Jeremy Hicks writes: All parties have been drawing historical analogies to interpret the Ukraine crisis: Hillary Clinton and western commentators have compared Putin to Hitler, the annexation of Crimea to the Sudetenland, and referred to appeasement. The Russians insist that the pro-European Ukrainians are fascists.
While the presence of the genuine neo-Nazis of the Svoboda party in Ukraine’s interim government is undeniable, it seems paradoxical that both the West and Russia legitimise their positions by reference to World War II, and opposition to the Nazis. To understand this situation better, it helps to examine quite how different Russian and Western memories of the war really are.
As the West recalls it, World War II saw democracy take a stand against tyranny – but only after prevaricating through appeasement, at the immediate cost of Czechoslovakia and the ultimate price of the Holocaust. The war’s main lesson is the importance of universal human rights, and the need to oppose expansionist dictators intent on small annexations or lesser crimes before they invade at will and commit mass murder.
From the Russian perspective, when it is discussed at all, appeasement is seen as confirmation of Western hypocrisy, and as the factor that drove the Soviets to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in self-defence. But in Russia, the real story of World War II begins with the Nazi invasion of the USSR in June 1941. The victims of the unchecked rise of Nazism are not so much the Jewish population of occupied Europe, but rather Russia and Russians. They were both the Nazis’ primary victims and the principal heroes of their defeat. Fascism is therefore not seen in terms of its anti-Semitic and anti-democratic dimensions, but as an anti-Russian phenomenon springing from Western Europe. [Continue reading…]