Don't Cry for Me Lubyanka
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Many expressed surprise at Russian president Vladimir Putin's assessment of the collapse of the Soviet Union as a "tragedy" and "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." What is astonishing is not that ex-spymaster Putin believes what he said, but that he openly said what he believes.
Putin's lament, however, fits in comfortably with the rising pro-Soviet sentiments in the "new" Russia.
Putin expressed his regrets over the passing of what Ronald Reagan described as "the evil empire" during his state of the nation speech in which he promised to widen business opportunities and guide Russia firmly toward increased democratic reform.
Above, working on a new monument to the tyrant Stalin. Below, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin will be placed in the old Stalingrad square (today, Volgograd) - News.telegraph online, May 4, 2005
While media reaction seems to be low-key wonder, Putin's statement should be placed in perspective. Imagine the horror among politicians and the press if Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany sought to increase investment in his nation while expressing his regrets over the fall of the Nazis.
Whitewashing the "evil empire" is an increasingly important factor in the "new" Russia.
Josef Stalin, the worst mass murder in Western history, is now regarded as a "wise leader" by half of the Russian population, according to a recent Russian poll. "Everyone makes mistakes," said one Russian citizen about Stalin during an interview with a London Sunday Times correspondent several weeks ago.
Stalin did, indeed, make mistakes, from deportations of millions of people to the murder of millions more, from the Great Terror to the politically motivated Great Famine in Ukraine and Central Asia. Stalin's crimes built upon those of Lenin, and Stalin's successors continued the system of human oppression.
After fifteen years of national humiliation and unprecedented personal poverty, there is not only a longing for the Soviet past, but even a sense of Soviet chic in Russia. A KGB-theme restaurant replete with Soviet intelligence memorabilia, portraits, and a signed letter from Stalin himself is a sign of the growing trend.
Under Putin, Soviet-era spies appear on postage stamps, and Russian intelligence has its own calendar complete with Soviet holidays, images, and pictures. One of the photos shows the statue of Communist intelligence founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on its pedestal in front of KGB headquarters on Lubyanka Square. The statue of "Iron Felix" was one of the first Soviet monuments toppled during demonstrations prior to the end of the USSR.
Moscow's Lubyanka Square provided the popular name for one of the most infamous places of torture and mayhem in human history. A building used before the Bolshevik Revolution as offices for an insurance company became the headquarters for the Revolution's secret police, and also housed one of the world's most feared prisons.
The name "Lubyanka" became synonymous with brutal interrogation and death. Russia's present internal spy service, the FSB, now occupies the same building as its Soviet predecessors.
Soviet-era methods are still employed. The FSB is at least as active watching Russian citizens as was the Soviet-era KGB, and Russian schools again praise the Soviet past. The Russian military, which still uses numerous Soviet insignias, seeks to mold the character of the Russian population, and has recently began to broadcast its own "patriotic" television network to develop what it describes as "pride" among Russians.
Putin supports the surviving Communist dictatorships, from Cuba to China, as did his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. The "new" Russia under Putin also has the opportunity to assert its influence in the world's newest Marxist nation, Venezuela, with economic cooperation and the sale of a wide range of military hardware.
The USSR is gone, but it is reasonable to wonder - despite Moscow's call for an increase in foreign investment and promises of greater democracy -- if today's Soviet reverie is giving way tomorrow's Red revival.
Posted May 3, 2005
Toby Westerman publishes
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