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Myths of the Past vs Stories of the Future – 2

Today, the issue of the historical past interpretation is not just important, it has acquired a new dimension. Under the existing political turbulence, historical coincidences are being sought for contemporary developments in more liberal, sometimes even irresponsible, way. Spatio-temporal analogues are used as a tool to denounce political opponents through comparing them with historical antiheroes. Another direction in development of such trends is the search and "promotion" of unreasonably forgotten or deliberately underreported before heroes of the past. Very often such processes are camouflaged by modern research and methodological approaches with much skill.

The 1990s established a new direction in the Belarusian historical science intended to study the issues of emerging and activities of anti-Soviet armed clandestine structures on the Belarusian territory during the WW2 and the post-war period. On the one hand, research works based on diverse archival sources analysis came to light. On the other hand, there were publications aimed at "building new Belarusian identity", based mostly on reinvigorated political myths created by Belarusian political emigrant structures during the cold war.

The mid-90s began to actively promote the issue of anti-Soviet clandestine structures activity ("post-war resistance", "Belarusian resistance in a broad context"), who fought both against the Nazis and against the Soviet government. In particular, in the framework of the research project "Anti-Communist Opposition in Belarus 1945-1991" organized at the same time, several books dedicated to the issue were released as part of the "Archive of Modern History" publications series.

The publications combined the general methodological approaches of "building a new Belarusian identity" ("modern history" of Belarus). Emphasis was made on the reasons for insufficient study of anti-Soviet clandestine structures on the territory of the republic in the Belarusian historiography. First, this topic was not updated through media opportunities and the education system. Second, studying this issue is "traumatized consciousness"-related (participants and eyewitnesses of the examined events are not ready to talk about the totalitarian past, including due to the fear syndrome). As a result, the historian has to be both a researcher and a psychoanalyst.

In the view of the concept authors, because of unavailability of archival documents for "independent" researchers to confirm historical facts, the latter have to analyze published sources, reminiscences of the events participants, and emigrant periodicals. Besides, even the rare research publications that came to lights, had been published for the purpose of propaganda and are tendentious.

The concept is completed by a system of principles applied to scientific research, the principles of "diversity" and "panorama". The first one is based on the fact that Belarus is a multilingual, multinational and multi-confessional country. The second implies a coverage of the scale of events and the level of emotions in post-war Belarus. Showing not only the "Soviet totalitarian machine" activities but also the attempts of Belarusians to protect themselves from their impact.

It appears that the identified justification hides other components of the proposed concept. First, it is easy to justify inaccuracies, and sometimes actual myths promoted in the publications of new methodological approach supporters. "Alternative" historians have no access to sources, therefore they use what they have (emigrant periodicals, reminiscences of the events participants described, own interpretations). The so-called "official" publications cannot be trusted because of their bias. Second, the concept under question also has a political dimension. The interest in research inside new methodology is actively supported by the modern political structures of the Belarusian emigration and, above all, by the BNR Rada. Again, historical myths about "Black Cats" and the "Belarusian partisan" are disseminated. The participants of the anti-Soviet underground, which operated on the Belarussian territory in the post-war period (M. Vitushko, I. Romanchuk, E. Zhikhar), are glorified.

Information about E. Zhikhar, graduate of the Dalwitz intelligence school of the Abwehr, head of the anti-Soviet clandestine armed group, was earlier published by BISR. However, there is another reason to recall this "forgotten hero" in connection with the ensuing discussion regarding the display of his portrait at several art exhibitions. Zhikhar is shown with a machine gun in his hands standing in front of white-red-white flags. In the course if the last exhibition held in March 2021 in Grodno, the event organizers described him as "a person from the Belarusian resistance, a fighter against the Bolsheviks."

Let us leave aside the legal qualification of such actions, especially since it has already been already done by the prosecuting authorities. In the context of the historical politics, the embodiment of such images on the canvas is not just a desire to return to the "promotion" of the "hero" underreported for decades. This is an attempt to create a new perception on the whole about Belarusian anti-Soviet underground armed groups participants ("post-war resistance", "Belarusian resistance in a broad context"), who fought both against the Nazis and against the Soviet government. Visitors to the exhibitions that had been held, prior to Grodno, in Glubokoe, Postavy, Minsk, and even Sweden, had willingly or unwittingly to ask themselves: is Zhikhar a Nazi criminal or a tragic figure who became a victim of the Bolsheviks?

The active involvement of "the last "samurai" of the "Glubokschyna" (from Belarusian "Hlybokaye District") in the operation of the pro-Nazi Union of the Belarusian Youth and the Belarusian Independent Party, training in the Abwehr intelligence school, leading a gang group and participating in numerous murders and robberies of Soviet citizens in the post-war period do not matter. What matters is that this "talented guy" wrote poetry, worked as a school teacher, was hiding successfully from law enforcement officers for about 10 years and was killed by them while offering armed resistance.

There is a clear example of implementing one of the approaches of the introduced concept, "building new Belarusian identity" or "modern history" of Belarus – the need to investigate "post-war resistance", collaboration, "the colonial policy of the Soviet government", "Belarusian resistance in a broad context" (1920s to 1950s). The words of regret expressed earlier by such methodological approach supporters that in the Republic of Belarus the issue of "Belarusian resistance to the Bolshevik occupiers" in the 1940s–1950s, is prohibited and someone does not want the young generation of Belarusian patriots to know about their predecessors and their "heroic fight for freedom and independence", were finally heard.

Moreover, according to the author of the scandalous picture, Zhikhar is a representative of the resistance similar to the "cursed soldiers" actions in Poland in the post-war period. In fact, a new concept of "alternative" historical policy – "Belarusian cursed soldiers" - has been formulated before our eyes. Not trying to rehabilitate the Polish "cursed soldiers", for the sake of objectivity, we note that during the WW2, they usually did not collaborate with the Nazis.

The negative image of the Polish "cursed soldiers" in the Belarusian historical narrative has already been established. BISR had published the relevant information. We assume there is no need to enhance the already negative attitude towards the "cursed soldiers" trying to add the former participants of Belarusian collaborationist groups who had actively interacted with the Nazi occupation authorities and who then became the core of anti-Soviet underground, to this category.

It is a pity we have to prove this again, and at a period when opponents resort to all kinds of pseudoscientific subterfuges. Terrible Nazi crimes on the Belarusian land are no longer denied. The responsibility for the crimes lies not only with the occupying German authorities, but even with their accomplices who directly engaged in the punitive actions. There are also no direct attempts to rehabilitate the Nazi collaborators.

At the same time, statements about the existence of a certain "Belarusian national conspiracy" during the war years are becoming more frequent. It appeared that its participants who served in the military and police formations, the occupation administration, actually risked their lives to protect civilians from Nazi repression. Such "resistance" members, many of whom turned out to have been killed by the Nazis or the Bolsheviks, should have a chance for rehabilitation.

Once again, we reiterate that each generation has "its own" history, "its own" vision of the past. At the same time, there are generally recognized established principles – "red lines", which cannot be ignored, all the more crossed. The evolutionary continuity of the generational perception of the past must be ensured based on objective scientific research.

One of these principles is the criminalization of fascism in all its forms and manifestations. Another axiom condemns all forms of extremism. Such approaches were set up while summarizing the WW2 outcomes and found their legal consolidation in resolutions of the Yalta and Berlin conferences, as well as ruling of International Tribunals over war criminals in Nuremberg and Tokyo.