HomeStampa esteraWere Stalin's crimes really less wicked than Hitler's?

Were Stalin’s crimes really less wicked than Hitler’s?

Jonathan Freedland is a decent sort, and his report from Lithuania, where he is making a programme for the BBC, is characteristically reasonable. Reasonable but, I’m afraid, mistaken. Jonathan is upset by the way in which Stalin’s crimes are given parity with Hitler’s in the Baltic States, something he calls the “double genocide” argument:


di Daniel Hannan dal del 15 settembre 2010  


The symmetry here is false. No one wants to top the persecution league table, but nor can one accept that those who were “arrested, interrogated and imprisoned” – to quote the Vilnius museum – suffered the same fate as those Jews who were murdered, despite the exhibit’s attempt to equalise them under the bland umbrella term “losses”. The oppression of the Soviet years was terrible, but it was not genocide: to be arrested is not to be shot into a pit.

By chance, I am reading Jonathan’s piece in Riga, where I have just visited the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The display here also implies a “double genocide”, although that phrase isn’t used. Behind the glass panes are grisly relics left behind by victims of both the Nazis and the Soviets. There are artefacts cobbled together by inmates of the gulags: primitive dentures made to replace the teeth lost through poor diet, face-masks to ward off the swarms of Siberian midges. There is a note scrawled by a mother to her children as she was hauled away by the NKVD, never to return: convinced that she was the victim of a clerical error, she asked them to remember to water the plants in the dining room. And, of course, there are horrible images of the Nazi pogroms, with a frank acceptance of the role that local people played in rounding up their Jewish neighbours.

Latvia’s Jews suffered disproportionately at the hands of both sets of occupiers. Around five per cent of the Latvian population in 1939 was Jewish, but Jews accounted for ten per cent of the Red Army’s victims. Why? Because Latvian Jews were generally better educated and wealthier than their gentile neighbours, making them prime targets for the Chekas, who sought to eliminate capitalists, intellectuals and other potential anti-Soviet elements.

- Advertisement -

This raises an important moral question. Is the classification of human beings by income or education more justifiable than their classification by race or religion? The Nazis and the Soviets both tended to murder people by category rather than as individuals. In neither case was innocence a defence. The essential wickedness of both ideologies was the same: whatever you had or hadn’t done, you might find yourself on a death list. I struggle to see how one form of categorisation is more benign than the other.

But what about Jonathan’s main argument, namely that deportation is not as bad as murder? Well, the guide who showed me round the Riga museum – and who was very obviously a man of the Left – told me something that astonished me: the survival rate in Soviet gulags during the Second World War was lower than in Nazi concentration camps. While the stated intention of the gulags might not have been murder, that was their practical effect, as everyone understood. Around 1.6 million people perished in the camps before Stalin’s death in 1953. Of those who returned, few recovered their physical or mental health.

Here are some more figures. When the Red Army occupied the Baltic States in 1940, 130,000 men, women and children were deported or executed. During the Nazi occupation, between 1941 and 1944, 300,000 more were exiled or murdered – overwhelmingly Jews, and overwhelmingly in Lithuania. When the Soviets came back in 1944, they rounded up a further 400,000 people over the next decade, mainly kulaks. All in all, some ten per cent of the adult population was lost. You can understand why people remember the period as one long calamity.

Jonathan is on surer ground when he complains that the victims of the USSR are more visibly mourned than those of the Third Reich. But he is honest enough to acknowledge the obvious explanation. Most people in the Baltic States have had first-hand experience of Soviet repression, whereas the Nazi occupation is recalled only by the very elderly. When Balts commemorate the victims of Communism, they are remembering their own fathers, uncles, grandmothers, not simply faces in old photographs.

Jonathan is not the first Guardian writer to complain about Stalin being lumped with Hitler. Here is the Labour MP Denis MacShane:

There is a deeper Rightwing revisionism at play. Stalin’s crimes are being elevated to a par with the exterminations of Jews by those who want to banalise or relativise the Holocaust and reduce its historical centrality to just another example of wartime mass murders. Stalin’s famines of the 1930s or his deportations in the 1940s are held up as the Right creates its own moral equivalence between Nazism and Communism.

Re-read that passage and you’ll see how offensive it is. Those who emphasise Communism’s crimes, says MacShane, are secretly trying to downgrade the Holocaust. He doesn’t allow the possibility that you might find both Hitlerism and Stalinism evil, or that you might recognise how much the two men had in common. Indeed, if “the Right” makes such a moral equivalence, it is perhaps because Rightists understand that the horrors of Nazism and Communism spring from a common root, namely the exaltation of the state over the individual. Still, I don’t think you need to be a conservative to be equally repelled by two systems which justify the systematic liquidation of civilians in pursuit of perverted doctrines.

But here’s the thing. Outside those countries occupied by the Red Army, you rarely find such equivalence. While Nazism is well understood as the monstrosity it was, there is often a lingering sense that Communism was well-intentioned, even though it went wrong. The merest connection with fascism bars a politician from office; yet those who actively supported the USSR are allowed to become ministers and European Commissioners. Wearing a Che Guevara tee-shirt is not regarded in the same light as wearing an Adolf Hitler tee-shirt; but it should be.

Don’t get me wrong. Every atrocity is unique in its own terrible way. The Nazi Holocaust haunts us for good reasons. Months after I saw it, I still find this image rising, unbidden, in my mind. Happily, though, no one, beyond a deranged fringe, denies the nature of Nazism. The same is not true of the Soviet tyranny.

Even now, Russia refuses to accept that its annexation of the Baltics was an “invasion”. Forty-seven per cent of Russians have a positive view of Stalin (just imagine how we would react if 47 per cent of Germans had a positive view of Hitler). And while the merest and most desultory advances by fascist mini-parties are front-page news, Communist parties that unapologetically took the Soviet line during the Cold War are an accepted part of many legislatures. To deny the magnitude of the Nazi genocide is, in several countries, a criminal offence; but to signal, with your idiotic Che tee-shirt, that you are all for breaking a few eggs to make an omelette, is radical chic. That, surely, is the truly alarming asymmetry.


Inserito su il 3 ottobre 2010

- Advertisment -

Articoli popolari