Staunton, September 24 The great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam once observed that “happy is that country in which the despicable will at least be despised.” On that measure, Putin’s Russia is an increasingly unhappy place where ever more despicable things past and present are being justified or even presented as positive goods.
In a commentary on a Russian-language site in Latvia now more widely distributed by a Moscow one, Yury Alekseyev argues that Stalin’s deportation of nations, including the Crimean Tatars, was justified and less cruel than any alternative or of similar actions by others.
This goes back to the pre-perestroika Soviet treatment of these criminal acts, a dangerous development at a time when some Russian writers and politicians seem prepared not only to challenge more honest assessments of historical events but all too ready to provide what can only be described as justification for similar actions in the future.
“To say that the leadership of the USSR consisted of fools is possible,” Alekseyev says, “but this is not so. Fools don’t win wars.” Moreover, to ascribe to Stalin “cruelty and vengefulness” in the case of deportations is inappropriate because removing peoples from near the front likely to help the enemy is the normal “military practice of all countries in the world.”
According to the Russian commentator, Stalin was not as cruel and bloodthirsty as others including the Turks and the Austrians during World War I. Instead of simply killing such people as they did, he simply shifted them to other parts of “the enormous territory of the USSR” because he wanted to use their work for the war effort.
The deportation of Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan in 1944 shows this, Alekseyev says. The Crimean Tatars were pro-German from the outset and provided Hitler with “more than 20,000” soldiers. Moreover, “the number of Crimean Tatars per capita who pledged allegiance to Hitler was a record in World War II. This is a fact,” he says, although it is hardly indisputable.
After Soviet forces retook Crimea, the German command left the Crimean Tatars behind in order to engage in partisan warfare and tie down Soviet military units, Alekseyev continues. Given their hostility to Soviet power, “the Crimean Tatar population was ready to support its partisans for a hundred years.”
In such circumstances, he asks rhetorically, what could Stalin do? He might have left several Soviet divisions on the peninsula and used them over the course of “many years” to suppress the partisans. But that would have meant taking those divisions out of the frontlines fighting the Germans.
Stalin could have simply wiped out the Crimean Tatars, following the script which he says Hitler used in occupied areas. “As they say, no people, no problems.” Or he could have left them be and allowed them to continue their subversive work hoping against hope that such actions would not help the Germans.
But instead the Soviet leader chose deportation. Was this harsh? “Not very,” certainly not compared to the very worst things that were done during the war. Indeed, Alekseyev insists, “any alternative” to the deportation of the Crimean Tatars “would have been much more horrific.”
He adds that he “will not talk” about German methods of dealing with the civilian population on the territories Hitler’s forces conquered. Instead, Alekseyev says he wants to remind everyone that the US “burned up with atomic bombs approximately the same number of peaceful citizens of Japan as [Stalin] exiled Crimean Tatars” to “sunny Uzbekistan.”
“Perhaps I am mistaken,” Alekseyev concludes, “but the practice of Stalin’s deportations seems to me more humane,” adding that the Americans also deported people with Japanese background from the West coast to the interior even though no Japanese soldier was on American soil.