Category Archives: USSR

Soviet Campaign for Latin Scripts

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 188-192:

In 1921, twenty-two-year-old Qu Qiubai was dispatched by a Chinese news syndicate from Beijing to the Soviet Union with a mission to report on the post-Bolshevik regime. The journey would become a personal quest as well as a political pilgrimage for this rookie journalist with delicate features and a touch of melancholy. Qu unexpectedly met many compatriots on his way to Moscow, among them Chinese laborers and shopkeepers ensconced in the Far East cities of Irkutsk and Chita.

Qu was sent back to Russia in 1928 with many of his fellow Chinese Marxists to regroup under the tutelage of their Bolshevik brothers. By this time, the language question occupied the forefront of the Soviet Union’s policy toward its own national minorities. The newly unified Soviet Union included swaths of Central Asia that did not speak or read Russian. Among the groups in these regions that already had a written tradition, Arabic had been in use for almost a thousand years. Some of the national minorities in Turkic Central Asia had no script at all. Pacifying and assimilating these groups would require careful strategy from the Soviets. Reducing illiteracy with Latinized scripts became a key part of a general campaign to educate and control the population.

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Central Asia Turkic republics began testing the Latin alphabet as a medium for their spoken languages. Many Turkic groups saw Arabic script as increasingly insufficient to meet the practical demands of modern life, much in the same way that Chinese reformers had viewed character writing as a disadvantage in the technological age. As a Soviet Tajik poet explained, the Latin alphabet flew at the speed of an airplane, while the Arabic script limped along like a weak donkey in pain. Others saw the conversion to Latin script as a matter of sharing in humanity’s survival, because written records provide continuity from the past into the present.

The Soviet Central Committee supported the Latinization of the Arabic script in pursuit of a multinational language policy. The idea was to give each group its own right to linguistic self-determination within the newly unified Soviet state. Fifty-two languages were targeted for conversion to Roman script and about seventy were eventually Latinized, spanning an area that stretched between Norway and Korea.

In truth, Latinization was also a way to divide and conquer. From the Russians’ perspective, Central Asia was about as savage and backward as a place could be—and they found its inhabitants difficult to tell apart. The Azerbaijanis were often referred to as the Tatars, Uzbeks as the Sarts, and Tajiks as the Uzbeks. If the Soviet East were to be brought to heel, the Russians thought, it would have to be purged of its Islamic influence. It was convenient to seize on the Arabic script as an object of backwardness in need of reform. And as long as the Turkic republics had their own separate writing systems—in Latin script, not the Turko-Persian Arabic that a few groups were already accustomed to—it would be harder for them to form a pan-Islamic alliance that could challenge Soviet rule. Only later, in the late 1930s, would language policy shift from Latinization to Cyrillization. Once these groups were sufficiently distant from their mother tongues, Russian control and influence could strengthen.

The Soviets were eager to include the Chinese laborers of the Amur region as a test group in their anti-illiteracy Latinization campaigns, hoping to extend their influence even further into Asia. These were the Chinese laborers whom Qu had met during his first trip to the Soviet Union. Their illiteracy rate was almost 100 percent.

The Soviet campaigns were instructive for the Chinese Communists, at the time young political upstarts. During his time in China serving the CCP, Qu had been immersed in Chinese language debates and consequently had a more informed perspective on language reforms when he returned to the Soviet Union. Yet Qu was not a trained linguist. He solicited the help of the Russian linguists Vsevolod S. Kolokolov and Aleksandr A. Dragunov. He drafted a proposal for the Latin New Script in February 1929 and distributed two hundred copies among Chinese workers. A revised version, with further input from Kolokolov, was published that October and reprinted again the year after with three thousand additional copies in distribution.

The Chinese laborers cheered the effort. Night schools opened to teach them how to recognize simple phrases like “boiled water” or “I sell dumplings,” as well as ideological questions like “To what class do poor people belong?” More than five thousand factory workers and peasants were able to read and write letters to their families by the time they graduated, thanks to the comrades who volunteered their time as instructors and administrators. Between 1931 and 1936, scores of Latin New Script textbooks and several literary works were circulated and taught. The demand was overwhelming. The language reformers could not train teachers or print textbooks fast enough. A weekly newspaper wholly printed in Latin New Script, Yngxu Sin Wenz (Support the New Alphabet), was published in Khabarovsk, with its forty-third issue appearing in late 1934.

