On April 23, the State Duma adopted in its second and third readings a law on liability for the public rehabilitation of Nazism. As writer Alexander Podrabinek observes, some parts of the new law repeat verbatim article 190-1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, according to which many Soviet dissidents were convicted for “spreading knowingly false fabrications” about the Soviet system.
On April 23 of this year, the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was supplemented by article 354-1, titled “Rehabilitation of Nazism.” Corresponding amendments have been proposed to the Criminal Code and to the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation. The title of the article is ambiguous, because in legal terms, “rehabilitation” is a set of legal measures aimed at abolishing illegal decisions and restoring justice. Judging by the title, article 354-1 of the Criminal Code should describe the procedures for the rehabilitation of Nazism. But who can revoke the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal?
In fact, the article states the following: “The denial of facts established by the verdict of the International Military Tribunal for the trial and punishment of major war criminals of European countries of the Axis, the approval of offenses established by the pointed judgment, as well as spreading of knowingly false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during the Second World War, united with the prosecution of offenses established by the noted judgment, committed publicly, is punishable by a fine of up to 300 thousand rubles, or by imprisonment for a term of up to three years.”
Similar actions, implemented with the use of one’s official position or through the media, “as well as fabrication of the prosecution evidence,” are punishable by a fine of up to half a million rubles, or imprisonment for up to five years.
Now consider that the average salary in the country is about thirty thousand rubles, and the average pension is eleven thousand rubles. In that context, the suggested fines look very massive. And a period of five years in prison would hardly seem brief to anyone.
But that’s not all. The law makes it a criminal offense to desecrate Russia’s days of military glory and memorable dates associated with the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), punishable by up to five years of imprisonment. “Dissemination of information on the days of military glory and Russia’s memorial dates related to the protection of the Fatherland, that is explicitly disrespectful to the public, as well as acts of desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory, committed publicly” are also punishable by up to five years of imprisonment.
It is planned that the Code of Administrative Offences will be supplemented by an article on liability for “the public distribution of information explicitly showing disrespect to the public with regards to Russia’s days of military glory and memorial dates related to the protection of the Fatherland, or acts of public desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory, including acts committed through media outlets and information telecommunication networks, including the Internet.” It’s a “light version” of the law on “Rehabilitation of Nazism,” and legal entities are punishable for the above-mentioned actions by an administrative fine ranging from four hundred thousand to one million rubles. The fine is bigger, but you don’t have to serve jail time.
Germany feels bad about its past and wants to ensure it won’t repeat its mistakes in the future. If we wanted to take the same path, we should have adopted a law on liability for denial of Communism crimes. But Russian authorities are not speaking of national repentance!
What exactly it means to disrespect “the days of military glory and memorial dates” remains unclear. Are the lawmakers trying to protect public morality?
One of the sponsors of this legislation is the head of the Duma Committee on Security, Irina Yarovaya, who explained that it was imperative that “no one in history would deny and refute the key indisputable historical conclusion that during the Great Patriotic War and the Second World War, the Soviet Union was the protecting country and that our people were liberators.” Thus, this article of the Criminal Code could, quite frankly, be used to silence anyone who dares to question the official interpretation of the USSR’s role in World War II. Or, in other words, while it is possible to debate the official interpretation, one can easily get five years behind bars for doing so.
The most curious part of this wild initiative does not involve liability for the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” Similar articles, although bearing more civilized packaging, exist in the criminal legislation of some European countries. For example, according tosection130 of the Criminal Code of Germany (“Incitement against nations”), someone who, “guided by National Socialism ideas, publicly or at an assembly, approves of disputes or understates the seriousness of the offense specified in section 220a” is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to five years. Section 220a focuses on genocide.
Germany feels bad about its past and wants to ensure it won’t repeat its mistakes in the future. If we wanted to take the same path, we should have adopted a law on liability for denial of Communism crimes. But Russian authorities are not speaking of national repentance! On the contrary, they are emphasizing the infallibility of Russia’s path, the Soviet leadership’s sanctity, and the greatness of its national history.
The rehabilitation of national socialism is a phantom, a pretext for the law-making campaign. The piquancy of the enacted laws lies elsewhere, in the phrase “as well as the spreading of knowingly false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during World War II.” This is the genuine object of the Deputies’ concern. The current authoritarian regime in Russia cannot tolerate any criticism of the authorities in general, even if the issue being discussed is seventy years old—because those who think critically about history can also be critical of the present. Especially since the Kremlin has so many tricks that it can borrow from the past to use for its purposes in the near future.
Judge for yourself: Article 190-1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, according to which many dissidents were imprisoned in Soviet times, established liability for “the spreading of knowingly false fabrications” about the Soviet system. Article 354-1 of the current Russian Criminal Code repeats it in some places almost verbatim, resulting in an edict against “spreading knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR.”
That is the difference between Germany and Russia. Having survived Nazi totalitarianism, Germany is afraid of its repetition. Having survived Communist totalitarianism, Russia dreams of its return.