Staunton, Feb. 1 – Last weekend, Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka opened in St. Petersburg a memorial to “the peaceful residents of the USSR who were victims of a Nazi genocide during the Great Fatherland War of 1941-1945, an event that marks a major turning point in the Kremlin’s approach to Nazi crimes, Konstantin Pakhalyuk says.
The Russian political scientist who last year lost his positions in Moscow because of his opposition to Putin’s war and his criticism of Putin’s nationalistic ideology argues that this action represents a new step in making “the genocide that never was” central to the Kremlin’s ideology (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2024/02/01/genotsid-kotorogo-ne-bylo).
Now, he continues, “there is no longer any place for treating the Holocaust as a unique genocide or any ethical reflections about the roots of Hitlerite totalitarianism.” Such things are “all in the past.”
“If in January 2023, Putin still met with representatives of the Jewish community and spoke about the significance of memory about the Holocaust,” Pakhalyuk says, “in 2024, at the time of the opening of the memorial, the president talked only about ‘the genocide of the Soviet people.’”
Russian officials have quickly fallen in line, although Russian state media have found it hard to keep up, the political scientist continues. Those difficulties reflect the combination of “two trends coming from above: the marginalization of the theme of the Jewish tragedy and its replacement by the common term, ‘genocide of the Soviet people.’”
The Kremlin’s approach is instrumental, Pakhalyuk argues. “Formally,” it continues to talk about “all the tragedies” of World War II. But “in reality,” it is now promoting the following argument: “’we were the main victors over Nazism’” and at the same time, “’we were the main victims of Nazism.’”
In addition, by pushing this ideological line, the Kremlin hopes to close down any efforts to discus honestly the Hitlerite regime because such discussions would inevitably highlight or at least call attention to the parallels between Hitler and Putin, something the Kremlin wants to prevent from happening.