NEW YORK, September 1 – Efforts by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials and commentators to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Stalin’s ill-fated alliance with Hitler because of what British and French leaders had done in Munich highlight a dangerous trend in Russian thinking, according to a Moscow commentator.
Not only was the mendacity of the two actions fundamentally different – the British and French acted shamefully as part of an effort to maintain peace while Stalin acted shamefully to cover his seizure of the territory of neighboring countries, but the lessons the two have learned, Leonid Radzikhovsky says underscore the difference (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9405).
In an article in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” the Moscow commentator says that there is now question that both Western Europe and the Soviet Union “conducted themselves in a mendacious fashion in the 1930s” in their dealings with Hitler. But “there is mendacity and mendacity,” both at the time of action and in the lessons those who engage in it ultimately learn.
It is certainly true, he writes, that “Europe handed over Czechoslovakia to Hitler.” But “European politicians did not conclude secret deals and did not seize pieces of foreign territory.” And however cynical their actions, their goal was “an idiotic hope” of keeping the peace, something those who had experienced the first world war felt was essential.
If the British and French did engage in a shameful action, Radzikhovsky notes, “Europe long ago learned its lesson.” Namely, the continent learned that “a law-based policy is MORE PROFITABLE than one based on force alone --more profitable in a humanitarian, social, economic, and that means in a political sense.”
Indeed, he continues, “politics in contemporary Europe is concentrated humanitarian sociology because the chief priority is not the size of GDP, not the size of production and not the level of consumption but the QUALITY OF LIFE.” In short, the Europeans, horrified by the kind of politics on offer at Munich have changed.
Some have suggested, he continues, that Europe, having rejected the drives of the past for Lebensraum and the like has entered into “the twilight” of its history. But what a twilight, Radzikhovsky says: Europe is at present “the most successful PROJECT in the History of Humanity,” except perhaps that of the United States.
Having rejected the politics that informed the Munich accords, Europe has entered not into “the end of history” but rather into “the end of CRUDE history” and has begun “ANOTHER history that Russians do not understand and thus view as ‘boring,’” although in fact it is anything but that.
But in contrast, “the USSR [at the time of Molotov-Ribbentrop and later] conducted itself much more mendaciously than Europe,” the “Yezhednevny zhurnal” commentator continues, and Russians now are being encouraged by their leaders to behave much more mendaciously than the Europeans are being encouraged by their leaders.
The explanations Russian officials offered and continue to offer about why Stalin reached an agreement with Hitler are “simply a LIE,” Radzikhovsky points out. Russia did not have to reach an agreement with the Nazi leader in order to prevent an alliance between Hitler and the West because the latter, having given guarantees to Poland showed that would not happen.
Thus, if Russians were honest with themselves, they would recognize that the USSR had “ANOTHER way out,” Radzikhovsky continues. It could “simply not have concluded agreements with anyone.” Had Stalin done that, Hitler would have had to reckon with the possibility of a two-front war, something the Nazi leader very much wanted to avoid.
And the fallback argument that Soviet and now Russian officials often employ when they suggest that Molotov-Ribbentrop bought the Soviet Union time does not withstand examination, the Moscow commentator says. Hitler would have moved West and then East at almost exactly the same time had there not been an accord with Stalin.
In any case, Radzikhovsky suggests, “the real motives of the USSR [in concluding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols] were different.” They were “the simple, classical, ‘healthy imperialist’ motives – a secret protocol and the seizure of the territories of others.”
Moscow paid a price for all this, Radzikhovsky argues, first because of the resistance to Soviet occupation of these lands and then because it was precisely from them – the Baltic republics and Western Ukraine that “in 1989-1990 began the collapse of the USSR.” But the real tragedy, he suggests, is elsewhere and continuing.
Encouraged by their leaders, Russians still are unwilling to acknowledge that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact opened the way to war and that it was an imperialist act not only by Berlin but by Moscow. And still worse, they have been encouraged by their leaders to view the cynical politics of force that the Europeans have rejected as still the proper order of the day.
Indeed, the Moscow commentator concludes, Russians are being taught exactp7 the opposite lesson about Molotov-Ribbentrop that Europeans have clearly learned from Munich. As their leaders have insisted, Russians are told to believe that “Comrade Wolf eats everything and listens to no one” and that “such it always was and such it will always be.
Molotov-Ribbentrop and Munich not equivalent then or now, Radzikhovsky says (10)