Instruction in Latin New Script was touted as a hallmark event in an era of socialist brotherhood and mutual aid. The Soviets saw it as an opportunity to finally address the problem of illiteracy among the community of one hundred thousand Chinese laborers within their territory. As for the Chinese Marxists, they now had a linguistic instrument with which to reach their revolutionary goals: If the Chinese could read easily, they could be radicalized and converted to communism with the new script. For Qu, it was inevitable, even imperative, that Latinization would replace written characters. Unlike National Romanization, which was designed by a small coterie of academically minded intellectuals and based on fancy linguistic theories, he remarked, Latin New Script was a practical phonetic script that served every dialect and every class.

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Eastern Europe’s Stalinist Years

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 86-89:

What does the balance-sheet of the Stalinist years add up to? A collection of Eastern European states had been converted into ‘people’s democracies’ in which, however, elected assemblies had virtually no political importance, and in which high-profile ‘popular councils’ were but appendages to the Party. The Party itself, which had absorbed the Socialists and much of the peasant parties, enjoyed a complete monopoly of political power. Purged of the dissidents, it was an instrument in the hands of a tiny elite, and it operated through a series of bureaucratic structures, most of whose functionaries, whether Party members or not, had been frightened into obedience, terrified of losing the perks and privileges that went with their jobs. The political edifice was supported by a propaganda machine which had monopolized the media and which blared out the party line.

This political system had one major weakness, however: every grievance, every mistake tended to be blamed on the regime. The presentation of scapegoats to the public, the periodic admission of ‘mistakes’ and fierce anti-Western propaganda helped to deflect some of this discontent for a time, but time was to prove these measures to be no more than temporary expedients. The Kremlin kept the leaderships in line formally through the Cominform and other joint bodies, and informally through the debts of gratitude many of the leaders bore the Soviet Union, the operations of the secret police, and the ill-disguised presence of Soviet troops in all but Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Nevertheless they were not quite Soviet clones. Yugoslavia had defected, Poland had not collectivized, and persistent nationalism and the differing conditions in each country demanded variations in both the content and the pace of the economic, social and cultural re-structuring which Stalin’s ‘Road to Socialism’ called for. The achievements of this programme were not negligible, however.

Between 1948 and 1953 industrial production more than doubled in many countries of the Bloc. In the Soviet Union itself it rose by almost 50 per cent, and it is curious that deviant Yugoslavia achieved the least increase, though at a little over 25 per cent it was impressive enough. The East German economy had recovered better than the West German, Bulgaria had outpaced Greece. The successes gave rise to hopes of catching up with the West and eventually overtaking it. But the bare production statistics disguised grievous economic flaws and imbalances. The Stalinist recipe had fended off recession and laid the foundations of industry on the basis of a war economy which neglected the production of consumer goods and the short-term interests of the worker, whether rural or urban. Moreover the planning was too rigid to accommodate new technology or changing management requirements. It was in this period that the imbalances and inefficiencies, so much decried since, were built into the system. The achievements of those years were to hold the future hostage.

In social terms there was a revolution which also turned out to be flawed. Society was levelled, millions gained self-respect and opportunities that had formerly been denied them; and unemployment was eliminated, though at the cost of feather-bedding. Yet despite the deliberate social engineering, a new elite was arising in place of the elite which had been eliminated; new vested interests were created in place of the old; and the proliferation of bureaucracy not only entailed inefficiency but had the effect of nationalising endemic corruption which had formerly operated in dispersed networks. Not least, the crude social propaganda of the Stalinist years succeeded all too well. Many of the region’s subsequent troubles stemmed from an innocent belief in the truth of all those slogans.

