Finnish and Russian experts clash over wartime history
Professor Jussila: Russia going back to attitudes of Soviet period
Alexei Sazonov, deputy director at Russia’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has lashed out at the view that both the Soviet Union and Germany share blame for the start of the Second World War.
"Rewriting history is not morally right. Western historians demonise the Soviet Union and say that it started the war", Sazonov said in Helsinki on Thursday. He was speaking at a Finnish-Russian seminar on the Second World War arranged by the Finland-Russia Society and the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki.
"It is claimed that in the Second World War there were two totalitarian states, Germany and the Soviet Union."
Sazonov feels that it is wrong to compare Soviet Bolshevism and German National Socialism.
"The starting point for Bolshevism was that everyone should be happy, and that nations should not be separated from one another. The National Socialists wanted one nation to prosper at the expense of others."
Sazonov sees the media in Poland and the Baltic States to be particularly anti-Soviet, but he has seen similar interpretations in other European Union countries as well.
As examples he mentions a history book which has strained relations between Russia and Latvia. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga wrote the introduction to the book. Sazonov also feels that the disputes over the Kaliningrad region and the Kuril Islands have not been handled correctly.
"Now Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union, has a bad reputation. As soon as Russia starts to protect its own resources, it is accused of being totalitarian, and Western papers write anti-Russian articles", Sazonov says.
Finnish historian, Professor Emeritus Osmo Jussila, feels that the views of the Russians have gone back to those which prevailed in the Soviet period in their interpretation of wartime events.
"We have very great differences. The Finns emphasise the view of a separate war and feel that the Continuation War was a way of getting even for the Winter War. For the Russians, the Winter War was merely a preliminary conflict, and the actual war began in 1941, when Finland attacked alongside Hitler", Jussila said.
"Only Boris Yeltsin admitted that the Soviet Union attacked Finland in the Winter War. Now President Vladimir Putin has denied it again."
Jussila says that Russia should implement a thorough accounting of the war, in the same way that Germany did after the war ended.
"As long as this does not happen, views will not change. Interpretations of history are linked with the political atmosphere."
Sazonov rejects the idea as unnecessary. "It is not right to judge the liberators and the liberated by the same criteria", he says.
Professor Jussila believes that differences in historical interpretations can lead to a worsening of relations between Finland and Russia.
"That possibility was already seen in Russia’s reactions to President Tarja Halonen’s comments on a separate war. We must nevertheless remember that a large proportion of Russian researchers have conceded the idea of a separate war. Only the politicians disagree."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Russia takes issue with President Halonens views on war (7.3.2005)
Memories of nations (13.4.2005)