By John Ruberry

If you know a millennial who craves communism, then I suggest that you sit that person down to watch the documentary Karl Marx City by Petra Epperlein and her husband, Michael Tucker, which was released last year. Epperlein was born in 1966 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany, which is now, as it was before, the city of Chemnitz.

And as it is was when she was a child, the most noticeable feature of her hometown is the giant bust of Karl Marx, which looks over the dwindling population of Chemnitz. Its bulk makes it too expensive to remove from its perch on the former Karl-Marx-Street.

The Marx monument is the ideal metaphor for the former East Germany. Just as Big Brother is always watching in George Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry for State Security, colloquially known as the Stasi, was watching too. Cameras were seemingly in every public space, as were Stasi agents and informants. In a nation of 17 million people, there were an astounding 90,000 Stasi agents aided by 200,000 informants. In contrast, the FBI employs a paltry 35,000.

What was the Stasi looking for? Everything. Just grab whatever information that can be found and use it for a case later. Because not only was everyone a suspect in this worker’s paradise, everyone was probably guilty. And if they weren’t guilty they likely would be soon.

Early in Karl Marx City Eppelein tells us that her father, 57, committed suicide in 1999 after washing his company car and burning his personal papers. Afterwards her family discovers cryptic typed letters anonymously mailed to her father that accused him of being a Stasi informant.

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Shot in black and white, perfect grim communist hues, Epperlein, looking similar to Liv Ullmann’s mute character in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, in a bit of twisted humor wanders the decrepit and mostly empty streets of the former Karl Marx namesake town holding a massive boom microphone and wearing vintage headphones while we listen to her voiceovers–in contrast to the clandestine recording done by the Stasi.

Epperlein visits the Stasi archives in Chemnitz and Berlin where we see file after file on multiple floors. She’s looking for her father’s file, but we learn that the German Democratic Republic didn’t organize its files in the manner that Google stores information on mainframes where we can instantly retrieve volumes of information on just about anything. Instead there’s something here, there’s something there.

We see a grainy Stasi film of a couple walking on sidewalk. The man picks up an object. Then he puts it down. Why did he do that? Another man picks it up. The object turns out to be a knife. He keeps it. Why?

Epperlein tracks down a childhood friend who was a true-believer in communism. Now she worships trees. Her father, a retired Stasi agent, recounts his regular break-ins at apartments. What was his most common discovery? Handwritten schedules of West German TV shows and small bags containing a tooth brush and other personal hygiene items, just in case the occupants are arrested–or forced to escape to the West.

Many political prisoners were indeed locked up for subversion. Many ended up in the West, but rather than this being an innocent Cold War liberation, we learn they were sold by the workers’ paradise for ransom to the West for much needed hard currency.

The suicide of Epperlein’s father was hardly an anomaly, taking one’s own life in the GDR was common after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Recently Chemnitz had the lowest birthrate of any city in the world.

One of the experts interviewed for the film scorns the Oscar-winning film, The Lives of Others. While Oskar Schindler of Schindler’s List was real, there was no Stasi hero fighting back against oppression.

Near the end we learn the truth about Epperlein’s father.

Karl Marx City is available on Netflix and on Amazon.

John Ruberry, whose wife was born in the Soviet Union, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Remember the series of wistful articles the New York Times ran in 2008 to mark the 75th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich?

Me neither — because, of course, it never happened. But that’s not as crazy as it sounds considering the Times is running a series of stories under the banner of “Red Century” to mark the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution.

In case you’ve forgotten, the advent of Soviet rule in Russia ushered in an age of Communist terror whose death tally makes Nazism’s toll almost inconsequential in comparison. But that hasn’t stopped the Times from publishing reverential pieces written by the progeny of Reds who were active at home and abroad.

I have limited toleration for sanctimonious crap, so I rarely click on a link to a Times story. Still, I’ve skimmed a couple of the Red Banner features just to see how much Commie propaganda the paper will allow.

