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Art of national self-appraisal

by Andrey Borodaevskiy

In the 20th century, Soviet-style communism and Nazi-style fascism obviously figured as the two most clearly cut and, eventually, most perilous newfangled political systems — ambitious radical ideologies combined with rough social practices. Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler directly competed with each other for global domination and “glory.”

Infatuation with party and state symbols, love for military and sport parades, favoring of grandiose and pompous architectural styles, ardent dislike for modernist trends in fiction and in visual arts, selective discrimination and idiosyncrasies toward disabled and mentally disabled people as well as those with unusual sexual orientations, direct violence and mass repressions against political opponents and some social and ethnic groups — Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had all these and many other things in common and went out of their way on every occasion to rival each other in displaying them.

After the war, the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union conducted a decade-long campaign of de-Nazification of occupied Germany. Aside from court trials, executions, thorough personal checks of all former military people and government officials, the allied powers knocked the totalitarian spirit out of “plain Germans” via such means as forcing them to watch documentaries and fictional movies depicting fascist cruelties, take mandatory excursions to former concentration camps and work at war cemeteries. There was no avoiding such re-educative measures.

After state power was returned to West Germany in 1949, the new authorities began “re-schooling” the population in the spirit of penitence and redemption, ideals of freedom and democratic values. In a few decades, the mental profile of the nation radically changed. Nowadays, Berlin is famous for its colorful and populous gay parades and the general atmosphere of tolerance. Public excesses by some illegal neo-Nazi groups are few and far between; participants come mostly from families who for decades had lived under Soviet-style regime in East Germany.

In Russia, though Soviet rule presumably has been over for more than 20 years, the specter of communism is only half-dead, and glorious portraits of Generalissimo Stalin together with red banners and other Soviet-time paraphernalia are proudly displayed at every opportunity.

In the process of a historic switch to a new social and political model, no proper cleansing among the former state and party officials has been undertaken.

The Communist Party, banned after the August 1991 putsch, has been revived and enjoys the backing of a considerable part of the population. The country’s establishment is overfilled with siloviki — members of the repressive apparatus of the former KGB and of the current power tools servicing President Vladimir Putin.

Next year, during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the music of the restored Soviet anthem is sure to be heard at many sports venues and around Olympic Village. Russia’s historic mission is perceived by the majority as preserving what has remained of the empire — not as becoming a prosperous society and playing a good neighbor to everyone. Perhaps now it is too late for the nation to catch the historic train of real moral and political purification, which has departed in an unknown direction. If so, isn’t it an irreplaceable loss for the country and the world?

As of late, legislative activity in Moscow is on the rise as Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, has been issuing one new law after another, many of them of a quite definite antidemocratic and anti-American nature and obviously inspired by the “state order.” Let us mention only one of them — perhaps the least properly timed in view of the Winter Olympics. It is the so-called Homophobe Act, whose adoption has already unleashed social clashes.

What’s more, new legislation initiated by the infamous member of Parliament from Kamchatka, Ms. Irina Yarovaya, is aimed at banning any attempts to revise World War II history. Accordingly, any accusations of criminal actions against any member of the anti-Hitler coalition will become subject to punishment by prison terms and/or fines.

If adopted, this absurd and controversial act (bringing to mind Japan’s “dangerous thoughts” law of 1925) will please many members of the elite as well as representatives of the “wide masses” eager to ban as much and to jail as many as possible. It surely will have a wide interpretation and be applied to any Russian citizen (including scholars and writers) and/or organization investigating sensitive issues such as origins of the World War II, crimes committed at the time, the role of Stalin, etc.

On the other hand, one may wonder just how this eventual piece of legislation will be brought into concordance with the general anti-Western sentiments of the modern Russian leadership! Paradoxically this punitive tool could impede the misuse of “historical evidence” in the gross anti-American propaganda routinely carried out via TV and brief radio talk shows.

Finally, some words about the modern situation in Japan: When I first came to my beloved Fukuoka in 1994, I was pleasantly surprised by the peaceful mood of local folks and by the calm and well-balanced content of the English-language newspapers. Even years later, there still were hardly any rough anti-Chinese, anti-Korean, anti-American or, for that matter, anti-Russian statements to be read or heard around the country of the Rising Sun.

Now I wonder what happened. Why have loud-mouthed mobs suddenly started gathering in Tokyo streets under banners demanding “death” to Chinese and Koreans?

How could the government dilute Prime Minister Tomiichi Muroyama’s statement on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, in which he apologized to victims of Japanese aggression?

How could all this happen after the Emperor himself chose to express his “sincere remorse” for Japan’s bloody misdeeds in Korea?

The answer is not so simple. Probably the Allied Powers and the postwar Japanese authorities along with their cultural elite did not do enough to eradicate the militarist and expansionist mood nurtured in Japan’s population before the Pacific War.

Or, even more probably, they abandoned this vital task too early, thus creating a certain ideological vacuum. No wonder, in the absence of a clear universally accepted judgment about Japan’s role in those tragic events, some young and not-so- young people have begun to gradually drift back toward radical nationalist stereotypes.

Nowadays, realistic interpretation of 20th-century history, good will and mutual respect become especially acute for both Japan and Russia in view of the necessity to finally negotiate a peace treaty and resolve the painful territorial issue between them, preferably using the principle “no victors — no defeated” (hikiwake), as the foundation for a full-hearted and fair compromise.

Andrey Borodaevskiy (annabo36@mail.ru), an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University, Fukuoka, from 1994 to 2007.