Saturday, May 23, 2020

On 'historical grievances,' or how to ask the wrong questions

My latest commentary piece for RT (I have my own page there now, you should check it out) tries to explain why the rift between Poland and Russia over recent history is insurmountable. It's not about the history itself, but how the two countries approach it - from two completely different perspectives that are mutually exclusive.
I'd like to add some context to what I said there, not because it's necessary for the argument I made - because it stands just fine on its own - but because I know it will reflexively be denounced as "Russian propaganda" because of where it was published.

My own people, the Serbs, have grappled with both sides of this discussion. For instance, the argument how "May 1945 wasn't liberation but the beginning of Communist occupation" has been persuasively made by many a Serb. I explored the reasoning behind it here, back in 2012. But there are important distinctions to be made here.

First of all, the only people in Eastern Europe who can plausibly make the claim that they did not deserve "Communist occupation" are those who did not join the Axis or contribute volunteers to the SS - so basically, Czechs, Poles and Serbs. That said, those three may want to reassess to which extent their plight resulted from trusting Britain, and maybe readjust their blame scale accordingly.

Even the rabidly anti-Communist Serbs don't have the kind of visceral hostility towards Russia displayed today in Czechia or Poland, because they understand that a) Russia is not the Soviet Union, b) ethnic Russians were among the most numerous victims of Communism and c) the USSR had at best a marginal role in bringing Communists to power in Yugoslavia. That last point is obviously not applicable to Czechs and Poles, but it matters.

Much is being made of Soviet "brutality" during the Cold War. Tell me, however, did the Czechs or Poles end up converting the script in which they write, or butchering their languages? Were they partitioned into new and hostile nations, with cultures and values intrinsically opposite to their own? Because that's literally what happened to the Serbs. Did the Soviets cover up the Nazi atrocities against Poles or Czechs, the way Tito minimized the Croatian genocide of Serbs? Even Katyn, the mass execution of captured Polish officers by Stalin's secret police, is nowhere close to the absolute or relative numbers of Serbs killed in the process of imposing Communism on them.

As I hope I've made clear, we'd have a quite a bit of "victim points" in the metaphorical bank. But the postmodern Western narrative in which being a victim is the fountainhead of virtue is alien to us, so we haven't rewritten our history around it.

Meanwhile, the Czechs and Poles were so eager for "freedom" that they rushed into the arms of the EU and NATO. That's not freedom or independence, that's just switching masters. The great irony is that the EU and NATO actually practice nation-destroying cultural, societal and linguistic engineering, the scale and scope of which would make the Soviets blush.

Let's not even get into the sheer hypocrisy of joining NATO in March 1999, even as it had the Luftwaffe launch its first bombing raids since WW2. You really don't want to have that discussion with me.

As for the Russians, I keep hearing from them the same kind of talk that has bedeviled the Serbs for decades, which can be best summed up as "What do we need to do for Them to stop hating us?" To which I try to explain that there is no right answer to what amounts to being the wrong question.

Even if it were somehow conceivable for a self-respecting Russian state to renounces the Soviet heroes of WW2 - which it absolutely should not - it will gain nothing by doing so. The "West" has a problem not with Communism or the Soviet Union, but with Russia itself.

Oh sure, Washington and Brussels talk about democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, human rights, etc. But one, they don't actually practice any of that at home (and that's an argument I'd enjoy explaining in detail), and two, none of those existed in Russia of the 1990s, when President Boris Yeltsin literally sent tanks to bomb the parliament. Yet Yeltsin was beloved in the West, as was the weak, lawless, subservient Russia of his time. If that doesn't tell you something, I'll just be wasting time drawing you a picture.