The achievements of Stalinist educational policies were also mixed. Systems of universal education were set up and literacy was brought to the masses (though in several countries this had been in train beforehand). Scientific education saw a marked expansion at all levels while the classics and the law, formerly major features of elite education, declined sharply. Technological training received great emphasis, but succeeded in producing too many workers who could not adapt to new methods and technologies. The higher flights of scholarship suffered from their subjection to both Party ideology and bureaucratic control. On the other hand, women were given equal educational opportunities. This however, bore some unexpected fruit. As women came to occupy a high proportion of posts in medicine and the legal profession, these ceased to be premium professions in terms of pay and status.

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Eastern Europe, 1989: Retrospective

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 7-9:

In 1989, the bicentenary year of the French Revolution, another ancien regime began to crumble. One by one, with an exhilarating, even alarming, rapidity, most of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe collapsed.

In June that year, in the first free elections to be held in Poland since before World War Two, Solidarity candidates overwhelmed the Communists. In the same month the hero of the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Imre Nagy, was posthumously rehabilitated, and the frontier with Austria was opened. Soon the revolution gained momentum. Hard-liners were ousted from leadership in the Party and government in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria as well as Hungary and Poland. In all these countries preparations were swiftly made for free, multi-party elections and for economic liberalization. In November the Berlin Wall was breached, and the process was completed on 22 December with the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania.

In some countries the transition was smooth and relatively peaceful; but in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania there were huge demonstrations and blood was shed. It was widely assumed at the time that the people had made the revolution, and that popular dissidents like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had played the decisive roles. Yet important though their contributions were, it seems at the time of writing (March 1991) that the achievement was not theirs alone. The revolution, it transpired, had required not only crowds and stars, but scene-setters and technicians. President Gorbachev had written at least part of the script, and the KGB, it seems, had directed certain key scenes as consummately as Havel might have done himself.

Erich Honecker attributed his own overthrow to the Kremlin, working through its advisers in the East German security service. It transpired that the spark which ignited the Czech revolution, the death of a student demonstrator at the hands of the police, was faked by KGB agents in conjunction with the Czech secret police. In Romania the impending arrest of a dissident pastor in the town of Timisoara was announced well in advance to guarantee a public reaction; prominent opposition figures, several of whom had recently visited Moscow, were already inside the building from which Ceaucescu delivered his last tedious harangue; and the Securitate’s loyalty to the regime turned out, like some of the casualty reports, to have been somewhat exaggerated. Though it may not have foreseen the anti-Communist stampede which followed, nor welcomed the rush to German re-unification, the Soviet Union had dismantled its own empire in Eastern Europe.

The Soviet Union was itself in the toils of radical and at times uncontrollable change, of course. The process had been in train since 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and initiated his policies of ‘openness’ (glasnost’) and ‘restructuring’ (perestroika). In October 1989 a further significant step was taken when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided to abandon its political monopoly, its so-called ‘leading role’. Since the Soviet leadership itself was rejecting the ideological rigidities of ‘Marxism-Leninism’, giving scope to democratic opposition and encouraging free enterprise and foreign investment, it was no longer appropriate for its satellites to retain the old, discredited, practices. Besides, the Soviet Empire had become too expensive to maintain.

In particular, the Soviet Union could no longer afford to subsidize the rest of the Bloc with cheap energy, often supplied on credit, rather than selling her precious resources for hard currency at world prices. The huge military establishment had become too costly too, as had the welfare structure and the feather-bedding which characterized the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The infrastructures of these countries had become decrepit, investment was short, and, except in Romania, there were huge foreign debt accumulations. In these circumstances it was recognized that the needs of the people, still less the aspirations of the rising generation, could not continue to be met without fundamental, systemic change. In short, the great edifice that Stalin built had been discovered to be unsound. The crumbling structure had to be condemned and hastily dismantled.

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Lenin’s Siberian Exile

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 2435ff:

Moscow, 23 February 1897. At the Kursk train station a young man is waiting for the Trans-Siberian railroad. Ahead of him lies a two-month journey that will end in Shushenskoye. The train compartment is cramped, but not half as cramped as cell 193 of the Petersburg detention centre, from which the young man has just been released. For the crime of disseminating revolutionary literature, Vladimir Ulyanov is to serve the remaining three years of his sentence in Siberian exile.

