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The Lessons Of Colonel Kovalyov

Nazi German Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop (left), Soviet leader Josef Stalin (center) and his Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (right) come to agreement in the Kremlin in August 1939 -- a shameful episode, or Poland's just deserts?
It's a shame. The article that immortalized the name of one Russian military historian has been removed from the website of the Defense Ministry.

Incidentally, it was on the site long enough that lovers of historical jokes had time to reproduce it on other sites. For instance, you can read it here. And, of course, the printed version of Colonel Sergei Kovalyov's article can be found in printed form in the "Military-Historical Journal" (No. 7, 2008).

So you might wonder why this scandal erupted just now. Why is it that only one year after the publication of Kovalyov's "Fantasies And Falsifications In Evaluating The Role Of The USSR On The Eve And At The Beginning Of World War II" are we finally paying any attention to it? What were we doing?

The answer is simple -- Russian society has been in a deep sleep for at least the last nine years. In addition, in a country where the shelves of bookstores are overflowing with books with titles like "Stalin Against The Global Conspiracy," the sensibilities of even the most devoted consumers of historical literature are bound to be dulled.
You can't describe the demands of the Nazis as "reasonable" if you recall that they didn't stop at Poland and less than two years later Hitler also attacked the Soviet Union.

You look over the cover, sigh quietly, and then wander over to see what is on offer in the poetry section. That is the extent of your protest.

But Kovalyov was unlucky.

His sensational opening of a third front (after Ribbentrop and Molotov) against Poland appeared on the website of the very ministry that is the successor to the Red Army. Moreover, it was still on that site when the Russian government suddenly took up the struggle against the falsification of history and created a commission comprised of staffers from the Federal Security Service, Military Intelligence, the General Staff, the Foreign Ministry, and other obedient agencies.

Only then did some members of the public rub their eyes and utter: What are you saying? What were you, comrade Red Army soldiers, fighting for in 1941? Comrade Colonel, do you know what you are writing?

The Whole Truth Revealed

Indeed he did. The occupation of Poland by units of the German Wehrmacht and the Red Army is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of World War II for us. And the whole war began from this "episode." Furthermore, it is known that there was a joint parade of Hitler's troops and Stalin's in Brest, and don't forget Comrade Molotov's gleeful declaration that "Poland -- that ugly child of the Treaty of Versailles -- no longer exists."

This shameful chapter had to be rewritten, and 70 years after the fact Comrade Kovalyov has demonstrated admirable political acumen, telling us how the Poles themselves were to blame for everything (they impertinently refused to give Danzig to Hitler!) and were wrong to expect help from their Western allies. Colonel Kovalyov's historical "truth" rhymes nicely with the Kremlin's current truths that aim to counter Poland's efforts to conduct pro-Western policies and to build elements of the U.S. missile-defense system on Polish territory.

But I think there must be something in the word "antifascism" that resists the efforts of any commission on falsification, any bureaucratic nonsense, any politicking. After all, you can't wage a holy struggle against the Yushchenkos of the world and various Baltic peoples while simultaneously being mistaken for the Fuhrer, who harbored the touching dream of acquiring Gdansk.

You can't describe the demands of the Nazis as "reasonable" if you recall that they didn't stop at Poland and less than two years later Hitler also attacked the Soviet Union. You can't be sympathetic to the aggressive policies of this cannibal without running the risk of being considered a traitor to your own country. And to the millions of its citizens who gave their lives in the war with the same cannibal.

And that is why Kovalyov's article couldn't remain on the Defense Ministry's site. Which is a shame, from the historical point of view since that text revealed the whole truth of the ideology of our official Russian historians in epaulets without concealing anything.

But the archives of the Internet, unlike state archives, are open to all. And future historians will read with interest about how scholarship was reduced to empty nothingness.

Ilya Milshtein is a contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL