Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
by Dave Essel
A tradition that neo-Nazi Russia continues from its Soviet predecessor is hypocrisy in its awarding of medals, thus devaluing, and making a mockery of, these strange little bits of metal that states award their most exemplary citizens.
Russia’s top medal, that of Hero of Russia (shown at left), “is bestowed on those committing actions or deeds that involve conspicuous bravery while in the service of the state. It has been presented about 750 times since its creation in 1992, primarily to cosmonauts or to those involved with military action in the region of Chechnya. Several artists, politicians, economists and athletes have also been awarded the title.”
Note, however, that one recent recipient was “FSB deputy director Vladimir Pronichev [...] for his role during the Nord-Ost terrorist incident, a case where as “Sovershenno Sekretno” recalls, 129 of the 130 who died were victims of the use of lethal gas by people under his command.
Who would want to be a Hero of Russia after this? Could any recipient ever feel that he or she was joining a select band now?
The Soviet Union’s and Russia’s other medals are equally sullied by the sort of people they are given to and eroded by the quantities in which they were and are showered.
Hero of the Soviet Union (shown at right), established 1934, was “awarded personally or collectively for heroic feats in service to the Soviet state and society. The total number of persons who were awarded this title is 12,745.
Compare this to Britain’s Victoria Cross (shown left), which is likewise awarded for “… most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy” but has only been given, with care for significance, 1,356 times to 1,353 individual recipients since its introduction in 1856. Exactly the same applies to the United States’ Medal of Honour (shown below), established 1862 and awarded since then equally exactingly just 3,456 times to 3,446 recipients for having “while a member of the Army, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty”.
In yet a further debasement of the reason for medals, Russia seems to like to give medals to participants in shameful acts, seemingly believing that this will whitewash the act:
Rescuers involved in Beslan release operation awarded with medals
Rescuers who were involved in the release operation of hostages from the first Beslan school that was captured by terrorists in September 2004 will be awarded with Russian state medals at a ceremonial meeting on the Victory anniversary in the North Ossetian Emergencies Ministry, aide to the Emergencies Minister Vladimir Ivanov said. Firefighters of the state firefighting service, servicemen and civil staff of the Emergencies Ministry are awarded with orders and medals. Lieu. Aslanbek Beroyev is awarded with the Order of Valour posthumously. [...] Meanwhile, five officers and firefighters of the sixth Beslan firefighting unit were awarded with medals for Courage and 23 people – with medals For rescue of people.
This Russian behaviour with its medals is nothing new, I recently discovered. Anthony Beevor, in his book The Fall of Berlin 1945 (Penguin, 2002), recounts the following about the evacuation of Germans from East Prussia during the Soviet advance at the end of the war:
The chief seaport for evacuations from the Baltic coast was Gdynia (or Gotenhafen), just north of Danzig. [...] On 30 January , Germany’s largest ‘Strength through Joy’ sea-cruise liner, the Wilhelm Gustloff, which had been designed to take 2,000 passengers, left with between 6,600 and 9,000 people aboard. That night, escorted by single motor torpedo boat, it was stalked by a Soviet submarine of the Baltic Fleet. Captain A.I. Marinesco fired three torpedoes. All hit their target. Exhausted refugees, shaken from their sleep, panicked. There was a desperate rush to reach the lifeboats. Many were cut off below as the icy sea rushed in: the air temperature outside was minus eighteen Celsius. The lifeboats which had been launched were upset by desperate refugees leaping from the ship’s side. The ship sank in less than an hour. Between 5,300 and 7,400 people lost their lives. The 1,300 survivors were rescued by vessels, led by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. It was the greatest maritime disaster in history.
Russia historians, even today, still stick to the official Soviet line and claim that the ship carried ‘over 6,000 Hitlerites on board, of which 3,700 were submariners’. The main interest in Russia seems to be not the fate of the victims, but in that of the triumphant submarine commander A.I. Marinesco. The recommendation to make him a Hero of the Soviet Union was refused by the NKVD, because he had had an affair with a foreign citizen, a crime for which he narrowly escaped a tribunal and an automatic sentence to the Gulag. Only in 1990, ‘on the eve of the forty-fifth anniversary of the victory’, was he finally and posthumously made a Hero of the Soviet Union. [emphasis mine]”
Things just don’t change in Russia…