Staunton, September 1 – Vladimir Putin said today that those who engage in the rewriting of World War II are “the collaborationists of today,” that “such people have always existed everywhere and always will and have various motives,” but “it is important to understand that this issue is very important today” (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63983).
In calling attention to this remark, US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova says that this is but the latest step in the repression of historical science by the Putin regime, a repression that has not yet sparked significant resistance by Russian historians or significant opposition by historians abroad (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2020/09/blog-post.html#more).
That would be tragic enough because it means that Russians and others as well are once again being denied the opportunity to gain a more accurate picture of their past. But Putin’s words are tragically far more dangerous than that because of how Russians have always been encouraged to view “collaborationists.”
Again, as in Soviet times, those who collaborated with the Germans in any way, including cooperating because they had no choice or coming down on the horrific German side because of the horrific Soviet one, have remained the ones Moscow is not prepared to forgive or forget but insists on continuing to punish.
Soviet and now Russian officials view collaborationists in World War II as something far worse than the Germans and demand that they be denounced, excluded and punished. By extending the application of this term to historians who are today studying that conflict the Kremlin is opening the way to imposing at a minimum an intellectual straightjacket on them.
Tragically, the Soviet past suggests that Russia today will do more than that; and that anyone who seeks to make an honest accounting of what happened during the war and more generally can expect to suffer the loss of work or even worse as long as Putin and his team remain in place.