The Soviet Story

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The Soviet Story
SovietStory.gif
Directed byEdvīns Šnore
Written byEdvīns Šnore
Produced byKristaps Valdnieks
Narrated byJon Strickland
CinematographyEdgars Daugavvanags
Uvis Brujāns
Edited byNic Gotham
Release date
  • May 5, 2008 (2008-05-05)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryLatvia
LanguagesEnglish and Russian

The Soviet Story is a 2008 documentary film about Soviet Communism and Soviet–German relations before 1941 and after, written and directed by Edvīns Šnore, and sponsored by the Union for Europe of the Nations group in the European Parliament. The film features interviews with Western and Russian historians such as Norman Davies and Boris Vadimovich Sokolov, the Russian writer Viktor Suvorov, the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, members of the European Parliament, and participants and survivors of the Soviet terror. Sokolov later emphasized that he simply offered expert advice and told Šnore that some of the things he claimed were based on obvious falsifications.[1]

Using those interviews, together with historical footage and documents, the film documentary argues that there were close philosophical, political and organisational connections between the Nazi and the Soviet systems.[2] It highlights the Great Purge, the Holodomor, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Katyn massacre, the GestapoNKVD collaboration, forced population transfer in the Soviet Union, and the medical experiments in the gulags. The documentary goes on to argue that the successor states to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union differ in the sense that postwar Germany condemns the actions of Nazi Germany, but the opinion in contemporary Russia is summarised by a quote from Vladimir Putin: "One needs to acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."[3] In the closing credits of the film, it is stated: "The Soviet Union killed more than 20,000,000 men, women and children. This film is dedicated to them."[4]

Analysis and memory[edit]

The documentary film, commissioned by the national-conservative and right-wing Union for Europe of the Nations group in the European Parliament, compared the atrocities of the two regimes. In the documentary, producer and director Edvīns Šnore argued that "not only were the crimes of the former inspired by the crimes of the latter, but that they helped each other, and that without their mutual assistance the outcome of World War II could have been quite different." In Latvia the forced Soviet deportations are commonly seen as a genocidal practice.[5] The European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism,[6] proclaimed by the European Parliament in August 2008[6] and endorsed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in July 2009;[7] it is officially known as the Black Ribbon Day in some countries, including Canada.[8] Among many scholars[who?] in Western Europe, the comparison of the two totalitarian regimes and the equation of their crimes has been and still is widely rejected.[5]

According to Mārtiņš Kaprāns, a communication science expert and researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, University of Latvia, "[s]cholars have argued that The Soviet Story is an effective Latvian response to Russian propaganda, but it also exemplifies the broader problems of post-communist memory politics." Kaprāns writes that "the idea of how memory work triggered by the documentary got started on social networking sites" and on "the video-sharing website YouTube and the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, both of which are crucial meaning-making sites with respect to history." According to Kaprāns, his memory studies article "demonstrates transnational memory work in YouTube and Wikipedia as a multidirectional enterprise that both reinforces and emancipates existing hegemonic representations of controversial past."[9]

Reactions[edit]

Positive[edit]

Various Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who were interviewed for the film have expressed views in favour of it. According to the Latvian MEPs Inese Vaidere and Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, writing in The Parliament Magazine, "The Soviet Story makes a significant contribution to the establishment of a common understanding of history and brings us closer to the truth about the tragic events of the 20th century. A common understanding of history among the member states is crucial for the future of the whole EU."[10] Both Vaidere and Kristovskis represent the Union for Europe of the Nations group which actively supported the production of the film.[11]

After watching the film, Finnish MEP Ari Vatanen opined: "It is a powerful message. Thank you for telling the truth. It will awaken people."[12] After the premiere in the European parliament, Vatanen stated: "We cannot build a humanity if we close our eyes to this kind of massacres. Our possibility is to serve justice to those people."[13] British MEP Christopher Beazley commented: "This film is very important. It's a very powerful representation of what took place in Poland, in Latvia and the other Central European countries."[14]

Vytautas Landsbergis, MEP and the former head of the Seimas, assessed The Soviet Story as "a world class film, which should be shown to the world",[15] while Latvia's Minister of Justice Gaidis Bērziņš from For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK stated that he would encourage the Ministry of Education to have the film shown in all schools in Latvia because of its important historical message.[16]

Negative[edit]

