May Day is significant for a number of reasons. A traditional Spring holiday in many agrarian cultures, it has since the Second International been designated as International Workers’ Day. In over a hundred countries around the world it is officially recognised as a state holiday to celebrate the debt society owes to its labouring classes. Appropriately enough, it also marks the end of Nazi Europe, because in 1944 the first of May saw the last full day’s fighting between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht in the streets of Berlin. The iconic photograph of a Red Army soldier hoisting the hammer and sickle up the Reichstag roof was taken on May the second.
Here is how the BBC celebrated May Day this year. The day marks not socialism, nor the end of the Nazi Regime, nor Soviet and Allied victory, but “the most infamous rape in history”. The Rape Of Berlin, the accompanying documentary, aired on BBC World Service the day after. This was emphatically not a news story. It was a re-tread of material that had been extensively covered by popular historian Antony Beevor in his 2002 book Berlin: The Downfall. It received widespread media coverage at the time, both in the BBC and the national press, even though it wasn’t exactly original research then either. There is nothing but anecdotal evidence to support the idea that Red Army soldiers raped a lot of German women after Berlin fell, but what evidence there is comes from Germans and Russians alike, and appears credible. I would not deny for a moment that it happened, and that it was widespread.
The rape of German woman by Red Army troopers is a perfectly valid historical subject, but it is not news, and this is the anniversary of many other important things too. It heralded the end of World War Two, and the thousands of rapes these soldiers probably committed were only one terrible episode in a series of larger atrocities. The Nazis killed almost twenty seven million Russians in their misbegotten blitzkrieg for lebensraum. The war they began, and the holocaust it accelerated, ended when the Red Army finished fighting its 1700 mile counter-attack from Stalingrad to Berlin. The Soviet Union lost 80,000 men during the Battle of Berlin alone. Why this attempt, at this time, to fix “The Rape of Berlin” in the popular consciousness?
The article and documentary above are the work of Lucy Ash, who happens to be the wife of John Kampfner. She began her radio career as a producer for the BBC’s Moscow bureau in 1990. Since the Euromaidan, Ash has reportedly extensively on developments in the Ukraine, from the usual MSM position that Russia is an aggressive, duplicitous, tyrannical, expansionist enemy to freedom and democracy, two values she inevitably portrays as inalienable Western traits. See, for example, here, here, and here (this last one is particularly interesting for those who believe the LGBT drive against the Winter Olympics constituted hypocritical, propagandist Russia-bashing fed by Washington-funded NGOs).
Ash subscribes to a weltanschauung in which the pro-Russian inhabitants of eastern Ukraine do not exist. They are something between victims and mannequins, behind which hide Putin’s covert commandos. Tweeting an Anne Applebaum article (unsurprisingly, she’s an Applebaum fan) Ash observes the Ukrainian civil war is an artificial construct, and that there is no history of ethnic conflict between the people of the Ukraine. How strange that Ash, with her abiding interest in Russia’s World War Two history, should appear ignorant of Stepan Bandera, and the neo-Nazis who now comprise the mainstay of Kiev’s military forces.
It is this selective and political viewpoint which underpins “The Rape of Berlin”. Ash managed to get her May Day Rape of Berlin story in the Daily Telegraph too, under her own by-line, where it was echoed by the paper’s Moscow correspondent Roland Oliphant. Olpihant reported from Moscow that this year’s May Day parade had a turnout of over 100,000. Events in the Ukraine, he wrote, had given it a certain flavour – many marchers wore the orange and black ribbons of St George, invoking military valour in defence of the Motherland. This was totally predictable, given that Kiev’s US-endorsed coup government is currently busy killing the Russian majority inhabiting its eastern regions. This, however, is not something Oliphant (or Ash) can admit to.
May Day in Russia, Oliphant insists, is merely “the beginning of a week of days off and general skiving that is the highlight of the working calendar”. More egregious still is Oliphant’s further insistence that May Day is only celebrated at all because “the cult of the Second World War” is “the nearest thing Vladimir Putin’s state has to an official ideology.” Plainly Oliphant, who hails from East Sussex, has never once witnessed the chest-beating way his own country, and his own paper, regard Britain’s sacrifices in both world wars.
Neither Oliphant, nor Ash, has reported that since the Kiev coup, May Day is now banned in the Ukraine, where the Communist and Socialist parties are now also banned, as was, briefly, the Russian language itself. But then anti-communism has always been one of the hallmarks of fascism.
After last year’s May Day, in Odessa, Ukrainian neo-nazis burnt forty-two pro-Russian trade unionists to death in their own headquarters while the police looked on and did nothing. Svobada‘s press office have said the party wants to celebrate that day – the 2nd of May, 2014 – as “a day of victory over the Kremlin terrorist groups, the day of purification from the Kremlin infection”. President Petro Poroshenko even told journalists that the Russians had secretly placed “toxic substances” in the Trade Unions House to increase the number of civilian deaths, and that the whole thing was a false flag. No one in the Western press has condemned Poroshenko as a conspiracy theorist, and it appears neither Oliphant nor Ash consider any of this relevant as regards their May Day reportage.
Perhaps if Lucy Ash is interested in the sexual crimes of World War Two soldiers, she might also like to investigate the millions of rapes committed by German soldiers during Operation Barbarossa, or the thousands of rapes committed by American GIs in Europe (estimates for this figure varying wildly between 11,ooo and 190,000). If Ash was feeling particularly reflective, she might like to ponder that mass rape has always been how the hegemonic state demonises its enemies, as was seen recently during NATO’s regime change in Libya. But none of that would serve the purposes of the New Orthodoxy.
EDIT TO ADD: This May Day, US-led air strikes in northern Syria killed “at least” 52 civilians. Perhaps Ash might also like to consider why the West can support anti-government forces in Syria but Moscow cannot support anti-government forces in Novorussia.
EDIT TO FURTHER ADD: Also this May Day, US-supported air strikes in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is trying to reinstall its unpopular puppet leader, hit a hospital and medical camp, killing at least 58 civilians and injuring at least 67. Again, perhaps Ash or some other proponent of the New Orthodoxy might care to explain how the Saudis can bomb another country in order to return its ousted dictator to power without a word of disagreement from the mainstream media.by