The Burden of the Soviet Past

By S. Trifkovic (Russia Panel)
Sunday, 18 Jul 2010

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The distinction between Russia's legal inheritance and her moral responsibility needs to be reinforced by a reminder that the agents of Soviet oppression were primarily focused on destroying Russia’s faith, tradition, culture, and the millions of Russian people.

Russia is about to adopt a universal doctrine to disclaim once and for all any moral, legal or financial responsibility for the policies and actions of the Soviet authorities on the territory of the former Soviet republics and the states of Eastern Europe. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, a leading United Russia voice on foreign affairs, has published a summary of this doctrinal document [ ... ] Writing days after a controversial decree by the acting President of Moldova Mihai Guimpu, which proclaimed June 28 as the “Day of Soviet occupation of Moldova,” with claims for possible financial damages from Russia, Kosachev called for adopting a sort of “historical doctrine” for Russia that would spare Moscow the indignity of having to respond individually to such petty provocations from the neighboring states.

Indeed, Russia has been inundated lately with claims to assume responsibility for crimes committed under the Soviet regime on behalf of Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine and now Moldova. Each time Moscow has had to improvise and threaten retaliation on an individual basis, while having no universal position to treat such claims in the future.

Kosachev’s proposal is simple and tough: Russia fulfills all international obligations of the Soviet Union – international treaties and agreements, as well as public and private debt – as the successor state to the Soviet Union. However, Russia does not recognize its moral responsibility or any legal obligations for the actions and crimes committed by the Soviet authorities on the territories of former Soviet states and Eastern Europe. Russia does not accept any political, legal or financial claims against it for violations by Soviet authorities of international or domestic laws in force during the Soviet period. [ ... ]

Commentary by Dr. Srdja Trifkovic:

Kosachev’s “basic idea” is simple, but not nearly tough enough. The distinction between Russia’s legal inheritance and its alleged moral responsibility needs to be reinforced by a reminder that the agents of Soviet oppression were primarily focused on destroying Russia’s faith, tradition, culture, and – above all – the millions of Russian people deemed “objectively guilty” (as per Martin Latsis).

Another reminder is that the chief perpetrators of Soviet terror – starting in 1917 to 18 with the Bolshevik Central Committee, with the Red Latvian Riflemen, and the illustrious “Iron Feliks” – were not only non-Russian, but explicitly anti-Russian.

Of course the second argument is a potential political minefield, and a blunt tool that has to be handled with tact and care. Nevertheless, it needs to be wielded in order to disarm once and for all those who want to burden today’s Russians with the bogus burden of moral responsibility for what Joseph Stalin, Lavrenty Beria, Nikolai Yezhov et al. had done to their grandparents – and everyone else’s grandparents.

The slogan for the “historical doctrine” should be “The Russian People: the Chief Victim of Soviet Oppression.” It is worthy of note that the persecution of Russian Orthodox Christians under Bolshevism is by far the greatest crime, in numbers and time-frame, in all of recorded history.

The subsidiary slogan should be “We Were All Losers!” The conciliatory implication should be that each community has had its share of suffering, and each carries a collective trauma which it knows best. On the other hand, blaming today’s Russia for the Soviet terror is as morally and legally absurd as blaming Georgia for Stalin and Beria, Poland for Felix Dzerzhinsky or Latvia for Latsis. While Russia clearly has no such claim against any of its neighbors, it is equally adamant in that it rejects any such claim from any of them.

An option to consider could be “We Were All Martyrs!” It evokes the words of Pope John Paul II at the Commemoration of 20th Century Witnesses of the Faith at the Coliseum in May of 2000: the blood of Christ’s martyred witnesses, the Pope said, is “the precious heritage that these courageous witnesses have passed down to us as a patrimony shared by all the Churches and ecclesial communities.” As an example he singled out Metropolitan Benjamin of Saint Petersburg, martyred in 1922, whose final words at his farcical trial were: “No matter what you decide, life or death, I will lift up my eyes reverently to God, cross myself and affirm: Glory to Thee, my Lord, glory to Thee for everything.”