Saturday, April 18, 2015

Toy Soldiers

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - A witch hunt for German toy soldiers with swastikas has been pursued by ultra-patriots or 'ura-patriots', from a youth agency based in the Rospatriot centre. They aim to visit and check out toy shops to see if any toy German soldiers dawn swastikas and SS Wehrmacht uniforms.

'We plan to collect information systematically and if we discover violations, we will pass on this information to the authorities', declares their spokeswoman, Ksenia Raszuvaera. 

The inspections come following a scandal where a toy shop in Lubyanka was closed down after a shocked visitor discovered busts of SS Commando Otto Skorzeny were being openly displayed. The legal authorities accuse shop managers of vagrantly violating the Law of the Russia
Federation where the legal code forbids Nazis propaganda  'inciting hatred or hostility and so humiliating the dignity of war veterans'.

Second City Teachers went to see what the fuss was about.

Hans Christian Anderson thought every toy soldier tells a story. He himself was a collector of toy soldiers. In his charming tale 'The Old House', a young boy attempts to alleviate the hauntingly lingering loneliness of an old neighbour by presenting him with one of his tin soldiers. But not all the old war veterans, even if they felt lonely, would welcome being presented with a German toy soldier with
swastikas and would certainly be shocked if they discovered their grandchildren were playing with them! This is the misleading impression they would obtain if they perused the Russian tabloid papers.

The scandal erupted when the Russian state channel 'Rossiya One', claimed that 'toy soldiers', supposedly representing the SS commando Otto Skorzeny and tank ace Michael Wittmann, were on sale within the vicinity of Red Square where the 70th Anniversary of the Day of Victory is due to take place. The managers of this toy shop have
been hit by a  legal court order accusing them of violating the law attempting to glorify fascism and so offend war veterans. The war veteran Mark Ivannikhin stated 'Why are they now selling those toys with fascist regalia? I saw those Nazis ... I can't recall one act of charity from them. All before us they kept our people down, especially in 1941 and 1942- burning people alive, using violence against people, bullying and mocking us. Look what they did at Auschwitz? I think children need toys but not Nazis ones. It should be forbidden to bring up children in the spirit of fascism'.

The managers of the toy shop have been accused of a litany of sins such as 'ignorance about the wartime past', 'more interested in profits than patriotism', 'insensitivity to war veterans' and worse, 'promoting fascism'. However, are any of those allegations really fair? Does the latest court order not represent a hysterical over-reaction?

When I dropped into the model shop 'World of Models', at the
Olympic stadium in Prospect Mir (or rather tried to drop in) I
found it was closed down. The door had been sealed up
and a court order could be read informing customers 'the shop has been closed for violating article 282 of the Legal
code of the law of the Russian Federation which forbids 'inciting hatred or hostility and so humiliating the human dignity of war veterans.' I noticed one familiar face of a manager standing outside who told me, 'The shop is closed'. I asked, 'Why have they closed you down?' He offered articulate and well presented arguments as to why this court order lacked not only logic, but a legal basis.

'We have presented our case to the authorities but they have
ignored us. They won't listen to us. The idea that we are in
anyway glorifying or promoting the Nazis is insane. If you insist on banning toy soldiers or tanks with swastikas or SS regalia, it means you can't accurately tell the story of the Great Patriotic war. I mean how do you describe a tank battle where SS Panzer divisions played an important role but it is a crime to mention the word SS?  What do you say? That this unknown German Panzer division fought at this part of the front ...Yes, I feel sorry about the great losses we suffered during the war, but we still need to tell the full story and look
at the war from all angles. A Greek philosopher said that the truth of history must be seen from many perspectives.'  Many of the manager's arguments echoed the view of Boris Sumarokov, the manager of another shop at the centre of this controversy, 'Models for Youth'. In a recent interview in 'Moscow Evening', he expressed his deep apologies if he unwittingly offended any war veterans. I have personally encountered Boris on a few occasions and can testify he is a very polite and helpful member of staff that goes out of his way to help customers.

