27 November 2006

Dat Ole Time Propaganda (II)

(Read Part I here.)

I think Tarulis' book on Soviet policy toward us 1920-40 is still the best book on the mechanics of the Pact and occupation in the Baltics there is, though it's dated (1959). More than half of the book, pp. 114-256, deals with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its consequences, and there is an extensive bibliography.

There's also a chapter entitled "The West Opposes Stalin's Aims," pp. 101-113 -- I reread it last night, and one of the things it cites is a 1950 Times article on how many in the UK believed "that the British Government were wrong, during the abortive negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1939, to resist the Soviet claim for bases in the three countries; they maintained that Russia had the right to safeguard its security."

This got me thinking -- we don't know, of course, what Major General Sotskov has (no doubt selectively) compiled in his 400-pp. dossier... or even to what period these supposed "revelations" refer.

"Many people" always think a lot of different things, esp. in foreign ministries. In terms of the 1939 Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, the Baltics resisted the abridgement of their sovereignty by Soviet "guarantees." If Sotskov has found documents about British "understanding" in this regard, that wouldn't be surprising at all; indeed, the British worked hard to try to reach a deal. The problem was a basic one -- Molotov tried to incorporate the phrase "indirect aggression," including a secret definition thereof. The French seemed willing to back the Soviet position -- the British were not. The Baltics were freaked; the Soviet intent was to use language that would allow Moscow to interfere at will, basically (in the event of a change in policy in a Baltic country, etc.). Russian intransigence was leaked to the press even then. According to Tarulis, Estonian Foreign Minister Selter told the British Minister in Tallinn that "Soviet interference in strictly internal Estonian affairs, such as a putsch, would inevitably bring into power a government with pro-German tendencies."

There were certainly people in every foreign ministry, including in Britain and even in the Baltic States, who had other views -- that's normal, and that's what a foreign ministry should be about (I mean, unless one is a certain American president who seems to prefer a State Department staffed by yes-men and yes-women...). One should remember, however, that the Soviets were enjoying private chamber music with Herr von Ribbentrop while these negotiations were going on -- unlike the British, that "champagne salesman" had no problem with secret protocols that encroached upon the independence of other states; the British government had a vigorous debate about exactly that aspect of the Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, and decided that such encroachment was wrong.

Even in May, Seeds, the British Ambassador to the Kremlin, responding to Molotov's query about whether the Russians could pull a Munich in the Baltics, had said that guarantees given against our will "would amount to menaces, not protection [...] any change in that attitude would be repugnant to the fundamental spirit of the British people." The Soviets, just before concluding their treaty with the Nazis, were furious: "[t]he difference is not whether to encroach or not to encroach on the independence of the Baltic States, because both sides stand for guaranteeing this independence..." [Tass, 2 August 1939]

Latvia and Estonia had signed non-aggression treaties with Germany on 7 June, and Tarulis notes that Britain's Ambassador in Berlin observed that "British advances to the Soviet Union were to blame for the fact that these two republics had 'reinsured' with Germany."

In order to "rewrite history" (which is, of course, what the Russians, not the Balts, are attempting to do -- and the Russians have at least 66 years of intensive experience in this art), one would have to believe that Stalin's intentions were pure, or at least not evil; what possible reasons could one have for believing this?

Hypothetically, one could argue that the Mutual Assistance Pacts imposed that autumn (which came with the explicit threat of occupation, with Russian forces massed on the borders), were necessary for the defense of the USSR -- though this made little sense militarily, and the British had in fact told the Russians in May that a German attack through the Baltics was the least likely scenario, the front being too narrow. Stalin to Munters, the Latvian Foreign Minister, 3 October: "You don't trust us, and we don't quite trust you either. You believe that we wish to seize you. We could do that now, but we do not do it. Riga is the center of anti-Soviet propaganda... A German attack is also possible. For six years German fascists and the communists cursed each other. Now an unexpected turn took place; that happens in the course of history." (Quotations referenced in Tarulis, throughout.)

What "anti-Soviet propaganda" was Iosif Vissarionovich referring to? The Ulmanis régime had long suppressed not only anti-Soviet propaganda but also information on what was happening in the USSR (e.g., on Stalin's slaughter of tens of thousands of ethnic Latvians in 1938). One gets a pretty good idea of what Stalin meant from Izvestia, only three days later -- "the London politicians" would like to use the Baltics as a place d'armes against the USSR!