Then I stumbled on one story that I had to read all the way through: ‘s “My Grandfather, the Secret Policeman,” which was published July 31. www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/opinion/communism-policeman-jews-nazis.html  , a journalist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, L.A. Review of Books and online, recounts the adventures of his Polish grandfather, Jakub, during and after World War II.

Himself the son of a Communist, Jakub established a name for himself as an anti-Nazi partisan during the war before joining the Polish secret police in 1945. Jakub was clearly a brave and clever man, and recounts his tale dispassionately. But while he doesn’t come out and praise Jakub’s cause, neither does he condemn it.

At the story’s end, seems to grapple with the realization that he hasn’t come to terms with his grandfather’s role in the grand scheme of history — nor given a full account of it.

“What does it mean to fight on the right side of the war, but the wrong side of history?” he writes.

“Depending on whom you ask today, my grandfather’s story is that of a partisan, a traitor, a hero or a spy. The revolution asked a terrible amount of those who served it. Those who resisted paid a similarly awful price. It left in its wake countless lives, like my grandfather’s, that cannot be compassed by a single line.”

Such a statement doesn’t make up for the many facts omitted from his story, starting with the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact signed on Aug. 23, 1939, which directly led to Hitler’s invasion of Poland on Sept. 1. A secret protocol of the treaty called for the partition of Poland, with Germany getting the western portion and the Soviets the east. The Soviets invaded on Sept. 17 to grab their half of the spoils.

Also left out is what happened to Poland in the roughly 21 months of Soviet rule. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were deported to Kazakhstan, Siberia and other points east during the occupation. Even worse, more than 22,000 military officers, politicians, professors, priests and other civic leaders were executed in what is collectively known as the Katyn Forest massacres.

writes that the Nazis in 1939 captured his grandfather, then a Polish soldier, but he escaped and made his way to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Curiously, he doesn’t explain why Jakub didn’t halt his flight in Soviet-occupied Poland instead of going hundreds of miles to the east. Maybe didn’t want to bring up all that awkward partition business and Nazi-Soviet hanky panky.

So says it depends on your perspective whether Jakub, a Soviet pawn, was “a partisan, a traitor, a hero or a spy.” Let me tell you about a couple of Poles whom I consider nothing but heroes.

My Dziadzia (grandfather) was barely out of boyhood when he came to America shortly after the turn of the 20th century. After World War I broke out, he attended a rally in Toronto featuring General Józef Haller, who called on Polish emigres to return to Europe and free their homeland. Stirred by emotion, Dziadzia signed up to join the Polish Legions on the spot.

From 1916 to 1918, Dziadzia fought against the Germans in France. The Polish Legions’ efforts alone may not have restored Poland as an independent country, but they played a part. Having done his job, Dziadzia returned to the United States and raised a family. He sent four sons, including my dad, to fight against Germany and Japan in World War II.

Meanwhile, the family he had left behind in eastern Poland didn’t fare as well as my and

I wish I could offer as many details about my grandfather as provides about his, but died when I was 4. All I recall are his smiles and kindness. While he passed on some stories to my dad, he didn’t like talking much about his cousins because it was too painful.

You could take the stories of my family and multiply them by thousands to get an idea of what happened in Poland during World War II. It’s too bad the New York Times will never run that story.

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We’ve just passed the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, which certainly is no cause for celebration.

Although the U.S. formally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917 — unlike the speedy action after Pearl Harbor, it took Congress four days to concur with Woodrow Wilson’s request for action — American troops didn’t actually engage in combat until a year later.

By the time the guns fell silent on Nov. 11, 1918, nearly 117,000 members of the American Expeditionary Forces had died. While that figure pales in comparison to U.S. casualties in the Civil War and World War II, it’s a horrendous total for just over six months of fighting.

The man responsible for the war’s worldwide death toll of 38 million is someone you’ve probably never heard of : Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb fanatically dedicated to ending Austria-Hungary’s rule of his homeland.

On June 28, 1914, Princip and five co-conspirators set out to assassinate Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand on his visit to Bosnia. A planned attack on the archduke’s motorcade in Sarajevo failed. One conspirator chickened out and didn’t throw his bomb when he had the chance. Another tossed a grenade, but it exploded under another car, seriously injuring two members of Franz Ferdinand’s entourage.

