After the Soviet empire fell apart at the beginning of the 1990s, the leaders of the new Russian Federation presented apologies for the many Soviet crimes that were perpetrated over the course of the Soviet regime, one of the notable apologies being for the active role that the Soviet Union played in the tragic events within Hungary in 1956. However, just a couple of months ago I sat down to watch a documentary made in 2006 by one of Russia`s main ** state** television channels on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the same year that Russia’s President Putin repeated an official apology about Soviet involvement in these events. Considering that the programme was made in the same year, I was astonished to hear the rhetoric, accusations and excuses for Soviet actions that the programme portrayed. Quite the opposite from an apology and portrayal of the truth – the blame was put entirely on Western powers and agents, who had allegedly organised the revolt.
Out of curiosity, and to check whether it is an accident or a trend, I also watched the film about the “Prague Spring” of 1968, which completely confirmed my initial reactions. There was no trace of regret at what the Soviets had done to both the Hungarian and Czech people. Instead the Soviet aggression in Hungary and Czech Republic were portrayed as if both had been entirely planned and started by the Western powers and that consequently the Soviet Union was the victim. The conclusion of both documentaries was that the Soviets HAD to interfere against their wishes and use violence and arms to put things in order.
It is an immensely important thing for any country to look critically at its past and admit its mistakes. This is one of the main factors making progress possible.
Germany for example is now at the heart of a united Europe and is the economic stronghold of the European Union, though it is worth remembering that Germany is one of the countries notorious for its “mistakes” in the 20th century – two World Wars and the Holocaust. However, Germany has managed to progress despite it all due to the Germans acknowledging their guilt. Though it must have been difficult to put up with, they pushed forward because it was the right thing to do. One of my friends from Germany once told me that he felt he was growing up with the guilt for his country’s past, as they were taught at school that Germany really “did it wrong” and now they had to atone for it. This guilt made him grow with a firm understanding that such a thing must never be repeated.
As Russia finds ways to justify its ruinous behavior towards Hungary and Czech Republic in its Soviet past, it further develops this outlook as it also takes pride in continuously hurting Ukraine – the neighbour that has always perceived the Russian state as a brother nation and the closest ally in times of adversity. Russians today applaud and take pride in its regime, even though it continues to intrude into the inner affairs of other states – all with the purpose of re-establishing Russia`s own imperial interests at whatever price.
Following its former Soviet model, Russia now constructs itself on the image of its enemies, resurrecting multiple enemies at the gates ideas from the past and blending them into one utterly inconsistent and illogical external threat that they use to justify their actions. One of the examples of such incongruous combinations is presenting the current Ukrainian government as a far-right fascist pro-European organisation, even though it is widely known that the far-right and right wing political forces on the European political spectrum are, as a rule, Eurosceptic and therefore far from being pro-European.
The way Russia used the situation with the Euromaidan in Ukraine to annex the Crimea as well as encouraging and supporting separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine proves that the Russian Federation has chosen to stick with the same behavior models that were used by the Soviet Empire. Even if Eastern Ukraine is a more Russian-speaking region, no country has the right to change the borders of the neighbouring state at its own will, no country has the right to dictate its rules to its immediate neighbours, and no country has the right to put its neighbor`s sovereignty and territorial integrity in danger.
Until Russia sincerely recognises and admits its guilt for past events and until Russian children are told in a classroom that their country was responsible for some serious mistakes in harming its neighbours, no progress will be possible for Russian people. Instead, Russia`s imperial aspirations will continue to lock the Russian people in a regression that brings pain and hardship as aggression and denial of guilt intensifies its slide into the past and its isolation from the world.