Russia remembers war amid history dispute

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The Kremlin has made remembrance of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany a cornerstone of its thinking and has lashed out at what it says are attempts to deny the truth of what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.

Moscow -- Russia on Monday marked the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, with bitterness over alleged distortions of history by neighbours and ex-allies still festering after almost seven decades.

The controversial pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (Us) bussed in thousands of activists from around the country for a dawn rally to drum home a message of keeping alive the memory of the Soviet Union's heroism.

Meanwhile, a prominent Russian MP who is a member of a new historical commission set up by President Dmitry Medvedev accused the West of seeking to distort history and said Russia had no reason to be ashamed of its past.

The Kremlin has made remembrance of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany a cornerstone of its thinking and has lashed out at what it says are attempts to deny the truth of what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War.

Several thousand Nashi activists held candles in a park at Sparrow Hills in western Moscow as dawn broke over the Moscow river below. They then went on to attach thousands of bells to trees to create an "alley of memory."

Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov praised the heroism of Soviet troops and their subsequent achievements in building the post-war Soviet superpower.

"They (the Soviet troops) were victorious. They went home then and they then rebuilt everything that was destroyed. They then sent a man into space. We thank you and we bow down low in front of you."

Robert Shlegel, a Nashi activist turned MP from the ruling United Russia party, added: "The war itself is not over. Not because the last soldier has not been buried but because attempts are being made to rewrite history and rehabilitate our enemies. We need such events to tell the truth about war."

Nashi -- which emerged under Vladimir Putin's presidency and is clearly modelled on Communist-era youth groups -- boasted that it mustered 15,000 people in the rally at 4:00 am (midnight GMT).

Loudspeakers re-broadcast a famous Soviet radio broadcast that announced the pre-dawn invasion of German troops on June 22, 1941 at the start of Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, aimed at conquering the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people in the war, far more than the rest of the Allies put together, and defeated the Nazis in some of the key battles of the war, such as the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43.

Last month Medvedev formed a commission to defend the country from historical falsifications, after criticising "malicious and aggressive" attempts to rewrite the history of World War II.

In recent years, the celebration of anti-Soviet wartime resistance movements in Ukraine and the Baltic States has angered the Kremlin, which argues that the resistance fighters collaborated with Nazi Germany.

Konstantin Zatulin, a nationalist MP who is a member of the commission, said some NATO members such as the Baltic states "want to present World War II like a (Soviet) occupation."

"The Russian Federation cannot be ashamed of its past and accept these interpretations. We have our own view of history confirmed by proof and real facts," Zatulin said.

The foreign ministry last week protested that among the leaders of former Allied powers who took part in a ceremony marking D-Day on June 6, only US President Barack Obama mentioned the Soviet contribution to the war effort.

Many in Russia are also irritated by the West's focus on crimes committed by wartime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who recently came third in a poll for the country's greatest personality.

"Many historical works published recently in the West put the Soviet Union on the same plane as Nazi Germany. But you can't compare. In 1941 the Soviet Union had no intention to attack Germany," said Zatulin.

Stuart Williams/AFP/Expatica

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