26 November 2006

Dat Ole Time Propaganda

Jams O'Donnell at The Poor Mouth offers insightful comment on recent Russian "revelations" about the occupation oops annexation oops "voluntary incorporation" of the Baltic States, described with no insight whatsoever at The Guardian (one wonders if that newspaper will ever cease to cover the Baltic States, members of the EU and NATO, primarily from Moscow...).

I've been pressed for time of late , which is why I've neglected this blog -- but I'll try to collect some scattered comments I've made elsewhere here.

It is rather disingenuous for a régime that was itself pro-German -- and, moreover, acted pro-German -- to accuse the countries it had already swept into its sphere of influence of being pro-German. It becomes downright absurd when one realizes that the Soviets had already stationed 70 000+ troops in the Baltics -- logic would tell you that the Balts were very careful about sticking carefully to the Mutual Assistance Treaties that had been imposed upon them.

Concern about the Baltics being "anti-Soviet" was another matter -- but being pro-Soviet would actually mean supporting Soviet policy, which was in fact pro-Nazi.

Pravda actually complained, for example, on 28 May 1940, of pro-British and anti-German feelings in Estonia. It accused the Estonian élite of "loyalty to Great Britain and hatred of Germany and everything German," of viewing the occupation of Norway and Denmark as "German aggression and enslavement of small nations" -- and of claiming that war between the USSR and Germany was inevitable.

In December 1939, the Russians had pressured Latvia into acceding to German demands in trade negotiations -- "Since the Soviet Union was unable to meet all German demands for foodstuffs, Latvia was requested to contribute as much as possible."

Even on the eve of the German invasion, when the three countries had been devoured, Stalin and Hitler were still dickering over the terms and specifics of the carving -- the final settlement on the western strip of Lithuanian territory wasn't reached until 10 January 1941, when Moscow agreed to pay Berlin seven and a half million gold dollars (one-eighth in non-ferrous metals within three months, the remainder deducted from German payments to the USSR due on 11 February).

In other words, the barter British Foreign Secretary Halifax had described on 5 December 1939 ("Herr Hitler had bartered away what was not his property to barter -- the liberties of the Baltic peoples" [does that sound like British approval for this game?]) included side deals that were of direct benefit to the Nazi régime and its war effort, even at that late date.

Albert N. Tarulis' Soviet Policy toward the Baltic States, 1920-1940, whence some of these tidbits, is still probably the best book on the details of the occupation.

Accusations about Baltic violations of the Pact were as absurd as Germany's claims about Poland attacking the Reich -- the point in the ultimatum about a Baltic military alliance, for example, was based exclusively on Antanas Merkys' article in Revue Baltique, which sent Molotov into a fit. The article was later printed in Bronis J. Kaslas' The USSR-German Aggression Against Lithuania (Robert Speller and Sons, New York, 1973). There is not a single phrase in that article that could be interpreted as pro-German or anti-Soviet. In fact, the article is a completely innocuous document about Baltic co-operation flourishing.

The editor of this new dossier, Major General Lev Sotskov, quoted in The Guardian:

"Asked what reaction he expected to the dossier in the Baltics, Gen Sotskov said: 'That's their problem. All I can say is that the SS was recognised as a fascist organisation at Nuremberg, but in those countries people still march under its flag.'"

Now that sounds like the General is a diligent historian compiling historical documents sine ira et studio, eh? (I like this use of "those countries," too -- leaving aside the big lie to focus on what it is composed of, I'd love to know exactly when the Lithuanians ever marched under the SS flag...). General Sotskov is obviously steeped in Soviet historiography -- "The fact that Germany's strike at the Soviet Union ran out of steam later in the war was partly because it had to cross the Baltics, thus justifying Churchill's reasoning, Gen Sotskov said." Really? I do believe that haphazardly shifting the main line of defense westward (in addition to the purges in the military and supporting the German war effort) helped the Germans get as far as they did. Crossing the Baltics was not exactly the biggest impediment to the Nazi advance.

