Nobody aired this phrase disguised as a weather report: “Over all of Ukraine, the sky is clear.” Nobody tried to sing in a new manner the hit of the Polish jazz king Jerzy Petersburski and the Ukrainian singer Klavdia Shulzhenko about how “we were told that war had begun and peacetime had ended.” Nevertheless, the whole world has drawn a comparison between the actions of the Putin regime’s military machine and that of the Nazis. They drew an analogy with Sudetenland and recalled, quite to the point, Winston Churchill’s prophetic phrase that the fascists of the future will be called antifascists. They synchronized the speeches of Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin on the problem of helping their compatriots abroad. The German Bundestag held a debate between the politicians who do and do not find a likeness between Putin and Hitler. To crown it all, the multilingual Internet is full of swastikas on the official Russian tricolor.
Historical parallels really show a lot of monozygotic points, which means, in the language of genetics, some kind of identicalness. This may have been the case in other instances of military perfidy coupled with the falsehood of aggressive propaganda. The truth is that, even though Putin’s occupation of Crimea resembles in some ways the one perpetrated by Hitler, it is basically a phenomenon of the Golden Horde origin. Its roots are in Moscow, its symbols and anthems come from a bygone era, and it is fueled by hatred for Western civilization – the same hatred that sprang from Joseph Stalin’s theory of the “aggravation of class struggle” and the speeches of odious Soviet ideologists.
Soviet and Nazi German annexations – what do they coincide in historically and what should we expect from a regime that uses a double-headed, not a single-headed, eagle as a symbol?
The Third Reich used to establish – in a businesslike manner – a new order that was merciless, antihuman but, at the same time, strictly regimented, organized, and materially sound. Reichskommissariats, gauleiters, civilian administrations, military commandant’s offices, and police forces formed a viable system of government. For example, when Germany was occupying the Czech city Karlovy Vary, local businesses did not in fact ground to a halt. The Germans exulted, the Czechs were sad, but the infrastructure of Bohemia remained intact. The Czech veterans, who went through those hard times, are saying their life did not change for the worse and they even borrowed many economic and business practices from the Germans – of course, until the war broke out. But is German discipline better than Soviet slackness?
Things were different, however, on the territories the Soviet troops seized two years after the occupation of Sudetenland. Chaos reigned supreme there. It was the main export item and a distinguishing feature of a new life in the annexed areas. After seizing the bridgeheads under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, military units performed run-of-the-mill police functions, sometimes “brightening up,” as the Nazis did, their humdrum daily routine with repressions and deportations. But they failed to organize self-government, for they lacked resources, personnel, and, what is more, expertise and powers. The centrally-ruled military bureaucratic apparatus was unable to meet the needs of local communities and groups, let alone individuals.
Having occupied Bessarabia in 1940, Soviet troops failed to establish Soviet power there de facto. The new administrations would carry out expropriation, ban private entrepreneurship, set high quotas for farming produce, but they were not able to restore the region’s economy. Take, for example, the production of clay tiles in the areas that abound with different varieties of clay. Previously, all trans-Dniester houses had only been roofed with this cheap practical heat-retention material which was first manufactured at mini-factories in German settlements and then all over the south of what is now Odesa oblast. But, as the Soviet authorities came, this industry was eliminated, as were many other sources of the wellbeing of Budjak steppe inhabitants, such as crafts, markets, and communications. Paradoxically, Hitler’s invasion in 1941 was used as a pretext to put the blame for an economic catastrophe in Bessarabia on the war rather than on the Soviet occupation. For the war redrew the map and changed the setup of the whole continent – seemingly, forever.
The danger of the current situation in Crimea is that there may be an attempt to put the Kremlin’s criminal and unproductive plans down to a new spiral in the military face-off. The victorious annexation has come unstuck. It is obvious that Crimea’s economy will continue to nosedive and the peninsula will remain a subsidy-dependent area for a long time. The wave of problems is and will be rising. It is not clear so far how to solve them, but it is crystal clear that a high price will have to be paid for the consequences of a 21st-century annexation. If the answer is to be sought in the light of Putin’s last century logic, why not look at the results of a “little victorious war” in Bohemia? That is, to use the Sudetenland experience of 1946, not 1938, when the torn-apart and destroyed homeland of Jan Hus was rising from the ashes. A Potsdam Conference decision authorized Czechoslovakia to carry out a “humane and orderly transfer” of all the Sudeten German population to their fatherland. The deportation, which involved more than 2.5 million people, lasted from January 25, 1946, until November of the same year. Among the 244,000 Germans, who were allowed to stay behind, were antifascists, highly-valued specialists, and those married to indigenous residents. Eight years after euphoria and triumph of the “invincible German spirit,” both the winners and the losers saw a sad finale. Three years later, the Fourth Geneva Convention declared, quite aptly, that annexations and deportations were crimes against humanity, no matter under what pretexts they might occur. People should live in their own houses, and no criminals of any caliber – be it highwaymen or powerful dictators – may encroach on them.
I know only too well this part of Czech history because I heard it in the beautiful towns of north-western Bohemia from the wise old people who preserved love for German culture but had been cursing throughout their lifetime their German neighbors who had ruined their own and other people’s lives by crying out “Deutschland ueber alles.” The annexation process cannot be reversed – once set into motion, it will spin around its axis like a top which eventually stops and falls down. A physical and moral collapse of the occupation regime is the only way out of this situation. Annexations “without a single shot fired” meet the same end as bloody wars do. The only difference is that some victims go once and forever and others eternally remain sufferers. Refugees, who have to leave the peninsula, and people loyal to the new authorities, those who were hurt by the regime and those who benefited from it, – all have been issued bills to pay.
There is a village of Novoselovka in Sarata district, Odesa oblast, where the indigenous Moldovans have set up a museum which keeps a lot of family albums. Leafing through them, I found the yellowish photos of brothers in the soldier’s uniforms of different states. One was drafted to the Rumanian army in 1939 and the other was called to the colors by Soviet war commissars in 1940. The faceless machine of aggression flouts family ties, feelings, and the very basics of a human life. What it needs is patriotic slogans and close ranks of undoubting men. The Crimea of today is a time machine which has transferred our friends, brothers, and compatriots to the time which the residents of Novoselovka, Karlovy Vary, and a vast space between our borders and the Atlantic Ocean consigned to museums long ago. Only in these museums, using your imagination and holding back tears, you can watch an exposition of the causes and ends of the seizure of foreign territories, which is terrible irrespective of the philosophy of aggressors – be it Hitler, Stalin, or Putin.