According to Richard J. Golsan, who is a professor of French, at Texas A&M University:
“In 1987, Henry Rousso published his classic study The Vichy Syndrome, in which he argued that the memory of Vichy in postwar France is like a malady, a syndrome that ebbs and flows, that goes dormant and then erupts spectacularly in the present as a result of a political scandal, or the release of a powerful film, or even the publication of a work of history that challenges accepted myths about the period and French complicity with the Nazis.”
When Rousso published his book in 1987, Klaus Barbie (head of the Gestapo in Lyon) was sentenced to life. In 1991, René Bousquet (secretary general of the Vichy Police) was indicted.
These legal victories were followed by the convictions of Paul Touvier and Maurice Papon for crimes against humanity.
In 1945, the French arrested 40,000 collaborators. They also executed 9,000 Vichy collaborators during the war and another 1,500 after trial.
Most collaborators escaped punishment. For example, President Francois Mitterrand revealed that he was a collaborator for the Vichy regime.
The Vichy regime deported 76,000 French Jews by train to the Nazi death camps. Only 2,500 French Jews survived.
In 1995, President Chirac admitted that the crimes of the Nazi occupation forces “was seconded by the French, by the French state.”
According to Professor John Merriman, who teaches French history at Yale University, both Charles de Gaulle and the collaborators, pushed the “myth” that the French broadly supported the resistance, and that only a handful of people were working with the Germans.
The Gaullists used this myth by arguing that only a strong presidency could restore France’s grandeur. In 1958, Michel Debré, a Gaullist, drafted the French constitution.
Debré believed that the French president should be a “republican monarch.”
Today, Putin rules Russia as a “republican monarch.” Russia has been suffering from the Delta variant of the Vichy Syndrome since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Whereas as France wanted a strong president after Vichy and the Fourth Republic, Russia wanted a strong president after the Yeltsin years.
Putin thought the Soviet collapse was “a major humanitarian tragedy” in part because 25 million ethnic Russians found themselves living outside of Russia in the other Soviet republics.
Putin seems unwilling to accept the fact that many Russian-speaking Ukrainians don’t feel this way.
Since February, the Ukrainians have fiercely resisted Russian forces. This is in stark contrast to when Russia quickly captured Crimea in 2014.
Finally, the Ukrainians are suffering from the Omicron variant of Vichy Syndrome. I don’t believe Putin would be able to cynically galvanize the Russian people to keep fighting if Ukraine stopped honoring Nazi collaborators like Stepan Bandera.
On May 9th, Putin said, “There was every indication that a clash with neo-Nazis and Banderites backed by the United States and their minions was unavoidable.”
Confronting the Vichy Syndrome, in both countries, is vital to ending this war diplomatically.
If this conflict remains ideological, it will be impossible to solve diplomatically. Putin knows that every Russian family lost a relative during the war. They will not dishonor their memories.
If this conflict was just over territory and NATO membership, diplomacy might be possible.
To be clear, as a Jew, I am very grateful that 73% of Ukrainian voters elected a Jewish president in 2019. It shows everyone that neo-Nazis are a small minority in Ukraine.
That being said, Ukraine does have a long history of anti-Semitism from the uprising of Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1648-1654) to the Azov Batallion. The Ukrainians could do a better job condemning it.
During the Russian Civil War, about 50,000 Jews were killed by the Ukrainian forces under the command of Ukrainian nationalist Symon Petliura.
Today, Petliura is honored in Ukraine along with Stepan Bandera. During World War II, Stepan Bandera’s faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) collaborated with the Nazis. According to Yale historian Timothy Snyder:
“Some of these Ukrainian nationalists helped the Germans to organize murderous pogroms of Jews. In so doing, they were advancing a German policy, but one that was consistent with their own program of ethnic purity, and their own identification of Jews with Soviet tyranny.”
While Bandera wanted Ukraine to be an independent state, the Nazis wanted Ukraine for themselves. After the Nazis arrested Bandera, the OUN-B and other Ukrainians, formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which fought the Nazis and the Soviets during the war.
Even if this current war ended tomorrow, it could take years to rebuild Ukraine. The United States should work with Ukraine and Russia to end to this war before it spreads.
Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.
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