A few weeks ago a new bill was introduced for consideration in the first reading at the Russian State Duma. The bill focuses on, quote, “prohibiting the rehabilitation of Nazism.” IMR advisor and prominent legal expert Ekaterina Mishina argues that this bill is another demonstration of the current tendency to restoration of the Soviet approaches and policies.

 

On January 31, 2014, State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya stated that the bill, quote, “prohibiting the rehabilitation of Nazism” was ready for consideration in the first reading in the State Duma.

 

“The Soviet Union is a country with an unpredictable past.”
Anti-popular wisdom

 

A specter is haunting the world wide web—the specter of the Russian State Duma’s resumption of consideration of the federal bill number 197582-5, “On introducing amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.” On January 31, 2014, State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya stated that the bill, quote, “prohibiting the rehabilitation of Nazism” was ready for consideration in the first reading, that it conformed to rules of international law, and that it was written in “precise and unmistakable terms without any ambiguity.” The bill specifications published on the State Duma website, however, include an annotation in which this document has a slightly different title: “On the question of introducing criminal liability for infringement upon historical memory relating to events that took place during World War II.”

This bill was introduced in 2009 and, less than a week later, was already being considered by the State Duma Council. The council did exactly what it was supposed to do—it appointed an executive committee, which was ordered to present reviews, propositions, and comments, as well as to prepare the bill for its first reading by the lower house and to include it in the tentative program for the 2009 spring session. After that nothing happened for almost a year, and in late March 2010, it was suggested that the holder of the right of legislative initiative change the text of the bill. Amendments were immediately introduced to the bill and corresponding documents and, in the second half of April 2010, were published on the State Duma website. Another pause followed, which has lasted until now; there have been no decisive changes in the status of the bill since 2010.
In the first version of the bill, the description of article 354.1 (which is being proposed for introduction to the Russian Criminal Code) contains the following wording: “Distortion of the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal, or of the verdicts of national courts or tribunals based on the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal, with the aim of fully or partially rehabilitating Nazism and Nazi criminals; declarations that actions of countries participating in the anti-Hitler coalition were criminal, and also the public approval and denial of Nazi crimes against peace and the security of humanity.”

In contrast, the new description of the proposed article contains the wording, “The public approval or denial of Nazi crimes established by the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal against peace and the security of humanity.” This description is considerably narrower and represents only the last part of the first version. The most precarious part of the original version, that is, "declarations that actions of countries participating in the anti-Hitler coalition were criminal," has been eliminated from the new one.

There have been, however, tumultuous and intriguing disturbances among the authors of the bill. In May and June 2011, such well-known State Duma deputies as Vladimir Pekhtin, Oleg Morozov, Nikolai Kovalev, Pavel Krasheninnikov, and Vladimir Pligin pulled their names from the bill. Then, during the first three days of January 2013, something very strange happened: more than thirty names of new deputies joined the list of the bill’s authors, including famous athletes Nikolai Valuyev, Marat Safin, and Irina Rodnina, and even the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. This does not appear to be a coincidence; so many deputies would not put their names on the bill for no reason.

The fact that the names of lawyers on the bill were replaced by the names of athletes is not the only reason for concern. Though the new version of the bill was drafted almost four years ago, there are no guarantees that this version will be presented in the first reading.

The fact that the names of lawyers on the bill were replaced by the names of athletes is not the only reason for concern. Though the new version of the bill was drafted almost four years ago, there are no guarantees that this version will be presented in the first reading. The sudden increase in the number of authors of the bill half a year ago, in addition to Yarovaya’s statement in late January about the bill being ready for its first reading, and the story with Dozhd TV channel, make me suspect that this ready-for-its-first-reading bill can and probably will be considerably different from the new version published on the State Duma website in April 2010.

Another reason for concern is the sharp inconsistency between the description of the proposed article 354.1 to the Russian Criminal Code, and the annotation in the bill specifications. “The approval or denial of Nazi crimes established by the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal against peace and the security of humanity” represents a considerably narrower concept than “infringement upon historical memory relating to events that took place during World War II” because “historical memory” encompasses not only the actions of Nazi Germany, but those of other nations as well. Moreover, the bill does not offer a precise and unambiguous description of the concept of “historical memory” or what would constitute “infringement” upon it. However, many different events took place during the World War II period, and it is better to try to understand what the authors of the bill mean by “historical memory” by using a specific example. One of the most striking examples of the time is the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union.

