Friday, March 3, 2017

Aggressive exercise that stirs up old hatreds

If any further confirmation of the perverted thinking of Russia’s elites is needed then it must surely be provided by a recent announcement from the country’s Ministry of Defence.

It has announced a plan to build a replica of Germany’s Parliament, the Reichstag, in a ‘military theme park’ as a target to be attacked in a repeat of the Russian storming of the actual Reichstag Building in Berlin at the end of World War II.

It would be bad enough if this was part of the training for Russian soldiers (remember the ‘sensitive material’ used by the Australian Defence Force which raised the hackles of the Indonesian military recently) but the targets for this aggressive exercise are young adults and schoolchildren, members of the Yunarimia, or Young Army, a youth movement aimed at “encouraging patriotism”.

Making the announcement, Russian Defence Minister, Sergi Shoigu said there was a need for the Young Army to have a “specific location to attack, rather than something abstract”.

Understandably, German officials have reacted with surprise and concern. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, Martin Schaefer, said that nothing like this would ever be built for the education of German youth.

His criticism was rejected at the Kremlin with a spokesperson, Major General Igor Konashenkov, saying the Reichstag replica “will contribute to the patriotic education of young citizens and foreign guests,” claiming that anyone speaking against it must be a Nazi sympathiser.

“Verbal attacks by certain German politicians are not only dismaying, but they make one wonder how these people really think about the creators of the Third Reich,” he said.

This has nothing to do with history: The Third Reich ended more than 70 years ago and the world of 1945 bears no resemblance to that of today. The Reichstag building, renovated and remodelled after years of neglect during the divided Germany era, now houses the Parliament of the modern German democratic state which is not at war with Russia or indeed anyone.

Attacking the Reichstag as a symbol for the “patriotic education of the young” is aimed at inculcating anger and hatred against an enemy that no longer exists — but an enemy  that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to invent in order to bolster his hold on power.

It is necessary because despite crushing an independent media, despite hounding, harassing, imprisoning and even murdering his opponents, Putin does not quite have the dictator’s iron grip on the country he so desires.

The fact that last month thousands of Russians took part in a peaceful protest to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of one of Putin’s most trenchant critics, Boris Nemtsov , shot several times from behind virtually at the walls of the Kremlin in February 2015, clearly demonstrates that the Russian leader has so far failed to stifle dissent.  

In situations like this the answer lies in distracting the citizenry with a reminder of an external enemy – even if that enemy was from an era that has long since been consigned to history — but it is actually worse even than this.

Putin and his officials should consider whether turning the final victory in the Great Patriotic War into something akin to a reality game show comes close to trivialising the sacrifice of the millions of Russians who died in that conflict in order that their Motherland should survive and prosper.   

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