Historians on What Putin Gets Wrong About ‘Denazification’ in Ukraine
After seven days of intense fighting, Russia launched hundreds missiles into the Atlantic. Ukraine,The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees reported Mar. 3It is estimated that there are approximately a million refugeesThey have fled from the country. U.N. reportedAt least 752 civilian deaths in Ukraine have occurred as of Mar. 2.
The war in Ukraine is raging, but so too the war on words. There is a thriving language and culture in Ukraine. Address TV 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.”
TIME is told by historians 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 Russia, Europe, America are on the Road to Unfreedom. “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.”
Learn more After World War II, Most ‘Ordinary Nazis’ Returned to Lives of Obscurity.
“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…When there is no Nazis around, it’s impossible to denazify.”
There are many levels to denazification.
Jason Stanley is a Yale University Professor and Author. How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them explains, “DenazificationThis was how the Allies dealt with Germany. The Allies began the process by executing a few Nazis and convicting them. [with] people who were untainted by Nazism— or this is what they tried to do. They replaced them with leaders who are loyal to democracy, and they replaced Nazi ideology with democratic practices.”
After the Allies occupied Germany, they did investigate some former members of the Nazi party to make sure they didn’t maintain Nazi loyalties. Many people fell through the cracks. “It was a flawed process used by the Allies occupying Germany that generally applied to the small fry and left the big fish off the hook,” as Omer Bartov, a Brown University professor and author of Anatomy of Genocide: Life and death of a town called Buczacz It is.
Learn more What American educators did after World War II to educate Nazi children?
Why is this? PutinUse a term taken from 1940s and 1950sWhat will 2022 look like?
Allies defeated Nazis with the help of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was not the only one.20,000,000 casualtiesAnd The fighting is still fresh in our mindsIt still exists in the region. So using a term like denazification resonates deeply with his domestic audience and is a “very powerful piece of propaganda,” says Stanley. “From the perspective of many of the Russian people, Nazism is something the Germans brought from the West, which resulted in the horrific mass murder of many Soviet citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish…Putin—and he’s been doing this for many years—is saying that anything that comes from the west is Nazism.”
In Ukraine, there are approximately 1.5 million Jews diedDuring the Holocaust. TIME spoke to historians TIME to confirm that some Ukrainians did collaborate with Nazi German occupiers in World War II.
“At one point, there were some Ukrainians who collaborated with Nazis,” explains Jeffrey Veidlinger, author of The Shadow of the Shtetl – Small-Town Jewish Life In Soviet Ukrainee. “This is why Putin can use that term, because it has resonance and people are familiar with This is Ukraine’s history having sympathies with the Nazis, but this was 80 years ago, and isn’t reflective of the current Ukrainian Government…It’s a meaningless term when Putin uses it. He’s not afraid of Nazis in Ukraine. He’s afraid of democracy in Ukraine. And he recognizes that as democracy encroaches upon Russia as it comes closer to Russia, there’s a threat that those people will demand democracy.”
It is not an fascist dictatorship, nor in any other way linked to Nazi Germany’s past. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr ZelenskyThe 2019 Presidential Election saw 73% of voters vote for democratically elected.
Learn more Volodymyr Zelensky Saved Ukraine and United the World
“What Putin tries to rely on is the fact that there are extreme right-wing elements in Ukraine that could conceivably be described as neo-Nazi. But these are fringe elements, as the landslide election of President Zelensky has demonstrated,” says Bartov.
ZelenskyAlso, he is Jewish. His Grandfather fought in Soviet ArmyHis family was killed by the Nazis and he was against them.
“It’s a classic form of antisemitism to say that the Jews are the Nazis. And that’s what he’s doing,” says Snyder. “The purpose of this war is to target a government which is headed by a Jew. So if you call that denazification, what you’re saying is, the Jews are the real Nazis, and we are the real victims. He’s appealing to a certain tradition in antisemitism, which tries to flip around who are the victims and who are the perpetrators…But, as I say, I think his main purpose here is just to pervert these terms and to confuse us.” Such “perversions,” as he puts it, could “pollute the whole moral inheritance of the Second World War.”
Snyder says historical accuracy does not have to be the top priority. “He’s deliberate. He’s deliberately abusing these concepts in this tradition and trying to turn it around,”He said. “He’s not really referring to any true history. He’s just taking advantage of the fact that there are strong emotions around these concepts.”