History Repeating…?

January 10th, 2009

Imagine reading this headline: “German People Vote Adolf Hitler Third Most Popular German Historical Figure.”

Can you really imagine that? The international condemnation against such an act would be immediate, forceful, and united. It would be a major news story in newspapers, on TV, and the internet. Such an unthinkable action would warrant official statements from virtually every government in the world, absolutely infuriate the Jewish community, and might even generate a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the act. Germany’s international credibility as a serious power in the world would disappear in less than 24 hours.

Hitler’s name and legacy are toxic. Just thinking of him immediately brings images of human suffering, brutality, death, war, and hate. In some parts of Europe it is a crime punishable by going to prison to deny the Holocaust. The thought of anyone from anywhere, including Germany today, any public official, person in academia, historian, business professional, farmer, homeless person, factory worker publicly defending Hitler, or any of his actions, would be inconceivable. No reasonable person would ever do it…never!

And yet Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin, the Russian Adolf Hitler, was voted by the Russian people as the third most popular Russian historical figure. The Rossiya state television channel organized a contest called “Name of Russia”. Over six months in 2008, more than 4.9 million Russians voted by internet, phone and text message for who they believed was the most famous Russian ever.

519,071 Russians voted for a man who, according to Professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii R.J. Rummel, murdered 43 million people. Stalin’s atrocities, which include the Ukrainian famine known as the Holodomor, the Great Purge of 1937-38, the gulag labor camps, mass deportations and executions, and the terror imposed on citizens of Russia and other captive nations, are on the same scale, if not far greater, than Hitler’s.

So this brings up two very obvious questions: What is it that brings Russians to forgive Stalin’s atrocities while Germans are humiliated by Hitler’s? What does this tell us about Russian society today?

Russia is the single biggest threat to peace and stability in the world today. Let me repeat: Russia is the single biggest threat to peace and stability in the world today.

Why is Russia powerful? Russia exports huge amounts of natural gas and oil, especially to Europe. The Russian government has money to spend. Russia is lead by a nationalistic strongman, Vladimir Putin, who promises stability, order, economic prosperity and to once again elevate Russia to being a strong power in the world. Russia not only has territorial ambitions but as the August 2008 war in Georgia showed a willingness to use force to exert influence in their neighborhood. And last, perhaps the most important reason, Russia possesses nuclear weapons.

Russian citizens still feel humiliated from losing the Cold War and blame the West, not Soviet policies, as the main reason for Russia’s collapse. Prime Minister Putin has publicly stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster in the 20th century. Rather than confronting the crimes and atrocities of the Soviet Union and Stalin, the Russian people and leaders are embracing its legacy. Instead of seeing Stalin as a symbol of how not to lead, the Russian government is currently constructing a statue of Stalin to be displayed prominently in Moscow.

When you mix the ingredients of a humiliated people, a nationalistic government that controls energy supply, has money to spend and has territorial ambitions, the environment is ripe for the restrictions of individual freedoms, democracy, free markets, transparency and good governance. In Russia today, there is no credible political opposition, no independent media, no forum for open debate or protest, and no independent judiciary. In December, 2008, the Russian government proposed legislation to grant the government authority to prosecute anyone who cooperates with international non-governmental organizations operating in Moscow for treason.

There is no debate that Stalin possessed the same qualities of toughness and high ambition that the Russian people see in Prime Minister Putin. Both Stalin and Putin promised to restore Russia’s rightful place as a powerful international actor. Both men promised to bring order and stability to a country, albeit in different decades, that had become chaotic. Both Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin manipulated a vulnerable population into believing that only a strong, ruthless leader is capable of governing them.

Above all, never forget these two facts: the legacy of Stalin and that history can repeat itself.

“Stalin Voted Third Most Popular Russian”

“How Many Did Stalin Really Murder”

Russian TV Reporting

“Russian Push on Treason Raises Fears”

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Categories: History, Politics | Comments (7) | Home

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7 Responses to “History Repeating…?”

  1. Tom |

    Trevor, you’re right, I fear. I lived in Moscow for almost three years in the ’90s, and I can’t count the number of times I heard Russians, especially older people, say things like, “I know Stalin was bad, but….” One older Russian lady had tears in her eyes as she told me the story of her feelings the day she learned Stalin had died.

    Russia was under authoritarian rule basically for its entire history until 1991, when the Soviet Union fell. What’s been going on since then is only a veneer of democracy at best. I think many Russians are more comfortable with a very strong leader, and Putin is more than happy to play that role. As for the rest of the world–we’d better watch our backs.

  2. EuroYank |

    Ironically today the Jews are the NAZI’S and the Germany that was built up and brought down to its knees by Hitler is more democratic and more humane than the Democracies that defeated it 65 years ago!

  3. BIthead |

    There’s no question that these voting results are deplorable, as are the thought processes, or the lack of them, behind such voting. Still, it seems to me completely understandable. For one thing, what else do the Russians have in terms of the history , that you don’t have to reach back over 100 years for? Secondly, it seems to me rather obvious that the ones who were doing the voting, are the ones who were left following the rule of Stalin. Of course is going to be popular; the only ones that were left were people that would have supported him anyway.

    Here’s the thing; Hitler was defeated. The Soviet Union never was. It collapsed from within, not from without. And therein lies the difference. The Nazis lost. The Soviets won.

    History, it is said, is rewritten by the vectors of conflicts. Apply that to your question.

    Clearly, what is happened in terms of reeducation of the Russian people for their new freedoms, has not been up to the drill of competing with 70 years of Soviet propaganda. That reeducation process would have been far simpler, had the Soviets had their butts kicked following WWII as George Patton advised us to be doing. It’s far easier to educate somebody away from something that’s a proven failure. The Soviet system, of course was a proven failure, but not in ways that the majority of the Soviet people could understand. The struggles in wartime, are relatively easy for anyone to understand. The struggles of maintaining an empire, and keep it from crumbling, are another matter altogether, and above most people even in the west, let alone in the undereducated Soviet empire.

    Ask, do we see the voting results we have in front of us.

    Or perhaps, the polling has been a manipulator to to present the image that those voting really want Soviet rule to return ? It’s something I wouldn’t put past the supporters of communism… communists manipulating the news media for the purpose of reinforcing their own position? Who would have thunk it?

  4. doris |

    Please don’t start believing polls.These are most certainly controlled by covert groups wishing to gain from the outcome….Also Putin is not ,at least that I am aware of,a mass murderer,but a strong leader.Can’t really compare the two.

  5. Bithead |

    Of course, it should be said, Doris, that there are those who make that argument about Stalin, even today.

  6. Jan |

    So who was voted most popular in Russia? Stalin came in third.

  7. Trevor |

    At the top of the list was 13th century prince Alexander Nevsky, who defeated German invaders, followed by Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister in the early 20th century known for agrarian reforms and a clampdown on leftist revolutionaries.

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