• 2007-05-09

cartoon by Toon Vugts

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said something this week that pretty much demonstrates why Russia has gotten everything wrong about the Bronze Soldier statue and why the country continues to drift into closed-minded fanaticism that allows for no debate. Lavrov impugned the European Union and NATO for supporting Estonia in what Russia sees as a campaign to dishonor Soviet soldiers and to rewrite history. "Attempts to make a mockery of history are becoming an element and an instrument of certain countries' foreign policies," he said. In an attempt to explain Russia's behavior in recent days, which has been deplorable, Lavrov added, "The memory of the victors does not fade 's this memory is sacred to us 's and attempts to blaspheme this memory, to commit outrages against it, to rewrite history, cannot fail to anger us."

How Lavrov 's and, for that matter, nearly all Russian leaders 's makes the leap of logic from relocating a statue and war grave to "making a mockery of history" and "blaspheming the memory of victors" is a curious question, and could say more about the state of Russia today than moving the Bronze Soldier says about the state of Estonia.
If Estonian authorities had melted down the statue or placed public urinals over the grave, Lavrov might have a point. But nothing of the sort happened. In fact, if he or other Russian leaders would calm down for a moment, they would see that both the statue and the 12 coffins have been moved to their proper place 's a military cemetery. Latvia reburied some 150 soldiers on May 4, yet not a peep came out of Moscow. Interesting indeed.

How can moving a monument be considered a rewriting of history? Everyone realizes that Russia and the Baltics have different views of what transpired in the 20th century, and no one, especially in the European Union and NATO, is refuting the tremendous human sacrifice the Soviet Union made while vanquishing Nazi Germany. What they are saying, however, is what happened after 1945 in the Baltics and Eastern Europe is still a matter of debate. Lavrov's 's Russia's 's refusal to distinguish the difference shows the duplicity of his statements.
While in Riga in May 2005, George W. Bush made a bold step in criticizing some of the outcomes of the Yalta Conference, which carved up Eastern Europe and condemned it to two generations of totalitarian rule. Nor did he shield the United States from moral responsibility. Vladimir Putin, however, has proved utterly incapable of a similar confession on behalf of Russia. In his mind, the Red Army saved Europe from fascism, and that's the end of the conversation. About Katyn, about the deportations, about 50 years of totalitarian oppression, Putin and Lavrov and all the others conveniently forget. It is as if these crimes have been ripped from the history books.

The Kremlin and its supporters have adhered so rigidly to this line that anyone who deviates from it is considered extremist, or even fascist. This is not normal. The mass hysteria evidenced over the past week in Russia is very frightening, and needs to be assessed by scholars, analysts and Western leaders.
Ironically, had Moscow criticized Estonia for not engaging in dialogue with its minority population, it might have made a more convincing statement. But as Russia has a poor track record in respecting its own minorities 's e.g., Chechens, Finno-Ugric people on the Volga River, the Meskhetian Turks 's this idea never occurred to Russian leaders. But that's another story.