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Russia: Criminal Law and the Soviet Role in WWII

(Mar. 6, 2009) On February 24, 2009, the Vice-Chairman of the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian legislature), while in Poland attending events commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, stated that Russia may join other Western countries whose laws establish criminal responsibility for Holocaust denial. This statement immediately became a subject of controversy in Russia. Leaders of the United Russia Party, which has a constitutional majority in both chambers of the Russian Parliament, initiated the drafting of a bill that sets up a punishment in the form of imprisonment for statements that deny the leading role of the former Soviet Union in the World War II victory. Opponents of the bill stated, “while the Holocaust is a fact of the murder of millions of people, the discussion of an entity's role in a military victory is an issue of historical discourse and cannot be the subject of criminal prosecution.” (Nikolai Svanidze, An Interesting Proposal, EZHEDNEVNYI ZHURNAL [Daily Journal], Feb. 27, 2009, available at

Nevertheless, within a few days, the idea of enacting legislation as drafted by the United Russia Party became extremely popular and was supported by members of government and various political leaders. Some members of the opposition indicated that they will vote for this proposal only if the bill includes provisions similarly punishing denial of the mass murder of innocent people during the Stalin-era repressions. This position was strongly criticized, however, by the government-backed parliamentary majority. (Alexander Vasilyev, Defenders of War, KOMMERSANT [a Russian-language daily newspaper], Feb. 25, 2009, available at