An explosive comparison made by a liberal Russian politician between Stalin’s agents and Hitler’s secret police has provoked a storm of abusive criticism in Russia that has been tinged by anti-Semitism.
The controversy erupted when anti-Kremlin liberal politician Leonid Gozman, who is himself Jewish, criticised a television series aired on the May 9 World War II victory day about Stalin’s counter-intelligence police Smersh.
Gozman said the series inappropriately painted murderers as heroes and compared the organisation to the most feared security organisations in the Third Reich.
“Smersh didn’t have pretty uniforms, but that was probably their only difference from SS squads,” Gozman wrote on his Facebook page.
“The word Smersh should stand among the words like ‘SS,’ ‘NKVD’ (Soviet secret police) and ‘Gestapo,’ evoking horror and disgust, rather than be used as a title in patriotic action films.”
Many historians would agree about the extent of the terror wreaked by the Smersh during and after World War II but the remarks caused an outcry in a country still unwilling to come to terms with the crimes of the Stalin era.
Smersh, created by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1943, is an acronym short for “smert shpionam” which means “death to spies.”
Its officers operated during the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany, and were involved in arrests, deportations, and executions of not only German spies but people deemed anti-Soviet, including entire Chechen and Ingush ethnicities.
While Russia’s modern security services celebrated Smersh and a lavish ceremony marked 70 years since its creation last month, some accounts of veterans of the front have painted a less rosy picture of officers who stayed away from the fighting and instead read soldiers’ correspondence.
Gozman, who is involved in the Russian opposition movement, became the subject of an extraordinary attack by the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper which was even more controversial than his original remarks.
In an extraordinarily inflammatory article, its columnist Ulyana Skoibeda wrote it was “regrettable that the Nazis didn’t make lampshades out of the parents of our liberals.”
She also blamed Russia’s liberals for smearing the memory of Soviet war efforts.
The remark was later deleted from the article online, but the publication came under a storm of criticism, even from some officials.
Deputy Moscow mayor Leonid Pechatnikov on Tuesday told a Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter: “The Germans had time to make a lampshade out of the skin of my grandmother, and I was disappointed to find this lampshade in your newspaper.” He refused to answer the reporter’s question at a press conference.
According to some witness accounts, Nazi guards made lampshades out of the skin of Holocaust victims. While this remains controversial, it has become in Russia a potent symbol of the horror of the death camps.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this week further compounded the controversy by according an interview over his one year in office to Komsomolskaya Pravda in the midst of the scandal.
“The Prime Minister showed us which side he’s taken,” commented Sergei Dorenko, the editor in chief of RSN radio, usually nationalist and pro-Kremlin.
Skoibeda, who has been accused of penning anti-Semitic articles before, wrote later that she was sorry, and the paper’s editor in chief said she has “received a severe reprimand.”
However the paper continued to attack liberals. “What is hidden behind the wish of some commentators to revisit the results of the great (WWII) victory?” the paper said Wednesday.
Many liberal bloggers and media criticised the newspaper, and the spokesman of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities Borukh Gorin has called for a boycott.
“It’s regrettable that the Kremlin has not reacted to this scandal,” he told AFP.
“It’s called propaganda of fascism,” wrote well-known musician Andrei Makarevich in his blog on Snob.ru website.
“It was proposed to make a lampshade out of my mother’s skin. And I don’t understand what I should do now.”
The Russian Duma lower house of parliament, instead of looking into the newspaper’s scandalous remark, said that it will study Gozman’s blog comparison and decide on how to react.
[Image via Agence France-Pressse]