Okabe Yoshihiko*: Russia's Violation of Fundamental Rules of International Law after the World War II: View from Japan.


Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. My name is Yoshihiko Okabe, I am Professor of Economics at the University of Kobe Gakuin and an expert at the Centre for Russian Studies. I am grateful to the Centre for Russian Studies and the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine for inviting me to this forum.

Today I would like to talk about the territorial problems with Russia from the point of view of the Japanese side.

First, I will have a request to Ukrainians regarding the Russian name of South Kuril Islands. If possible, could you now call these islands not South Kuriles, but use the Japanese name the Northern Territory of Japan. I would like the islands to be called in Ukrainian "Північна територія Японії", in English - Northen Territory of Japan, in Russian - «Северная территория Японии». Speaking about why this name should be followed, the Isles of Iturup, Kunashir, and Shikotan are called almost the same in Japan and Russia, and as for the fourth part of the territory - the group of Habomai Islands – Russia has unilaterally changed its name to the Russian one - Ploskiye Islands; e.g., one of the islands of the group, called in Japanese the island of Taraku, has been renamed to Polonsky island, demonstrating that it is the territory of Russia. Calling the islands South Kurils means recognizing these islands to be the territory of Russia. I think, calling them Northern Territory of Japan, we will be able to draw the attention of the world to the fact that the Japanese territory was illegally occupied by Russia.

Why, then, we can undoubtedly call the Northern Territory the territory of Japan?

 The border line was approved between the islands of Iturup and Urup on the basis of Russia-Japan treaty of 1855. After that, Russia and Japan exchanged Chishima Islands and the southern part of Sakhalin Island in 1875. In 1905, as a result of the Russian-Japanese war, Japan again received the southern part of the island of Sakhalin, but after 1855, the Northern Territory, consisting predominantly of four islands, constantly remained the territory of Japan.

At the end of the World War II, the USSR violently infringed the international law with respect to Japan. The USSR invaded Japan by violating the 1941 Neutrality Pact between the USSR and Japan. That sinister act can be compared with the invasion of Hitler to Poland in 1939. Of course, Japan was an ally of Germany in the World War II, but Hitler and Germany repeatedly provoked attacks on the part of the Soviet Union during the Soviet-German war, while Japan continued to adhere to the Pact on Neutrality between the USSR and Japan. Unfortunately, Stalin suddenly attacked Japan on 7 August, 1945, violating the Neutrality Pact.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov declares: "The South Kuril Islands became the territory of Russia as a result of the defeat of the "axis" countries in the World War II," but is this really correct? It is not very well known in Ukraine and Russia, but, in fact, all the Japanese believe that the World War II ended on 15 August. What happened on 15 August, 1945? On the eve, on 14 August, Emperor Shōwa decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration, which was an appeal from members of the Alliance for unconditional surrender. The next day, on 15 August, at noon, the emperor informed the citizens of Japan by the radio about the end of the war. At that time the Japanese emperor was called "the living God", that is, the Japanese considered him not a human being, but a deity. The image on the slide depicts the scene in front of the imperial palace, where ordinary people apologize to the emperor on their knees, because it was considered that the Japanese people were responsible for the defeat in the war. Hopefully, you are able to imagine what kind of shock the Japanese received that day. The same day, the General Staff of the Japanese Armed Forces ordered all troops in all regions of China and the Pacific to immediately cease combat actions. Consequently, it cannot be denied that the war ended on 15 August for Japanese, but the History of the Great Patriotic War, compiled by the Soviet Union, reads a complete nonsense, namely: "The announcement of the emperor of the surrender of Japan of 14 August was only a general unconditional declaration on surrender, and the army was not ordered to cease combat actions." Why to write such a lie?

Actually, 3 September was long considered the Victory Day over Japan in the Soviet Union. Why so? In fact, the capture of the Habomai Islands at the Northern Territory of Japan began on 2 September, when the Instrument of Surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay. Therefore, they could not call 2 September the Victory Day, because Japan was invaded that day. The Soviet government understood for many years that they were seriously violating international law. Later, the Soviet Union had completely captured all the islands of the Northern Territory by 5 September. In other words, the operation of the occupation of the territory by the Soviet Union from 2 to 5 September was a complete violation of international law, since it took place after the end of World War II. After the collapse of the USSR, in July, 2010, the Parliament of the Russian Federation adopted a bill on the establishment of the Day of the end of World War II on 2 September. In our time, the Victory Day over Japan is celebrated and a parade is held on 2 September in the Far East of Russia. Since the Soviet Union continued to attack even after 2 September, 1945, the very fact of such celebrations means that Russians publicly admit their own serious violation of international law. 

Now Japanese can visit the Northern Territory only under a special system of visa-free exchanges established in April, 1991 following the proposal of President M.Gorbachev. For if we go to the Northern Territory using the Japanese passport, we recognize that this a foreign territory, i.e, the territory of Russia. The initial goal of the visa-free exchanges was to visit the places of burials by former islanders. However, more than seventy years have elapsed since the Northern Territory was occupied by the Soviet Union, the former inhabitants of the islands are aging and it has become physically difficult for them to travel to the places of burial; now young people, mostly students, selected by the Japanese government, have begun to visit the places of burial. In 2016, I went to the island of Iturup as deputy head of the delegation, and in 2017 I visited the island of Kunashir as the head of the delegation. I run a project there. This Youth Anime and Otaku Culture Summit is a cultural exchange project with Russian youth living on the island, through the Japanese subculture, popular in Russia as well, that is, through Japanese manga and anime. For Ukrainians who are in an extremely tense situation with Russia, this may seem ridiculous, but in reality this anime project has an important goal. Nearly forty percent of the present population of Russia was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and this generation does not know the Soviet Union at all. It is very difficult, almost impossible to change the thoughts and ideas of people of middle and senior age who were educated in Soviet times. Therefore, if Russian young people who are unfamiliar with the Soviet Union will watch Japanese manga and anime popular in Russia and love Japanese more, then, in my opinion, they will be able to help at least a little solve the problem of the Northern Territory. It may take time, but I believe that, along with conducting serious negotiations on the territory between the governments, the persistent extension of such a "soft power" strategy plays an important role for the return of the Northern Territory to Japan.

 Though it is little known, they say that, in fact, now about sixty percent of the inhabitants of the Northern Territory have Ukrainian origin. Indeed, there were a lot of people with names ending in "-chenko" during my visit.

 Last year I heard from a Japanese, former inhabitant of the island of Iturup, that poor workers from Ukraine were forcefully displaced there about a year after the Soviet illegal occupation of the Northern Territory. They lived much poorer than the Japanese under the Soviet occupation, they did not even have clothes, and some women even had no underwear. Such a tragic story is unlikely to be widely known even in Ukraine. I hope that many Ukrainians will learn the history from this presentation, as well as the truth about the Northern Territory of Japan; hoping for your great support to the Japanese movement for the return of the Northern Territory, I would like to conclude the report. 

Thank you very much for your attention.


Information about the author: 

Dr., Professor Okabe Yoshiko – Kobe Gakuin University, Japan, foreign expert, Centre for Russian Studies.

The article is prepared on the basis of the presentation at the International Conference "Russia's Violations of International Law: Implications for Peace"

11.07.2018 17:00:00