The idea that he wantonly violated the law he stands accused of is just patently and plainly absurd! To the question that the particular model SS soldiers are not for children but collectors and therefore should not be displayed in a toy shop, he concedes, 'I don't exclude that perhaps it is not necessarily. But perhaps there is no need to to sell German soldiers in general? It will be enough to sell Soviet
soldiers ... Go ahead, you are welcome.'

However, if Boris made some innocent mistake in displaying soldiers in the wrong place and in the wrong way, it is nothing in comparison to the ignorance of the tabloid journalists who know nothing about the world of model figurines.

Firstly, the bust of Otto Skorzeny, priced at 20,000 rubles, is not a toy or intended to be used by children. They are models for a very small number of affluent collectors. The bust also qualifies as a work of art. The main buyers tend to be amateur enthusiasts who adore tanks and may be obsessed with military history. If you enter those model shops you won't see many such soldiers. This is because they represent only a small niche in the market which is not as profitable as journalists would have you believe. I mean how many customers can afford or want to purchase a bust at 20,000 rubles?

Most figurines on display in these shops tend to be ancient Romans, Greeks and the Napoleonic sets. People collect them to obtain a more authentic feel for historical events or wish to teach their children what happened during the war. A journalist should at least make the subtle distinction between a model, and toy soldier. While you play with a toy soldier, a model soldier is meant to be collected, painted and displayed. The journalists and court can't even get this fact
right. So if you are going to legally ban the sales of items, at least take the trouble to find out what exactly you intend to ban. Busts are not toy soldiers.

Secondly, it does not follow that if you sell a bust, it is an attempt to 'glorify', 'promote' or 'bring up children in fascism'. On the contrary, those busts can be used by history teachers to tell their students of the horrors of fascism. So people  should stop mind-reading the so-called intentions of sales -men or customers. There is no intention to harm or offend anyone.

But if the authorities are so concerned about banning Fascism, then why are they allowing Neo-Nazis to gather at a conference in Saint Petersburg?

Why the double standards? Was it because the Neo-Nazis carefully blotted out the swastikas they were wearing on their leather jackets?

Following the Pussy Riot Scandal, some one took a photo of a Russian wearing a tee shirt with a Nazis Swastika standing not far from the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill at an Orthodox rally. Nobody took any legal action against this demonstrator!

When I dropped into one model Shop at the back of the Aviation and Space museum I caught sight of a Junker 87 dive bomber with a Swastika on its tail. Should the offensive item be taken down and removed from the museum?

If found guilty, managers could face four years in jail. That would be just ludicrous by any standards.

According to other Russian laws, those figures could be displayed for pedagogical purposes or on film sets. Perhaps the managers could have more creatively displayed the busts by telling the story of Otto Skorzeny by attaching an essay next to the figures.

Hans Christian Anderson said that every soldier narrates a story and the story of Otto Skorzeny tells the story of the war in a highly instructive way.


Oberstrurmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny, (1908-1975), was Hitler's favorite commando. His most famous exploits included the rescue of Mussolini, helping to crush the plot against Hitler, his role in the Battle of the Bulge where his men pretended to be American soldiers and his kidnapping of the son of the Hungarian leader to blackmail Hungary into continuing the war against Russia.

The last case reveals a largely unknown fact that Hungary invaded Russia in 1941, before the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956.

But Skorzeny was acquitted by an American war crimes court
because they couldn't find any witnesses against him and a
British officer made a statement in his defense. Skorzeny was then employed by the American government to train paratroopers.

After the war, Skorzeny lived in Ireland and Spain helping Nazis fugitives escape to South America under an organisation called 'Odessa'. Tom Bower, in his book Blind Eye to Murder', 1981, writes that 'De-Nazification was a failure and war criminals escaped'. He argued that thouands of ex-Nazis concentration camp goalers, lawyers, soldiers and gestapo members responsible for mass murder became leading members in the new German Government who were the architects of the 'German miracle'.


Maybe it would be more constructive to fight real fascists?
However, innocuous plastic figurines can't conveniently fight

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