Denial of War Crimes Outlawed in Russia

war crimes

Denial of Nazi war crimes is just about as old as the Second World War itself, and apparently so is the denial that the Soviet Union contributed as much to the war as it did. Now, Vladimir Putin, who has taken some hits in the press as of late, has signed into law an act which will make the denial of war crimes itself a criminal offense.

Violators of the law will be subject to as many as five years of jail time. While many feel that Putin is simply trying to pacify some of his critics by hindering free speech, the law will also affect jail sentences for those who vandalize or otherwise desecrate memorials to the war. Putin does not want the war crimes of WWII to be forgotten in what he believes is a move to further unite Russia and its formerly Soviet neighbors. The law will also keep extreme forms of patriotism in check by punishing overt glorification of the Soviet Union’s wartime endeavors.

Aside from cutting down on glorification, the law will keep people from playing down the fact that the Soviet Union erred many times during the war as well. Rather than hindering any act of free speech which could be deemed historically inaccurate, it specifically targets propaganda which belittles the horrors of war crimes from the era. Even with these specific guidelines, the law still has many people on edge with the conviction that their right to free speech has come under fire, the JPost reports.

This may be at least partly true, as some television news outlets have been shut down or heavily criticized for showing dissent toward the current government in Russia. One in particular was lambasted for suggesting that the Sochi Olympics were an effort to help Russia look better in times of criticism. They do not suggest that the denial of war crimes ought to be allowed, but are rather speculative of the law’s other guidelines against misrepresentation. Some of the guidelines seem to present a grey area or two which have raised concerns that the law is simply a cover for government control over the news media.

Aside from the denial of war crimes, the main concern is that any judgment on former Soviet leader Stalin is now outlawed. Some feel that many were killed in the war due to Stalin’s actions, and do not want that fact to be covered up. This may be paranoia, as a ban on wartime glorification would seem to prevent the exact sort of thing which they are worrying about. That said, Putin has introduced other laws aside from the one banning denial of war crimes, at least one of which is said by many to constrict free speech on the internet, a forum which many previously thought was free from such legislation.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE