Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Why the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire

The world has witnessed many atrocities during the course of human history.  The Mediaeval Period in Europe is legendary for its barbarity.  Thousands of people were burned at the stake, crucified and hung for refusing to convert to Christianity, opposing the Catholic Church or for practising “witchcraft”.  The Holocaust saw 11 million Jews, Roma, Poles, homosexuals, and disabled people murdered by the Nazis.  However, the scale of these atrocities in terms of absolute numbers killed does not match those of the Soviet Union during the 20th century. Oppression, deportation and murder were systematically pursued by the Soviet regime to consolidate its power and to strike terror into the hearts of its subjects. US president Ronald Reagan first referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” in a speech to the United Kingdom’s House of Commons in 1982.  Whatever you might think of Ronald Reagan and his politics, he was 100% correct.  The Soviet Union was indeed an evil empire.

The Soviet Union consisted of 15 republics at its peak.  Some were more willing members but others such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been independent and thriving democracies before the Second World War.  These were invaded, occupied and illegally annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

On two occasions the Soviet authorities orchestrated mass deportations of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians from their homelands.  On 14th, 15th and 16th June 1941 and 25th March 1949 tens of thousands of Estonians were forcibly removed from their homes, torn from their families and transported to Siberia in cattle wagons.  Those murdered or deported were Estonia’s elite consisting of politicians, senior military officers, judges, policemen, academics, business owners then later on farmers who opposed the collectivisation of farms – anyone considered a threat to the Soviet regime. Some did not survive the trip to Siberia, many were murdered after they arrived and others perished from famine and appalling living conditions. 

It is abundantly clear that Stalin and those that came after him had no regard at all for human life. Anyone considered a threat was simply eliminated.  Hundreds of Soviet crimes committed both inside and outside the country’s borders have been documented.  One of the cruellest acts of Soviet terror was the Holodomor, a deliberately engineered famine perpetrated against the Ukrainian nation which claimed around 7 million lives.  Ukraine is an enormous country with some of the most fertile soil in the world.  The food produced by Ukrainian farmers would have been more than enough to feed the entire population.  A famine occurred because Soviet soldiers confiscated all foodstuffs and murdered anyone found hiding them. People had no choice but to watch their loved ones suffer and die because there was simply nothing to eat.

Typical clay hut giving shelter to Estonians deported to Siberia.

There were instances of entire nations being deported from their homelands.  Between 1942 and 1943 the entire population of indigenous Crimean Tartars was deported from Crimea to Uzbekistan, thousands of kilometres away.  This consisted of 230,000 Tartars, 100,000 of whom died from starvation or disease as a direct result of being deported from their homes. 

Operation Lentil on 23rd February 1943 saw the entire Chechen, Ingush, Kalmyk, Balkar and Karachai nations being deported from their homes in the Caucasus to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This represented nearly 750,000 people, many of whom died both en route and during their exile. Anyone deemed unfit for transportation was killed on the spot as ordered by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria.

Like the Nazi regime which had some of the vilest psychopaths the world has ever known in its top ranks, the Soviets were not short of their own.  The evil did not end with Stalin’s death in 1953. When Hungarians decided in 1956 that they no longer wanted communism and foreign occupation in their country, the Soviet Union sent over a thousand tanks into Hungary to suppress the rebellion. 3,000 Hungarian civilians were killed and 200,000 were forced to flee their country as result.  The same scenario happened 12 years later in Czechoslovakia during the 1968 Prague Spring.

Memorial for the victims of the 1941 & 1949 deportations in Paldiski.

Whilst some people may be nostalgic for the Soviet era, these are typically those who were relatively unaffected by its terrors – those who were completely used to the system and had never experienced a better way of life.  In Estonia this is certainly not the case.  Estonians bitterly resented being occupied by the Soviets and resisted them for as long as they could. Estonia's restoration of independence is dearly cherished by all of her citizens and never taken for granted.