A number of critics condemned the film even before its premiere.[17] Boris Tsilevitch, a Latvian member of the Saeima representing Harmony Centre, stated that it was a "typical propaganda" and its release was timed to coincide with the 2009 European Parliament election in Latvia.[17] MEP from Latvia Tatjana Ždanoka, who opposed Latvia's independence from the Soviet Union and ran as a candidate of the largest Russian political bloc in Latvia,[18] regards the film as a "propagandistic odd job, which is given out to be "a new word in history",[19] while also expressing her belief that "the second part of the film is pure political PR" because the first part of the film pictures the point of view of some historians and contemporary politicians criticize modern Russia in the end of the film.[19] Ždanoka also stated that "a lot of attention was devoted to the partnership of the German and Russian military. This is followed by a jump forward in time to the 1940s, with a mass-meeting of Vlasovites is shown against a background of swastika."[19]

The film prompted negative reactions from Russian organizations, press, and politicians. According to the "European Voice" newspaper, Russians are infuriated by the film which reveals the extent of Nazi and Soviet collaboration.[20] On 17 May 2008, the Russian pro-governmental youth organization Young Russia (Russian: Россия Молодая) organized the protest "Let's not allow the rewriting of history!" (Russian: Не дадим переписать историю!, romanizedNe dadim perepisat' istoriyu!)[21] in front of the Embassy of Latvia in Moscow. An effigy representing Edvīns Šnore was burnt during the protest.[22] Alexander Reshideovich Dyukov, a former member of the Russian ARMS-TASS Agency of Military and Technical Information, has been the most vocal critic of the documentary. He was quoted as saying: "After watching two thirds of the film, I had only one wish: to kill its director and to burn down the Latvian Embassy."[23] As a result of Dyukov's statements, a criminal investigation was initiated against him in Latvia.[24] Asked to comment on the case, Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš commented that Dyukov might be a "mentally unstable personality",[25] while Prime Minister of Estonia Mart Laar called Dyukov "an officer of FSB", Russia's principal security agency.[26]

Russian State Duma Deputy Irina Yarovaya, the coordinator of the ruling party United Russia's State Patriotic Club and a member of the Presidium of the General Council, declared that the film "glorifies Estonian Nazi collaborators, those who killed people in Khatyn and in Pskov region."[27][28] In response to Yarovaya's statement which apparently confuses Katyn with Khatyn, Estonian politician and historian Mart Laar wrote: "It is indeed impressive how much wrong can be put into one sentence. First, Estonians did not kill anyone in Khatyn and, secondly, the specific crime committed in Khatyn is not mentioned in the film at all. ... This gives the impression that Yarovaya, actually, has not seen the film."[29]

Reception[edit]

A Soviet officer salutes Nazi German SS officers while delivering Jewish prisoners to them in 1940 (screenshot from the film)[30]

The film has attracted both praise and criticism from political commentators. The Economist praised it as "a sharply provocative work", and stated that "Soviet Story is the most powerful antidote yet to the sanitisation of the past. The film is gripping, audacious and uncompromising. ... The main aim of the film is to show the close connections—philosophical, political and organisational—between the Nazi and Soviet systems."[2] For The New York Times, Neil Genzlinger wrote: "The filmmaking in The Soviet Story is so overwrought that at times the movie comes across as comical. ... The film is not dispassionate scholarship; Mr. Snore, who is Latvian, and his backers (including some members of the European Parliament) obviously have an agenda, though to the casual American viewer it may not be clear what it is."[31]

Latvian political scientist and cultural commentator Ivars Ijabs offered a negative review of The Soviet Story, describing it as a well-made and "effective piece of cinematic propaganda in the good sense of this word", whose message is clearly presented to the audience. Ijabs does not agree with a number of historical interpretations in the film, asserting that it contains errors. In one example, Ijabs states: "In late 1930s Hitler did not yet plan a systematic genocide against the Jews [as it is suggested in the film]. Everybody knows that this decision was made in 1942 at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin." Ijabs also commented on the notion in the film voiced at minute 16:37 by the British literary historian, liberal, and former political activist George Watson that Friedrich Engels is "the ancestor of the modern political genocide." While confirming the use of the term Völkerabfälle in Karl Marx's newspaper to describe several small European ethnic groups,[nb 1] Ijabs responded: "To present Karl Marx as the 'progenitor of modern genocide' is simply to lie."[33] Boris Vadimovich Sokolov, one of the historians interviewed in the film, was quoted as saying: "I had only been an expert there and I can only answer for what I am saying there myself. I had told to Šnore that some of his narratives are obvious forgeries he was tricked by. For example, Beria—Müller agreement on killing Jews together."[1]

