Telling the Soviet story A new film about Nazi-Soviet links

May 22, 2008

BEING burnt in effigy on the streets of Moscow by nationalist hoodlums must count as a kind of Oscar if you are a Latvian filmmaker whose aim is to expose modern Russia’s blindness to the criminal history of the Soviet Union. The ire of Young Russia’s protest outside the Latvian embassy this week was directed at Edvins Snore, whose film “Soviet Story” is the most powerful antidote yet to the sanitisation of the past.

The film is gripping, audacious and uncompromising. Though it starts by telling the story of the murder of 7m Ukrainians in 1933, it is no mere catalogue of atrocities. The main aim of the film is to show the close connections—philosophical, political and organisational—between the Nazi and Soviet systems.

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As Fran?oise Thom (one of many anti-communist luminaries appearing in the film) puts it: “Nazism was based on false biology; Marxism was based on false sociology”. The Marxist dream of the “new man”, for example, mirrored the Nazi idea of racial superiority. The Nazis murdered chiefly on racial grounds, while the Soviets concentrated on class. But mass murder is mass murder.

Those who keep a soft spot for Marxism may flinch to hear that the sage of Highgate referred to backward societies as Völkerabfälle (racial trash) who must “perish in the revolutionary holocaust”. Or that the Nazi party in its early days idolised Lenin (Josef Goebbels said he was second only to Adolf Hitler in greatness).

Perhaps the best sequence in the film shows pairs of posters using almost identical designs: muscular workers strike heroic attitudes in support of the party and the state, blonde little girls beam, fists smash enemies, hammers break chains. Without the swastika and hammer and sickle as clues, it would be hard to know which is which.

The illustration of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is compelling: Soviet radio transmitters guided German bombers in their attacks on Poland. A Soviet naval base near Murmansk helped the Nazi attack on Norway. The Soviet secret police helped train the Gestapo and discussed how to deal with the “Jewish question” in occupied Poland.

Cooperation was based on a written agreement—complete with the signature of Lavrenty Beria, head of the notorious NKVD—which is shown in the film. “The NKVD will propose to the Soviet Government a programme to reduce the participation of Jews in state bodies and to prohibit Jews and Jewish offspring of mixed marriages from the areas of culture and education”, reads a final, chilling sentence. Russia says the document is a fake.

Powerful archival footage shows Red Army officers drinking toasts with their counterparts from the SS in Berlin in December 1939. In 1940, the Soviet Union had become a huge supplier of grain and oil to the Nazi war machine, while it encouraged the Communist parties of western Europe to sabotage the anti-Nazi resistance.

“It is comforting to see Parisian workers talking to German soldiers as friends”, a French communist publication gloated in July 1940. Vyacheslav Molotov, who was then the Soviet Union’s foreign minister, called fighting Nazism a “crime”. Along with similar pronouncements, that was published in every Soviet newspaper; such pages were hurriedly removed after Hitler’s treachery.

Something pretty similar happened in the West. Nazi war criminals are reviled; their Soviet counterparts are honoured veterans to this day. Any attempt to bring them to justice prompts angry protests from Russia. “Hands Off Our Granddads”, was the slogan chanted by the protestors from Young Russia. A better question might be, “What exactly happened?”

Mr Snore and his sponsors in the European Parliament have produced a sharply provocative work. Its tone, technique and composition may be open to criticism. But those who want to ban it should try refuting it first.