Angry veterans in Almaty have burned a Kazakhstani magazine featuring a profile of Adolf Hitler, accusing the editor of glorifying the Nazi leader. The controversy has sparked a diplomatic row between Kazakhstan and Russia, with tensions heightened by the magazine’s overt comparison of Hitler to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
War veterans gathered beside the imposing memorial to World War II in Almaty’s Panfilov Park on April 21 and burned issues of the Kazakh-language Anyz Adam (Legendary Person) magazine, which displays a large photo of Hitler on the cover.
“We are deeply concerned by a publication which glorifies Hitler,” said Aygul Baykamadamova, the granddaughter of Soviet war hero General Ivan Panfilov, calling for the magazine to be closed down and editor Zharylkap Kalybay to be prosecuted.
Kalybay, who is under investigation on charges of inciting ethnic, social, or religious enmity (a crime carrying a maximum 12-year sentence in Kazakhstan), defended the magazine at a stormy press conference in Almaty later that day.
“Publishing an article about him, we wanted to demonstrate his evilness,” Kalybay said, pointing out that few of those who had criticized the magazine had actually read it.
Each issue of Anyz Adam profiles a famous person who has changed the course of history, and previous issues have featured an eclectic mix of personalities including Joseph Stalin (the architect of the Soviet’s Union’s murderous political terror in the 1930s and 1940s); Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan; and Kazakhstan’s own president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The Russian Foreign Minsitry described the publication of the Hitler profile ahead of the anniversary of the end of the war next month – which is celebrated as Victory Day on May 9 with much pomp in Russia and across the former Soviet Union – as “sacrilegious.”
No doubt to Moscow’s chagrin, Kalybay – who denies stirring up enmity – has compared Hitler’s policies with those of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last month and whose rule has seen xenophobia, especially toward Central Asians, spread.
In the magazine, “we drew parallels and experts compared Putin to Hitler, after he annexed Crimea,” Kalybay said. “After Putin came to power [in 2000], skinheads and neo-fascists increased in number in the Russian Federation. […] They carry flags with swastikas in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other places. They beat up non-Slavic people at night and even kill them. These are facts, everyone knows it.”
“Unfortunately, if we are guilty by just writing about this, then are we living in Kazakhstan or in Russia?” Kalybay asked.
Moscow protested to Astana on April 18, emphasizing “the absolute impermissibility of this type of publication on the territory of Kazakhstan” and urging the authorities to “give an appropriate official reaction,” ITAR-TASS reported.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry responded on April 21 with a statement apparently designed to pacify the Kremlin, describing the publication of the profile of “one of the bloodiest villains in the history of mankind” as “unacceptable.”
“This is an insult to the sensibilities and memory of millions of people, particularly veterans of the Great Patriotic War [World War II] who fought valiantly against fascism, defending the motherland from the monstrous Hitlerite machine and dying on the battlefield,” the ministry added.
The row comes at a time of heightened regional sensitivities due to the crisis in Ukraine. Russia accuses the new government in Kyiv of supporting a fascist ideology, which it denies, and backing Ukrainian nationalists.
Nazarbayev has supported the Kremlin and called the Kyiv government “neo-fascists.” But tensions over Ukraine have already sparked several diplomatic spats between Astana and Moscow over claims by Russian nationalist politicians to the territory of northern Kazakhstan.