Category Archives: Russia

Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II

800px-Khatyn_Memorial,_Belarus

Sculpture of the “Unbowed man” at the Khatyn Memorial site. The sculpture depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the only adult to survive the massacre, holding his dead son Adam. Credit: John Oldale.Click to enlarge

The recent commemorations of Victory Day in Europe – the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe – got me thinking about how we refer to Germany as the perpetrator of the horrors in that war. Often we more correctly use the term “Nazi Germany” – but still it must place a burden of guilt on many Germans who were, and are innocent.

On the other hand, it seems to me, it almost ignores the very real responsibility of people from other nations for these atrocities. (Although, granted some speakers will also refer to involvement of collaborators).

The Khatyn Massacre

Many years ago I visited the war memorial at Khatyn, in Belarus. This was a very moving experience because it symbolised how that nation had lost a quarter of its population during the war. All the residents of this village had been herded into barns which were then set alight – anyone attempting to escape was shot. The photo above shows part of the memorial depicting the man who was thought to be the sole survivor.

Very moving.

I certainly got the impression that this horror was perpetrated by German soldiers. But my reading in recent days convinces me I was wrong, and had been wrongly informed. The perpetrators were a nazi battalion – but one established in Kiev and made up mainly of Ukrainian nationalists. Here are some details from the Wikipedia entry on the Khatyn massacre:

Khatyn or Chatyń (Belarusian and Russian: Хаты́нь, pronounced [xɐˈtɨnʲ]) was a village of 26 houses and 156 inhabitants in Belarus, in Lahoysk Raion, Minsk Region, 50 km away from Minsk. On 22 March 1943, the entire population of the village was massacred by the 118th Schutzmannschaft Nazi battalion. The battalion was formed in July 1942 in Kiev and was made up mostly of Ukrainian nationalist collaborators from Western Ukraine, Hiwis[1][2][3] and the DirlewangerWaffen-SS special battalion.

The massacre was not an unusual incident in Belarus during World War II. At least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were burned and destroyed by the Nazis, and often all their inhabitants were killed (some amounting up to 1,500 victims) as a punishment for collaboration with partisans. Khatyn became a symbol of all those villages. In the Vitebsk region, 243 villages were burned down twice, 83 villages three times, and 22 villages were burned down four or more times. In the Minsk region, 92 villages were burned down twice, 40 villages three times, nine villages four times, and six villages five or more times.[4] Altogether, over 2,000,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of Nazi occupation, almost a quarter of the country’s population.[5][6]

It’s worth following up some of the links for more details.

The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, which included the Schutzmannschaft Nazis involved in this and many other massacres, carried out anti-Jewish and anti-partisan operations in most areas of Ukraine. While these units were formed directly after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 Ukrainian nationalist organisations existed before that invasion. These extremist organisations were not just “nationalist,” but were racist – expressing hatred for Poles, Jews and above all, Russians. And these three groups became their victims during the war.

Misinforming tourists

I had happily accepted the story that the Khatyn Massacre was perpetrated by “Nazis” – assuming they were German Nazis. So this information came as a bit of a shock to me. Worse – the role of such nationalist forces was not talked about much during Soviet times in fear of encouraging antagonism between the different republics. So innocent tourists were left in the dark about the true origins of the perpetrators – despite the fact that the leaders of the battalion involved had been brought to justice. As Wikipedia says:

“The commander of one of the platoons of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Vasyl Meleshko, was tried in a Soviet court and executed in 1975. The Chief of Staff of 118th Schutzmannschaft Battalion, Ukrainian Grigory Vassiura, was tried in Minsk in 1986 and found guilty of all his crimes. He was sentenced to death by the verdict of the military tribunal of the Belorussian military district.

The case and the trial of the main executioner of Khatyn was not given much publicity in the media; the leaders of the Soviet republics worried about the inviolability of unity between the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples.”

