Staunton, April 30 – The conflicts within the Russian Federation and across the entire post-Soviet space are occurring because of the decisions Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin made from the 1920s through the 1940s, Badma Byurchiyev argues, and that heritage, “a real threat to the future” of all the countries in the region, must be rejected to escape more disasters.
What is disturbing is that does not seem to be appreciated even in places like the North Caucasus where Stalin’s actions, including the politicization of ethnicity, the drawing of borders, and the deportation of whole peoples, still remain visible to the unaided eye, the North Caucasus commentator says.
Indeed, he points out, “judging by everything in Daghestan as in certain other regions of the North Caucasus, people still greatly respect Stalin.” Three republics in the North Caucasus Federal District lead the country in terms of the number of streets still named for him, 16 in North Osetia, six in Daghestan, and two in Kabardino-Balkaria.
The commentator points out that there are two widely believed myths about Stalin, neither of which withstands examination. On the one hand, he was hardly “’the effective manager’” many claim. And on the other, he was not the brilliant military leader without whom the Soviet Union would have lost the war.
Stalin’s industrialization and collectivization campaigns degraded the population and led to the death of as many as 13 million people. Moreover, to achieve his ends, the Soviet dictator reached back to the period of serfdom to re-introduce the “propiska” system that tied people to particular places without official permission.
Scholars like Oleg Khlevnyuk of the Russian State Archive have cast doubt on Stalin’s supposedly great economic achievements. “For the entire time of Stalin’s rule,” Khlevnyuk writes, “from the end of the 1920s to 1953, there was not a single year in which there was not hunger in the country.”
“There were periods of mass hunger – as in 1932-1933, 1936, and 1946-1947 – but besides these, every year in some region or another people starved,” he writes. Millions died from that and from repression. And only a handful received the much-ballyhooed benefits of the new regime such as pensions.
As far as Stalin’s military prowess is concerned, there too the evidence does not support the claims of the neo-Stalinists, Byurchiyev says. During the first year of the war, the USSR re “was incapable of resisting Hitlerite Germany,” which had been Stalin’s ally. More than two million Soviet military personnel were taken prisoner.
And even when the balance changed, Russia suffered “no less than three” soldiers killed for every German soldier who lost his life. The real size of Soviet losses may have been even worse because “the fate of two million Soviet soldiers remains unknown,” even though in other countries the number of unknowns has been reduced to a handful.
All of these things have imposed terrible wounds on the societies of the post-Soviet states, the North Caucasus analyst says. But some of Stalin’s most long-lasting negative consequences came from actions he took between 1917 and 1923 when he was Lenin’s peoples commissar for nationalities.
Among the problems that echo to this day which he created then are the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the tensions between Abkhazia and South Osetia and Georgia, the inclusion of the Donbas in Ukraine, and the divisions and combinations of multitude of peoples in the North Caucasus.
Given that “practically all of the projects of the peoples commissar for nationality affairs generated conflicts, and many of those conflicts continue to involve bloodshed to this day,” Byurchiyev says, one is compelled to ask on what basis did Stalin act? Was he simply foolish or did he act on “the good old principle of ‘divide and rule’?”
However one answers that question, he continues, Stalin created “’a belt of instability’ from the Donbas to Crimea and the Caucasus,” a belt that now threatens to tighten around Moscow because it is rapidly extending “from the North Caucasus to the Far North through Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Siberia,” again because of Stalin’s actions.
The currently much-celebrated “effective manager sowed ‘dragon’s teeth’ in the Caucasus,” and those teeth are generating new monsters not only there but across the country. If Stalin’s legacy is continued rather than overturned, Byurchiyev says, Russia and her neighbors are all headed for “’the perfect storm’” that could destroy one or more of them.