This post first appeared on Truth to Power
The author is a well-known academic historian of Russia and Ukraine, which he approaches from a Christian (Russian Orthodox) and nationalist perspective, arguing that nationalism and Christian Orthodoxy are inseparable. He also writes widely on current affairs. Rare for contemporary Western historians of Russia, he sources original materials in Russian, pulling back the veil on much misunderstanding, ranging from modern history back to Russia’s very beginnings in the Middle Ages.
His latest book, Ukrainian Nationalism (2019), (Amazon), is the definitive treatment of this topic and is essential reading to understand the current political turmoil in Ukraine. It argues that Ukrainian nationalism is real and legitimate, but needn't be Anti-Russian, and that Russia and Ukraine are in fact natural allies. Here is his article on Russia Insider explaining some of the ideas in the book. There is no other scholar writing today about Russia and the Ukraine with this extraordinary command of historical detail and meaning. Johnson is a national treasure, and his works are highly recommended. For a fascinating audio podcast discussion of the book by Johnson and Andrew Carrington Hitchcock, see here.
If you are so inclined, please rate the book on Amazon, as this increases sales greatly. It is a great way to support the author and help spread the ideas in the book. If Amazon blocks you from leaving a review, please let us know in the comments section below, and/or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: If you google 'holocaust denial Russia', you will find several news headlines claiming it is illegal, and a Wikipedia article saying the same thing. But it's not. This article explains where the disinformation is coming from and points out that Russia is much more free than the West in re-examining history.
The controversial “Rehabilitation of Nazism” law in Russia, passed in 2009 and signed in 2014, has remained in its purely symbolic form until 2016. Prior to then, it was never invoked and no prosecutions ever derived from it. In fact, Russian mainstream publishers offer a dizzying array of anti-Judaic and “Holocaust denial” literature published regularly. Unlike the west, such attitudes are common rather than marginal.
However, Roman Yushkov, a Russian nationalist from Perm, the law's first test case, was tried on the grounds of “inciting ethnic hatred.” Yushkov used his VK account to attack the “conclusions” of the Nuremberg Tribunal. In particular, he rejected the “six million”claim. According to the western-financed, liberal SOVA Center, he stated on both his VK and Facebook pages, “Jews! Return the money to the Germans you stole by fraud by the “Holocaust [of the] six millions Jews!” His articles were less emotional and conformed to the basic standards of journalism long lost in the west.
He had no fewer than three trials. Since this sort of case has never been tried in Russia before, the trial's procedure was chaotic. The case was brought by the Perm branch of the Chabad Hasidic sect, who had been quietly colonizing this ancient region of Old Russia. The case was brought by Vladimir Kliner, an Israeli citizen, multi-millionaire and financier of Chabad. His final acquittal came on September 6 2018. His first trial ended in an acquittal, but the second yielded a conviction, for which he was given probation, while and the third overturned that. Today, he's a free man.
The law in question is from Part 1 of Art. 354 of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement of national hatred). The law states explicitly that the issue is in “spreading intentionally false information” concerning the issues of the war and the Russian state far more than “ethnic” issues.
This is the only law of its kind condemned by Human Rights Watch. Why? Because it really has nothing to do with Jews or the war. The Russian version seeks to preserve the memory of the Russian state and its historic role in forming the Russian nation. It's a law against subversion. In 2009, the Medvedev administration convened the “Presidential Commission of the Russian Federation to Counter Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia's Interests.” This was the fact-finding element of the law and served as its basis.
On the committee, apart from Duma members, were officers of the FSB and the Army, including retired General Nikolai Makarov and five professional historians. This law was patriotic in tone, not leftist. This committee described the purpose of the law. It never was aimed at scholarship.
It forbids the “artificial creation” of historical evidence. In other words, it criminalizes false history when it comes at the expense of Russian society. The law states “the spreading of information on military and memorial commemorative dates related to Russia’s defense that is clearly disrespectful of society, and to publicly desecrate symbols of Russia’s military glory” is banned.
Russian laws against “extremism” also exist, but they are meant to combat violent groups and especially, their foreign sources of funding. It was initially passed in retaliation to Chechen terror in Russia and has nothing to do with scholarship or journalism. No law in Russia does. Disinformation from the western right-wing led many to believe rumors that this was a “Holocaust” law.
The purpose is to criminalize not just false facts, which are inadvertently mentioned all the time even by the best of historians, but the deliberate distortion of facts concerning the Russian state when done with malice. It is a defamation law relative to the state. Foreign Policy, an academic journal published by the Council on Foreign Relations, condemned the law. They've supported “denial” laws in the west. The title of their article was “First They Came for the Holocaust Deniers, and I Did Not Speak Out.” The establishment will throw its most sacred principles out the window to harm Russia.
