Streetwise Professor

May 10, 2007

Chekist Chutzpah

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:45 am

There are days that I think maybe I’m to hard on Vladimir Putin. And then he does something that brings me to my senses.

His Victory Day speech represents another new low in Putin’s limbo routine. He quite clearly equated the United States and Nazi Germany:

We have a duty to remember that the causes of any war lie above all in the mistakes and miscalculations of peacetime, and that these causes have their roots in an ideology of confrontation and extremism. It is all the more important that we remember this today, because these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world.

To those who have followed Putin’s recent spewings (notably his Munich speech) the line “contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world” is clearly aimed at the US.

This is truly disgusting. It is particularly disgusting coming from a man who grew up in the bosom of one of the most tyrannical and bloody regimes in human history, a regime that truly showed “contempt for human life” and aspired to “establish an exclusive dictate over the world.” A regime that killed tens of millions. Putin has publicly mourned the passing of this monstrous state as the century’s greatest geopolitical tragedy. And Putin was a proud member of the “security services” that were, from the time of the Cheka, the regime’s executioners. And he is a proud member still.

As outrageous as these remarks are, his paean to the “unity” of the former USSR is even more offensive:

Victory Day not only unites the people of Russia but also unites our neighbors in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We are deeply grateful to the generation of people whose difficult fate it was to face this war. They have passed on to us their traditions of fraternity and solidarity and their truly hard-won experience of unity and mutual aid. We will preserve this sacred memory and historical legacy. Those who attempt today to belittle this invaluable experience and defile the monuments to the heroes of this war are insulting their own people and spreading enmity and new distrust between countries and peoples.

Hate to break this to you Vlad, but your “neighbors” didn’t exactly view the USSR as a fraternal organization, hence their haste to depart it at the first opportunity. They viewed the Soviet system of “mutual aid” in the same way the web caught fly perceives a spider. The Estonians (the clear referent in Putin’s paragraph just quoted) are not “defiling” a monument to heroes of WWII, insulting themselves, or spreading enmity. To them, the monument to which Putin refers is a painful reminder of their subjugation by a regime that showed utter disdain for human life and dignity, and which imposed “comradeship” at the barrel of a gun.

If Putin had any interest in allaying distrust between countries and peoples, he would acknowledge the gaping physical and psychic wounds inflicted by the regime he so clearly misses, and express understanding at how monuments to that regime just might be painful reminders of those wounds. Instead, by refusing to concede the USSR’s awful legacy, it is Putin who exacerbates historical distrust. The Estonian move seems a reasonable compromise; the monument will stand and the dead will be buried in a place where those who wish to mourn and honor the fallen may do so, but where the statue does not serve as a daily reminder of Estonia’s subjugation and the USSR’s crime. A crime, by the way, that grew out of a conspiracy between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to divide eastern Europe between them. Yes, no state suffered more than USSR from the depredations of the Nazis–but no state did more to make those depredations possible.

But that’s just the problem, methinks–Putin (and the ultranationalist Nashiniks who are his most vocal constituency) want that daily reminder. And they really want to return to those days when the uppity Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Georgians, and myriad others knew their place.

But maybe all Vlad is doing in this speech, with its implicit equation of Bush with Hitler, is auditioning for some post-Presidential political position. Like the mayorship of Berkeley.

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