By Paul Goble
One of the constant themes of Soviet propaganda was that the peoples who were deported at the end of World War II deserved it because they had collaborated with Nazi Germany during that conflict. With the passage of laws and the issuing of statements by Soviet and then Russian leaders to rehabilitate these groups—Vladimir Putin’s decree last month rehabilitating the Crimean Tatars and other groups deported from that Ukrainian peninsula is only the latest example—such attacks had become much less common.
But now, in what may presage a broader campaign in advance of the May 21st commemoration by Circassians around the world of the 150th anniversary of their deportation, Russian commentators are reviving Soviet-style claims that those who were deported in at least some cases deserved it because of their collaboration with the German invaders. The latest involves the Kalmyks, a 180,000-strong Buddhist nationality, which lives in a republic adjoining the North Caucasus and which was deported with major losses of life in 1943.
Writing for the Interfax news agency, commentator Viktor Solodkov says that one Kalmyk who in recent years had enjoyed the reputation as a hero of Staliningrad— Gennady Zolochevsky—in fact had voluntarily joined the German forces as a soldier in the anti-Soviet Kalmyk Cavalry Corps and served it rather than the Red Army until 1945. In 1946, Solodkov continues, Zolochevsky, was found guilty of crimes against the Soviet Union and sentenced to 15 years in a prison camp. In 1992, the Interfax commentator says, Zolochevsky unsuccessful sought rehabilitation as a victim of political repression (interfax-russia.ru/South/view.asp?id=495915).
But the Kalmyk authorities reversed the decision of the Russian court because they were “handing out rehabilitating documents […] without any checks whatsoever. And a decade later, in 2005, on the basis of that decision by Kalmyk officials, Zolochevsky was even given the status of a Soviet veteran of the Great Fatherland War with all the rights, benefits and respect that title gives—including a large pension. And this injustice was compounded in 2011 when the Kalmyk authorities gave him a series of additional subsidies as a veteran.
Encouraged by his success, Zolochevsky tried to obtain even more, but finally, some Russian officials checked court records and rejected his applications. Yet, despite that, he has retained his earlier benefits. Now, Solodkov says, some people are trying to change that.
“It is probable,” the Interfax commentator says, “this is not a unique case of fraud involving veterans’ rights.” That last comment transforms what might appear to be a simple story into something more. First, it is beyond any question an attack on Kalmyk officials and by implication other non-Russian republics that may be “protecting” such people. Second, it is an invitation for witch hunts against anyone Russians suspect may be hiding something.