Compared with the subsequent nightmare of the Soviet camps, the tsarist system of exile is relatively comfortable. Members of the upper classes – Ulyanov comes from a land-owning family – can organise their lives in Siberia more or less freely. The young man takes up residence in a medium-sized country house. He receives mail by the bundle from revolutionary comrades, and he sends back equally large bundles. He buys a hunting rifle and an Irish Setter named Shenka. His neighbours regularly see the two stalking through the surrounding woods. In summer he bathes twice a day in the Shush, in winter he impresses the small town residents with the elegant momentum of his ice skating. ‘When he would skate over the ice with his hands buried in his pockets,’ recalls an admiring witness, ‘nobody could catch up with him.’

On the side, the young man finds time to complete a book that is later adopted into the canon of the holy scriptures of the Soviet Union: The Development of Capitalism in Russia, published in 1899 under the pseudonym Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The skates hang on the wall as if Lenin had just hung them up to dry. A great man with small feet, I think involuntarily. It is a quiet day in the former home of the revolutionary. There are six of us: the tour guide, a Russian family and me. The hunting rifle hangs on the bedroom wall, above the two beds in which Lenin and his wife slept. Nadezhda Krupskaya was arrested shortly after Lenin’s departure. When they banished her to the West Siberian city of Ufa, she asked to be relocated with her betrothed. The authorities gave their consent, but, as Lenin wrote to his mother, ‘under a tragicomic condition: if we do not get married immediately, she has to return.’

The wedding ceremony took place in Shushenskoye, in a small church that was demolished after the Revolution. Apart from the church, every single stone in the city has been preserved, even if Lenin so much as walked past it. On his centennial birthday, in 1970, the entire historical town centre was freed of inhabitants and turned into a pilgrimage site. Millions of workers were then herded through their redeemer’s place of exile.

Today, with the stream of pilgrims having subsided, the museum has a discernible public relations crisis. Self-consciously they have renamed the site an ‘Open Air Museum for Siberian Village Culture at the Turn of the Century.’ It is a curious place: a pilgrimage site which hides its saint so that the absence of pilgrims is not as noticeable.

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Who Gets Free Train Rides in Moscow

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1585ff:

While I waited for the elektrichka back to the city centre, I read the announcements on the platform. My eyes were caught by a lit glass box with a notice inside: ‘Categories of citizens entitled to free and discounted transport on suburban trains.’ I read the list, read it again, read it a third time. What was hanging there under a flickering neon light was a compressed history of the Soviet Union.

– Heroes of the Soviet Union (free)
– Heroes of Socialist Labour (free)
– Participants of the Great Patriotic War (free)
– Family members of deceased participants of the Great Patriotic War (free)
– Former underage inmates of concentration camps, ghettos and other places of forced detention, with or without disability status (free)
– Persons awarded decorations and medals of the USSR for self-sacrificing work behind the frontlines between 22 June 1941 and 9 May 1945 (50% discount)
– Persons awarded the distinction ‘Residents of besieged Leningrad’ (free)
– Persons exposed to radiation as a consequence of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (free)
– Rehabilitated victims of political repression (100% discount)

For a long time I thought about the riddle that seemed to link the first category with the last: Soviet heroes rode the elektrichka free of charge, Soviet victims with a 100 per cent discount. I could not make sense of this nonsensical difference.

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Chornobyl, 988-1986

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 705ff:

The Yakushins were a family of priests. Nicholas’s great-grandfather had served in the Church of Saint Ilya, Nicholas’s grandfather as well. Then the Bolsheviks came. They hammered on the church door and cried: stop praying, Father; man has no soul. The grandfather did not agree: man, he said, most certainly has a soul, and it is immortal. The Bolsheviks detained the grandfather. When he was released, he was old. That was his good luck. He died early enough to escape Stalin’s terror, which hardly any clerics survived. The grandfather’s son, Nicholas Yakushin’s father, did not become a priest. The times were not right.

