Thursday, August 20, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Needs Honest Discussion of Molotov-Ribbentrop Lest It Repeat Mistakes behind It, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 20 – Unlike France or Britain where few people today are prepared to defend their countries’ 1938 Munich Accord with Hitler, most Russians, encouraged by their government, defend 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a reflection of their continuing tendency to view the world in “us-them” terms in which Russians are always right and others always wrong.
And that approach, Moscow commentator Aleksey Makarkin argues in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” not only locks Russians into an older geopolitical paradigm that they should have overcome but increases the danger that acting within its terms, they will make analogous calculations and agreements in the future (
“The desire to defend at any price the position of one’s own country is perfectly understandable psychologically if one lives within a ‘we-they’ paradigm where ‘we’ are always right,” he argues, all the more so because it serves the interests of those who believe in “the unchanging nature of national and state interests” despite systemic changes over time.
But, Makarkin continues, “to justify one’s own errors and crimes means at the very least not to exclude the possibility of their repetition.” Thus, countries like Germany and France by admitting to mistakes in the past have been able to take steps to avoid repeating them such as committing themselves to existing borders.
Were Russia a realistic candidate for membership in the European Union, Europe’s equation of Hitlerism and Stalinism would require Russians to rethink their position, but because it is not, the Moscow analyst says, that action has only angered them and led to claims that Moscow under Stalin or anyone else has always been right and everyone else always wrong.
However, because that situation guarantees new and possibly equally fateful mistakes in the future, Makarkin argues, one cannot overestimate now “the importance of an honest discussion about the real causes behind the actions of the Soviet side” in the events leading up to the accord between Hitler and Stalin.
And he offers the outline of what he suggests such a discussion would entail. Stalin, he said, sought “territorial adjustments in the West,” the ones “which the USSR achieved a little later” in the course of the War. The issue before him was “who would be the first to agree to sanction his expansion – Chamberlain and Daladier or Hitler.”
The Soviet dictator decided to try to reach an agreement first with the West not only because Britain and France had displayed weakness by showing themselves willing to trade territory for peace at Munich but also because Moscow had ideological reasons sought a rapprochement with the Western democracies rather than fascist Germany.
The British and French, however, were increasingly aware that they had miscalculated at Munich and they were worried that a Soviet proposal that would have forced them to recognize almost any step Stalin took in Eastern Europe as legitimate. As a result, the British refused to go along, even though the French were ready to do so.
Consequently, Stalin turned to Hitler who was prepared to offer Stalin what he wanted, at least for the time being – including the Baltic countries and Poland which the Pact’s much-discussed secret protocol assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence – even though this accord opened the way to a general war in Europe and two years later, Hitler’s invasion of the USSR.
Such an honest discussion, one that acknowledges both Stalin’s imperialist motivations and the calculations and miscalculations on all sides opens the way to a calmer and more serious consideration not only of what might have been done then but – and it is clear that this is more important for Makarkin -- what should be done in the future.
But tragically, the current Russian leadership for its own reasons is not interested either in such a conversations or in the changes in Moscow’s policies that might entail, a reflection of its unwillingness not only “to live not by lies” but also to stop insisting on “double standards” by its errors and mistakes are justified but those of its opponents remain crimes.

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