Channeling Stalin: Unscrambling Russian Propaganda in Ukraine
by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
In Ukraine, Russia has presently redeployed a trusty Soviet propaganda trope: “liberation from Nazism.” This narrative is, of course, mendacious. Yet, every lie contains a kernel of truth. Our objective here is to extract it and put it in its proper context. We shall consider “liberation” and “Nazism” separately.
“Liberation from Nazism” is a standard Soviet trope originating in World War II. However, Moscow also lustily employed it during the crushing of the Polish Poznań uprising in June 1956, Hungarian insurrection in November 1956, and the Czechoslovak upheaval in August 1968.
In fact, throughout its history, the USSR justified its imperialist aggression invariably in terms of bringing “liberty” and annihilating evil. Usually, the target was “fascism/Nazism/Hitlerism,” but there were derivatives such as “imperialism,” “oppression,” and so forth. Often the Soviets would refer to their actions as “rendering fraternal assistance.”
All those propaganda threads are present today in the war in Ukraine. A more sophisticated iteration of “liberation from Nazism” focuses on the Western public, while its cruder form targets domestic Russian audiences.
However, before delving into the essence of Moscow’s current insidiousness, we should revisit the original propaganda matrix of the Second World War.
It is true that in 1945 the Soviet Union’s Red Army and NKVD obliterated Germany’s Wehrmacht and the SS on the eastern front. But Stalin did not liberate anyone. Instead, the Soviet dictator enslaved everyone in the lands his armies conquered. For to liberate means to bring liberty; the Soviet dictator did no such thing.
More precisely, Stalin replaced Hitler as the occupier. The Soviets re-enslaved the slaves of the German Nazis. A Red totalitarianism substituted for the Brown one.
From the point of view of the majority populations, in some places, like the Baltics, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania, the Red Army’s arrival augured terror much more horrible than what the Germans had wrought. In other lands, say, Poland and Yugoslavia, the Soviet occupation was less ruthless than the German had been. That is not to say it was mild; it was simply not as bloody as the Nazi one, which is no reason to rejoice.
Of course, there were regional variations even within the same country. Take Czechoslovakia, for example. The Soviet dominion over Slovakia was harsher than the German overlordship. The Czech experience was initially relatively mild under Stalin, while it had been relatively moderate under Hitler, unless one was Jewish.
An important qualification here is that none of this applies to the Jewish minority. According to the Third Reich’s racialist fantasies, the Jewish people were slated for complete extermination. The Germans failed to kill them all, but not for lack of trying.
Certainly, other captive people suffered horribly, the Poles in particular as well as eastern Slavs, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. They died in their millions, but their annihilation percentage-wise never reached the total proportions of their societies as it did with the Jewish people.
Can we, therefore, talk about Jewish liberation? Yes, we can, but only in Western Europe.
Western Allied war aims were crystal clear. They were laid out in the Atlantic Charter of August 14, 1941. As original signatories, both the United States and Great Britain pledged themselves to a restoration. The Allies promised to restore Europe to the status quo ante. That entailed overturning totalitarianism and restoring pre-war borders, including Polish ones.
Premier Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged to restore freedom and democracy. They kept their word to a limited extent, in Western Europe only. In the central and eastern part of the Old Continent, the Allied leaders permitted Stalin to keep his ill-gotten territorial gains, expand them, and foist Communism upon Moscow’s captive peoples.
Western Europe was lucky. The liberating American, British, and Polish armies virtually everywhere brought freedom and democracy back. That also entailed property restitution. The Germans routinely confiscated the properties of emigres who continued the struggle and, especially, Jewish property, as per Nazi ideology.
All Jews were expropriated under the rule of the Third Reich before most of them were murdered. In general, stolen Jewish (and other) property accrued to the German state and, in certain countries, to the native collaborationist regimes. In most cases, the state kept the properties, particularly large industrial enterprises.
However, regular properties, such as small shops, apartments, etc., were either leased or rented to new tenants. The German (or collaborationist) state remained the owner. In some cases, the state permitted the sale of petty Jewish (and other) properties to new owners. In other cases, some properties were simply awarded to leading supporters of the Nazi (or collaborationist) regime.
When the United States liberated Western Europe, it did restore not only democracy and sovereignty to France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands but also reversed the Third Reich’s property arrangements. Simply, there was wholesale restitution of the system, including as far as individual property holders was concerned.
Private property is at the root of individual liberty. America understood it well. It insisted that sovereignty, democracy, and freedom included respect for private property. Newly liberated Western European countries concurred. Sure, property restitution measures, returning real estate and other items to the rightful (primarily Jewish) owners triggered gripes, unrest, and even demonstrations here and there, for example, in France and the Netherlands. But it did not matter. The United States brought liberty back, and liberty requires justice.
The opposite was the case with the Soviet Union’s conquest of Central and Eastern Europe. Since the objective was enslavement, Stalin naturally eschewed any restoration. There would be no sovereignty and no democracy restored.
As for private property, the Communists were hostile to it from the start. However, so long as the Soviets feigned “moderation” for the benefit of the West in the newly conquered lands, some property restitution took place. It mainly concerned petty properties previously confiscated by the Germans.
Simply, pre-war low-level judges, who survived the carnage, and local non-Communist magistrates were rather sympathetic to property restitution. Justice dictated that houses, apartments, shops, and other items be returned. Property registers favored such verdicts.
However, Communist rulers at higher levels invariably opposed any property restitution, including Jewish property. Finding the Soviet system of occupation hostile, many Jewish owners sold their reclaimed properties and fled to the West.
Jews and their gentile neighbors suffered iniquities and economic deprivation under Stalin because the Soviet dictator refused to restore democracy and sovereignty in the conquered lands.
In Poland, for example, the NKVD and the Red Army annihilated the Polish Underground State (PUS) and its clandestine Home Army, an Allied force, which had fought the Germans for five long years. Thus, the Soviets destroyed a free government and its administration. The Polish insurgents thus betrayed reacted by resisting the Soviet occupation with arms in their hands. This, in turn, further destabilized Poland and obliterated the law and order that the PUS had briefly maintained in the wake of the retreat of the murderous Germans.
An anti-Communist insurgency made life even more dangerous for everyone. Similar developments occurred in the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Balkans. Everyone, including Jewish citizens, was prevented from exercising his and her fundamental human rights to liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.
Instead, Soviet totalitarian slavery afflicted everything everywhere the Red Army appeared. That included mass rape, mass arrests, mass torture, mass executions, and mass deportations. Granted, they were less extensive than the German terror previously.
Nonetheless, tens of thousands lost their lives for active and passive and violent and non-violent resistance to Communism. Millions of women were raped. Many hundreds of thousands were shipped off to the Gulag, including over 100,000 from Poland alone, joining millions of victims of earlier deportations.
This was the exact opposite of what was obtained in liberated Western Europe. Needless to say, the victorious US forces inflicted nothing like this on Western Europeans before or after the Third Reich’s surrender, not even on the vanquished Germans, who – instead – became undeserving beneficiaries of the Western Allied mercy.
Since Central and Eastern Europe was enslaved there was neither justice nor peace.
So much for the myth of Stalin’s “liberation.”