ISSUE 2-2015
Valerii Pekar Владимир Воронов Игорь Тышкевич
Владимир Невежин Ярослав Шимов
Анатолий Балинов Виктор Трегубов
Pavel Vitek
Pavel Venzera

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Pavel Venzera | Researcher in Politics, the Czech Republic | Issue 2, 2015

It is not easy to discuss issue of the Second World War with Russian counter partners. Anytime when some doubts about Soviet policy then or acting of the Red Army are said discussion becomes very emotional. If Russia surfs on tide of nationalism and hysteria, as it is doing now, any evenhanded exchange of opinions is almost impossible.

Everybody who puts some unpleasant questions on the table can be accused of the attempt to distort history, in better case, in worse one will be denounced as a supporter of fascism. For example, Antony Beevor –author of the book Berlin: The Downfall 1945 breaking some taboos– could talk about it and it was in times when Russia was not so sensitive as today…

Russian argumentation –refusing any possible doubts– is based on two unchallenged facts: numbers of killed Red Army soldiers and Calvary of Soviet people during the war. Natural right of science to ask and doubt is nipped in the bud in the name of majesty of Death and human tragedy. Knowing it and trying not to offend counter partner everybody very quickly loses interest to continue in any discussion on this topic. It is difficult to say whether such attitude is a part of Russian tactics or a real expression of feeling but anyway it works.

To some extent such attitude is understandable. Reading about horrible behaviour of some Red Army soldiers in Central Europe cannot be a pleasant matter for their descendants and therefore defending mechanisms start working.

Similar discussion emerges if it is asked the question what the Red Army brought to Central Europe in 1944-45. Russian answer is clear as a bell – freedom. Position of Central Europe speaking about Dearly paid Freedom (for former Czechoslovakia) or one occupation was substituted by another one, however, more moderate (for Poland as well as Baltic states) is from Russian side met, at least, with embitterment.

Discussion on this topic also becomes very quickly personal and emotional: Would you like to say that my father liberating Poland was an occupant? Yes, this man liberating Poland –being at the same time a tool and victim of Stalin´s policy– was also an occupant but try to tell it to his son having eyes full of tears. In this case you do not need to read the book by Samuel Huntington to become a witness of the clash of civilizations.

It is interesting that an occupant issue is not only connected with the WWII period. Once, I was in Kyiv when my local friends celebrated Day of Soviet army on 23rd February. By the way, it was before occupation of Crimea and Putin´s maneuvers in other parts of Ukraine therefore I do not assume that they continue celebrating this day. As right soldiers, they recalled their service with proudness as well as nostalgia. One of them –telling stories about his military service in Hungary– was shocked being told that he was actually an occupant. Me? I honestly served to my motherland! Moreover, I think Hungarians liked us. His answer expressed a genuine astonishment.

My friend was right. From his point of view he served honestly and Hungarian people, understanding that he was only a common soldier, did not give any sign of hate against him. They understood that he is not guilty but for all that he remained an occupant for them; as a soldier of wermacht also only honestly serving in Hungary a couple decades earlier.

We could consider this topic for a long time: who was Soviet soldier in Czechoslovakia in 1968, e.g.? One of Russian TVs tried to persuade us recently that he was almost a welcome guest but following echo from the Czech Republic as well as Slovakia was rather different. 

The occupant issue is not challenging only for Russia. During long centuries citizens of number of states found themselves in role of honestly serving soldiers/occupants but this remark is written for Russkii vopros therefore Russia is in the focus. However, it is not the only reason because this issue is for Putin´s Russia very topical again.

After Transnistria and Georgia, Russian soldier/occupant has reached Ukraine. At the beginning he occupied Crimea and he is fighting in Donbas now. He also thinks that he honestly serves and idea that he is an occupant cannot come in his mind. His possible doubts are chased away by Russian propaganda. According to it he is a liberator and patriot. Most of Ukrainians have different opinion and another historical misunderstanding has emerged. For that matter, I am sure that my Ukrainian occupant also understands certain nuances better now.

For Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine the situation can be more complicated because they should consider the third variant. When they are captured on the territory of Ukraine, their motherland pretends not to know them. By the way, Putin applies old Stalin´s methods.

They are not our soldiers, Putin´s officials have stated with poker faces. If we believed them captured men would not be either soldiers or occupants but terrorists. No doubts that this job is even much less noble than occupant and answer to the question what did you do in Ukraine will become more complex than in the case of an ordinary occupant.     

Ergo, once again: who is an occupant?      


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