Nicholas was nevertheless baptised, secretly, at home, the way most Orthodox were. Those who baptised their children in the church had to reckon with work-related harassment. When Nicholas was born, shortly after the end of the war, the church was closed anyway; the local kolkhoz used it as a grain silo. Thus Nicholas got to know his forefathers’ church: filled to the dome with wheat. On the ceiling a besieged Christ faded away, his hands spread over the grain as if in self-protection, not in blessing.

The town of Chernobyl, or Chornobyl, in Ukrainian, is old, ancient, even if it does not look it anymore. None of the original buildings are left. First the Mongols razed the city; later came Lithuanians, Poles, Bolsheviks, finally the Germans. Today there are only a few wooden houses standing between the concrete blocks, none of them older than two centuries. But Chernobyl was founded at the same time as Kiev, and when prince Vladimir had his subjects baptised in the year 988, the citizens of Chernobyl were amongst the first Christians of the Slavic world.

To those for whom this past was still present – despite the futurist ecstasy of the Soviet period – it was no surprise that here, in Chernobyl, 1000 years after the Slavs’ baptism, time should come to an end, just as it had been proclaimed in the Book of Revelation:

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. And a third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter.

This John wrote in Chapter 8, verses 10 and 11. But in Ukrainian ‘wormwood’ means: Chornobyl [lit. ‘black stalk’, Artemisia vulgaris ‘common mugwort, wormwood’, to distinguish it from the lighter-stemmed wormwood A. absinthium].

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Fate of Crimean Karaites

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 274-276:

History had taught the Karaites that it was better if the world didn’t find out too much about them. Tiriyaki took my pen and drew a tree in my notebook, its trunk forking into three branches.

‘Those,’ he said, pointing to the roots, ‘are the commandments.’

‘These’ – the three branches – ‘are the New Testament, the Talmud, and the Qur’an.’

‘This’ – the trunk – ‘is the Torah. Our only scripture. Karaites believe in the Jewish faith as it was when Jesus Christ was born and before other things were subsequently added.’

The Karaites had never accepted the Talmud. This had isolated them from all other Jews, who had never really known what to make of the Karaites. This had worked to their advantage in the Russian Empire – unlike other Jews, the Karaites had not been subject to restrictions on the professions they could pursue. A few of them had made large fortunes, especially in the tobacco trade. This wealth was visible in the old kenesa – the Karaite synagogue in whose hall I was sitting with Tiriyaki, a sumptuous religious complex with vine-draped colonnades, marble tombs, carved wooden interiors, and warm stained-glass windows.

When the Nazis invaded Crimea in the war, they didn’t know what to think of the Karaites either. Were they Jews? The Nazis commissioned an assessment by a Polish Jewish historian who, against his better judgement, declared the Karaites to be non-Jews, clearly to spare them the fate he would later suffer himself: he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. His scheming paid off, however. The Nazis murdered the Crimean Jews but they spared the Karaites, whom they classified as a Turkic people.

Not long afterwards, the Karaites had a second stroke of luck. Their lenient treatment by the Germans could well have been a good reason for Stalin to have them deported alongside the Tatars, especially as the two minorities spoke very similar languages. Yet this cup too passed over them. For Stalin, the Karaites appeared to be Jews.

The kenesa in Yevpatoria had been closed down after the war, just like Crimea’s churches, mosques, and Jewish synagogues. The historic religious complex had been converted into a ‘museum of atheism’, and the outbuildings were used as grain silos. The community hall had become a nursery, which Tiriyaki had gone to as a boy, knowing full well that his grandmother had still been praying in the kenesa only a few years earlier.

There were now only a few hundred Karaites living in Crimea. Many had emigrated to Israel in the 1990s. The devout core of his community, Tiriyaki said, consisted of forty people.

We had been talking for less than half an hour when the old community leader began to give me signals that he’d said everything he was prepared to say. ‘If you have no further questions …’

But I do, I longed to cry, hundreds of them. Yet Tiriyaki’s expression was so forbidding that I confined myself to the central question whose insolubility had saved the Karaites’ lives twice. Where were they from? Were they a Turkic people that had converted to Judaism in the distant past? Or were they Semitic immigrants who had only become Turkicspeaking in Crimea? I knew that this matter was controversial among the Karaites too.