Because these laws don't protect Jews, the west has condemned them. Thus, while defending the censorship of right wing thought in America, regardless of how academically presented, the journalists in the west uniformly condemned Russia's law on “Nazism.” Yushkov was the first to be attacked for actual journalism and serious research into these issues and rightfully, was acquitted, ensuring that it will not happen again.
The prosecutor's office in Perm, tightly connected to the Chabad Hasidim, was outraged that they lost their first case against Yushkov and sent an appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation demanding a new trial. In protest, thousands of VK users deliberately reprinted his article all over the network. No one was arrested. The law was a dead letter.
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the Perm prosecutor claimed Yushkov “abused his rights” during trial through his “discrediting the testimony of witnesses.” In other words, he defeated his opponents in a courtroom debate over the Holocaust. He asked the prosecution witnesses “unacceptable questions,” according to the appeal.
Yushkov's lawyer, Ivan Khozyakin, told the Russian press that Yushkov's views are “nowhere [in Russia] considered extremist.” The jury's verdict was clear. According to Khozyakin, “The jury did not allow the transfer of historical discussions, including the number of those killed in the Second World War to the plane of criminal law. Freedom of thought and speech in our country is still the highest value.”
In a series of articles run by the very large nationalist Zavtra newspaper, the Lubavitch Hasidim began to appear in Russia at the beginning of the 2000s. They created what was later called the “Perm Cultural Revolution” under Marat Gelman, a pornographer. During this period, the then-Governor of the Perm region, Oleg Chirkunov, became a frequent guest of the Chabad synagogue. A member of the sect, Boris Milgram, became the Deputy Governor soon thereafter.
Once firmly in charge, Chabad began to buy expensive cars at state expense. The “human rights commission” was established at the same time to protect them from criticism and received funding from several western NGOs. The city gave free land for the building of Beit Habad, a huge synagogue and cultural center worth more than 73 million rubles.
It was none other than Yushkov who led the charge against Chabad's arrogance and appropriation of public funds. His indictment was a way to silence him. Today, Chabad's colonization of the region is national news. In fact, Yushkov attempted to use the laws against “extremism” against Chabad. As evidence, Yushkov utilized their official publications calling gentiles “animals,” and their well-known doctrine that the “Messiah” will bring all gentiles to Jewish rule.
Recently, the Jewish newspaper Kursor says the courts have expelled Chabad cells due to their foreign funding and extremist ideology. Russian laws target extremist groups that receive the majority of their funding from abroad. This has unsurprisingly earned the ire of the US State Department.
During the trial itself, Yushkov said: “There are hundreds of thousands of publications in the Russian-language internet denying the myth of the Jewish Holocaust. . . with no problem. I was chosen for the first demonstration of [this law] in Russia because I fought Chabad to the point of blood.” The Jewish Religious Society of Perm, considered an opponent of Chabad, refused to join in the protests, but they also distanced themselves from the extremism of the sect. They've stated that they believe the proposed synagogue would be an “underground, subversive” headquarters rather than a religious center. Chabad's refusal to explain what the land will be used for has spurred further speculation. The Jewish sect was enraged when Yushkov was successful. The land deal was voted down due to substantial protests he helped organize.
Kursor as recently asserted that the “highest elements in the Russian federal administration” backed Yushkov. The Chabad community wrote the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, seeking its backing. Instead, Archpriest Dimity Roshchin, head of the church's committee on relations with the media, stated that the “spiritual” crisis of the 20th century is what causes the need for the publication of Yushkov and others. Chabad then stated, according to the Ekaterinburg-based newspaper Nakanune, “After this answer, we have not the slightest interest in continuing our communication with the Patriarch and the Perm Metropolis [of the Russian Orthodox Church]. We don’t expect anything more from the church as a potential ally.”
In April of 2017, just before the second trial, one of the leaders of the fight against Jewish supremacist in the area, a professor at the International Slavic Academy of Sciences, Colonel Vladislav Kovalev, died suddenly of a “rapid onset cancer of unknown origin.” He went from the picture of health to a corpse in a week according to Xenia Teplyakova, writing for Nakanune.
The acquittal of Yushkov means that the touted “Rehabilitation of Nazism” law in Russia is a dead letter. The jury stated that no law may stop academic or journalistic research into a topic. His victory comes from the jury, but also the Russian press, the church and the local population.
Furthermore, the nature of this law is completely different from how it was presented by most writers in the west. It was never a “Holocaust denial” law. The condemnation of “Putin” on this, as always, is based on rumor. It was Medvedev's project, not Putin's and, in addition, it wasn't aimed at the Jews at all. It was a patriotic law – of a sort. Its condemnation in the west proves that.