Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Birth(day) of a Dictator

Everyone in the country was happy on the day of the Great Leader’s birthday - it had even been suggested that the day be made a national holiday. Songs were composed for him, art featuring him was exhibited (though some intellectuals quietly sniffed at its vulgarity), masses of kitsch souvenirs depicting him were sold, and a huge parade was staged for him. There was no doubt that he was genuinely popular among the people, and state propaganda merely had to amplify their adulation to a crescendo. However, due to his military aggression against neighboring states, he was not now well liked abroad, and no major foreign dignitaries came (or were invited) to attend any events in celebration of his birthday.

Although the above paragraph describes the events of April 20, 1939 – the 50th birthday of the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler - it is also, depressingly and worryingly, an exact fit for the events of October 7, 2014 – the 62nd birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many lines have been written in recent months about the parallels between the regimes of Hitler and the Russian leader, but the resemblances bear repeating.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 can be compared to the annexation, or Anschluss, of Austria by the Third Reich in March 1938. Both involved near-bloodless military takeovers of a neighboring territory, capped by referendums that produced incredibly high votes in favor of the move.  There are also similarities between Germany’s occupation of the Sudetenland and the creation by Russia of a frozen conflict in border areas of Ukraine – in September of 1938 and in September of 2014 the leaders of the countries that had been threatened by their aggressive neighbors were pressured by the Western powers to reach agreements with their enemies, which by October 1938 and October 2014 had resulted in the effective loss of control of part of their countries’ territories. In both cases, the argument put forward by the aggressor was that since certain citizens of these territories spoke the same language as the aggressor nation, the aggressor had a right to “defend these citizens’ interests.”

For Hitler’s defiant march into the Rhineland and annexation of Austria, we have the Putin’s carving up of Georgia and annexation of Crimea. In both cases, there was a weak response from the democratic counties to the aggressor nations. In the case of Hitler, the weakness and appeasement of the West encouraged more aggression, which ultimately led to the bloodiest war in history. What will be the case with Putin? The signs do not look good.

Donetsk Airport, a key military objective of the militants, has been under attack by them practically every day since the “ceasefire” was supposed to come into force on September 5. The militants have made only token efforts, in a few less militarily important areas of the front, to pull back their artillery by the 15 kilometers demanded by the Minsk agreement. In other areas they have instead moved forward and taken new ground. They have expended copious quantities of ammunition, men and resources on their attacks on Ukrainian forces at Donetsk Airport and other hot spots. It can reasonably be assumed that bullets, shells, grenades, antitank guns, artillery pieces, APCs and T-72 tanks do not grow on trees in the Donbas – the militants are obviously being supplied from across Ukraine’s border with Russia, which is still open. It is inconceivable that the Russian government has also lost control of its side of the border, so the resupplying of the militants can only be being achieved with Moscow’s approval and continuous support. Yet there is no outcry about this from the West, no call for the new round of fierce, stinging sanctions that these actions of the Kremlin have surely earned for Russia. Instead, there is talk in Washington of easing the present, flaccid sanctions, if Putin will but observe the clauses of the Minsk Agreement - even though he has conspicuously failed to do so thus far. The issue of Crimea is now all but forgotten.

Meanwhile, in Russia, as in Germany in the late thirties, the leader is building up his armies, trying to recapture the military might and glory of former times. Nationalist passions are being stoked in the population, and the Kremlin’s own, self-imposed sanctions are engendering a siege mentality in Russian society. Enemies from inside and outside the state are being created – national traitors and Ukrainian “fascists.” Religious bigotries dressed up as “conservative values” are encouraged, as is the myth of Russian cultural exceptionalism. Where Hitler had the Jews as his principal enemies, Putin has “Eurogays” and other degenerate Westerners with their depraved lifestyles (although Jews are also commonly thought by Russia’s credulous public to be the ones behind Western imperialistic conspiracies intended to undermine Mother Russia.) A continuous stream of hatred and lies blares from the monophonic loudspeakers of the Russian state propaganda media, which produce no themes or variations other than those arranged by the Kremlin. The raucous, brash, gaudy, crass current events in Russia sound and look horribly familiar.

It looks like a dictatorship is being born. 

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