July 25th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

FISHING INDUSTRY: Coral Sea marine protected areas: our gift to Asian fishermen

EDUCATION: The war against home-schooling our children

VICTORIA: Religious freedom under threat

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Aboriginal disadvantage: more than question of money

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Just some French youths

BOOK REVIEW: THE DARWIN MYTH: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, by Benjamin Wiker

FOREIGN INVESTMENT: China businesses 'left and right arms of the state'

ENVIRONMENT: Rudd admits failure of global climate talks

HOMELESSNESS: Families forced to brave the streets

RUSSIA: Moscow unrepentant about Stalin era

CHINA: China unrest a symptom of a diseased system

OPINION: Michael Jackson and popular culture

BOOK REVIEW: D-DAY: The Battle for Normandy, by Antony Beevor

CANBERRA OBSERVED: What Australia can learn from China's behaviour

BANKING: Six economists renew call for a 'people's bank'

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Rebuilding a functioning financial system

EDITORIAL: The Middle Kingdom sends us a message ...

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Moscow unrepentant about Stalin era

by Joseph Poprzeczny

News Weekly, July 25, 2009
President Barack Obama has elevated into an art form the practice of apologising for his country's history. But his Russian counterparts are doing the precise opposite and threatening anyone who dares to condemn the Stalinist crimes against humanity which cost the former Soviet Union millions of innocent lives.

Since coming to power in January, Obama has highlighted what he regards as American faults and failings no fewer than 10 times, according to Dr Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the prestigious Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

Obama has apologised to the Muslim world ("We have not been perfect") during his January 27 interview with Al Arabiya; for establishing Guantanamo ("American has shown arrogance") during an address in France on April 3; and for America's role in the War on Terror ("We went off course") during a speech in Washington DC on May 21, to name but three such occasions.

That, however, isn't the way those governing Russia treat aspects of their past. At a recent meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting, Russian delegates walked out after an overwhelming vote was cast in favour of a remembrance day for the victims of Nazism and Stalinism.

The pan-European conference, which was attended by over 500 participants from more than 50 countries, ran from June 29 to July 3 and was held in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania.

Lithuania is the southernmost of the three Baltic states (the others being Latvia and Estonia), all of which were occupied by the Soviet Red Army and forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union during 1940-41 and 1944-1990.

The OSCE gathering in Vilnius passed a resolution equating the roles of Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Third Reich in starting World War II in 1939.

On August 23, 1939, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed a pact that carved up Poland and allowed Stalin a free hand in the Baltic nations, thereby paving the way for Hitler's attack on Poland one week later on September 1.

On September 17, Soviet forces attacked Poland and annexed its eastern regions which Hitler had agreed to regard as the Soviet sphere. During 1940, Soviet forces swallowed up the Baltic states.

During 1940 and the first half of 1941, the Soviets forcibly deported several hundred thousand Poles, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians to western Siberia and Kazakhstan, where most either perished or were kept imprisoned, even after the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.

The OSCE resolution was designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. It declared that Nazism and Stalinism brought genocide and crimes against humanity to Europe.

The resolution proposed August 23 - the date of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact - as a day of remembrance for all victims of both totalitarian ideologies.

Lithuania's delegate, Mr Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene, drafted the Vilnius resolution, and stressed it had not been intended to insult anyone.

He said it was proposed to remember all who perished during World War II, which was sparked by Hitler and Stalin's carve-up of east-central Europe and which later spread to become the major global conflict of the 20th century.

Of the 385 assembly delegates present, only eight voted against the Vilnius resolution.

Russia's delegates so strongly opposed its adoption that they walked out of the hall immediately after it had been passed.

Stalin continues to be regarded as a hero by many Russians, despite the many millions of innocent people who perished during his Great Terror. Stalin's admirers ignore his crimes, preferring to see him as the figure most responsible for defeating Germany, despite Stalin's collaboration with Hitler during 1939-41.

Only when Hitler turned on his erstwhile ally and attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, was Britain able to bring Stalin's empire into an alliance against Hitler. Once the United States entered the war in December 1941, Stalin became a major recipient of American and British military aid, which played a key role in equipping the Red Army.

Alexander Kozlovsky, who headed the Russian OSCE delegation, called the Vilnius resolution an "insulting anti-Russian attack". According to Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign relations committee of Russia's lower house of parliament: "This is nothing but an attempt to re-write the history of World War II. The reaction of the [Russian] parliament to this document will be immediate and it will be harsh."

Since Russia's attack in August 2008 upon Georgia - Stalin's birthplace and homeland - its relations with the OSCE have been strained.

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the still-functioning Russian Communist Party, told Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio that the Vilnius resolution was "disgusting" and "shameful".

Reverence for Stalin, however, extends well beyond the ranks of Russia's Communist Party. Last year, Stalin was voted in a national survey as the third greatest Russian in history.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has long claimed that the collapse of the Stalin-created Soviet empire was one of the great tragedies of history. And his chosen successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, has launched a drive to combat any moves to question the traditional Communist-sanctioned version of the Soviet Union's role in helping to defeat Hitler.

Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and freelance journalist.

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