 

 

In the 1920s, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania signed bilateral peace treaties with Soviet Russia, by which the USSR recognized the independence and sovereignty of these states. The young sovereign states adopted laws and constitutions based on the Westminster parliamentary model, and created state and political institutions that functioned rather successfully during their two decades of independ ence. This all ended on August 24, 1939, when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the notorious non-aggression pact that went down in history as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This pact contained a secret protocol according to which countries of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. Estonia and Latvia were assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence, whereas the northern border of Lithuania was supposed to represent the boundary dividing the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR.

World War II started on September 1, 1939. A few weeks later, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania signed mutual assistance pacts with the USSR, which gave the Soviet government the right to establish Soviet military naval and air bases on the Baltic states’ territories, as well as to deploy ground troops there. On June 15, 1940, the Soviet Union presented Lithuania with an ultimatum under the pretext of the latter’s failure to carry out the provisions of the treaty. The next day, the same ultimatum was delivered to Estonia and Latvia. The USSR’s demands included the formation of governments capable of carrying out the treaty stipulations concerning assistance to the Soviet Union, as well as permission to bring more troops onto the territories of these countries.

Soviet-style constitutional reforms began in late June 1940 with the hasty formation of temporary “popular front” governments in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In July 1940, elections were held for people’s assemblies in order to legitimize the new regimes. These elections were organized hurriedly and in full concordance with Soviet practices. The period for nominating candidates was reduced to a few days with the objective of limiting the number of candidates for each position to just one, who would participate in a rigged election. The electoral procedures openly violated the constitutions that were technically still in effect in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The newly elected puppet people’s assemblies did not fail to request to join the Soviet Union, and in early August 1940, the process of forcible incorporation was completed: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania became the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics.

Dear authors of the bill, just come out and say it: “We want a return to the 1978 Constitution of the RSFSR in its original version, with both its guiding idea and the directing role of the public, with ideas of scientific communism as our guide, with democratic centralism and the priority of state interests.”

According to a well-known expert on this region named Caroline Taube, the above-described actions of the Soviet Union were acts of aggression and flagrantly violated the 1920 peace treaties that had granted independence to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: “This act of aggression can be divided into three crimes from the point of view of international law: aggression and threat of violence (events of June 1940), occupation (political takeover through hastily organized elections, vote rigging and formation of puppet governments in June–July 1940) and the annexation itself (August 1940).” [Taube]

According to Taube, it is no surprise that the international community in 1940 did not recognize the actions of the USSR toward Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as legitimate. [Taube] During the first Soviet occupation of these countries, mass deportations of and crackdowns on “enemies of the people” took place; the presidents of Estonia and Latvia were imprisoned and deported to Siberia, where they later died. Mass deportations were carried out in accordance with order number 001223 of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs “On the procedure for carrying out the deportation of anti-Soviet elements from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.” The first occupation lasted until July 1941, when German troops entered the territories of Estonia, Latvia, and then Lithuania. Their spirits lifted, the people initially greeted the Germans as liberators. It soon became evident, however, that a change of invader did not change the character of occupation—mass deportations, political repressions, and executions continued. In late 1944, as a result of the Baltic Offensive, the Soviet Union forcibly reestablished control over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Dear authors of the bill, was your school education not based on specific examples as well? Could you explain then what you think about “infringing upon historical memory” in this particular case? Especially considering the existence of documents that make it all so clear that there is simply no ambiguity in the bill? If one inductively proceeds from the specific to the general, “infringing upon historical memory” in this case could result in something painfully familiar, like a deviation from the general party line of Russia’s ruling party. Your colleagues also turned against article 13 of the Russian constitution, according to part 2 of which, no ideology can be established as a state or obligatory ideology.

There is just one thing I cannot understand: why do you insist on restoring the Soviet Union piece by piece? Just come out and say it: “We want a return to the 1978 Constitution of the RSFSR in its original version, with both its guiding idea and the directing role of the public, with ideas of scientific communism as our guide, with democratic centralism and the priority of state interests.” Only for this to work, you would have to somehow make do without private property. Is this all right with you?

 

References:

Taube, Caroline. Constitutionalism in Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania: A Study in Comparative Constitutional Law (Skrifter Fran Juridiska Fakulteten Uppsala). 2001

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