To Whitewash Soviet Crimes, Moscow Uses the Jews as a Prop in Its Version of European History

Jan. 28 2020

In his speech at Yad Vashem during last week’s Holocaust-commemoration activities, Vladimir Putin spoke of the millions of Soviet Jews murdered by Germany and, naturally, of the role of the Red Army in defeating the Third Reich. He then made a point of mentioning the collaboration of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians with the Nazis. To Izabella Taborovsky, this was not a good-faith effort to draw attention to historical truths that some have been eager to cover up, but an attempt to use the past as a cudgel against Putin’s enemies. Citing other recent rhetoric from the Kremlin as well, Tabarovksy identifies a message that should be worrisome to Jews:

The truth is that ethnic Russians also collaborated with the Nazis. . . . And millions of ethnic Ukrainians fought the Nazis as part of the Red Army. The countries that Putin likes to cast as collaborators also had people who saved Jews. Meanwhile, the Soviet regime massacred tens of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals at Katyn as part of its occupation of Poland—a war crime, and an unhealed wound for Poles.

Putin’s divisions into “us”—the Russians who fought the Nazis and were the Nazis’ victims—and “them”—all the others who collaborated—is a crude and self-serving simplification, despite the fact that Lithuania, Ukraine, and other governments have recently engaged in unforgivable glorification of wartime Nazi collaborators and Holocaust distortion, making themselves easy marks for Putin’s propaganda.

Perhaps even worse, while Putin presents himself as a fighter for historical truth, no other country has done more in the postwar period to prevent the world from learning the truth about the Holocaust than the Soviet Union. According to the Israeli Holocaust historian Kiril Feferman, Russia’s KGB archives contain rich amounts of information about the Holocaust that have yet to come to light. But they remain sealed.

There are troubling signs that Russia will continue to use the Holocaust and the rise in anti-Semitism to advance its foreign-policy interests—and to instrumentalize Jews in this effort. At a recent roundtable in Moscow which brought together a group of prominent Russian historians and foreign-policy analysts to discuss how Russia could best use history to improve its image, the speakers zeroed in on the Jews—specifically Israelis, “world Jewry” and the “Jewish lobby in Washington”—as potential allies.

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Read more at Forward

More about: Holocaust, Latvia, Lithuania, Soviet Union, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Yad Vashem

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy