On May 10, 2018, lawyers of the “Agora” international human rights group published a report in Russian compiled by Damir Gainutdinov and Pavel Chikov and entitled “Russia Against History. Punishment for Revision.” It discusses prosecutions against people in Russia accused of “falsifying history.” The study reviews 100 cases over the past 10 years that either directly or indirectly related to writings about history. Most of the cases involved the 20th century, and the “riskiest” topics were World War II and the USSR’s role in that conflict. In Russia, a person accused of “falsifying history” could be charged with administrative or even criminal penalties. Courts can also ban “information materials” on the pretext of “fighting extremism,” and they can classify documents in archives.
In terms of “falsifying history”, Russians are usually charged with “rehabilitating Nazism”, which became a crime only in 2014. The number of convictions under this statute has been rising from none in 2014, five in 2015, another five in 2016, and eight in 2017.
Russians are prosecuted for “rehabilitating Nazism” for statements in support of the Third Reich, and for making arguments about the Soviet Union’s role in the war, including comments about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. For example, an Internet user in the city of Perm, Vladimir Luzgin, was fined 200,000 rubles ($3,230) for sharing an article that referred to the “joint attack on Poland by the USSR and Germany” in September 1939. In another case in the city of Magadan, an Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”, a Russian social network service for classmates and old friends) user, the 62-years-old zoologist Igor Dorogoi, was charged with “rehabilitating Nazism” because he criticized Soviet wartime leaders. He dared to call Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky an executioner, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, a marauder, and Roman Rudenko, Soviet Chief Prosecutor at the Nurnberg Tribunal, a murderer.
“Propagating Nazi symbols”
In most cases, however, judges hand out administrative punishments for “propagating Nazi symbols.” Between 2012 and 2017, the number of annual convictions under this statute increased from 238 to 2,063. Prosecutions started about four years ago, when amendments to the Russian Administrative Code made the statute applicable wherever the Nazi symbols were propagated or shared publicly. Previously, officials could prosecute only if the symbols were propagated and shared publicly. Over the past five years, Russian courts have penalized 6,622 people for displaying Nazi symbols, and in about 75 percent of these cases the defendant was jailed briefly.
Some persons were convicted of propagating Nazi symbols simply for sharing historical photographs. For instance, a journalist in the city of Smolensk, Lina Danilevich, was fined for posting an old photo on Vkontakte (meaning InContact, another Russian online social media and network service), showing her home under Nazi occupation (Wehrmacht soldiers and the Nazi flag were seen in the background). Another woman, Yuliya Usach, living in the city of Krasnodar, was fined 1.500 rubles ($25) for sharing cartoons penned in 1940 by famous Soviet caricaturists that ridiculed German Fascism.
Rarely, the courts side with the defendants. Thus, an appellate judge in the city of Arkhangelsk overturned a fine imposed on Mikhail Listov, an activist who shared photos of the 1945 Victory Day parade in Moscow, where Soviet soldiers carried Nazi banners lowered to the ground.
Usually Russian authorities censor and ban unwelcome content on the pretext of “fighting extremism.” After these prosecutions, the content or a title is added to the federal registry of extremist materials. In the decade of its existence, this registry included several dozens of historical studies and commentaries on various historical issues, from a research on Zionism’s influence in the 20th Century and the relations between Russian émigrés and the Nazis, to archival documents related to the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.
In 2014, Sebastian Stopper, Professor of the University Humboldt in Berlin, urgently left Russia after the court of the city of Bryansk recognized as extremist his several publications on the guerrilla movement in the Bryansk Region during WWII. In 2017, for St. Petersburg historian Kirill Aleksandrov, his investigation of the reasons for the cooperation of Soviet prisoners of war and Russian emigrants with the Nazis cost him his doctoral degree.