There have been collaborators in other wars, the specialist on that subject says; but never so many. Why that was so, he continues, has not been completely established because the issue is so sensitive and because of a tendency of people on all sides of the issue to politicize the question or simplify it to the point of absurdity.
One misconception that gets in the way of an adequate understanding of this issue is the insistence by most on all sides of the debate that “betrayal of the motherland,” a legal and moral term, is equivalent to “collaborationism,” which is first and foremost “an historical phenomenon, Romanko continues. In fact, they are very different phenomena.
“In Soviet historical literature, all who cooperated with the military-political structures of Nazi Germany were treated only in a negative way and at the same time in an extremely simplified way,” the historian says. “In reality, this phenomenon was much more complicated … and depended on a large number of factors which influenced it.”
At the other extreme, he suggests, is Western historiography which “tries to put Soviet collaborationism in one category with similar phenomena that occurred in Nazi-occupied Europe.” While they were similar in some ways, they were also very different, a reflection of the very different experiences of Europe, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union, on the other.
“Soviet collaborationism was essentially a continuation of the events of the civil war of 1918-1920, and its immediate preconditions were the special features of the socio-political development of the pre-war USSR … [including] repression, collectivization and religious persecution.”
These experiences meant, Romanenko says, that by the early 1940s, many people living in the Soviet Union were prepared to protest or even rise against the regime in any way that was possible. In addition to these “internal” anti-communist causes, external ones played a role as well such as the location of the front and the attitudes of the occupation forces.
When the Germans were doing well, more people were prepared to cooperate with them; when they began to lose, fewer did so. At the same time, the Germans did not have clear ideas about what they wanted in the occupied territories – and depending on who was making decisions, German policy toward particular regions like Crimea was in flux.
On the peninsula, some Germans wants to make it part of a subjugated Ukraine; others want it to become a German enclave like Gibralter; and still others wanted to make it “a German Riviera” having expelled all the native residents to make that possible. At different times, these various positions dominated.
In practice that meant, Romanko says, that “even the occupation administration was not here organized” in a consistent way. The multi-national composition of the Crimean population also played a role. The Crimean Tatars via the Muslim committees were able to achieve more than others, but other minorities were not similarly successful in representing their interests.
The Germans did not allow the Russians to form such committees or represent themselves as a community until later in the war when the Vlasov movement became involved. Then the Russians quickly gained more influence on the occupation forces than the others, with the number of Russians involved rising rapidly.
As to the numbers of people involved in collaboration, there is little agreement; but as to the number of Crimean residents who took part in German-organized military units, there is common recognition that “approximately 50,000 people of various nationalities” were involved, a significant figure given that fewer than 14,000 residents ever joined the partisans there.
That meant, Romenko says, that “by the spring of 1942, as a result of their activities, the partisan and underground movement was in fact destroyed. And this was in Crime where Soviet power had existed already for a good 20 years. What then can one say about the Baltics and Western Ukraine where the Soviet partisan movement did not acquire such a mass character?”