The opportunity for assassination seemed lost, but Princip was lucky — unluckily for the rest of the world. Franz Ferdinand wanted to visit his friends wounded in the grenade attack, but his driver made a wrong turn en route to the hospital.  When the driver put the car in reverse to get back on course, it stalled — right in front of Princip, who had stopped at a cafe for a meal.

Princip seized his chance, stepping forward and firing two shots into the car. One bullet fatally wounded the archduke, and the other killed his wife, Countess Sophie. Thanks to monumental stupidity by Europe’s monarchs, the murders ignited the fuse for the carnival of carnage that came to be known as the Great War.

The assassination led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, which was thought to be behind the murder plot. When Serbian ally Russia mobilized for an attack on the Habsburg empire, Germany demanded Russia to stand down. On Aug. 1, Germany declared war on Russia, then promptly invaded neutral Belgium as the launching pad for an invasion of France. Within days, what had been a dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia grew into a continental conflagration.

By the time the United States entered the fray, millions had died on the battlefields and in the trenches. Although Russia essentially gave up the fight after the Bolshevik revolution, freeing up German armies from the Eastern Front, the infusion of American doughboys played a key role in forcing the Central Powers to accept an armistice.

To understand how the civilized Western world collapsed into murderous madness, you have to know Europe at the start of the 20th century. For almost 100 years after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Europe had enjoyed unprecedented peace, progress and prosperity (outside of the Balkans, a string of unsuccessful revolutions in 1848 and two conflicts involving Prussia).

But nationalism still percolated in the fat and happy countries. Africa sated much of the ambitions, as Britain, France, Germany and lesser powers grabbed colonies, but the continent was pretty much divvied up by 1900. Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution had brought bright, shiny weapons to large armies that had nothing to do. All it took was Princip to fire his pistol to bring down empires and forever change the world.

Perhaps war still would have come without the assassin, but it probably wouldn’t have been the same war on the same fronts with the same results. But think about what Princip did set in motion.

Without Princip, there would have been no World War II because Germany would not have been seething over unsettled grievances. There would have been no Hitler, no Holocaust.

Without Princip, there would have been no Russian Revolution, no Lenin, no Stalin, no gulag. As a result, you can erase, Mao, Fidel and other Red revolutionaries from the history books.

Without Princip, the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires might still exist, leaving many ethnic groups under imperial control. The dissolution of the Turkish empire is at the heart of today’s troubles in the Middle East, as the British and French made a total mess overseeing Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Without Princip, the lives of at least 150 million people would not have been snuffed out on the battlefield or by their own totalitarian governments.

As the year 2000 approached, a number of groups hailed Albert Einstein as the Man of the 20th Century. Without doubt, the physicist was a remarkable genius whose revelations changed the course of science and will reverberate for generations to come.

But if the Man of the Century is the one who had the biggest effect on the world, for better or worse, the title has to go a 19-year-old killer from Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip.

baldilocks

Model of Ancient Jerusalem
Model of Ancient Jerusalem

I’m “reading” Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem—actually listening to the audiobook version from the Los Angeles Public Library. It’s a lot easier to get other things done this way, though it is sometimes necessary to scroll back when my attention wavers. With these big, sprawling histories, it’s easy to lose track of who the author is talking about.

Previously, I had checked out Montefiore’s The Romanovs: 1613-1918, but I didn’t finish reading it in the allotted 21 days and I couldn’t renew it because, apparently, it’s in high demand. When you want to renew a copy of an e-book or audiobook that other people are waiting for, you must return in and the library will remove availability to the book files. Then if you want to check it out again, you must put it on hold and go to the back of the line.

That’s how my unfinished “reading” of The Romanovs turned into my present “reading.”

And I said all that to point out something about these histories and about histories in general: I am grateful to God for being born at the time and in the place that I was.

From what I can tell about most of human history, sudden death, wasting disease, torture, dismemberment, and enslavement have been right around the corner for everyone: kings, priests, pashas, sheiks, emperors, scribes, nobles, serfs, slaves, and warriors. Up until very, very recently, all man- and womankind have had sudden destruction haunting them from infancy and if they made it out of infancy, the lifespan was usually no longer than 50 years. And let’s not even discuss the bathing and toilet accommodations!

And if you were a woman or a child, your body did not belong to you. Period.

Really, I am so tired of the whining that goes on about life in America. It isn’t perfect; no existence anywhere has been since Adam and Eve so severely miscalculated. As a matter of fact, life has been nasty, brutish, and—following the Great Flood—short. And poopy.

Now, too much time is spent coveting your neighbor’s private space to eat, sleep, copulate, and clean himself instead of appreciating your own private but smaller space to eat, sleep, copulate, and clean yourself.

That’s what I’m getting from Montefiore’s work—a sense of how good we all have it. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.

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by baldilocks

I found myself thinking back on the last few weeks, especially on the San Bernardino Islamic Terror Attack. This was spurred by happening upon the unbelievable libeling of one of the victims–Nicholas Thalasinos—by one fortuitously-named New York Daily News columnist, Linda Stasi. Her surname, of course calls to mind the old East Germany and, from there, I remembered one of the many other times in which a mainstream media sort received push-back from the serfs.

Originally posted on January 23, 2008.

A few years back [sic], veteran editor Tina Brown opined that “bloggers were the new Stasi.” In response, I opined that if our journalistic betters were going to hurl epithets at us that it wasn’t too much to ask that they know what those epithets mean so that they could be sure that the epithet was appropriate before hurling it. “Stasi” is German shorthand for Staatssicherheit— literally ‘state security,’ the late East Germany’s infamous and feared secret police force. Think of all the images and concepts conjured by the phrase “secret police force in a communist country.”

The Stasi not only embodied those images and concepts, it defined them. As far as I know, bloggers have not banded together to kick down doors and drag ideological enemies away for interrogation and/or confinement. Banding together to fact-check and trade information on the public writings of our betters as we imbibe adult beverages isStasianother story, however. But now, I can see where Brown’s comparison made some semblance of sense; the Stasi watched the every move of every citizen and visitor in German Democratic Republic and bloggers watch every move of professional journalists.

One might also argue that with all of the personal cameras and microphones lurking around every corner to capture images of everything happening that some bloggers are fast approaching the Stasi’s level of nosiness. But Brown’s metaphor was still a very imperfect one. I thought that journalists wanted their offerings read and dissected.

Anyway, that’s a setup to point you to the fascinating story of the STASI’s legacy, dark as it is, and the attempts to preserve that very tangible legacy as a reminder. Embodying stereotype of German efficiency, the Stasi kept meticulous records of everyone they surveilled. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, they succeed in destroying roughly 5% of it.

That might not sound like much, but the agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel records, and useless minutiae. There’s a record for every time anyone drove across the border.

Which means I have one. [While in the USAF, I was stationed in West Berlin 1985-1989 and 1990-1991.]

In the chaos of the days leading up to the actual destruction of the wall and the fall of East Germany’s communist government, frantic STASI agents sent trucks full of documents to the Papierwolfs and Reisswolfs — literally “paper-wolves” and “rip-wolves,” German for shredders. As pressure mounted, agents turned to office shredders, and when the motors burned out, they started tearing pages by hand — 45 million of them, ripped into approximately 600 million scraps of paper.

There’s no way to know what bombshells those files hide. For a country still trying to come to terms with its role in World War II and its life under a totalitarian regime, that half-destroyed paperwork is a tantalizing secret.

The machine-shredded stuff is confetti, largely unrecoverable. But in May 2007, a team of German computer scientists in Berlin announced that after four years of work, they had completed a system to digitally tape together the torn fragments. Engineers hope their software and scanners can do the job in less than five years — even taking into account the varying textures and durability of paper, the different sizes and shapes of the fragments, the assortment of printing (from handwriting to dot matrix) and the range of edges (from razor sharp to ragged and handmade.) “The numbers are tremendous. If you imagine putting together a jigsaw puzzle at home, you have maybe 1,000 pieces and a picture of what it should look like at the end,” project manager Jan Schneider says. “We have many millions of pieces and no idea what they should look like when we’re done.”

The wholesale destruction of the files was prevented by the East German citizens themselves.

In several small cities, rumors started circulating that records were being destroyed. Smoke, fires, and departing trucks confirmed the fears of angry Germans, who rushed in to their local Stasi offices, stopped the destruction, and spontaneously organized citizen committees that could post guards to secure the archives. Demonstrators spray-painted the walls with slogans like “The files belong to us” and “Stasi get out.” Finally, on the evening of January 15, 1990, thousands of demonstrators pushed in the front gate of the Stasi’s fortified Berlin compound.

It’s long, but very interesting–especially in light of the fact that some of our betters seem to be forgetting the inefficiencies and abuses inherent in socialist/communist governments–or hoping that the average citizens forgets. Read the whole thing.

******

That Germany is dead, but the post Reunification Germany is dying. And in spite of all of Germany’s crimes and stupidities, this makes me sad.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel, tentatively titled, Arlen’s Harem, will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.baldilocks

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Latvian camp, Three  Rivers, Michigan
Latvian camp, Three Rivers, Michigan

By John Ruberry

Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I will be attending at party tonight in Chicago’s northwestern suburbs–a birthday celebration for one of her closest friends. Like my wife, her friend is an immigrant from Latvia. Both are in the country legally, Mrs. MP is a US citizen.

I imagine there will be about 50 guests there, of those, about a dozen of them are in the United States illegally. Most of them have shadow-jobs–caring for the elderly, for children, or cleaning homes and offices.

They’ve come here to work and if their hopes are realized, live here as Americans.  Even if a million more Latvians arrived in America. they would not dramatically change the national character. The same can be said of most other Eastern Europeans–or Koreans or Chinese.

That’s because these ethnic groups aren’t demanding bilingual education, nor are there institutionalized civil rights groups demanding it on their behalf. While these nationalities often seek to keep ties to the culture of the old country–my daughter used to attend Latvian school every Saturday–they usually immerse themselves in American way of life.

Last week President Obama issued an executive order that will prevent deportations of five million illegals–those  dozen guests at the party I’ll be socializing with tonight will likely be covered by that decree.

Obama eloquently spoke in his speech announcing the order about the travails of what he and his fellow liberals call “undocumented” Americans. But he left out two items that most Americans have always expected of immigrants–that they learn English and they accept American culture. It’s what Newt Gingrich calls “patriotic immigration.”

That’s what this nation needs.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

What do you do if you are a nation facing one of the most powerful militaries in the world and your former ally, thanks to the leadership or lack thereof of the head of the free world, is no longer reliable?

Why you make some reliable allies instead:

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin wrapped up a low-profile two-day visit in Israel on Thursday, saying one of the purposes of his visit was to discuss ways to increase cooperation between the two countries, including “military and technical cooperation.”

 
What kind of military and technical cooperation?

“We spoke about the importing of drones from Israel,” said Klimkin after meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other officials. “That’s really important in the supervision framework of the ceasefire (with pro-Russian separatists), but we are speaking with many countries about that and countries in the European Union in particular.”

It makes sense for Ukraine, if you’ve been hitched to a weak horse for a long while, it’s time to find a strong one, but the other question is why should Israel be so interested in helping out Ukraine?

Lyudmila Saprikina, the head of the Donetsk branch of Hesed, which cares for Jewish senior citizens throughout the former Soviet Union, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that while approximately 70 percent of Donetsk’s Jews have fled, 1,650 of her clients have remained behind in the shattered center of the Moscow-backed insurgency and the surrounding areas.

That fact that so many Jews have chosen to flee the now Moscow allied areas says a lot.

When nobody thinks you’re strong enough to be worth seeking as an ally then it’s likely you’re not strong enough for people to be worried about having you as an enemy.

One can not look at this election cycle and watch the once feared Obama collapse without seeing parallels with the historical fall of tyrannies.

If you look at the history of repressive regimes there are two hard and fast rules concerning them:

1.  Their Power is completely based on the fear of the population:

Mirror Spock: Terror must be maintained or the Empire is doomed

Star Trek Mirror Mirror 1967

This fear is usually established right at the start by a few choice examples and once established keeps people in line.   It permeates every single ordinary activity.  The butcher the baker and the candlestick maker all could be ready to report any dissent.  Furthermore it doesn’t have to be fear of death, people with something to lose, a position,  a business,  any comfort they have might be even more effective that the threat of death to someone who has nothing.

As long as that fear is maintained the regime’s power remains.  It creates a seal on the people that can’t be penetrated.

 

2.  Once the fear is gone, the regime’s fall is very quick:

Marn: Citizens, I elect to join the Revolution.

Doctor Who The Sunmakers 1977

Fear has one weakness, it generates anger.  Eventually either due to outside pressures or inside pressures the anger begins to leak out into the open, usually at the fringes on the edges.  Unless it’s crushed , more and more of that repressed anger leaks out until it becomes overwhelming.  The enforcers and toadies seeing what’s coming switch sides to save their skin until finally the regime tears open like the bottom of  wet paper bag,  the Mussolini or Ceaușescu is seized and it’s all over.

And that is what has apparently happened to Barack Obama this cycle.

 

At the very start any critique of Barack Obama was restrained by fear, not of violence, but of the race card.

Bill and Hillary Clinton were the first targets , their tongues tied, even as her supporters were intimidated in the Texas primary.

John McCain was next, unwilling to attack for fear of being dubbed racist by the media who loved him when he was attacking George Bush.

The Republicans in Congress were next cowed during the first two years, terrified of the race card and the power of the president, and mindful of the example being made of a Sarah Palin was willing to fight, by the media.

The regime didn’t see what was coming in 2010, tyrannies usually don’t,   but when they did, sprang into action using the power of the government to go after the Tea Parties that had risen up against them.  Placing fear in the heats of the donors and business in a failing economy afraid of being audited.  Playing , with the help of the media the race card liberally and intimidating a feckless Mitt Romney unwilling to attack.  By this they to maintain their power.

But now the worm has turned.  The fear of the regime has been replaced by a different fear, the fear of the results of their incompetence.

Fear of losing one’s doctor or being unable able to pay the increasing premiums and deductibles from the incompetent implementation of Obamacare.

Fear of terrorism , as a once stable Iraq is replaced by a regime beheading Americans on camera thanks to an incompetent Middle East policy.

Fear of a new cold war, as a resurgent Russia under Putin cowers a terrified eastern Europe thanks to an incompetent foreign policy

Fear of disease as Ebola with the symptoms of the common cold, while checked in Nigeria penetrates the United States thanks to the incompetence of the administration.

And like all fear based regimes they get desperate as the enforcers and toadies realizing their days are numbered,  run away, refusing to be seen with them, denying their past support for them, even refusing to speak their name, until even in the last bastions of their power, they need to use fear to maintain control.

The power of the Obama administration was built on a lie of competence , was maintained by fear and intimidation but now that fear is gone.  It only remains to be seen if he will take his entire party with him.

Update:  Doug Mataconis objects to my use of the word Tyranny,

As to his points:

1. I’ll concede that said tyranny was self inflicted and our own fault.

2. I’ve never claimed not to be “Partisan” Life has taught me to be a Catholic Conservative and this informs my views accordingly.

3. I submit and suggest that the use of the word “partisan” is a lazy way of dismissing an argument without actually bothering to counter it.

So let me make an invitation:

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Latvian Freedom Monument
Latvian Freedom Monument, Riga

By John Ruberry

After seizing the Crimea and invading Ukraine, Russia-watchers wonder which former Soviet republic is next on Vladimir Putin’s expansion list?

Latvians fear it could be their nation.

Yesterday parliamentary elections were held in the small Baltic state. Ethnic Russians with Latvian citizenship–not all of them enjoy this benefit–mostly lined up as predicted behind the Harmony Party, which is led by Nil Ushakov, the mayor of Riga, Latvia’s capital and largest city, the population of which is about half Russian.

In an attempt to water-down ethnic minorities that began during the tyranny of Josef Stalin, Russians were moved into Soviet republics such as Latvia to replace people deported to Siberia.

Latvian speakers, proving in a way that they belong in Europe, traditionally split their vote among a dozen or so parties, and yesterday was no exception.

Harmony won about one-quarter of the seats in the 100 member Saeima, the Latvian parliament. more than any other party. Another pro-Russian party, For Latvia from the Heart, may end up with a couple of seats, but the Russian-bloc, with no other feasible coalition parties, will fall far short of a majority. In fact, Harmony will probably have fewer seats in the new parliament.

Saturday was a good day for the ruling center-right coalition led by Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma. Her Unity Party, along with the Union of Greens and Farmers and the National Alliance, received about 60 percent of the tally. Straujuma favors the current NATO build-up in Latvia and is getting credit for her nation’s economic turnaround after the 2008 recession.

Harmony’s Ushakov, while favoring Latvia’s membership in NATO and the European Union, raised eyebrows when he said on Russian television that Putin was the best leader for Russia from the Latvian perspective.

Riga's Old City
Riga’s Old City

For now, it looks like Russia has been checked in Latvia. But Putin can look at a half-million Russian speakers as potential partners to destabilize the small nation. Or he can look  to the north of Latvia at Estonia. Over ninety percent of the population of its third-largest city, Narva, which sits across a river from Russia, is Russian-speaking.

Or perhaps Putin can cast his gaze to the south and Kazakhstan, the northern part of which is heavily Russian. Kazakhstan is not a NATO member.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.  His wife was born in Latvia and he has traveled to the Baltic nation twice. 

A few hours ago this guest post went up on the site as a guest post to rebut a piece of mine concerning Putin and Russia. That post contained some rather….interesting…opinions concerning Russia, Putin, the west and the Catholic Church the like of which have never been posted on this site before and are unlikely to ever be posted here again.

Frankly if I hadn’t invited the post I wouldn’t have run it but having made the offer I was of course obliged to keep my word.

I also thought it would be unfair to Fisk or rebuke said post as an update. Having invited the piece such a direct rebuke would, in my opinion be a dishonorable case of bait and switch to the authors.

So as the proper answer to speech is more speech here is my rebuttal to by 1389AD & CzechRebel post

Let’s start by noting some of the valid points in their piece:

1. Russia as it was:

Before the Soviets took over Russia was pretty much one large empire stretched to the pacific in the west, to the Arctic in the North, to Persia/India to the south and Europe in the east. A good map of Russia can be found here. While Russia did conquer some of the states and there have been nationalist movements involved it’s fair to say that the borders of the various soviet “republics” drawn the time of the Soviets were arbitrarily drawn and took chunks of traditional Russia with them. Russia’s claim to the Crimea has a particularly solid historical basis.

2. Russian Christianity:

The Orthodox Church in Russia was brutally repressed by the Communists. I can’t claim knowledge of the underground church in Russia during the Soviet Era and can’t speak intelligently on the subject. Given of the Catholic Church in Poland I see no reason not to accept the claims of my Orthodox Friends concerning Soviet Era underground Christianity and a resurgent church with the end of repression.

3. The Media vs Russia:

It’s fair to say that the MSM which always seemed to be willing to make an excuse for Soviet aggression and their manipulation of the press during the cold war suddenly has no tolerance for such behavior now that it comes from a non socialist/communist Russia unapologetically opposed to the gay agenda. I’ve written of the media’s double standards concerning Islamic and Christian belief more than once here.

4. Jihad: Russia has been fighting Chechen jihadist for nearly 20 years. One might argue the Chechens are more nationalistic than Jihadist (I say they’re both) but the tactics, terror & bloodshed used against the Russians are the tactic of Islamic terror and Russia faces these attacks directly on their homeland and infrastructure a fact that gets little play in the west.

But having conceded these points let deal with the rest of the piece starting with the big lie concerning Russia:

Russia, being a Godly nation, disbanded the Warsaw Pact in 1991, ending the Cold War and leaving NATO with no legitimate reason to continue.

Say WHAT?

Russia didn’t “disband” the Warsaw pact “because it was a Godly nation” any more than southern slaveholders freed their slaves of out respect for the Emancipation Proclamation. When the Soviet Union that had taken them by force fell into disorder the formerly enslaved states of the Soviet union from Estonia to Poland reasserted their independence. They could not retain their status without a war that Russia was not interested in fighting at that time.

The experience of being under the Soviet thumb is only a generation past for those European states.  To expect them to say to the US “Oh we don’t need you Russia is nice now” is the height of absurdity, particularly considering what happened in Georgia in the last decade.  The whole cavalier reference to taking parts of Poland doesn’t inspire a lot of  confidence either.

As for the reference to the Polish born Zbigniew Brzezinski & family let’s see:

Seven years before his birth Poland fought a war against the Soviets that confirmed their independence.  When he was 11 his country was invaded by the Nazi’s on one end and the Soviets on the other.  Six years later the Soviets went into Poland on their way to Berlin and kept as a puppet for 46 years.

Maybe it’s just me but I have a funny feeling the Brzezinski family just might have a reason to be a tad suspicious of Russia. I suspect the 900+ tanks in the Polish Army reflect that same feeling.

Full disclosure I’ve met Mika Brzezinski. As an apologist for this administration I find her often wrong but wrong honest.

As for the stuff concerning the Catholic Church and the Orthodox, I don’t begrudge the authors defending their own Orthodox church or disagreeing with the Catholic Faith. I don’t even begrudge them their rather crass remarks concerning the Miracles of Fatima (which tens of thousands witnessed). Belief in Fatima or any such post Apostolic revelation is not required by the Church doctrine, but the whole “Vatican Kool Aid” business, that’s simple BS.

In my 51 years of life I have never heard a single member of my church at a sermon, lecture or religious event say anything disparaging concerning the Eastern Churches in general or the Russian Orthodox Church in particular. Nor do I recall anyone inside the church critiquing Putin based on whatever religious beliefs he has or frankly even mention he was Russian Orthodox.

In fact my initial piece had absolutely nothing to do with religion but was focused really on how the beatings in Memphis (that the media has still ignored) and Putin’s advances are similar in that they are enabled by the knowledge that there is nobody willing to stand up to them.  I didn’t even know his faith until I looked it up while writing this piece.

Yet the rebuttal contained 8-10 paragraphs going after the Catholic Church as if opposition to Putin by the west is part of a vast Papal plot to bring down the Russian Orthodox Church. The level of paranoia involved here seems rather incredible. If the Russian Orthodox church is as integrated with the Putin government as the piece implies then it could be that the right word is “projection” rather than paranoia. I would think an anti-communist would recognize the game being played here.

Furthermore for all the talk about “protecting christianity” as churches have been burning in the middle east and Christians slaughtered all over the world seems ridiculous. Exactly how has Russia’s response been any different than the shameful indifference of the west?

Listen I understand Russia is a huge nation and it shares borders with some rather interesting neighbors including a resurgent China and a Crazy North Korea in the west and is dealing with radical Islamists in the east. I also get that both Napoleon & Hitler had a go at them over the last 200 years. Russia needs a strong army to protect its people, secure its borders and to defend its interests overseas. If that’s what Putin & Russia want to do I don’t have an issue with it and given the number of cultural Russians in the former Soviet States Russia has a legitimate interests in their well being.

However it seems to me the actions of Mr. Putin and his words seem to have a lot more to do with expansion to recreate “Greater Russia” than to simply advance his nations interests, of course I’d be delighted if events prove me wrong because our guest posting friends are right about one thing for sure.

Given the weakness of Barack Obama if Putin decided he wanted to take Ukraine and the Baltic States I sincerely doubt the west would do anything about and that fact alone makes it less likely that he would have to bother to get anything he might want.

Closing thought, if that guest post is characteristic of how the average Russian views the west it would explain an awful lot of the history of the last ten years.