Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This De'ja' Vu is 68 Years Old

My good friend Si Frumkin is a little older and a little wiser than I. I therefore yield to his wisdom on all matters Russian.

By Si Frumkin,

At my elementary school in Lithuania we were taught that our city, Kaunas, was only the provisional capital. The presidential offices and all the ministries were located here, but that was temporary, our real capital was and forever would be Vilnius. It was taken away by the Poles in 1920 and they never gave it back. I believed that this was horrible; I could never understand why our heroic and brave Lithuanian army didn't take it back - we were strong, brave and valiant enough, all 3 million of us to take on, what, only 30 million or so Poles, right?

I was a Lithuanian patriot. And when Vilnius was returned to Lithuania in 1939, I celebrated with rest of country. The Soviet Union and Germany had attacked and divided Poland between them and the Soviets got (among other, much bigger, parts) the area with Vilnius which they then gave to Lithuania.
The only thing that Lithuania was supposed to do in return was to allow the Red Army to base some soldiers in the Lithuanian countryside - not in the larger cities. Frankly, I didn't mind. I was just nine years old and a fan of Soviet films; I knew that Red Army soldiers were heroic, friendly, handsome, and great fighters.

A couple of months later, after our government moved to the true historic capital that was liberated for us by the great Stalin, strange articles appeared in the official Soviet media.

On May 30, 1930, the major newspaper, "Izvestia" published an official report by the Peoples Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. It reported despicable crimes by the Lithuanian military who had kidnapped and tortured a number of Red Army soldiers to learn Soviet military secrets. Two weeks later, on June 13, this was followed up by a directive of the Political Administration of the Red Army which said that, "The Lithuanian government under the cloak of pursuing investigations and apprehension of criminals is engaged in the elimination of friends of the Soviet Union."

Then on June 14, at 11:30 at night, the foreign minister of Lithuania, who had already been in Moscow for two weeks, was called to the office of Soviet Foreign Minister, Molotov to accept a list of Soviet demands.

Lithuania was informed that the Soviet Union wanted the immediate arrest and trial of the Internal Affairs Minister and the chief of police of Lithuania; that a new government be immediately formed to truly carry out the spirit of the friendship and cooperation accords signed previously; that the frontiers be immediately opened for free transit of Red Army troops that would be based in the important areas of the country; and that the response to these demands should be transmitted to the Soviet government by 10:00AM on June
14 - in just 10 hours!

Analogous ultimatums were transmitted next day to Latvia and Estonia who had not even been accused of kidnapping and torture of Soviet soldiers. (These soldiers were never mentioned again. I can't help but wonder whether, 68 years later, the Russian peacekeepers who were supposedly assassinated by "Georgian criminal provocateurs" and were the alleged cause of Russian reaction against the Georgian "war criminals" will ever have their names and the circumstances of their demise revealed. Somehow, I don't think so.)

On June 16 and 17, 1940, the Red Army moved. There was no resistance. I was nine years old but I remember standing on the sidewalk of our main thoroughfare - the "Liberty Avenue", soon to be renamed "Stalin Avenue" - watching the horse drawn artillery, carts and trucks move. I was disappointed; the small, skinny horses were not at all like the heroic stallions that demolished the enemies of communism in the movies. In fact, the Red Army soldiers were not all that heroic either - they seemed to be undernourished, short, sloppy, not at all like cinematic Red Army warriors.

A few weeks later we were told that the Lithuanian people - as well as the Latvians and Estonians - had appealed to comrade Stalin to be admitted as full fledged members to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Shortly after that, we were told that our pleas were heard and just like that, we were Soviet citizens. Our president fled to the U.S. to live to a ripe old age, the U.S. and Britain never did recognize the annexation - they maintained Baltic embassies in Washington and London. Nothing was done that meant anything.

And what could be done? In June 1940, France, Holland and Belgium had surrendered to Germany. America was neutral and Germany and the Soviets were friends and allies in full support of each other's policies. There probably were quite a few in the countries that were not yet affected who sincerely believed that war wasn't an answer that there was another way to oppose evil. They still exist - look at all the cars with the incredibly asinine bumper stickers, "War Isn't The Answer".

Sixty eight years ago the Baltic nations were enslaved by one tyrant.
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and many others were wiped off the map by another. The world allowed this to happen just as it is allowing it to happen now in Georgia. It took much blood to show that they were wrong, that evil has to be fought. History - past and present - is proof that if we believe that war is not the answer, the bad guys will win.

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