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Russia to punish attempts to exonerate Nazism as a crime

Russia will soon be punishing any attempts to find excuses for Nazism as a criminal offence, as follows from a bill the State Duma (lower house of parliament) voted for in the first reading Friday afternoon. The issue has been on the agenda for five years now. The latest events in Ukraine fermented this process.

Many recent events indicate that the theme of Nazism's propagation and of revision of World War II results remains a very sensitive issue in Russian society.

The State Duma has adopted in the first reading a bill to complement the Criminal Code with a new article - Exoneration of Nazism. The bill was authored by legislators from United Russia back in 2009. In February 2014, against the backdrop of the Ukrainian events, the chief of the security committee, Irina Yarovaya, presented its adjusted wording.

Under the bill any instance of "public denial of facts mentioned in the verdict of the Nuremberg tribunal" "approval of the wittingly false statements about the activity of anti-Hitler coalition armies" will be punishable with a fine of 100,000-500,000 roubles or a prison term of up to five years.

"We shall not let anyone rewrite the results of the war, defile the memory of the deceased or to exonerate Nazism," Yarovaya said. "During World War II our country protected itself and the whole world from Nazism. Our people sustained the greatest losses in that war. For that reason any action to rehabilitate Nazism is a crime against our country and our people and will remain so in the future."

She believes that the legislators should to their utmost to ensure the law be adopted by Victory Day, May 9.

The legislation committee has supported the draft, but at the same time identified certain ties and ambiguities, "which may result in abuse and violations of citizens' rights," as well as redundancies and overlapping with other Criminal Code articles. These problems have to be addressed by the time the bill undergoes the second reading.

In the meantime, hazy wording is precisely what human rights activists point to as the worst risk. In their opinion such a law, should it materialize, may result in restrictions on the freedom of speech, in the first place, on historical research. When the bill was still in the drafting phase many experts warned that its wording was too vague and leaving loopholes for reprisals against those who voice critical opinions of such operations by members of the anti-Hitler coalition as the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima.

"It is pretty clear that the bill's adoption has been fast-tracked against the backdrop of Ukrainian events, but in what way shall we be discussing World War II in Russia? This means that the people who conduct research into the history of that period - by virtue of their profession or just mention some facts in public debate - will run the risk of getting in trouble," the director of the centre Sova, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, told the daily Novyie Izvestia in an interview.

A law establishing punishment for attempts at exonerating Nazism must contain very clear definitions, says the head of the presidential council for human rights, Mikhail Fedotov.

"This is the sole way of preventing arbitrariness in using it. The goal of establishing punishment for attempts to find excuses for Nazi crimes is certainly right and noble, no denying that. But the means of achieving it must be adequate to the goal," Fedotov said.

"Public sentiment, in particular, the way the people feel about Ukraine, was certainly the main factor that fuelled the drafting of the bill," the president of the Council for National Strategy, Valery Khomyakov, told ITAR-TASS.

Russian society is very sensitive about everything that is related to the history of World War II and the role of the Soviet Union in eliminating Nazism. The tide of demands for establishing punishment for exoneration of Nazism and for attempts to reconsider the results of World War II surged up over the past few months amid criticism of the liberal TV channel Dozhd (Rain) for a politically incorrect question about the siege of Leningrad and a publication by author and journalist Viktor Shenderovich, who criticized the Sochi Olympics for what he described as its resemblance to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

And on Thursday Russian media literally exploded with arguments and counter-arguments in response to an article by political scientist Andranik Migranian in the daily Izvestia. In part, Migranian said that if Hitler confined himself to "gathering lands," and not set to Germany and to himself the insane aim of world domination, he would have gone down in the country's history as a top-class politician.

[Source: Itar Tass, Moscow, 04Apr14]

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