By Joseph Batory
I recently traveled through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, four nations taken over by the Soviet Union following WW II. The history of this episode of Russian domination and subjugation is a chilling reminder of the intense efforts by a totalitarian state to dehumanize human beings.
The messages I received from many citizens in these countries echoed one consistent theme: The four decades after WW II under Soviet rule were the essence of evil. Indeed the Soviets were masters of abusing citizen rights in these nations.
- The Soviets imprisoned thousands of “people of intellect” in each country—doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, news media representatives, and political leaders.
- Houses of citizens were regularly invaded and private property removed and sent back to Russia.
- The practice of religion was discouraged and often penalized.
- The Russian language forcibly replaced the native languages in all of these countries.
- Soviet propaganda and revisionist history was imposed on the curriculum of schools in each country.
- The Soviets built massively ugly apartment houses with small spaces for families and forced the population to live in these Russian designed boxes.
- People were encouraged to spy on their neighbors and report any anti-Soviet comments to the authorities for favors.
- And, tons of food, goods and materials produced in these countries were now sent back to Russia.
Ironically, I next visited Russia and discovered that much of this disregard for the common good of people prevails there today.
Vladimir Putin rules with the iron hand of Russia’s former czars. Putin has imprisoned many thousands of political opponents and had had many of them killed. He has now created an oligarchy where his millionaire friends control vast amounts of wealth with little government oversight in return for supporting Putin politically and financially. Meanwhile, many ordinary Russian citizens struggle to survive economically.
Unemployment rates are very high in Russia. In the midst of great palaces and galleries in St. Petersburg are many people with advanced degrees who are working menial jobs.
Ironically, Putin’s high popularity ratings (about 80%) in Russia have recently received much attention in the USA media. But what else would you expect in a police state? Speaking negatively about Putin or the Russian government would be a one-way ticket to imprisonment in Siberia or worse. It is actually surprising that Putin does not have a 100% popularity rate.
And then there is fear: One Russian citizen told me that ordinary people never go within two blocks of the Federal Security Service (formerly called KGB) buildings for fear of being videoed and possibly arrested without cause. Paranoia within the Soviet power structure is prevalent in order to protect itself. In addition, there is great apprehension in all of the countries formerly part of the Soviet Union that Putin will lead the Russians to another takeover.
When I finally exited Russia, it was with a tremendous sense of relief after my passport underwent intense scrutiny on the border. In summary, the Soviet/Russian/Putin model is a portrait of abusive power and dark efforts to dehumanize people. It is a stark reminder that nothing is more important than preserving the freedoms we have here in the USA.
(Joseph Batory in the author of three books and regularly writes commentary about politics and education.)