Article “We are in every moral right to toughen legislation when it comes to attempts to desecrate our historical memory” by Chairperson of the Committee on Culture of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Elena Yampolskaya

This article was prepared in January 2021 by Elena Yampolskaya, Member of State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, author of the initiative to introduce legislative responsibility for public equalization of the goals, objectives and mode of action of the USSR and Nazi Germany in the context of the Great Patriotic War as well as the World War II in response to a request from a major European medium, planning to help its readers understand her motivation. However, having seen the text, the editorial board refused to publish it, considering it “just angry rhetoric, which did not give any useful information about the new law or a balanced argument informed by historical facts”, and therefore fraught with “making matters worse on what is a very sensitive issue”. Being agreed concerning the sensitivity of the issue, we nevertheless invite the general public to read the text and draw their own conclusions.

In late October 2020 I suggested at the meeting of the Russian Presidential Council for Culture and Art that it should be legally forbidden to publicly equate aims, decisions and actions by our civil leadership, military command and personnel with aims, decisions and actions by Nazi civil leadership, military command and personnel during the Second World War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his Address to the Federal Assembly: “It is our duty to defend the truth about the Victory; otherwise what shall we say to our children if a lie, like a disease, spreads all over the world? We must set facts against outrageous lies and attempts to distort history”. In one of his interviews he added plainly and directly “… there are some ignorant people who cannot even write or read. They spout all kinds of garbage in the European Parliament about the ‘equal’ responsibility of Hitler and Stalin. Complete nonsense”.

In Russia the head of state and members of the State Duma are far from being alone in sharing this view. Believe me, an absolute majority of our citizens, whatever their profession and wherever they live, are of the same opinion. The memory of the Victory remains both sacred and utterly personal to us – as one can hardly find a single family where older generations were safe from the tragedy of the Great Patriotic War.

I am not pushing to submit this initiative to parliament, meet with experts and historians, consult my colleagues, and encourage discussions on this issue. My principled position is to impede by law overt insults against our grandparents and great grandparents preserving, at the same time, the space for historic research, scientific discussions, including those of specific deeds and actions of particular individuals.

It is not about an attack against the free speech, as my opponents are trying to portray it. It is simply about decency. When a family member dies, they do not hang portraits of his murderers in his house. They neither say that the slaughterman and the victim are equally responsible.

Russia has its historic and moral axioms. We defended our land from aggressors, invaders and savages. The Soviet Army was a liberator and, therefore, a blessing for Europe. Any particular situations, facts and documents can and should be discussed. But one should not forget that the Soviet Union, the Russian people led the main fight against the universal evil of Nazism. This is the global vector. Were there deviations from this vector? Possibly, and even most probably, yes – there is a black sheep in every flock. Can particular cases discredit the general idea? Never. The Good remains the Good, and the Evil – the Evil. Our ancestors fought on the side of the Good.

Indeed, the need for such a legal restriction has been repeatedly expressed. It is literally in the air. Especially on the eve of every 9 May, when various fora see unsubstantiated speculations from mostly Polish, Ukrainian and Baltic experts, who are thus earning cheap political capital.

How did the legislative idea take shape? What was the last straw for me personally? These are two books by a popular American blogger, translated and printed in a large number of copies here in Russia. They contain statements such as “The Polish suffered many ordeals: rape and murder, first by the Nazis, then by Soviet soldiers”.

I got insulted, sharply, as if I got burnt.

Liberating Europe from Nazism, the Soviet Army lost more than a million people. 600 000 among them were buried in the Polish soil. Just think about it: six hundred thousand orphaned families. Grieving mothers, widows, fatherless children – this is the price we, WE, paid for Poland to remain on the world map at all, for Poles as a nation to exist today.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of the editor who was in charge of producing these books in Russia. After all, before embarking on a political career I had been working as journalist and editor for many years. And I was surprised to realise that in this case my colleagues do not have the moral barrier that would have prevented me from publishing such paragraphs. Well, then I believe a legislative framework shall be set up.

I am convinced that we are in every moral right to toughen legislation when it comes to attempts to desecrate our historical memory. And I reiterate – particular facts can and should be discussed. One must not irresponsibly generalise by equating aims of the defenders of the Motherland, the liberators, with those of the occupiers, whose hideous crimes were stigmatised once and for all by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

The West has been recently actively engaged in revising group grievances and historical injustices brought to light from the depths of the centuries. We can take our own view on these attempts to make the past pay the bills of the present but the feeling prompting you to act this way remains your right. Then do try to understand and feel the pain, never alleviated over the centuries, the pain that remains strong in Russian families to this day. The USSR and Nazi Germany are not "Evil No. 1" and "Evil No. 2" as some like to think. It is an opposition of light and darkness. It is impossible, criminal, blasphemous to equate them.