It is said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a student of history. If that is true, he must have skipped a few study sessions during the years he was climbing the ladder in the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs – better known as the NKVD, later as the KGB, the “secret police” of Russia much favoured as the ultimate disciplinary arm of Joseph Stalin and treasured by Russian leaders including Putin.
Had he been paying attention during his years as a rooky cop, Putin might have learned from the ill-chosen suggestions written by Stalin in the early 1930s on how to control an unhappy peasantry and, later in the same decade, how to prevent a defeated, but not conquered, military force from rising against you.
In the opening paragraph of a detailed report on the great famine in Russia in the 1930s, Wikipedia tells us: “About 5.7 to 8.7 million people are estimated to have lost their lives. Joseph Stalin and other party members had ordered that “kulaks” were to be liquidated as a class and became a target for the state. The richer, land-owning peasants were labelled kulaks. They were portrayed as class enemies, which culminated in a Soviet campaign of political repression, including arrests, deportations, and executions of large numbers of the better-off peasants and their families from 1929 to 1932. Major contributing factors to the famine included the forced collectivization of agriculture as a part of the first five-year plan, forced grain procurement combined with rapid industrialization, a decreasing agricultural workforce, and several severe droughts.”
It happened before Putin was born. But the lesson remains. “Liquidating” a class of people is not an acceptable form of birth control; and will never erase a memory of betrayal and murder among those fortunate enough to survive.
Readers interested in more details should check Wikipedia. They should also carefully consider the daily reports coming from today’s international reporters in Ukraine that President Putin’s invading army is concentrating on breaking, then controlling, civilian morale with terror.
Which brings me to a military force that Putin needs to fear as Ukraine resists. Poland sits just across the border and has a military much smaller than Russia’s, but an alliance (NATO) with other nations and a memory for old grievances Russia has been trying to deny since 1945, when the Second World War ended.
Putin appears determined to muscle Russia back to the power it once held under Stalin by posing a threat to Poland. Nothing definitive at the time of this writing, just a few rocket launchers, military close to the border and one missile fired from a distance and exploding just inside Ukraine. In the navy, it’s called “a shot across the bows.” On land, it could be a version of “false flag” – a warning shot that could be construed as a threat.
If that was Putin’s intent, Poland didn’t winch. It just opened its doors a little wider to refugees. It has good cause to look Putin in the eye. Back in the Second World War, Germany invaded Poland and launched an air attack on Warsaw that shocked the world. Such attacks became routine in the destruction of property and the deaths of citizens.
Among the many savageries of that conflict is one still under discussion … still high on Poland’s settlement list. Old-timers may recall it. Several generations may have forgotten. But not Poland. It will never forget the Katyn massacre of more than 20,000 Polish military officers captured when Russia invaded Poland two weeks after Germany launched its Blitzkrieg.
Russia denied the charge until 1990 but still refused to accept its classification as a war crime or act of murder. In November 2010, the Russian State Duma officially condemned Joseph Stalin as being responsible for the massacre. But, you can follow the detailed trail of little truth and fewer consequences with a reference to Google and these depressing historical footnotes: “Russia and Poland remain divided on the legal description of the Katyn crime;” and “archive searches are continuing” to hopefully provide “complete disclosure of Russian documents.”
I don’t know how much longer the United Nations can tolerate Putin’s strutting determination to destroy another nation, but I think history should tell him – Poland has a long memory.