Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Russian View: General Vlasov: Permanent Renaissance

From the Editor – Vasily Andreev’s article on the Russkiy Mir Foundation site opens our discussion on a topic raised by a recent statement from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia on the role of General Vlasov. Perhaps the discussion is beginning somewhat belatedly insofar as the statement has already been commented on by a number of people – representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, political figures, as well as a number of popular and less popular bloggers. Some of the statements have been quite emotional, while others just after the first wave of comments subsided, addressing this topic has become even more necessary, as the issue of how to relate to the subject of General Vlasov’s role in Russian history does not suddenly disappear after the last comment on the church’s statement. have tried to avoid emotion and find a more balanced expression. However, The emotion found in many of the assessments confirms that this issue is not merely an abstract historical problem. So, in arguing about attitudes to Vlasov, we are by and large arguing about how we relate to the history of the 20th century, and we are answering the question “what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’” – a question which, fortunately, cannot always be reduced to simple responses.

 “Contrary to the intentions of Hitler, General Andrei Vlasov, with the help of German friends, as head of the de facto and de jure independent Russian Liberation Army, was able to rise up against Stalinist despotism. He is not forgotten in Russia, and today, moreover ... Vlasov in Russia, it seems, is experiencing a true renaissance.” These words were written in 2001 by the eminent German historian, now deceased, Joachim Hoffmann. The “renaissance” continues to this day: another indicator of this can be considered the well-known statement by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia concerning the publication of a book by Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, professor at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. The book is entitled “The Tragedy of Russia. ‘Forbidden’ Subjects in Twentieth Century History.”

This book, which is a collection of Archpriest Georgy’s articles and sermons, attempts to justify Vlasov and turn him into a hero. It has caused widespread resonance in the public and particularly in the media, which in turn has given rise to the adoption of the statement by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Among other things, this statement says: “We are saddened by the bitter disputes, by the non-peaceful and troubled spirit that some opponents of the book have shown.”

However, the Synod’s statement and the open letter by its members to Archpriest Georgy have only heightened passions even further. Both documents were highly controversial. First of all, they in fact fail to distinguish between Vlasov himself and “Vlasovists” who are understood not so much as the general’s supporters or even those who served in the Russian Liberation Army itself as collaborators in general. Meanwhile, Soviet collaboration during the war years was an extremely difficult and ambiguous phenomenon, one that requires close examination, although not in clear “black and white” terms. This is something the authors of the statement acknowledge themselves; nevertheless, they try to give just such an assessment. “In particular, calling General Vlasov's acts a treason is, in our opinion, a flippant simplification of the events that took place,” the document states. Such an approach can be fully applied to the assessment of collaboration in general. Declaring everyone who served in the “volunteer” forces of the Wehrmacht and SS during the war years to be war criminals and traitors to the motherland is the same extreme as to consider them only as “freedom fighters” and against “Stalinist tyranny.” After all, writes Sergey Drobyazko, a contemporary Russian historian, “very different people found themselves in the ranks of the Russian Liberation Army – idealists who sincerely believed in the validity of their own, as they believed it, ‘liberation struggle,’ victims of the Soviet government who were guided above all by a sense of personal vengeance, those who in any situation strive to achieve material benefit and, finally, those for whom the main goal was simply to survive.”


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