Russian state television channel Rossiya 1 presented a sugary image of the relations between the countries of the Eastern bloc, justifying Soviet invasions of neighboring countries, which has recenly sparked diplomatic protests in Prague and Bratislava.
On May, 20 Rossiya 1 televised documentary ‘The Warsaw Pact: Declassified Documents’ that presents an alternative vision of the history of the organization. The filmmakers showed the Warsaw Pact (WarPac, WP), commonly considered by the countries of Eastern Europe as an instrument of Soviet domination, as a guarantor of peace in Europe and stated that it aimed to ‘stop the aggressive imperialist policy of Western countries’.
According to the Russian side, it is ‘the militarization of Western countries led by the United States’ that resulted in making the pact on mutual military defense. This alliance was ‘built on full equality between the member states’, the filmmakers stress. In sober fact, however, the USSR had to force several members to equality.
The authors of the documentary show earlier Soviet interventions in Central Europe in a positive way. Sergei Khrushchev, a son of former Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, appeared as an advocate of the USSR. In his opinion, the Soviet Union had the right to intervene in Hungary.
“Hungary was an ally of Hitler and international agreements entitled the Soviet Union to intervene to restore order,” he added.
Recall that the event in question happened in … 1956!
Russian MP Yuri Sinelshchikov, a participant of the 1968 invasion, presents his own version of events:
“The Soviet troops were shelled with machine guns from streets and roofs of buildings. There were also cases of arsoning tanks by aggressive residents of Prague.”
Then the narrator explains that the USSR started to weigh bringing Warsaw Treaty troops into the territory of Czechoslovakia. However, the same film says that Sinelshchikov was serving in the army in East Germany, not in Czechoslovakia, so he hardly witnessed what was going on before the troops entered. However, he was invited as an expert on the situation in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Sinelshchikov also suggests that Prague opposition sympathized with Nazis, and their actions were similar to those of armed mercenaries. He remembered the name of the organization – Group 231 – it united the dissidents who wanted to express solidarity with the people jailed under Article 231 ‘On protection of the republic’. The film is not to slow to simply call them ‘collaborators with Hitler’.
The interviews come amid the footage of burning tanks and the protest rally. The authors resorted to episodes of Soviet propaganda films of 1968 which were not commented on. However, now a Russian viewer sees stacks of rifles (archive footage), and the film narrator – our contemporary – explains that they were found in one of the ministries and states that they were to have been used in the ‘coup’. The Warsaw Pact action was intended to prevent the NATO invasion of Czechoslovakia, the filmmakers stress proving up on the then NATO military exercises in Bavaria, which were held close to the Czechoslovakian border.
Historian Vladimir Bruz, an expert on the Warsaw Treaty, justifies the intervention as well. According to him, the intervention was a ‘commitment in the frames of uniting the nations on the principles of Socialist International’ that dictated its members ‘to provide assistance to one another in case the gains of socialism arre threatened’.
Vladimir Bruz also claims that the Warsaw Pact never controlled its member states’ internal policies to such a degree as NATO did.
The rest of the film focuses on the memories of ex-servicemen who participated in the exercises of the Warsaw pact armies.
A genuine brotherhood reigned in the armies of the WP members, and it was strengthened in the course of major international maneuvers, the film says. Theodor Hoffman, a former East German People’s Navy admiral, remembers those times:
“I have a quick remembrance of the exercise ‘Brothers in arms’ <…> In the daytime we worked hard, and evenings we strengthened our friendly ties. I will never forget those times.”
The film also emphasizes the greatness and power of the Pact, which the member states were expected to be proud of. The political strength of the organization was so great that General Jaruzelski decided to introduce martial law in Poland for the fear of intervention, the authors state. The narrator says that the ‘brave decision’ put an end to months of political instability in the country and restored order in the streets of Polish cities.
However, this wonderful organization came to its end as well. Recalling that day, Vladimir Lobov, Commander of the General Staff of the Member States armies, cannot keep in his sadness. On July 1, 1991 the summit of leaders of WarPac member states took place. The Soviet president was to return from Washington by the end of the summit and even failed to comment on proposals to disband the Warsaw Pact, which was put forward by Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia. In an atmosphere of general indifference, he say, a decision to terminate the agreement was adopted.
Roland Dumas, French Foreign Minister in 1989-1991, also mentions that although NATO was committed not to expand its borders to former Warsaw Pact member states, it happened. The film narrator considers this as a betrayal of the West and draws conclusions: we must be strong so that such great alliances would never disintegrate in the future.
The interviewees unanimously praise the strength of the Warsaw Treaty and its achievements. According to the filmmakers, such incidents as the intervention in Czechoslovakia were unimportant part of its actions that were always justified.
Prague and Bratislava have been protesting against televising the documentary. The film is ‘a false production that distorts the truth,” the Slovakian Foreign Ministry says in a statement published on its website. In his turn, Czech Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, described the film as ‘ a rude, lying and gross distortion of history”.