Today is Victory Day in Russia - the day that marks the remembrance of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The irony is that if one looks at Russia and Germany today, it is the German people who ultimately won the war through defeat. Germany is a rich and prosperous nation and its people enjoy a enviable standard of living. The cannot be said for Russian and its people. Russia's leaders over all have squandered the victory of World War II just as so many prior leaders failed to put the interests of the Russian people. One can argue that Vladimir Putin's Russia is governed by fear more than during many of the reigns of Russian Tsars. I noted in the past I read the book "Red Fortress, History and Illusion in the Kremlin," and the over arching take away is that Russia people have been repeatedly condemned to substandard lives by Russia's leaders who typically use nationalism to distract attention from their failed leadership. Putin is but the latest leader to do so . A column in the New York Times bemoans this sad reality. Here are excerpts:
Every year on May 9, Victory Day in Russia — marking the anniversary of the day that news of the German surrender in 1945 reached Moscow — my father would go to the closet and take out his sailor’s uniform, which required regular alteration to accommodate his growing belly, and pin on his medals. It was so important to me to be proud of my father: There had been a war and my papa had won it!My father fought the evil of fascism, but he was taken advantage of by another evil. He and millions of Soviet soldiers, sailors and airmen, virtual slaves, brought the world not liberation but another slavery. The people sacrificed everything for victory, but the fruits of this victory were less freedom and more poverty.My father was 6 when his father was arrested. A son wants to be proud of his father, but his father was called an enemy of the people. My grandfather perished in the gulag.When the war began, the persecuted population heard from the loudspeakers, “Brothers and sisters!” The baseness of Russia’s rulers lies in the way they have always taken advantage of this remarkable human emotion: the love of homeland and the willingness to sacrifice everything for it.So my father went off to defend his homeland. He was still a boy when he went to sea, in constant terror of drowning in that steel coffin. He ended up protecting the regime that killed his father.The victory gave the slaves nothing but a sense of the grandeur of their master’s empire. The great victory only reinforced their great slavery.During the Gorbachev era, we had lean times, and my father, as a veteran, received a ration that included items from Germany. For him, this was a personal insult. He got drunk and hollered: “But we won!” Then he quieted down and began to weep. “Tell me,” he kept asking no one I could see, “did we win the war or lose it?”I wish my homeland victory. But what would constitute a victory for my country? Each one of Hitler’s victories was a defeat for the German people. And the final rout of Nazi Germany was a victory for the Germans themselves, who demonstrated how a nation can rise up and live like human beings without the delirium of war in their heads.Russians have been called, once again, to fight a war against fascism. The patriotic hysteria on the television is the regime’s miracle weapon. Thanks to the “zombie box,” the population now has a make-believe idea of the world: The West wants to destroy us, so we are compelled, like our fathers and grandfathers, to wage holy war against fascism and we must be prepared to sacrifice everything for victory.Once again, the rulers are rewriting history and leaving in it only military victories and martial glory. They have added a chapter to school textbooks about Crimea’s glorious return. A stream of hysteria flows from TV screens: “Great Russia,” “Defend the Russian language,” “Gather in the Russian world” and “We will save the world from fascism.” Anyone who objects is a “national traitor.”In the 16th year of his rule, President Vladimir V. Putin has achieved everything a dictator could strive for.[T]he Putin regime has set our peoples against each other. Sometimes, I think it’s good my parents did not live to see how Russians and Ukrainians are killing one another. It is impossible to breathe in a country where the air is permeated with hatred. Much hatred has always been followed in history by much blood. What awaits my country? Transformation into a gigantic version of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region?Once again, the dictatorship is calling on its subjects to defend the homeland, mercilessly exploiting the propaganda of victory in the Great Patriotic War. Russia’s rulers have stolen my people’s oil, stolen their elections, stolen their country. And stolen their victory. Father, we lost the war.
I find what has happened to Russia to be immeasurably sad. Meanwhile, Americans need to be mindful to never allow themselves to be exploited by calls for patriotism and nationalistic agendas that only will further the interests of cynical leaders and plutocrats. Russia can teach Americans a much needed lesson.