Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin
Friday, 12 August 2022 19:00
Estonian Life No. 32 2022 - Tõnu Naelapea
The English writer and critic L.P. Hartley came up with a wonderful observation last century. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” This usually the case, considering the rapid advancement of mankind’s standard of living through technological innovation, improvements in medical care, and most important gaining the understanding that we live in a closed ecosystem. Best exemplified by the classic concept of when a butterfly flutters its wings in the Amazon jungle the result is a hurricane somewhere far away.
Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack a non-threatening democracy has had global impact, such as the butterfly chosen to illustrate the effects of actions elsewhere. Beyond the pandemic’s debilitating impact on the economies of nations, international trade, Putin’s brazen decision has led to the rise of foodstuffs, high inflation and worries of how Europe, most notably Germany, will heat homes and business during the upcoming winter. And the authoritarian billionaire, having gained his vast wealth by robbing his countrymen does not care one whit.
Thus the title. The meaning of redux, from the Latin, is brought back, revived. Certainly the attack on Ukraine reminds one of the Winter War with Finland, when the USSR, under Josef Stalin attacked, without provocation, their peaceful neighbour. The Finns were staunch and stalwart in their defense of their lands. Much like the Ukrainian military is today. Finland had to relinquish a large part of Karelia when the guns had stopped booming in 1945, but remained independent. Although very aware of the power of its Soviet neighbour. The Ukrainians might, if the West can truly see Putin for who he is, hold on as well, losing some territory in the East. They already have, with the Crimean invasion of 2014. Let us hope.
There are other similarities to the Stalin era. According to an AP report last week, the British military spy agency has uncovered evidence that not only have 10 Russian generals perished as a result of Ukraine defending its territory, 6 generals have been summarily dismissed, reassigned to other positions. One presumes due to failure when advances, quick victories were expected. Stalin, of course was much worse, court-martialing and murdering many of his generals in the years leading up to WW II. Resulting in a disorganized Red Army and accounting greatly for the speed of German Divisions entering the Soviet Union (through Ukraine initially, then the Baltics). Hitler’s troops were stalled by weather everywhere. Once again a nasty winter saved the Muscovite Empire.
And just as was the case under Stalin, the innocent are suffering. Women and children. Russia bombing large cities is nothing short of criminal. Ukraine has listed thousands of war crimes, according to AP. The Western world was guilty of the same sins in WW II. Think of the RAF bombing Dresden, turning the beautiful city, rich on history and architecture into a massive pyre. Killing, again, the elderly, the very young, and the women. And Hiroshima, claimed to have been necessary along with Nagasaki, to demonstrate the futility of Imperial Japan’s hopes to defeat the mighty American colossus should also be considered a war crime. But as the Allies won the war this was not raised.
Some have argued, that it was precisely the demonstration of the might of nuclear weapons that has now kept the West in only a sanction playing and supply role. Some say, that not even Putin is that megalomaniacal, as to start WW III, unleash nuclear weapons. Who can say for sure?
The tragedy today is the fact that decisive steps are not being taken to repel the Russian bear, halt his bellicosity. Mirroring the reaction to Stalin. The death count of those in uniform is already high on the Russian side. Just as it was during the Winter War. And still they keep coming, fearing their evidently inept Generals. Russian soldiers may not know about the past, when the advancing infantry was often shot at form behind by their own officers to goad them into movement. And deserters were either shot or sent to the Gulag.
That is the final comparison. Ukrainians in transit from the zone of war, having been promised safe transit have seen their passports confiscated, demands that they accept Russian citizenship, and in many cases forcible relocation to prison camps. Again, not just men, but women and children. Some have made it to safety and security through other routes, accounting for the more than 50 000 Ukrainian war refugees in Estonia, for example. And Estonia is doing its level best to feed, house, and find jobs for them.
Hence Hartley’s pithy observation may hold true for times of far ago, but not regarding recent history. One which many readers remember and lead them to fear the worst. For Putin is continuing in Stalin’s steps, and the West, once again, is standing by in the face of atrocities. Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. The 20th century is certainly not a foreign country today.Tõnu Naelapea