Tiriyaki stared at me impassively. His face was hard to read – not so much as the twitch of a muscle.

‘Origins are a card that politicians love to play. They are of no consequence to the faithful.’

He stood up and offered me his hand. I was already halfway to the door when he uttered a few final words as a send-off.

‘The Karaites lived here under the Tatar khans, under the tsars, the Soviets, the German occupiers, the Ukrainians, and now the Russians again. No one could drive us out. We are still here. That is all that counts.’

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Fate of Meskhetian Turks

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 34-36:

When he revealed to me on our first taxi journey that he was a Turok – that is to say, a Turk – I studied his face somewhat quizzically from the side. The skullcap; the pointy, hawklike face; the salt-and-pepper moustache; the gold teeth.

‘A Turk?’ I asked. ‘You mean, a Tatar?’

‘A Turk.’

‘Really? Türkçe konuşuyor musunuz?’

His answer in Turkish was fluent, unlike my stammered question about his language skills. Having taken a Turkish course in Berlin a few years earlier, I’d been capable of ordering a kebab quite fluently ever since. Pasha, on the other hand, had grown up in the language.

It took me a few taxi journeys to understand that he and his parents were Meskhetian Turks. That is, Georgian Turks – or Turkish Georgians, depending on your point of view. The Meskhetian Turks had lived on the southern margins of Georgia, close to Turkey, since the sixteenth century. Where they originally hailed from remained an unresolved matter that only attracted their neighbours’ interest when the Turks and Georgians along the border discovered nationalism. In Turkey, they were henceforth regarded as Turks who had emigrated and assimilated to Georgia, whereas to the Georgians they were Georgians who had adopted Islam and the Turkish language under Ottoman influence. And so, both the Georgians and the Turks claimed the Meskhetians as their own while also viewing them as a bastardised, second-class people of mixed heritage. In this sense, Pasha’s ancestors shared a fate with countless ethnic minorities in the regions bordering the Black Sea. They fell through the cracks in the mosaic of emerging nation-states, and it was not they themselves but rulers in distant capitals, irked by this melee of peoples on the margins of their supposedly pure nations, who decided to which state they should belong.

One aggravating factor for the Meskhetian Turks was that Ioseb Jughashvili – aka Joseph Stalin – though no fan of nation-states, was a partisan of good old Russian-style imperialism. Scenting an opportunity to annex border areas of Turkey during the Second World War, the Soviet dictator pre-emptively expelled the Meskhetian Turks from their homeland. In light of his plans, they suddenly struck him more like Turks who might just, who knows, feel more loyal to the enemy than to the Soviet motherland. Stalin was an advocate of simple solutions. Justifiably or not, the Meskhetian Turks were a headache. No more Meskhetians, no more headaches. They had to go.

Pasha’s parents were newlywed at the time. His father was twenty and his mother eighteen when, out of the blue, one winter’s day in 1944, soldiers came pounding on their door in the southern Georgian village of Zarzma. Along with over 100,000 other Meskhetian Turks, they were herded into cattle wagons that rolled eastwards from Georgia and only came to a halt several thousand miles later. Roughly a third of them died during their deportation or shortly afterwards from hunger, thirst, hypothermia, disease, or a broken heart. Ultimately, Stalin’s planned expansion into Turkey came to nothing, but the ‘leader of peoples’ had managed to purge his mind entirely of one.

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Greek Travails, 1949-2009

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 272-274:

The end of World War II brought not peace but a civil war lasting until 1949, between the Communists and the ultimately victorious right-wing loyalists, which resulted in 80,000 dead and 700,000 internal refugees. Because of the brutality on both sides, particularly against civilians, Greek politics would remain polarized for decades, divided between parties of the hard Left and the hard Right, so that a modern liberalism and a modern conservatism would find little room to emerge. Thus did Greece, abetted by its geography—as close to Moscow as to Brussels—become an ideological battleground of the Cold War.

