States must stop trying to rewrite historyby Antony Beevor / May 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
As world ruler, I would prevent countries from attempting to control history. One saw the way the historian David Irving, who in 2005 was sent to prison by an Austrian court for denying the Holocaust, could make himself out to be a victim and a martyr. Then there was former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who tried to outlaw the denial of the Armenian genocide in 2012. It was opportunistic and designed to get the Armenian vote. This is a state attempt to control history, which is something I oppose on principle.
The issue has also come up in Russia. In 2013, Sergei Shoigu, the country’s Minister for Defence, passed a law that he had been trying to get on the statute books since 2009. It would imprison anyone, in theory for up to five years, who criticised the Red Army’s conduct during the Second World War. (I have to declare an interest: I am a target of this law because my 2002 book Berlin: the Downfall also covered the mass rapes committed by Russian soldiers in 1945.) Shoigu described the “crime” of criticising the Red Army as tantamount to Holocaust denial. It’s interesting, considering that Joseph Stalin himself was, in a way, the first Holocaust denier. He refused to allow that the Jews should have any special category of suffering.
After the publication of my book, the Russian Ambassador to Britain, Grigory Karasin, accused me of lies, slander and blasphemy against the Red Army. Karasin is now Deputy Foreign Minister. I don’t know to what degree I am still in the firing line because I still get invitations to the Russian Embassy. Vladimir Putin does like to come up with totally contradictory positions to confuse his opponents. Rather like the way he accuses Ukraine of fascism and then proceeds to support fascist or neo-fascist parties in western Europe. His real goal is the attempt to control Russian history. In March, while planning celebrations for Russia’s victory in the Second World War, Putin said: “Today we unfortunately see not only attempts to misrepresent and distort events of the war, but cynical, open lies and the brazen defamation of a whole generation who gave up everything for the victory.” He continued: “Their goal is clear: to undermine the power and moral authority of modern Russia and deprive it of the status of a victorious nation.”