There are three important things about the "discovery" of this dossier -- (1) if you believe that the timing of the discovery has nothing to do with the NATO summit, I have a beautiful bridge I can sell you, (2) the thinking revealed here is shot through with the same bogus historiography that simply passed over Stalin's and Hitler's alliance or mischaracterized it, and (3) it is yet another confirmation of the distinguished historian Aivars Stranga's theses --

First of all, the work of re-evaluating the past has not only been halted at the national level, where there is much too much control over the process, but it has been radically turned backward. The state itself has clearly defined its thinking about history. Recently we have heard two very fundamental statements of this understanding. We have been told that over the last 300 years Russia has walked down the path of democratisation and liberalism hand-in-hand with the rest of Europe and sometimes surpassing it. Second, we have been told that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a massive geopolitical catastrophe. These two examples alone should make it quite clear that it will never be easy to reach agreement on the interpretation of history with those countries that were under 'liberal Russia's' boot or for which the 'catastrophe' of 1991 represented the true beginning of freedom.

It is also true that when a country does not agree with the interpretation which Russia produces, the result is not an academic debate, but instead a war of disinformation and lies. In the case of Latvia, this has been true since the beginning of this year. All of the state-controlled media in Russia – television, the radio, the press, lapdog political parties – are being used to throw collective mud at Latvia and the Latvians. Latvians are dubbed 'Fascists' by these media, and it must be noted here that even the position which Communist China recently took vis-à-vis the 'book war' was far more controlled.

Third, the so-called 'fight against Fascism' in Latvia is being pursued with resources which suggest that this 'anti-Fascism' is actually very similar to true Fascism. We are witnessing attempts by a state to fire up hatred and stereotypes against other nations, the state is sponsoring the lies that are being told, it is inspiring 'protest demonstrations' in neighbouring countries, and the like. All of this signals a weakness in democracy and the civil society, a nostalgia for the past – including the segment of the past which is known today as Stalinism. This understanding of history threatens and will continue to threaten Russia's ability to pursue normal relations not only with almost all of its neighbours, but also with the liberal society which exists in the world today. Democracy surely cannot be constructed without a process of moral purification and, if nothing more, then at least true regret for the injustices that have been committed against others.

(From "A Few Words About History, Russia and Latvia"
by Prof. Aivars Stranga)

The photograph is of Stalin and the world's most famous " champagne salesman," Joachim von Ribbentrop, gleefully agreeing to carve up Europe on 23 August 1939. It was taken by Hitler's official photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.


Blogger Administrator said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

26 November, 2006 13:25  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

Wow Peteris I seem to have got your thought processes going! Once again you have added to my (sketchy) knowledge of Baltic affairs.

27 November, 2006 18:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I guess that old Soviet penchant for historical revisionism is alive and well.

28 November, 2006 00:17  
Blogger Roland Dodds said...

Excellent post. This portion of European history intrigues me to no end, and your work on it was quite interesting. Well done good sir!

28 November, 2006 03:48  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks, Roman and Roland! It's always nice to see fresh faces, I mean bloggers, and investigate their blogs.

28 November, 2006 13:33  
Blogger snowflake5 said...

I was referred here by Jams O'Donnell's link.

That was a great post! You are right - not many people in Britain know much about the Baltics or their history.

28 November, 2006 23:48  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks, Snowflake (I've seen some of your comments at "Comment is free," by the way).

Hopefully more people in the UK will come to know more about us -- we get a lot of British visitors now (not all of them here for stag parties), tens of thousands of Balts work in the UK, and our history has many interesting meeting points. Britain was the first country to recognize Latvia de facto, for example, in 1918, and actively supported us in the War of Liberation that followed. Prior to that, there was a strong English community here (the Anglican church in Rīga is built on English soil brought here as ballast). Rīga's greatest mayor (1901-1912, when the city became a metropolis) was, George Armitsted, whose family was originally from Yorkshire -- a statue of him was unveiled by the Queen last month. Between the wars, Britain was our number one export partner (bacon, butter, timber -- much of which became gold kept in the Bank of England and the basis of our currency; the gold was returned and became the basis of our currency again after independence was regained).

29 November, 2006 16:00  

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