Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Nostalgic Perspectives

According to one recent poll, more than half of all Russians think of Stalin as figure who had positive role in that nation's history.

This is hardly surprising, considering that most Russians weren't alive when Uncle Joe used to run things. Even their parents are probably having a blurred perception of those traumatic years and the people's natural tendency to remember only positive things and suppress the bad also contributed to the poll results. So, things like collectivisation, purges, gulags and Barbarossa are put under the carpet; Russians prefer of Stalin as a man who led the industrialisation, turned Russia into superpower and, last but not least, led Russia into victory over Nazis in WW2. The last thing is something that the Russians should be particularly proud of, since their effort and their sacrifices were those that broke Hitler's back and prevented the world from speaking German. Ironically, Stalin, to whom the credit for this victory is often contributed by his latter-day apologists, is the very person that nearly made that victory impossible. His handling of German invasion prior and immediately after June 1941 leaves impression that one of Hitler's generals was in charge of Soviet defences.

But Russians aren't alone in undeserved deification of their WW2 leaders. British also consider Churchill as one of the greatest Britons of all time, man to whom they must thank for the victory of Hitler. But real Churchill was incompetent hack who had the dubious honour of having not one but two wars unnecessarily prolonged. In April 1915 his mishandling of Dardanelle invasion kept Turkey in war and indirectly led to at least two more years of slaughter at Western Front and Russian Revolution. In April 1940 Churchill, despite overwhelming British superiority at sea, allowed German invasion forces to occupy most of Norway unmolested and thus gave away extra submarines bases for Dönitz in the upcoming Battle of the Atlantic. A year later, his decision to send expedition force to Greece prevented British from finishing off Italians in North Africa, which indirectly led to extra two years of fighting in Lybian desert. But British, just as Russians, tend to put all that under the carpet and remember Churchill as brilliant orator, talented writer and inspirational leader.

In Russian case, re-emergence of Stalin's personality cult also has something to do with the fact that his regime represents the opposite of everything which is wrong, or perceived to be wrong with modern Russia. Country that is burdened with widespread corruption, gangsterism, poverty and humiliated by the rest of the world yearns for the days when there was order and certainty and when other nations trembled in fear of Russian might.

Something similar (and more sinister) happened in Croatia. Ante Pavelić (Ante Pavelic), WW2 leader of quisling Croatian state, was probably the worst thing that could have happened for Croatia. But for many Croatians in early 1990s he became one of national heroes, simply for being viewed as the opposite of everything that was sacred in Tito's Yugoslavia – Communism and union with Serbs (and Communist propaganda, which had tried to connect even the mildest form of Croatian nationalism with his legacy, contributed to this effect).


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