Thursday, November 27, 2014


Transmission

On Molotov-Ribbentrop, Different Wikipedias Tell Different Stories

It is the Internet age's reference of first resort -- the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Millions of people every day turn to it to get “just the facts” on everything from beekeeping to the battle of Austerlitz and beyond.

But on controversial topics like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, getting “just the facts” isn’t so easy. A look at the Russian-language entry on the agreement and the English-language version shows how big a difference a few words can make and how changes of emphasis can shade one’s interpretation of key points.

For instance, the English version, as it appears on August 20, describes the secret protocol to the agreement as dividing “Eastern and Central Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, anticipating potential ‘territorial and political rearrangements’ of these countries. Thereafter, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded their respective portions of Poland.”

The Russian version, however, has a distinctly different flavor: “The agreement had an additional secret protocol on the limits of the sphere of German interests in Eastern Europe in the event of ‘territorial and political rearrangements.’ On September 1, 1939, Germany occupied Poland and on September 17, 1939, the USSR included in its composition the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belarus that had earlier been administered by Poland, and later the countries of the Eastern region of the Baltic Sea as well.”

The two texts also offer different spins on the diplomatic preludes to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The English version soft-pedals the consequences of the West’s policy of appeasing Hitler, and Stalin’s concerns that the West would welcome a war between Germany and the Soviet Union:

“Hitler’s fierce anti-Soviet rhetoric was one of the reasons why the UK and France decided that Soviet participation in the 1938 Munich Conference regarding Czechoslovakia would be both dangerous and useless. The Munich Agreement that followed marked the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1938 through a partial German annexation in 1938, which is seen as part of an appeasement of Germany. Thereafter, some Soviet concern existed about the possibility that France and Britain might stay neutral in a war initiated by Germany, hoping that the warring states would wear each other out and put an end to both the Soviet Union and Germany.”

The Russian version highlights the official Soviet policy of collective security and criticizes Western engagement with Germany:

“On May 2, 1935, the USSR concluded a mutual-assistance pact with France, and another one was signed with Czechoslovakia on May 16. For their part, Germany and Japan in November 1936 signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which was aimed against the USSR. In 1937, Italy joined that agreement. The USSR provided military aid to the republican government of Spain, where Germany and Italy were actively supporting the putsch of General Franco. In March 1938, Germany carried out the Anschluss with Austria and began making territorial claims against Czechoslovakia. England and France at that time were conducting a policy of 'appeasement,' which gave de facto encouragement to Germany’s revanche. The investment of Western companies in Germany -- particularly in its heavy industry -- was expanded.”

The Russian version also implicitly criticizes the countries of Eastern Europe for their unwillingness to respond positively to Soviet collective-security proposals:

“The governments of the Eastern European countries regarded the USSR with deep mistrust. In March 1939, after the German occupation of Lithuania’s Klaipeda region, the USSR made diplomatic steps toward Latvia and Estonia, but they were met coldly. In May, despite worsening relations with Germany, the Polish Foreign Ministry announced that Poland did not want to become entangled in any agreements with the USSR."

-- Robert Coalson

Tags: molotov

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by: Brazilian Man from: São Paulo - SP, Brazil
August 21, 2009 18:16
This kind of “spin” is present not only in non-English-language Wikipedias, but in the English-language edition of Wikipedia, too.<br /><br />Example: the articles about the Independent State of Croatia, the Yugoslav Wars, the Bosnian War, Republika Srpska and mainly Kosovo are “pushed” to display pro-Serb-nationalist points of view by a “cabal” of English-speaking Orthodox Serbs who act collectively to curb edits made by people who, lika most of the Western democratic world, believe Milosevic’s Serbia was the main mastermind behind Balkan atrocities in the 1990’s.

by: Michael Averko
August 23, 2009 13:44
Brazilian man, one can find a good share of clear evidence of anti-Serb nationalists with former Yugoslav roots doing what you accuse some Serbs of (albeit with a different spin).

by: gjdagis from: New York
August 23, 2009 13:55
I would find it extremely difficult to believe that any honest, intelligent person would ever believe the Russian version. They have been liars consistently since 1917. The main fact is that it was BOTH Hitler and Stalin who started WW2 and Russia should have never been treated as an &quot;ally&quot;. We should have stood aside and watched them destry each other!

by: Michael Averko
August 23, 2009 18:07
The Munich appeasement of Czechoslovakia by the West (not the USSR) occurred before Molotov-Ribbentrop (M-R).<br /><br />The Munich appeasement was done with three points in mind:<br />- Czechoslovakia having good relations with the USSR (something not liked by some)<br />- the aspirations of Nazi Germany, Hungary and Poland to acquire Czechoslovak territory (something the three acquired in 1938, with the West doing nothing to oppose this action)<br />- the hope that appeasing Hitler would either end his appetite for land, or lead to a Nazi-Soviet confrontation with the West left out. <br /><br />As is, the USSR played the lead role in defeating Nazi Germany. <br /><br />The recent OSCE statement denouncing M-R but not the Munich appeasement is an example of the slant that has gone unopposed in some circles.<br /><br />Brazilian Man, the US government has been involved with some of the Wiki entry input of subject matter. Like I said earlier at this thread, one can find dubious claims at Wiki from anti-Serb nationalists and others. <br />

by: Matthew from: Bloomington
August 24, 2009 11:53
Without question the biggest problem on Wikipedia is nationalism; pro-Russian, pro-Persian, pro-Chinese, pro-Turk, and so on. There are users whose edits are almost exclusively about promoting a certain point of view, regardless of facts or differing sources (and they often work to remove reliable sources which disagree with their point of view). These users are usually easy to spot. They do not try to hide their biases, but instead often express them blatantly on their userpage and and use national/ethnic names in their username. Major articles, like the Armenian Genocide, are obvious examples of where this plays out, but the effects of this intense nationalism can be seen on many smaller articles as well. Wikipedia has a neutral-point-of-view policy already, but until people who are clearly pushing a single nationalistic point of view are banned (or further limited in some way), a lot of the history/politics articles will continue to suffer.

by: PanSvejk
August 24, 2009 18:36
This is a very interesting discussion to link Molotov-Ribbentrop with Munich 1938. However, using Munich '38 as a justification/apologia for M-R does not make sense. I am sure that Batoni Stalini did not feel the need for justification or precedent for any of his actions.

by: Michael Averko
August 25, 2009 19:47
PanSvejk<br /><br />Overlooking Munich while highlighting M-R suggests the kind of historical muting that some are rather ironically suggesting Russia at large of doing.<br /><br />Matthew <br /><br />At Wiki, one can find examples of anti-Russian and anti-Serb nationalists influencing twisted versions of the past and present.

by: Rave from: Bryansk, Russia
August 28, 2009 22:38
The roots of such problems are in sources at different languages. Wikipedians use articles at their native language and thus difference in official source transcludes in article.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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