Yesterday, one month before the beginning of the European Football Championship in the Ukraine, a new Russo-Ukrainian movie was presented on the most famous international match played in the country in the past hundred years. It is very fitting indeed to such occasion to recall the illustrious events of the host country’s sport history, especially when the one-time opponent participates again in the championship.

The movie focuses on the football match played on 9 August 1942 in Kiev’s Zenit stadium, where the soldiers of the Wehrmacht (“Flakelf”) and the players of the dissolved Dinamo Kiev (“FC Start”) clashed with each other. Although before the match in the locker room (or, according to another version, in “the concentration camp” where the footballers were “detained”) the SS warned the Ukrainian team that it would be better for them to lose, nevertheless the Ukrainians held on, and beat the guests at 5:3. After the match, the Germans executed the whole team (and in Alexandr Borshchagovsky’s scenario of 1946, even the whole public). The players died cheering the Soviet Union and Stalin. Their martyrdom has been commemorated by Petr Severov’s short story The Last Duel (1957) and his book (1958), the official version of the myth, as well as by the statues erected in 1971 in the Dinamo stadium and in 1981 in the Zenit stadium, renamed Start on that occasion. And from now on by this movie as well.

The tear-jerking story,  as a host of Russian blogs and articles have pointed it out on the occasion of the presentation of the film, is completely fake. The Dinamo players worked as civilians after the German occupation of Kiev, and founded an “amateur” team called Start, which in 1942 played eight international matches with the occupying forces. They won all of them, and it was followed by no retaliation. The Russian football site Terrikon has even published the results of the matches:

team of the Hungarian garrison
team of the German air force
team of the Romanian garrison
RSG (German army)
MSC WAL (Hungarian army)
GK Szero (Hungarian army)
Flakelf (German army)
Flakelf (German army)

As the witnesses have recalled, the meetings were held in a friendly atmosphere, and in contrast to the official Soviet version (and the present movie) the referee was usually no German but Romanians, who were not overly sympathetic to the Germans. While in the Soviet version the match went so rude that the Germans kicked bloody the Ukrainian players in front of the referee, in the reality only one player was excluded for roughness, and he was German. The examination launched in 2005 by the Hamburg Prosecutor’s Office pointed it out that there was no evidence for any element of the legend. And after the match the two teams posed for a common friendly photo, which the Dinamo fans kept hidig for decades as something whose existence is totally impossible in the light of the official truth. It was published only in 2007 by the Киевские Ведомости.

True, five players were actually arrested later, but for a very different reason. The Dinamo was, in fact, the official team of the Cheka and later of the NKVD, founded by Dzherzhinsky and enthusiastically supported by Beria, so that – according to Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Stalin – he did not shrink back from arresting the opponents’ key players before national league meetings, or to strengthen the team by kidnapping players from elsewhere (e.g. from Odessa’s Pishchevik). The Dinamo players were also members of the NKVD, who were hunted ex officio by the Gestapo. One out of the five was arrested and shot dead already days before the match, as a photo representing him in NKVD uniform was found on him (while in the legend and in the film he is kicked bloody during the match). And the other four were denounced to the Gestapo with the same reason by their very compatriots after the victorious match (8:0) against the “Ruh” team of the Ukrainian nationalist army. All four were shot dead in Babi Yar.

The joint Russo-Ukrainian movie already stirred a great storm in the country, deeply divided in the question of the relationship to Russia, in last July, when Stalin’s portrait hung out there for weeks on the Kiev Opera building.

And the presentation of the film, scheduled one month before the European Championship, exposed the Ukrainian government to even more serious diplomatic complications, including the danger of the burst of tensions between the German and Ukrainian fans. They also objected such fine details as the Ukrainians collaborating with the Germans speaking in Ukrainian while the heroic Ukrainians challenging them speaking in Russian in the movie.

The Ukrainian state film agency therefore postponed the official presentation, scheduled for 3 May, with the excuse of further examination. The delay can range up to 25 days according to the law, but then probably it will not be difficult to find a reason for some weeks of further delay, until the end of the championship.

The decision of the government agency was accepted with great indignation on every side. On the pro-Russian blogs and forums because the nationalist government wants to deny again a glorious episode in Soviet history. On nationalist forums because the country was at all involved in the preparation of such a propaganda film which, tailored to the new course of Russian political ideology, throws such mud on the past of Ukrainian independency. On the forums in Russia they point fingers at the Ukraine as a country which has been unable to face its collaborationist past. And the Russian online movie viewers and distributors earn well by satisfying the well-stirred Ukrainian demands.

