Historians Critique Putin's Historical Claims about UkraineHistorians in the News
tags: Nazism, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin
In seven days of fighting, Russia has launched hundreds of missiles into Ukraine, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported Mar. 3 that about a million refugees have fled the country. The U.N. also reported there have been at least 752 civilian casualties in Ukraine and at least 227 fatalities, as of Mar. 2.
As the war in Ukraine rages, so does a war of words. In a TV address on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that the goal of invading Ukraine was “to protect the people that are subjected to abuse, genocide from the Kiev regime” and to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”
But historians tell TIME that Putin is misusing the term “denazify,” pointing out that denazification refers to a particular moment in time in the post-war era, and that Putin’s use of the term is propaganda aimed at his fears about the current democratic government in the Ukraine, and is disconnected from the history around the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s.
“There’s a very specific historical meaning [to denazification], which is the process undergone in Germany after the Second World War,” says Timothy Snyder, an expert on Ukraine and author of The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. “In West Germany, there was a certain amount of attention paid to high Nazi officials, by the Americans, the other occupying powers, and an attempt to remove them from public life…Using it, as Mr. Putin does, out of context, is an attempt to transform the country and the people he’s talking about, into Nazi Germany.”
“A Nazi can only be a German,” he adds. “So sometimes we throw the words around, but a Nazi is a member of the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s or 1940s. There were certainly efforts in the postwar Soviet Union to find collaborators, but not to find Nazis per se…You cannot denazify when there are no Nazis.”
There were many layers to denazification.
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