November 08, 2007

I hope the Russians love their history too

Astonishing story on National Public Radio this morning -- astonishing, because during the Soviet Union's existence NPR never would have described it thusly:

Ninety years ago on Wednesday, Bolshevik revolutionaries seized power in Russia. The communist revolution ushered in a totalitarian dictatorship that killed and imprisoned tens of millions of people....

Lev Mishchenko has lived the Soviet nightmare. Born in 1917, the year of the revolution, he says the Bolsheviks killed both his parents by the time he was four.

"It was a period of criminal rule by a group of thugs," Mishchenko says. "Our history is notable for its cruelty and the baseness of its ideas, such as class warfare which the regime cultivated to justify violence against its opponents."

The whole story -- which is about Russia's depressing descent back into totalitarianism -- reads far more like Robert Conquest or Ronald Reagan, whose anti-communism NPR reporters regularly tut-tutted over.

Far more representative of that mindset is a line that I read with dismay this morning in the Washington Post, reproduced here from RealClearPolitics:

The shah was America's friend, just like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He was our staunch ally against the bogeyman of that time, the Soviet Union, just as Musharraf has been America's partner in fighting al-Qaeda. (emphasis added)

So the Soviet Union was a "bogeyman," -- a person or thing of which one has an irrational fear. A generation of 19th century of intellectuals came to view Russia as the prisonhouse of nations; Dostoyevsky correctly conjectured that those who would overthrow the jailors would be far worse.

One can legitimately argue that al Qaeda is not the threat that the Soviet Union was, but equating both with the bogeyman shows that the writer making the comparison lacks any sense of history -- at least NPR seems to have learned from it.

One hopes the Russians will as well. My sense is that 80 percent approval ratings for Putin, who views the fall of the Soviet Union as the great tragedy of the 20th Century, is an inflated number. Hard to say you disapprove of the man standing with his boot right over your face...

Posted by Ideofact at November 8, 2007 12:30 AM