A lesson for today

So the message is – when your hear about Nazi atrocities the perpetrators were not necessarily German. We should not forget the role played by collaborators and non-German nationalists in the Holocaust and other atrocities.

epa04318197 New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion 'Azov' attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014. The government in Kiev does not recognize the declared independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and pro-Russian militants refuse to cooperate with the pro-European leadership in Kiev. Ukraine insisted that there would be no ceasefire or negotiations before the pro-Russian separatists in the country's east give up their arms.  EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

New soldiers of Ukrainian army battalion ‘Azov’ attend their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine in Kiev, Ukraine, 16 July 2014.Image Credit: EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

And this is not an abstract appeal. Today the inheritors of the Ukrainian nationalist organisations which committed these atrocities are alive and very active in Ukraine. They even have military battalions fighting in the current civil war. Worse, the US has now sent their own troops into Ukraine to train National Guard battalions which include units like the Azov Batallion which is based on extreme National Socialist ideology.

Talk about a slippery slope.

Similar articles

What a nice idea

pc-150509-immortal-regiment-jsw-03_4dd6a50cf7f3448b58856367221051d8.nbcnews-ux-1440-900

Click to enlarge – Moscow Celebration of Victory day.
Image Credit:
 NBC News

The recent commemorations of ANZAC Day (in New Zealand), Victory day (Internationally) and Mothers’ day got me thinking about how we mark these events. Thinking spurred on by a family discussion precipitated by a difference of opinion about the Victory day Celebrations (or the reporting of them) in Moscow.

Firstly – Mothers’ day. I was struck by Facebook entries some of my relatives made dedicated to their mothers. The sincere expression of love and respect for, and thanks to, their Mothers. Quite moving but really lovely to see the expressions of gratitude to parents.

ANZAC Day is a notable day in New Zealand. In my youth, many people felt bad about it because of its glorification of war and support of a bad war in Indo-China. Being of “call-up” age at the time my pacifist tendencies (and support for the Vietnamese) meant I rejected what ANZAC Day seemed to stand for then.

But more recently ANZAC Day celebrations in New Zealand have come to recognise the horrors of war, to oppose militarism and to be a time when we remember the sacrifices of our relatives who died in wars. It has come to be more concentrated on the losses at Gallipoli in the First World war (the event which initially launched ANZAC day).

There was very little here marking the Victory Day Celebrations commemorating the end of the war in Europe on 8/9 May, 1945. And local reporting of overseas commemoration events was no better. A pity, as many New Zealanders did fight and die in Europe – and for a much better reason than some other wars we have fought in.

Personalising the commemorations

The media sometimes makes a big thing of the Military Parade in Moscow’s celebration of Victory Day – and I must admit military parades don’t appeal to me. But, unfortunately, our media often ignores the mass participation in Victory Day Celebrations. The photograph at the head of this post is a shot from this year’s mass commemoration in Moscow (click to enlarge – it is worth it).

It is the nature of this mass participation which interested me.  It is sometimes called the parade of The immortal regiment. Here is how the US Rusky Mir Foundation, which reported on an immortal regiment march in New York, describes this mass participation:

“The Immortal Regiment (or Besmertny Polk) dates from 2012, when people in the Siberian city of Tomsk were debating how to keep the memory of World War II heroes alive even as the veterans themselves passed on. They asked people to create large posters with photos of their relatives who had served in the war, and carry them in Victory Day parades. This year, more than 800 cities will have a “Besmertny Polk” parade.”

That is the idea that appeals to me – the use of portraits of lost relatives in these commemorations. It personalises the celebration and expression of gratitude – in much the same way that Facebook posts on Mothers’ day do. And it figuratively enables our lost relatives to be seen participating in the events.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see more people bring along and display photos of their relatives in New Zealand’s ANZAC celebrations? That would help improve the personal and family aspects of the celebration and the display would surely be moving.

Here is some video footage of the Moscow parade – but there is a lot more around, much of it from other countries.

Similar articles

Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in the USA?

putin

Photo credit: REUTERS

Most readers are aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very high popularity rating in his own country – a rating that most politicians  would die for. But it turns out he is also popular in the USA.

Putin came in at the number one spot in this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll with 6.95% of the votes. According to TIME:

“Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.”

Putin was the only political leader in the top ten:

“Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively. Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%).”

TIME-poll

I guess Putin is happy with the result – perhaps he is doing something right.

But here’s the interesting thing:

“More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.”

