion or simply allowing themselves to be taken prisoner (my father was lucky: he got away with merely an internal exile for that last crime). Some of them were punished more than once.
Solzhenitsyn writes about collaborators who served long prison sentences and were released – only then to be ‘uncovered’ years later, retried and executed. I still remember the look of utter consternation on their faces as the televised verdicts were announced. Hours after the trial they were shot, faster than you could say double jeopardy, to the accompaniment of encomiums for the vigilant ‘organs’ that had tracked the vermin down.
Even assuming that those few who have evaded the dragnet are still alive, hauling old people off their deathbeds and taxing their fragile memory 75 years after the war ended looks futile. Moreover, it looks misdirected.
After all, Soviet crimes are much fresher in people’s memory. Many of the perpetrators are still in good health, some of them still active. It was thanks to their tireless efforts that 60 million Soviet people died in CheKa-GPU-NKVD-KGB cellars and concentration camps, while millions more lived through imprisonment and forced labour. Yet not a single one of those loyal citizens has been prosecuted.
Even today a third of all adult Russian men have done some prison time, which proportion is impressive but hardly surprising. After all, the country is run by the same organisation that in the unlamented past turned it into a nice blend of labour camp, morgue and army barracks.
So fine, do name names by all means. But not just those few of the remaining Nazi criminals, but also those of the multitudes of Soviet screws, executioners, interrogators and simply snitches, millions of them. And here we get to the crux of the matter.
For the ludicrous campaign of abuse against old men is designed precisely for concealing, or at least drawing attention from, the crimes perpetrated by home-grown monsters. The scions of those ghouls are committed to vindicating the past, thereby justifying the present.
Glorifying Stalin’s USSR, especially of the wartime vintage, is a key part of this effort. No country is still banging on about the Second World War as much as the Russians, the message being that yes, you the plebs may live hand to mouth, but only because the Soviet Union heroically bore the brunt of Nazi aggression.
The war has been sacralised and turned into a sort of pagan orthodoxy. For the sake of verisimilitude, this requires show trials of heretics, those who dare besmirch the figurines sitting on the totem pole. Hence Putin’s henchmen have introduced a law against “re-writing history”, meaning exposing the lies of Stalin’s version of the war.
In the good tradition of a thief crying “Stop thief!” the loudest, they are accusing others of what they themselves are doing. For example, an historian was recently charged under the new law for stating the simple fact that it wasn’t just Hitler but also Stalin who attacked Poland in 1939.
During the brief quasi-democratic interlude in the 1990s, the Russian government denounced the Nazi-Soviet Pact as the actuator of the world war. This has now been repudiated by Putin personally, who has reverted to Stalin’s lies about the USSR’s peaceful intentions, as witnessed by the Pact.
Similarly, in 1991, after decades of barefaced lies, the Russian government finally admitted that it was the Soviets and not the Nazis who executed 22,000 Polish officers in Byelorussian woods. Now Stalin’s lies have been taken off the mothballs and jammed back into the brainwashed minds of the credulous public.
According to Gen. Bastrykin, Putin’s university classmate, the veterans’ testimony is necessary to preserve “historical continuity” and ensure “a happy life for future generations”. Some continuity. Some happy life.