The Guardian • Issue #2053

De-Sovietisation and the rise of the far right

Flowers and ribbon for Victory Day.


This year’s Victory Day celebrations in Germany were held on 9th May at the Soviet Memorial Tiergarten in Berlin.

Two men dressed in Soviet Union military uniforms walked straight-legged onto the monument in front of a bed of flowers. Supporters wore clothes in Russia’s national colours: red, blue, and white.

The police had banned flags, chants, military songs, and uniforms to avoid anti-Russian demonstrations. The Ukrainian flag was banned, but this was overturned by a higher court, after complaints by Ukrainian activists. Following the ceremony, Germany sold US$3 billion of arms to Ukraine. The Soviet Union’s huge sacrifice in the defeat of Nazism is being eradicated from history.

On 7th April 2022, the Soviet Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park was desecrated with blood stains and political messages attacking the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The memorial is a cemetery for 7000 Red Army soldiers, many of them Ukrainians. Slogans such as “Death to all Russians” and “Kill Russians” appeared on social media and an anti-Communism demonstration was organised by the far right for 9th April. Żaklin Nastić, a member of the political party Die Linke (The Left), condemned the incident and said the German government must “protect all memorials and people of Russian origin.”

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has seen de-Sovietisation and the vandalism of Soviet monuments and war graves in eastern Europe, the Baltic states and elsewhere. In May 2023 a 60-year-old woman desecrated the grave of President Vladimir Putin’s parents, leaving a note saying they had “brought up a monster and a murderer.”

Anti-Soviet sentiment has been fuelled by the far right and in reaction to the discredited historian Timothy D Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010). Snyder’s sources are Ukrainian nationalists and far right propaganda, blaming the Soviet Union for atrocities in eastern Europe. The book was recommended by the Hungarian government as required reading.

The far right is well organised in Europe. In 2022 twenty-five people were arrested in Germany for plotting a coup. The far-right group was preparing to storm the Reichstag (parliament) and seize power.

In Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy political party is considered by CNN as “the most far-right government since the fascist era of Benito Mussolini.” In Sweden, a party with “neo-Nazi roots” won more than 20 percent of the vote in elections. The EU parliament declared Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Hungary was no longer a “full democracy.” Ukraine has had a history of far-right politics since 1991 (see the Guardian #2000 28th March 2022).

In April 2023 the Russian Embassy to Azerbaijan was outraged at the desecration of the Russian cemetery of Zabrat in Baku. “We strongly condemn the vandalism, during which around 100 graves of our compatriots were damaged. It causes resentment and anger. Given the scale of this brazen act, it’s hard to call it a random act of hooliganism.” It is one of many Russian cemeteries and monuments that have been vandalised or destroyed under the De-Sovietisation of Europe.

Although there are no monuments glorifying the Nazis in Lithuania, in June 2022 a law prohibiting totalitarianism, called the “deSovietisation” law, was drafted by the Lithuanian parliament. Estonia’s government followed suit, ordering the country’s 400 Soviet war monuments destroyed. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, said that because of Russian aggression these communist monuments are being removed “to avoid additional tensions.”

In Eastern Europe activists have painted Soviet memorials in the colours of the Ukraine national flag as an expression of solidarity. In September 2022, the graves from the Russian Imperial Army of World War I were razed in Ladomirov, Slovakia. The same month the Soviet memorial cemetery in Warsaw was painted with obscenities on the sculpture of the Red Army soldiers.

Attacks on Soviet memorials began after Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. The following year, the graves of 57 Soviet soldiers were vandalized in Milejczyce, Poland. The Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski said, “We condemn all acts of vandalism at war cemeteries.” There are 1615 Soviet soldiers buried at the cemetery in mass graves. In February 2016 a memorial dedicated to Soviet soldiers killed in Hungary was vandalised. The cemetery in Csor contains the remains of the 170 Soviet soldiers, their names immortalised in engravings. There are 1000 Soviet war cemeteries in Hungary, with the remains of 95,000 Soviet soldiers. Desecrations have also occurred in Athens, Greece and Falesti, Moldova.

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