Greece’s Cold War years were marked by weak governments as well as deep, internecine political divisions, which were further aggravated by the independence struggle on Cyprus, with its consequent calls for Enosis (or union) of the island with Greece. (Of course, this itself was an echo of the Great Idea.) In 1967, junior officers staged a coup, toppling the Greek government in Athens. This led to a particularly brutal seven-year military dictatorship in which the Athens “Regime of the Colonels” bore greater similarities to those of the Third World than to any government in Western Europe. The Colonels’ regime dissolved in 1974 after their failed political intervention in Cyprus led to a Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island.

It was only with the reestablishment of democracy in July 1974 under the conservative politician Constantine Karamanlis (who had returned to Greece from exile in France) that Greek politics began slowly—for the first time in history—to stabilize and achieve a modern, Western character. Greece, the birthplace of the West, finally reentered the West. This process was helped by the country’s admission to the European Economic Community (later the EU) in 1981.

Like membership in NATO, membership in the EU and Greece’s subsequent admission to the Eurozone represented purely political decisions on the part of the Western alliance. In fact, neither Greece’s bureaucratic institutions nor its economy was ever up to the standards of core-Europe and the West. Yet, it was felt (if never publicly admitted) that leaving Greece outside European institutions, given the country’s vulnerable geographical position and its long history of instability, would pose a greater threat to the West than bringing Greece inside them. As it turned out, the Greek variant of the Great Depression, in which the country was brought to its knees beginning in 2009 by widespread poverty, a dramatically declining GDP, and mass unemployment—leading to a far-left-wing government initially close to Moscow—was directly related to the country’s abject lack of preparedness for the rigors of the Eurozone. The Byzantine and Ottoman legacies of underdevelopment, while not determinative and always able to be overcome, still counted for something in Greece in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

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USSR vs. Japan, 1945

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 118-120:

The Far East blitz represented the acme of Russian military operations in the Great Patriotic War. An American historian properly described the Manchurian offensive as “a post graduate exercise for Soviet forces, the culmination of a rigorous quality education in combat begun in Western Russia in June 1941.”

Red Army losses in the 25-day campaign were 35,000 overall with 11,000 killed, while naval components added 1,400 casualties. In the Kremlin’s hard-eyed accounting, it was nearly a bloodless conquest of an immense, productive area.

Overall in the Far East, the Soviets captured 594,000 Japanese troops, including 143 generals and 20,000 wounded. Almost certainly the astonishing bag of general officers would not have occurred a month before, suicide being the preference.

Postwar Western figures placed Japanese losses at 674,000 including 84,000 dead. American intelligence estimated that the Soviets captured 2.7 million Japanese, two thirds of them civilians. Eventually some 2.3 million were repatriated to Japan, with 254,000 known dead and 93,000 presumed dead.

Of some 220,000 Japanese farmers established in Manchuria, about 70 percent reportedly perished, including perhaps 80,000 in the severe winter of 1945–46. More than 10,000 were thought killed by outraged Chinese, or had committed suicide. Presumably the surviving 140,000 eventually returned to Japan.

The Russians dismantled much of Manchuria’s industrial plant within three weeks of the war’s end, ceding the territory to the Communist Chinese. Thus, without realizing it, Moscow had set the stage for the next war, only five years downstream.

* * *

In the vacuum attending Japan’s defeat, Soviet forces entered Korea in mid-August, advancing southward to the designated 38th Parallel that would mark the boundary between Soviet and American occupation zones. The Russians lost little time exploiting their control over the area, especially since many Koreans welcomed an end to 40 years of Japanese rule.

In the north, Korea already possessed two military organizations: Kim Il-sung’s guerrilla force and the Korean Volunteer Army headquartered in China. The Soviets established headquarters at Pyongyang and almost immediately founded an air force academy.

Meanwhile, the Americans – thin on the ground in the south – planned to retain many Japanese for continuity of government. The reaction among South Koreans was stridently vocal, leading to a quick reversal by the U.S. administrators. However, frequently they consulted their Japanese counterparts, who naturally recommended Koreans who had cooperated with Tokyo. Two distinct Koreas were emerging and battle lines, however unwittingly, were already drawn for the coming Cold War.

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