In Lauren Wissot's review for Slant Magazine, "Soviet Story does a thorough job of laying out what happened, but its dull, educational-style format doesn't guide us to the next step of why we should care."[34] In his Time Out review, Joshua Rothkopf stated: "An offensively schlocky treatment of an important subject, The Soviet Story turns Stalin's systematic starvation and slaughter of millions into a hopped-up horror flick."[35]

Film festivals and awards[edit]

The Soviet Story has been screened in the following film festivals:

In 2008, the president of Latvia, Valdis Zatlers awarded the director Edvīns Šnore with the Order of the Three Stars. In 2009, the film was nominated for the biannual Latvian National Film Award Lielais Kristaps in the "Best Documentary" category.[36] In the same year, Šnore received the Estonian Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana for creating The Soviet Story.[37]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Although sometimes translated as "racial trash", other translations of Völkerabfälle include "residual nations" or "refuse of nations", that is those left behind, or discarded, by the dominant civilizations. This view has also been criticized by reviewer Robert Grant as ideologically biased and for citing evidence that "seems dubious", arguing that "what Marx and Engels are calling for is ... at the very least a kind of cultural genocide; but it is not obvious, at least from Watson's citations, that actual mass killing, rather than (to use their phraseology) mere 'absorption' or 'assimilation', is in question."[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Эксперт фильма 'Soviet Story': этот фильм — фальшивка" ['Soviet Story' film expert: this film is fake]. Mixnews.lv (in Russian). 10 May 2014. Archived from the original on 14 June 2014. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Telling the Soviet story". The Economist. 22 May 2008. Retrieved 3 June 2008.
  3. ^ Sanders, Katie (6 March 2014). "Did Vladimir Putin call the breakup of the USSR the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century?". PolitiFact. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  4. ^ Edvīns Šnore (2008). The Soviet Story (DVD). Event occurs at 1:22:52.
  5. ^ a b "Latvia's 'Soviet Story'. Transitional Justice and the Politics of Commemoration". Satori. 26 October 2009. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  6. ^ a b "President Jerzy Buzek on the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism". European Parliament. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  7. ^ "Resolution on Stalin riles Russia". BBC News. 3 July 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  8. ^ Proussalidis, Daniel (23 August 2011). "Victims of totalitarianism remembered". Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on 11 April 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  9. ^ Kaprāns, Mārtiņš (2 May 2015). "Hegemonic representations of the past and digital agency: Giving meaning to 'The Soviet Story' on social networking sites". Memory Studies. 9 (2): 156–172. doi:10.1177/1750698015587151. S2CID 142458412.
  10. ^ Vaidere, Inese; Kristovskis, Ģirts Valdis (15 April 2008). "Warning from the past". The Parliament Magazine. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  11. ^ "The Soviet Story: Sponsors". The Soviet Story. Archived from the original on 7 April 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  12. ^ Sprūde, Viesturs (14 April 2008). "Aplausi 'Padomju stāstam'" [Applause for 'Soviet Story']. Latvijas Avīze (in Latvian).
  13. ^ "Ari Vatanen about 'The Soviet Story'". TheSovietStory. 21 April 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2009 – via YouTube.
  14. ^ "Christopher Beazley about 'The Soviet Story'". TheSovietStory. 21 April 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2009 – via YouTube.
  15. ^ Līcītis, Egils (3 May 2008). "Edvīns Šnore sakārto pagātni" [Edvīns Šnore arranges the past]. Latvijas Avīze (in Latvian).
  16. ^ "Tieslietu ministrs: filma 'Padomju stāsts' jārāda visās skolās" [Minister of Justice: The film 'Soviet Story' must be shown in all schools] (in Latvian). Apollo.lv. 8 May 2008. Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  17. ^ a b "'Sovetskuyu istoriyu' otsenyat v Bryussele" 'Советскую историю' оценят в Брюсселе ['Soviet Story' will be appreciated in Brussels] (in Russian). Chas. 9 April 2008. Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  18. ^ Jamestown Foundation 23 May 2004: Zhdanoka Candidacy Polarizes Latvian Election by Vladimir Socor