IMG_0633

One of the tamer cartoons demonising Putin

Despite continuous demonisation of Putin (and the Russian Federation) by the mass media in the US, UK and Canada in recent years he seems to be more popular than any other political leader – including the leaders of the countries where the readers live!

I wonder why that is? Is the naive demonisation counter-productive?

Do readers here have any suggestions?


Note: The TIME 100 readers’ poll closed April 10. It is not the same as the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. That is actually chosen by the editors of TIME – this year’s list will be unveiled April 16.

Similar articles

Ukrainian “suicides?”

Several days ago Ukraine Today reported the death of a former politician in the Yanukovych government which was overthrown in a coup last year. He was Oleksandr Peklushenko, the ex-head of a regional council in central Ukraine. Authorities are claiming he committed suicide – but he appears to be the 7th, 8th or 9th such Ukrainian opposition politician to “commit suicide” in the past month or so.

I can’t help wondering if the methods used to purge opposition figures in Ukraine have moved well beyond the well-reported process of throwing them into dumpsters.

dumpster

The head of the Chernovtsy municipal hospital for war veterans was “lustrated” in October. Dr. Manolya Migaychuk was accused of not fulfilling his responsibilities and was forced to resign, according to local media.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported  5 officials died in a suspicious way in a single 34-day period between January 28 and February 28 (see Suicide Or Homicide? In Ukraine, Old-Guard Officials Dying Mysteriously).

January 26 — Mykola Serhiyenko, the former first deputy chief of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, died in his Kyiv home after apparently shooting himself with a registered hunting rifle.

January 29 — Oleksiy Kolesnyk, the former head of the Kharkiv regional government, died after apparently hanging himself.

February 25 — The former mayor of the southeastern city of Melitopol, 57-year-old Serhiy Walter, reportedly hanged himself. . . Walter had been dismissed from his post in 2013 and put on trial for abuse of power and ties to organized crime.

February 26 — One day after Walter’s death, the body of the 47-year-old deputy chief of the Melitopol police, Oleksandr Bordyuh, was found in a garage. According to news reports, Bordyuh’s former boss was a lawyer involved in Walter’s trial. Media reported that the cause of Bordyuh’s death was ruled a “hypertensive crisis,” or stroke — a term that police frequently use in instances of suicide.”

February 28 — Mykhaylo Chechetov, the ex-deputy chairman of the Party of Regions faction in Ukraine’s parliament, died after jumping or falling out of the window of his 17th-story apartment. Chechetov was a former head of the State Property Fund. At the end of August 2014 another former head of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Valentina Semenyuk-Samsonenko was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, with a gun lying nearby. She led the agency from April 2005 to December 2008. Her family told reporters they dismissed the possibility of suicide, saying that she had spoken fearfully of someone taking out a contract on her life.”

In recent months, a number of other former and current officials were reported as having “committed suicide” in Ukraine – the former deputy head of “Ukrzaliznytsia”, Nicholai Sergienko, former head of Kharkov regional council, Nikolai Kolesnik, ex-mayor of Melitopol and former MP, Stanislav Melnik.

Who is responsible?

An epidemic of suicides by opposition politicians is of course possible – after all the regime in Kiev is hounding and jailing their old opponents and that must be stressful for the victims. But it is hardly credible.

IMG_0699

Perhaps we could just blindly line up with the current political “wisdom” and blame Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. After all, our news media seems to think “Putin did it!” is a sufficiently sophisticated explanation for all things ranging from the shooting down of commercial airliners to the recent Moscow assassination of Boris Nemtsov (a deputy prime minister in a previous government under Boris Yeltsin).

Or are our media at least intelligent enough to realise that would be asking too much of its readers?

It seems that our news media has instead decided just to keep quiet about this rash of “assassination/suicides” in Ukraine. Maybe they cannot see any political advantage in reporting them – unlike the Nemtsov assassination.

Similar articles

 

 

 

Reality of war for civilians

The civil war in Ukraine is almost forgotten by our news media but it is only getting worse. Poroshenko’s announcement that the US is to supply lethal weapons to the Kiev government means things are going to get much worse before they get better.