Certain deluded historiographers in the West would underwrite this particular Russian rewriting of history -- the types that believe that the USSR and the West could have, and should have, formed a common "anti-fascist front." The obvious response is Kennan's, which I've quoted before: "The fact is that Stalin's Russia was never a fit partner for the West in the cause of resistance to fascism. Russia herself was, throughout these years, the scene of the most nightmarish, Orwellian orgies of modern totalitarianism. These were not provoked by Hitler's rise. They originated [...] in 1932, at a time when Stalin did not yet have any proper understanding of the Nazi danger. This internal weakness of the Soviet regime [...] lay in Stalin's own character. It was this that caused him to fear an intimacy with Hitler's opponents no less than he feared the military enmity of Hitler himself." (George F. Kennan, Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.)

One doesn't need to play what-if to realize this -- Kennan invokes Franz Borkenau, for instance: "there may be no reason to suppose that Stalin himself strongly desired the triumph of Hitler in Germany. But it is wholly evident [...] that he made no move whatsoever to prevent it." The Comintern spent at least as much time and effort trying to undermine Social Democrats as it did battling the right, most everywhere; it helped break the left's control of the Prussian parliament by collaborating with the right, for example. In Latvia, it was the right wing that sneaked a few Communists into the Saeima -- to undermine the Social Democrats. In foreign policy, the Russians directed much of their foreign policy against the great democracies already at Rapallo, in 1922 (which, for the Russians, meant "the possibility [...] of keeping Germany at odds with the French and British" [Kennan]). When the Russians were repulsed at Warsaw in 1920, Lenin remarked regretfully: "Had Poland become Sovietized, the Versailles Peace would have been terminated, and the system built on victory over Germany would likewise have been destroyed." (Tarulis, op. cit.)

Then there are those ole time totalitarian orgies. Even if, for purposes of argument, one were to suppose that the USSR was merely concerned about its security, should its newfound ally, Nazi Germany, have taken an "unexpected turn" -- why, once it had stationed tens of thousands of troops in the Baltics and acquired the bases it demanded in its ultimatums (some of which it used to bomb Finland), did it need to invade? Statesmen like Miķelis Valters, then Latvia's Ambassador to Belgium, wanted Latvia's foreign policy to be redirected towards the Western democracies, not to Germany or even the maintenance of neutrality; the Ulmanis régime rejected this because it felt compelled to trust (or place its hopes against hope in) the USSR, which had effectively castrated the country already. To follow the ridiculous Russian argument a step further -- even if the Baltics were conspiring against Russia despite the presence of 70 000+ Russian troops on our soil... why, then, would the Soviets have had to do what they did after the June 1940 invasion, when Russia had brought several hundred thousand more troops into the Baltics and reduced the legitimate governments to puppet shows? Defense against Stalin's friend Hitler required mass deportations, mass murder, and Sovietization?

No matter what Major General Sotskov has compiled in his dossier (which material I would dearly like to see), the point he is trying to make is an old one, and it is an unutterably false one. He may have a few hundred pages of Soviet documents, but there are innumerable reams of documents that prove that the Baltic interpretations (and I emphasize the plural, because unlike the Major General, Baltic historians investigate and argue rather than subscribe to a "line" and seek confirmation for it) of the events in 1939-40 are far closer to the truth. Latvia's historical enemy was Germany -- though many of the interbellum statesmen had experienced czarist tyranny and Bolshevik terror, they were also Germanophobic. When Lithuania was still assigned to the German sphere of influence (as set forth in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), for example, the Nazis attempted to pressure Lithuania into joining the attack on Poland, with the purpose of retaking Vilnius. The Lithuanians refused. The Russians, of course, attacked Poland, including that part of Lithuania then occupied by Poland.

Sotskov would simply like to dance the old dance -- disclaim responsibility for Soviet crimes, blame the Baltics for the occupation (which is unfortunately in conflict with the other old dance still regularly insisted upon by Russia -- that the Baltics weren't occupied), and claim victory in the Great Patriotic War, without complications, ignoring what happened before and after the dates the hideous, heroic monuments that litter our countries commemorate, "1941-1945."

At best, Maj. Gen. Sotskov's feature is a poor sequel to a very bad, long-running Russian B-movie about a rapist who feels compelled to rape because his victims won't make love to him. The kind of comedy Lt. Col. Putin enjoys.

The first photograph is of Stalin celebrating his treaty with the Nazis, a day after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed; the second is of Molotov with Hitler in Berlin, November 1940. This post is partially a response to Martin at soc.culture.baltics.

For an excellent article on the Pact and the Baltic States, see Lituanus.

See also this site for a collection of articles on crimes against humanity committed in Latvia by the Soviets and the Nazis.

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.