  19. ^ a b c "Zhdanok: fil'm 'The Soviet Story' — propagandistskaya podelka" Жданок: фильм 'The Soviet Story' — пропагандистская поделка [Ždanoka: film 'The Soviet Story' – propagandistic odd job] (in Russian). Delfi.lv. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
  20. ^ "Telling the unofficial, but true, Soviet story". European Voice. 29 May 2008.
  21. ^ "Aktsiya 'Rossii molodoy' 'Ne dadim perepisat' istoriyu!'" Акция 'России молодой' 'Не дадим переписать историю!' [Young Russia campaign 'Let's not allow the rewriting of history!'] (in Russian). 14 May 2008. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  22. ^ "Prokremliskie jaunieši pie Latvijas vēstniecības protestē pret 'vēstures pārrakstīšanu'" [Pro-Kremlin youth protest against the 'rewriting of history' in front of the Latvian Embassy] (in Latvian). TVNET. 30 May 2008. Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  23. ^ "a_dyukov. The Soviet Story: pervyy prosmotr – Novyye Khroniki" a_dyukov. The Soviet Story: первый просмотр – Новые Хроники [a_dyukov. The Soviet Story: First View – New Chronicles] (in Russian). Novchronic.ru. Archived from the original on 28 December 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
  24. ^ "Politsiya Latvii proveryayet zayavleniye o zaderzhanii rossiyskogo istorika" Полиция Латвии проверяет заявление о задержании российского историка [Latvian police check the statement about the arrest of the Russian historian] (in Russian). RIA Novosti. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  25. ^ "Glava MIDa: rossiyskiy istorik — psikhicheski neuravnoveshen" Глава МИДа: российский историк — психически неуравновешен [Foreign Minister: Russian historian is mentally unstable]. Mixnews.lv (in Russian). 10 June 2008. Archived from the original on 20 June 2010. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  26. ^ "V podtverzhdeniye 'teorii okkupatsii' v Estonii snyali fil'm na angliyskom yazyke" В подтверждение 'теории оккупации' в Эстонии сняли фильм на английском языке [In support of the 'theory of occupation' in Estonia filmed in English] (in Russian). Baltinfo.ru. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
  27. ^ "Yarovaya: Neofashisty v Yevrope razzhigayut mezhnatsional'nuyu rozn'" Яровая: Неофашисты в Европе разжигают межнациональную рознь [Yarovaya: Neo-fascists in Europe fuel ethic hatred] (in Russian). United Russia. 13 March 2009. Archived from the original on 10 September 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  28. ^ "Irina Yarovaya: Seminar v Khel'sinki napravlen na vozrozhdeniye natsizma i fashizma" Ирина Яровая: Семинар в Хельсинки направлен на возрождение нацизма и фашизма [Irina Yarovaya: Seminar in Helsinki was directed towards restoration of Nazism and Fascism] (in Russian). State-Patriotic Club United Russia. 13 March 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  29. ^ Sulbi, Raul (15 March 2009). "Laar tunnustas Imbi Paju ja Sofi Oksaneni algatust" [Laar acknowledged the initiative of Imbi Paju and Sofi Oksanen]. Postimees (in Estonian). Retrieved 8 August 2021.
  30. ^ Edvīns Šnore (2008). The Soviet Story (DVD). Event occurs at 46:22.
  31. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (24 October 2008). "Atrocities Magnified". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  32. ^ Grant, Robert (November 1999). "Review: The Lost Literature of Socialism". The Review of English Studies. New Series. 50 (200): 557–559. doi:10.1093/res/50.200.557.
  33. ^ Ijabs, Ivars (23 May 2008). "Cienīga atbilde: Soviet Story". Latvijas Vēstnesis (in Latvian). Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  34. ^ Wissot, Ivars (20 October 2008). "Review: The Soviet Story". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  35. ^ Rothkopf, Joshua (21 October 2008). "The Soviet Story". Time Out. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  36. ^ "Paziņo Lielā Kristapa nominācijas" [Announced the nominations of Kristaps the Great]. Diena (in Latvian). 29 August 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
  37. ^ "Edvīns Šņore – Bearers of decorations". Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia. Retrieved 8 August 2021.

External links[edit]