The Argus Leader notes President Bush owning up to American responsibility for the post-war division of Europe.
RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- Second-guessing Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Bush said Saturday the United States played a role in Europe's painful division after World War II - a decision that helped cause "one of the greatest wrongs of history" when the Soviet Union imposed its harsh rule across Central and Eastern Europe.
I'm not sure Bush was "second-guessing" Roosevelt. He was just taking responsibility for what a previous President did. That is altogether fitting. Bush was speaking in one of the countries given over to Soviet tyranny by the Yalta agreement. He also applied the lesson to the present.
At a news conference, Bush rejected the suggestion that Washington and Moscow work out a mutually agreeable way to bring democracy to Belarus - the former Soviet republic that Bush calls the "last remaining dictatorship in Europe."
"Secret deals to determine somebody else's fate - I think that's what we're lamenting here today, one of those secret deals among large powers that consigns people to a way of government," Bush said. He called for "free and open and fair" elections set for next year in Belarus, now run by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
This may be usefully compared to Vladimir Putin's revisionist history of the Soviet period. This from the Wall Street Journal:
A report by the RIA press agency said that "all the veterans agree that the great love that the Soviet people had for their country and their belief in the righteousness of their cause helped the Soviet Union survive the worst war of the 20th century." Vladimir Putin, in a speech last year at the Victory Day ceremonies, said: "We were victorious in the most just war of the 20th century. May 9 is the pinnacle of our glory." More recently, in his state of the nation address on April 25, President Putin referred to the breakup of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."
This nostalgia is not harmless. Not only does it ignore the fact that the Soviet Union was just as terroristic as Nazi Germany, it also reflects what Hannah Arendt called "pervasive, public stupidity." This is the failure to understand that the truth about the past is not irrelevant--that it is, in fact, the best hope for a decent future. The re-Sovietization of Russia is possible because when the Soviet Union fell, the new Russian state did not break irrevocably with its communist heritage. To do this, it needed to define the communist regime as criminal and the Soviet period as illegitimate; open the archives, including the list of informers; and find all mass burial grounds and execution sites. None of this was done and the consequences are being felt today.
It is necessary to acknowledge the terrible cost that the Russian people paid to defeat Germany, when they were our allies. But it is equally essential to acknowledge that Stalinist Russia killed more of its own people than the Germans did. A confusion on this point is evident in a piece by Richard Overy in the British Guardian on the contributions of the Soviet and Chinese people to Allied victory in the Second World War.
The opening up of Soviet archives has shown a system that for some critics makes it almost indistinguishable from the totalitarian enemy it was fighting. This makes it more difficult to embrace the Soviet contribution to victory. The ordinary Soviet people were not only numberless victims of war, but they failed to achieve any political reform as a result of their triumph. Yet it is their exceptional sacrifice that we should remember as we look back over 60 years. And in the end the peoples of eastern Europe were unquestionably better off under the new communist regimes than under German imperial domination. German plans by the middle of the war foresaw the deliberate starvation of at least 35 million people in the east as "useless eaters", and the genocidal destruction of the Jewish and gypsy populations.
But it is precisely "deliberate starvation" that tens of millions of Ukrainians and Chinese got for their labors. It is useless to debate whether Hitler was worse that Stalin or Mao, they were all three of them as bad as bad gets.