As an occasional newspaper columnist I understand the pressures of coming up with an instant opinion on something .... anything. Still, an article in The Times today by Ben Macintyre is a particularly lame affair. The premise is that Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler were very bad men and that Italy and Russia aren’t contrite enough about it, while Germany is.
In the round that’s a fairly un-startling observation, although it’s less clear what purpose this national self-flagellation that Macintyre wants to see would serve. He hangs his argument on some fairly flimsy facts.
Take this piece of evidence that ‘the rehabilitation of Stalin is also gathering pace’.
“Under Vladimir Putin’s government, a revised school curriculum describes him as a ‘competent manager’ whose actions were ‘entirely rational’”.
Some of the best historians of Russia in the English language have already gone to quite some length to emphasise that Stalin’s purges were not the actions of a paranoid lunatic. It’s perfectly reasonable to describe his actions as ‘rational’, without excusing their purpose or brutality. The aim being to assert personal power, rapidly industrialise the USSR and catch up with the development of ‘western’ countries, most of Stalin’s crimes were perfectly logical, albeit ruthless, bloodthirsty and sociopathic.
And although Macintyre’s contention that ‘anyone who [regrets the passing of the USSR] has no memory’ might seem fair in Latvia or Lithuania, it’s hardly the case in Kyrgyzstan, Pridnestrovie or Nagorno Karabakh. Lamenting the destruction of the USSR as a multi-national state is not the same as condoning communism or any of the atrocities committed in its name.
The Soviet Union’s break-up resulted in much greater violence, ethnic strife and poverty in many of its former republics. To accuse the people who live there, or Vladimir Putin, of ‘rewriting history’ by regretting that fact is unjustified and arrogant.