Published in the Delaware County Daily Times April 1, 2019
By Joseph Batory
The Soviet Union may be long gone. But its legacy of oppression, criminal behavior and violations of human rights live on in Russia via Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer (Russian Secret Police), who has been Russia’s leader for many years.
Not too long ago, I traveled through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, four nations taken over by the Soviet Union following WW II. That multi decade episode of totalitarian domination and subjugation of those four nations by the Soviets is a chilling reminder of the philosophy of a ruthless country that does not hesitate 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 subjugation and 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 confiscated, and private property removed and sent back to Russia.
- The practice of religion was discouraged and often penalized.
- The Russian language forcibly dominated the native languages in each 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.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, freedom has existed in those four countries I visited. But as I spoke with many ordinary citizens in each of these former Iron Curtain countries, almost all of them expressed widespread fear that Putin-dominated Russia will eventually attempt to reassert its control over their nations, either by Russian military intervention, or by politically influencing politicians in these four countries toward favoring Russia or even tampering with their election process. Sounds familiar.
I next visited Russia where Putin rules with the iron hand of Russia’s former czars. Putin has imprisoned many thousands of political opponents over the years and had had some 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. And, of course, Putin has now become enormously wealthy.
Putin’s high popularity ratings (about 77%) in the 2018 Russian election received some positive 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. So it is surprising that Putin does not have a 100% popularity rate. Questioning the supreme dictator in Russia is not permitted.
As for life in Russia, the basic liberties that we enjoy here in the United States are simply not present. The Communist Party dominates all aspects of Russian life. Everything is controlled by the government, which regulates education, and all means of communication. And all information going out to foreign countries is subject to censorship.
Internationally. Putin is not someone to be trifled with. And he is no friend of the USA. Putin recently issued a threat to target the United States with ostensibly invincible hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles if the U.S. deploys intermediate-range ballistic missiles to Europe. Putin’s threat was in response to our withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which the United States has long accused Russia of violating. Putin of course claimed those accusations were false.
The Russian people are subdued and guarded in what they say to visitors from other countries. But several citizens steered me away from going too close to the Federal Security Service (formerly called KGB) building in St. Petersburg telling me that I would be videoed and possibly arrested without cause if I got too close to the building. Paranoia among the Russian controllers (secret police) of the people is prevalent.
Destroying freedom of the press has always been the first step for dictators and tyrants. A position paper from Reporters Without Borders in March 2018 noted that Russia is now ranked 148th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index.
Below is just a bit of this damning report:
National TV broadcasting since 2001 in Russia has been brought under government control. The television channels with the most viewers are now majority-owned by the state or by the state-owned company Gazprom. … these (puppet) channels pump out propaganda that fuel a climate of hate and paranoia towards civil society and drag down journalistic standards.
At least 34 media professionals have been killed in connection with their work in Russia since 2000. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the investigations have gone nowhere, and the masterminds have not been identified. With five journalists killed, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta has paid a particularly high price and continues to receive threats.
When I finally exited Russia, it was with a tremendous sense of relief after my passport underwent intense scrutiny by police on the border. It was a chilling experience.
My visit to Eastern Europe and Russia netted one stark reminder: Nothing is more important for all of us here in the USA to remember than that we must remain dedicated to preserving the freedoms and principles inherent in the United States Constitution. One man rule and/or one party rule is a recipe for disaster.
Joseph Batory in the author of three books and regularly writes commentary about politics and education.