25 May 2020
Leonid Nikitinsky, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize for Human Rights
The seven similar criminal cases as yet known to us for posting photos of Nazi criminals on the Immortal Regiment Online website can be explained by one perfectly understandable common reason and many others that are still hard to sort out and sort out to begin with from the legal standpoint.
You see, Article 354.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Rehabilitation of Nazism,” by its very name assumes intent aimed specifically at glorifying Nazi ideology and crimes. It is not a fact that all seven fresh “defendants” were pursuing precisely this goal; it may be that some of them had just decided to have some fun. Jokes like this definitely do not deserve approval, but they don’t deserve criminal charges, either.
However – and here is the first and simple reason – our “organs” pay no attention to the subjective (and here the main) side of these crimes, since these cases uncovered “a click away” are an easy way to earn points, especially laudably so here for being ideologically coloured.
But this is the surface of the problem. If we dig just a little deeper, we will discover behind these cases the all-too familiar problem, here intensified by the ideological slant, of the selective application of the law. These obscure lowlifes, most likely, have been pulled in by the pack under this article, whereas nothing has happened to well-known journalists and television anchors (and the talk show participants of that ilk) for much more specific statements than simply photographs of Hitler basically in support of his nationalism.
We dig even deeper: at this level the rather artificial Article 354.1 (added to the Russian Criminal Code in May 2014 on the back of the wave of events in Ukraine), in essence, is talking only about a variety, moreover a specific variety, of the propaganda of nationalism and national exclusivity.
Out of this raw material, if I may, comes all our official propaganda, albeit with a minus sign.
Let’s not be afraid to dig even deeper – the way Memorial activists do when they dig up the burial places of victims of Stalin’s repressions. Here we see that the thugs and scumbags who justify Hitlerism have been equated by the “organs” with Yury Dmitriev, the unconditional hero (falsely accused of “pornography”) of the readers of Novaya Gazeta. Both “are reexamining our Soviet history” – that is, the version of it that the state finds convenient.
And why does this go so well and enthusiastically for the “organs”? Because they are obediently taking part in the game called “let us build our bright future” and by doing so are winning not only short-term points but also quite real promotions. Here, instead of protecting us from real crime, they are protecting the propaganda myth from attacks by conscientious historians.
Stop! But the Soviet people’s victory in World War II is not a myth. The victory is not a myth, and I at my age don’t need any portraits to remember the generation of those fathers – without an arm, or without a leg – who won this victory.
And this exploitation of that victory by those who had nothing to do with it, including the “organs,” which are seizing, on the one hand, everyone they come across and, on the other, those who out of a duty to historical conscience are telling the truth about the hangman Stalin – this is extreme cynicism and in fact a crime.
Does this ideological regime of the “organs” resemble what there was in the USSR? That is what we are being asked by the generation of our children and grandchildren. No, in terms of its ideology it does not resemble that at all. Then, Soviet people had constructed a long-term self-identification with respect to the future. Now, the ideological power, together with the “organs,” is attempting to foist on us a retrospective identity with respect to a mythological past in which it mixes together the truth and damned if I know what into a “national” sauce – not of pride, no, but of mindless and sinful arrogance.
Translated by Marian Schwartz