Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar explains that people who saw them both up close know very well that Stalinsim was just as bad as Nazism.
Last week Russia furiously attacked President Bush for his proclamation on Captive Nations Week (July 20-July 26), which was established to raise awareness of countries living under communist and other oppressive regimes. Mr. Bush said that, “In the 20th century, the evils of Soviet communism and Nazi fascism were defeated and freedom spread around the world as new democracies emerged.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that treating Nazi fascism and Soviet communism as “a single evil” was an insult that “hurt the hearts” of World War II veterans in Russia and in allied countries, including the United States. “While condemning the abuse of power and unjustified severity of the Soviet regime’s internal policies, we nevertheless can neither treat indifferently attempts to equate Communism and Nazism nor agree that they were inspired by the same ideas and aims,” the ministry said in a statement.
Actually, the Bush statement is correct: There is really no big difference between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. When World War II began in September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies; indeed Stalin and Hitler launched the war together.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty of Aug. 23 was a nonaggression pact between Germany and Russia; but a secret protocol in the treaty also opened the way for the division of Europe by carving Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into spheres of influence. Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1 from the north, south and west; Stalin invaded Poland from the east on Sept. 17.
And this was only the beginning. The second campaign of the war was Soviet aggression against Finland in November 1939; only the third campaign, against Denmark and Norway (in April) was a pure German operation. The fourth campaign, the invasion of France in May 1940, was accompanied by Stalin’s annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In this period, Stalin was a most devoted ally of Hitler. Without Soviet oil and grain, Hitler would probably not have survived the first year of the war. Stalin even ordered European communists not to help their governments fight against Hitler.
In occupied countries, Poland for example, the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet NKVD worked hand in hand. Germany’s secret police killed people in its zone of occupation according to racial criteria. In its zone, the Soviet secret police killed according to social or political criteria. The Nazi SS handed over Ukrainian nationalists to the Soviets; in return the NKVD handed over escaped German communists to the Gestapo.
Only when the two totalitarian leaders could not agree how to divide the world did war between them come. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941; the resulting anti-Nazi coalition helped the West survive and come out of the war with half of Europe rescued from totalitarianism. But for the rest of Europe under communist control, World War II ended only in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet empire.
In his marvelous book, “No Simple Victory,” British historian Norman Davies asks us to remember that “the war in Europe was dominated by two evil monsters, not by one. Each of the monsters consumed the best people in its territory before embarking on a fight to the death for supremacy. The third force in the struggle — the Western Powers — was all but eliminated in the opening stage, and took much of the war to reassert its influence.”
This statement in no way insults the millions of people who fought against the Nazis. The victims of the crimes of Stalin and Hitler included the people of the Soviet Union. Soviet losses in World War II were very high, according to some estimates, including by Mr. Davies, 27 million soldiers and civilians. But these losses not only include those killed by the German invasion; they also include people killed by communist repressions and deportations, as well as the killings by the Soviets of their own soldiers. Mr. Davies thinks that the number of Soviet soldiers killed by the NKVD could exceed the total number of battle deaths of the British and U.S. armies.
So why, in some quarters, are the crimes of communism not yet condemned? There are still many people who say that, whilst the crimes of Nazism were proven and condemned in the Nuremberg Trials, the crimes of communism still need investigation. Others hesitate to condemn communism because, knowing that Hitler saw in Bolshevism its main opponent, they fear to share a common position with the Nazis.
This is not a logical position. If we find two gangsters fighting each other and one of them kills another, this does not make the first gangster less of a criminal.
Communist terror was in the same league of infamy as the crimes of the Third Reich. It actually lasted longer, killing significantly more people than the Nazis did. This does not make Nazis better than communists. They were both fighting against freedom and human dignity, and must be condemned in the same way as evils of the 20th century.