The Soviet Story (2008)
The Soviet Story
The Soviet Story is a 2008 documentary film about Soviet communism and Soviet–German collaboration before 1941 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 Sokolov, the Russian writer Viktor Suvorov, the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, members of the European Parliament and participants and survivors of the Soviet terror.
Using those interviews, together with historical footage and documents, the film argues that there were close philosophical, political and organisational connections between the Nazi and the Soviet systems. It highlights the Great Purge, the Great Famine, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Katyn massacre, the Gestapo–NKVD collaboration, the Soviet mass deportations and the gulags' medical experiments. 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 this quote from Vladimir Putin: "One needs to acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century".
The film has attracted praise and criticism from political commentators. The Economist review of The Soviet Story praises the film by saying "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". It concludes its review by calling the documentary "a sharply provocative work".
The New York Times reviewed this documentary, stating: "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."
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 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". Both Vaidere and Kristovskis represent the UEN group which actively supported the production of the film.
After watching the film, Finnish MEP Ari Vatanen opined: "It is a powerful message. Thank you for telling the truth. It will awaken people. ... We cannot build a humanity if we close our eyes to this kind of massacres. Our possibility is to serve justice to those people. 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".
Vytautas Landsbergis, MEP and the former head of the Lithuanian parliament, assessed The Soviet Story as "a world class film, which should be shown to the world. Likewise, Latvia's Minister of Justice, Gaidis Bērziņš (For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK), has said that, because of its important historical message, he would encourage the Ministry of Education to have the film shown in all schools in Latvia.
Latvian political scientist and cultural commentator Ivars Ijabs offers a mixed review of The Soviet Story. On one hand, it's a well-made and "effective piece of cinematic propaganda in the good sense of this word", whose message is clearly presented to the audience. On the other hand, Ijabs does not agree with a number of historical interpretations in the film, asserting that it contains errors. For example, Ijabs states that, "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." Furthermore, Ijabs comments on the notion in the film voiced by the British literary historian, liberal and former political activist George G. Watson that Friedrich Engels is "the ancestor of the modern political genocide". Ijabs says: "To present Karl Marx as the "progenitor of modern genocide is simply to lie". Ijabs confirms, however, the use of the term Völkerabfälle in Marx's newspaper to describe several small European ethnic groups. Although sometimes translated as "racial trash", other translations include "residual nations" or "refuse of nations", that is, those left behind (discarded) by the dominant civilizations. Watson views have been also 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."
In Finland the film was shown in events organized by the irredentist group ProKarelia. A criminal complaint by Johan Bäckman, member of the Finnish Anti-Fascist Committee against ProKarelia has led to a criminal investigation on suspicion of showing violent scenes to minors, incitement to ethnic or racial hatred and propaganda of violence. The Finnish film inspection authority, however, did not find the film's content offensive and authorized its showing in Finland.
Film festivals and awards
The film has been screened in the following film festivals:
- 2008 Boston Film Festival – Boston, MA; received the "Mass Impact Award"
- 2008 KinoLev Film Festival – Lviv, Ukraine
- 2008 Black Nights Film Festival – Tallinn, Estonia
- 2008 Arsenals Film Festival – Riga, Latvia
- 2008 Promitey Film Festival – Tbilisi, Georgia
- 2008 Baltic Film Festival – Berlin, Germany
- 2009 Sedona International Film Festival – Sedona, Arizona
- 2009 Mene Tekel festival – Prague, Czech Republic
- 2009 Politicsonfilm Film Festival – Washington, US
- 2011 Free Minds Film Festival – Colorado Springs, Colorado
- 2012 Free Minds Film Festival – Colorado Springs, Colorado
In 2009 the film has been nominated for the biannual Latvian National Film Award Lielais Kristaps in the "Best Documentary" category.
In 2008 the president of Latvia, Valdis Zatlers awarded the director of the film, Edvins Snore with the Order of the Three Stars.
In 2009 Edvins Snore, for creating The Soviet Story, received the Estonian Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana.
A number of critics condemned the film even before its premiere. Boris Tsilevitch, a Latvian member of parliament representing Harmony Centre, stated that it was a "typical propaganda" and its release was timed to coincide with the 2009 Latvian elections for the European Parliament.
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, regards the film as a "propagandistic odd job, which is given out to be "a new word in history". She also thought that "the second part of the film is pure political PR": while the first part of the film pictures the point of view of some historians, contemporary politicians criticize modern Russia in the end of the film. Ždanoka also noted 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".
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.
On May 17, 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!") in front of the Embassy of Latvia in Moscow. An effigy representing Edvīns Šnore was burnt during the protest.
Alexander 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 said that "After watching two thirds of the film, I had only one wish: to kill its director and to burn down the Latvian Embassy." As a result of Dyukov's statements a criminal investigation was initiated against him in Latvia. Asked to comment on the case, Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš commented that Alexander Dyukov might be a "mentally unstable personality". Prime Minister of Estonia Mart Laar called Dyukov "an officer of FSB".
Boris Sokolov, one of the historians interviewed in the film, said: "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".
Irina Yarovaya, Russian MP, member of the General Council of Vladimir Putin's and ruling Russian party "United Russia", declared that The Soviet Story film "glorifies Estonian Nazi collaborators, those who killed people in Khatyn and in Pskov region".
In response to Yarovaya's statement which apparently confuses Katyn with Khatyn, 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."
No part of the film mentions Estonian Nazi collaborators. Moreover, the film's director has clearly stated: "The Soviet Story condemns Fascism/Nazism. The Soviet Story also reflects a point of view which is not shared by the Kremlin. As a result, the film is labeled as Fascist propaganda, even if the film describes Hitler and Nazism as criminal."
Johan Bäckman protested against the screening of The Soviet Story on the Estonian national TV. He asked the Estonian police to start a criminal investigation. The police, however, turned down Bäckman's request and refused to initiate a criminal investigation "due to the lack of crime".
In the end credits of the film it is stated that: "The Soviet Union killed more than 20,000,000 men, women and children. This film is dedicated to them."