The European Championship has not even started, and it appears that the Ukraine has already scored the first own goal.

Фильм основан на реальных событиях” – “The film is based on actual events”

6 comentarios:

languagehat dijo...

It's sad that complete lies are still accepted by so many people (and continue to have such strong effects). Thanks for putting the truth out there!

MOCKBA dijo...

I'm not sure if we know what constitutes "the truth"; I take this entry as an amazing study of the lies and timeless propaganda distortions, all "based on the actual events" but far too loosely so.

The story as Studiolum narrates remaisn too complicated to be accepted by either Nazi haters (because it extolls the collaborationists) or Nazi apologists (because the players are denounced by fellow collaborationists). The only way for this story to continue to be widely known is through doing away with the truthful details, and going for a myth.

Araz dijo...

Nice story, and I am not surprised at all that I didn't know the factual data being aware of rather a propaganda truth of the soviet "history".

languagehat dijo...

The only way for this story to continue to be widely known is through doing away with the truthful details, and going for a myth.

I couldn't care less if it's widely known; I would be perfectly happy if it were known to only a few, and those few knew what actually happened (insofar as we can know it, yada yada, I hate postmodern "we can know nothing" attitudes).

Studiolum dijo...

MOCKBA, you’re right that the question of truth is at least questionable in this case where the whole story has been constructed, from the very beginning, on strictly ideological grounds, and where every new piece of information has been added purposefully in the service of new ideologies. Nevertheless, something did happen there, and that is what we call truth, even if the path of our curious seek, exclusively based on such purposefully administered truth, can only approach but never reach it, just like an asymptota. And even if what we can know is still quite far from the historical truth, surveying the various lies completing and substituting each other as well as their adaptations to various political purposes is a great fun anyway.

I agree that a story gets really widely known if it manages to assume the form of a myth. However, it is interesting that the Philo-Russians of the Ukraine have not yet managed to turn this story into a strong anti-nationalist myth, as it would certainly deserve it (and as they deservedly do with so many elements of the Ukrainian past); or else the nationalists into a myth of a peaceful German-Ukrainian coexistence. It is also interesting that popular historical forums and reviews have not yet managed (at least since 2007 when, after the publication of the common photo of the German and Ukrainian teams in the Ukrainian press, there has been some publicity on it) to shape the public opinion so that a strongly one-sided dressing of the story, like in this movie, could be widely refused.

The truth is that these players fought against Germans prior to the occupation of Kiev, and nevertheless they were released from the prison camps after the occupation; that they lived a civilian life and played peaceful matches against the various occupying armies; that they never were punished for their victories in spite of what Soviet propaganda has sold about them; that a third of them were nevertheless executed by the Gestapo; that the immediate reason of this were their own nationalist compatriots; and the more remote reason their formal affiliation to the NKVD and Cheka, with all its peculiar prehistory. Any party of any color could find enough food in this complex story for their own version of the truth, and I know well that, in similarly complex cases, Hungarian parties do find it well enough. What shocks me is that nevertheless the only widespread version of this story, both in Russia and in the Ukraine, is the one coined by Stalin and perpetuated by a long chain of media including this film.

MOCKBA dijo...

Language, there is nothing Socratean about my musing what constitutes the truth in this specific thread of history. Once you dispose of its traditional mythological narrative, just where do the added complicating details become too minor to bother? At just what point you draw the line and learn your changed lesson?

As one would in the court of law, one might need to fill in a lot of blanks about motives, character, and level of premeditation of the
accused and of the exculpated.

The Uke collaborators now appear to be cast in an unflattering light but how well their denunciations are documented? Were they systemic or a work by a loner? Did the history of psychological trauma or mental disorder of any accuser play a role? Were the fateful accusations against ex-Dynamo players even false?

The SK Start players' camp release conditions, their convictions and their potential roles in the Nazi hatred machine as well as at NKVD need to be examined in more detail.

The German sports authorities now appear to have better professional integrity but how much did they play G*d before the matches even started, by facilitating camp release for some players of the vanquished lands, and by effectively condemning others to death? How much did they personally identify with the exterminate-or-enslave Lebensraum theory? A skilled slave is an expensive article of merchandise, and this alone could have explained why the players of SK Start were let live?

Of course, just as Languagehat, I don't really personally care if how the wide masses remember these events; my point was that the story has all elements of a myth-making material, but it may be too complicated to be remade into a different myth.