Saturday, December 26, 2020

The End of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991: A Christmas Miracle

Christmas returns to the Kremlin

Twenty nine years ago on December 25, 1991 a regime born in 1917 and formerly named in 1922 came to an end. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or as it was also known the Soviet Union was formerly brought to an end on Christmas day and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States. The last day of the Soviet Union was on Christmas day. Let that sink in for a moment.


Now there are those who claim that the world is a less stable place without the Soviet Union, and Mikhail Gorbachev claims that it could have been reformed. Academic Stephen F. Cohen goes further and quotes approvingly both by Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky with the adage: "Anyone who does not regret the breakup of the Soviet Union has no heart. And anyone who thinks it can be reconstructed has no head." Vaclav Havel, a man who had both head and heart understood why this kind of regime was so profoundly inhuman: "As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it."


The optimism expressed by Gorbachev and the nostalgia of Cohen fails to take into account the human cost of the USSR. The Soviet Union took the lives of an estimated 61 million human beings. It was a brutal and evil system that allied with Nazi Germany to start WW2 in 1939, and afterwards spawned other brutal regimes around the globe that claimed over a 100 million lives. Their lives mattered. Vaclav Havel in his 1990 New Years Speech called on his countrymen not to forget:

"The rivers of blood that have flowed in Hungary, Poland, Germany and recently in such a horrific manner in Romania, as well as the sea of blood shed by the nations of the Soviet Union, must not be forgotten. First of all because all human suffering concerns every other human being. But more than this, they must also not be forgotten because it is these great sacrifices that form the tragic background of today's freedom or the gradual emancipation of the nations of the Soviet Bloc, and thus the background of our own newfound freedom."
The numbers of lives lost is but the material accounting and does not take into account the spiritual ruin visited upon billions and its aftermath to the present day. The late Czech president explained it in the very same address:
"The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore one another, to care only about ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension, and for many of us they represented only psychological peculiarities, or they resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships."

The destruction both material and spiritual generated by the Soviet Union over seventy years will take centuries to repair and transcend. That hard truth may not be cause for celebration but the end of the system that wreaked so much damage is cause for celebration not regret. To do otherwise is to be heartless. The fact that it happened without violence on Christmas day in 1991 is also cause for joy. 

2020 was a year that saw statues torn down across the West, often without cause, but with the end of the Soviet Union many statues of Lenin and Stalin came down, and in Highgate Cemetery in London the monument to Karl Marx has been repeatedly attacked over the years with a 2019 BBC report highlighting a pipe bomb in 1970, with emulsion paint, and with hammers in 2019. In light of the passions aroused is it not time to take down the monument to the man viewed as the author of this anti-human enterprise and place it in a museum alongside statues of slave traders, and Confederate generals?

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