But this is what it is like for civilians being evacuated by Donetsk forces from the current battle area near Debaltseve.

[eng subs] Uglegorsk residents evacuated by the militias from the town destroyed by UAF “Grads”.

As one of the refugees demands – Poroshenko should negotiate. A political solution is necessary and it is the only way to end this war. It is what the suffering civilians need.

Update

For balance here is some footage on the evacuations from the side of the Kiev troops.

Similar articles

Six months on – concerns about MH17 investigation

People around the world are frustrated over the sluggishness of the official investigation into the MH17 tragedy. The documentary “Reflections on MH17″ describes some of this frustration felt by families of the victims and those who are carrying out their own investigations or attempting legal actions.

This short video from the BBC endorses the concerns at the slow investigation felt by a Dutch family of victims.

Similar articles

The MH17 blame game

I know this is provocative, but couldn’t help thinking of the blame game going on around the MH17 tragedy (the Malaysian plane shot down over Eastern Ukraine in July) when I saw these on social media.

IMG_0701

Thanks to David for this meme

IMG_0699

Similar articles

 

Lugansk – a modern Guernica?

poster

With some of the images of death and destruction coming out of the conflict in eastern Ukraine Picasso’s work “Guernica” is starting to take on more meaning for me.

 

Inna Kukuruza – “her eyes spoke to the whole world”

Inna

Iconic photos are often associated with historic event, especially conflicts. The picture of the man stopping a Tank in Beijing during suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 is an obvious one.

For me the photo above will always be connected with Ukraine and the current conflict there. As one blogger put it, Inna Kukuruza’s “eyes spoke to the whole world.”

She was a civilian victim of the recent jet attack on the centre of Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine (see Lugansk war crime). Over the past few days I have watched (or tried to watch) videos of the attack and it’s aftermath. This has been extremely difficult because they are just so graphic. I decided not to include any videos here – although if you have a strong stomach the blog post Inna Kukuruza shall not be forgotten has a brief extract.

The first victim!

It is well established that the first victim in war is truth. Mind you the dispatch of truth usually comes well before the shooting starts.

I have a personal interest in Ukraine and the dispatch of truth occurred for me straight after the February 21st agreement signed by the then President, the opposition leaders and representatives of the European Union. The very next day there was a coup, the opposition leaders came to power and they (together with the EU politicians) immediately abandoned the agreement – before the ink was dry!

A real pity, as they had signed up to consitutional reform involving the whole country before elections later this year. Seems to me consitutional reform is exactly what the country is crying out for. Instead we have had Orwellian doublespeak and cynical geopolitical maneuvering by the major powers, as well as the Ukrainian politicians while the people have been ignored.

Well, not quite ignored because now the acting president has taken to calling protesters “terrorists.” (This is a guy who was put into power by a coup precipitated by violent protesters in Kiev). You can understand the reaction of people to this – if not have a look at this video. Here local people protesting at the Karamtorsk airstrip in eastern Ukraine captured by military units from Kiev argue with Uranian Gen. Vasily Krutov who was attempting to defend the “anti-terrorist” action.

They ask – “Who is the terrorist here?”

via На Краматорском аэродроме высадился десант. “Генерал” дает интервью – YouTube.

Yes, it sounds mad for a president, even just an acting president, to describe his people as terrorists. But there is a cynical logic here. Appa=rently by law the Ukrainian military cannot be used against protestors unless a state of emergency is declared – or protester are redefined as terrorists, I guess.

Mind you – it’s not only the politicians who have dispatched with truth. Seems to me that many of the journalists on the ground are also distorting the situation. Compare these Twitter reports from Ilya Azsar at the airfield with the evidence of the video! This from the Pro-Kiev  The Interpreter.

Screenshot-2014-04-16-11.32

I can understand the anger of people in eastern Ukraine being described this way. However, I myself also feel violated by the misrepresentations that seems to count for news in the midst of such conflicts. I feel I am being denied my right to information and treated like an idiot.

See also: Tensions Boil Over on Camera in Ukraine’s East and West for more on the above incident and also the mob attack on Oleg Tsarov – one of the candidates in the planned presidential elections – who spoke up for the  east Ukrainians.