by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
What 's going on in Moscow? Two weeks ago, Boris Yeltsin abruptly fired his entire government, including heir apparent, PM Vicktor Chernomyrdin. He appointed Sergei Kiriyenko, an almost unknown 35-year old technocrat, as prime minister.
Yeltsin quickly restored some of the key players he had fired, including Russia's able foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov. Yeltsin named hardliner Sergei Stepashin Interior Minister to replace another hawk, Gen. Anatoli Kulikov. Former cabinet stars Boris Nemtsov and Anatoli Chubais were dumped in the reshuffle. Yelstin then announced he would not run for another term in 2000.
Russians and outsiders were shocked and bewildered by Yelsin's political thunderclap. My most reliable Moscow sources re utterly confused. Was Yeltsin cutting down rivals as part of a secret plan to run again? Was kingmaker Boris Berezhovsky, Russia's greatest industrial baron, mounting a Byzantine intrigue? Would Yeltsin become regent of a restored Romanov dynasty? Was Boris out of control?
An enigma, wrapped up in a mystery, as Churchill observed of Russia. Spasms of violent, irrational behavior, and bloody purges, are Russian traditions. Ivan the Terrible had his dreaded secret police - the `opritchniki'- cut off the heads of plotting boyars(nobles). Peter the Great tortured his boyars. When the party bureaucracy frustrated Stalin's commands, he had 2 million communist cadres shot. Response, thereafter, was eager and rapid.
Few noticed a very important event amid Moscow's political uproar. After finishing Kremlin spring cleaning, Yeltsin ordered secret documents about Stalin be handed over to a presidential commission investigating victims of Soviet terror. While some Soviet era archives have been opened to scholars, many key documents remain sealed as `state secrets.'
It's high time for `new' Russia to face up to Stalin's crimes. Germany fully confessed to Hitler's crimes. Japan grudgingly concedes `regret' for some wartime crimes. But the greatest crimes of all - Stalin's Red Terror - have never been adequately investigated or denounced by Russia. President Yeltsin is doing his people and a world a favor by shining light into Russia darkest night of horror and shame.
We have been thoroughly conditioned by wartime propaganda and subsequent relentless rehashing on TV of Nazi themes (including, even, Space Nazis!) to believe Hitler and his Nazis were the century's worst criminals. This is one of the biggest lies of our time.
Hitler killed about 12 million people, half of them Jews. According to the lowest current estimates by reputable Russian historians, Stalin was directly responsible for murdering 20 million of his own people, including 8 million Ukrainians in the 1930's. Other Russian and foreign scholars, like the noted Robert Conquest, assert the true number of Stalin's victims was 30 million, or even 40! These figures do not include Russia's 18 million war dead.
Opening secret Soviet archives will, I believe, point to the 30 million figure. The full story of the Ukrainian Holocaust and NKVD's savagery in the Baltic states is murky, even today. Stalin's exile of entire Muslim peoples, such as Chechen, Ingush, Cherkass, Dhagestanis, and Tatars, remains almost unknown. Three million Muslims may have died in Stalin's Arctic camps where extreme cold proved an even cheaper and more efficient mass killer than poison gas.
While Hitler's worst crimes occurred from 1942 onward, and were masked by world war, Stalin's mass murder of 8 million Ukrainians happened in the 1930's, before the world's gaze. Hitler did not start World War II alone: he began it jointly with ally Stalin, when Germany and the USSR invaded and carved up Poland - after Russia invaded Finland.
As we watch world Jewish groups lambaste Switzerland for aiding Nazi Germany, we should ask: what about the US and Britain allying themselves with Stalin's USSR, a far bloodier, more dangerous tyranny than Nazi Germany? President Roosevelt shamefully called Stalin, who had recently murdered tens of millions, `our Uncle Joe.' President Clinton should have added the US alliance with Stalin to his orgy of historical contrition during his African trip.
Hitler was inflated as a villain, and Stalin downplayed, by the victorious Americans and British, who, of course, did not want to be seen cynically using a greater monster to defeat a lesser one - or `liberating' Europe from the Nazis by handing half of it to communism.
The Stalinists and fellow travelers who infested Hollywood from 1930-1950, hid Stalin's crimes while trumpeting Hitler's. Their liberal heirs today continue this love affair with the left; as well as a policy of ensuring the terrible suffering of Hitler's victims is not diluted by revelations of the equally terrible sufferings of other peoples.
Russia has hidden the full story of Stalin's crimes out of national shame and amnesia induced by national agony. European and American socialists/leftists don't want to be reminded their roots are entwined with Stalin's and Lenin's tyranny.
This conspiracy of silence must end. Congratulations to Boris the Basher for opening Soviet archives. Crafty Yeltsin knows the facts will badly damage Russia's Communist Party.
The Left wants to keep hiding the truth that Stalin was history's single greatest murderer. And that communist regimes killed more people- close to 100 million - this century, than all its wars combined.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]