But will the world go for it?
Germany, Japan, and Italy gradually turned from authoritarian imperialist countries into democratic ones after the Second World War. In this case, it is important to consider the question of how and why they succeeded. In addition, if we are talking about these countries as successful examples of denazification, then there are still unsuccessful examples that also need to be mentioned, namely Germany after the First World War and Russia after 1991, when the inhabitants of these states did not manage to get rid of their imperialist sentiments. Unfortunately, one cannot consider successful examples of denazification in isolation from unsuccessful ones.
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Item number 0, which is needed for successful denazification and around which there may be more discussion, is not just a military defeat that the Nazi country must endure, but a foreign occupation. Italy, Germany, Japan were occupied, while Germany after the First World War and Russia in 1991 were not occupied. And therefore, we are faced with the task of understanding whether it is necessary to occupy modern Russia after its defeat in order to carry out some of its transformations, or whether it is possible, perhaps, to do without it.
I think an occupation of the sort in Germany in 1945 is not needed. Two-thirds of Russians are concentrated in cities of over one million people, and in order to control them, you do not need too large a contingent. With a worldwide mandate, I think there will be a number of people who want to stand at checkpoints, and Ukrainians will even pay extra to get into one of those contingents. In principle, this is enough. Gauleiters do not need to be placed in every village. Controlling the main million-plus cities and military bases will be quite enough to fulfill this function of occupation. Not even occupation, but control of power. But will the world go for it or not? Whether there will be intervention to stabilize the regime, we do not know. Therefore, we cannot plan for the future, because this key issue has not been resolved.
After the occupation, the stage of formal prohibition of the regime that unleashed the war is important. If we turn to unsuccessful examples of denazification, then in Germany after the First World War, the Kaiser was forced off his throne, but this whole German machine that had unleashed the First World War did not disappear. These veterans, who were dissatisfied with the course of the war and believed that the bourgeoisie and the Jews had put a knife in their backs, united in the freikorps paramilitary volunteer formations, which took part in civil struggle in the first few years after the revolution in Germany. At the same time, respect for the Prussian military spirit was preserved.
In Russia after 1991, the leading figures of the communist regime were not convicted. Only members of the GKChP were put in the dock. In other words, no tribunal over the ideology of communism took place, and the ideology was not condemned. Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the USSR, was not touched. The CPSU was formally banned, but it was not even possible to carry out lustration. And the lustration of officials who gave criminal orders and of party functionaries was not even discussed.
As a result, even today there is a big discussion about whether Gorbachev brought freedom, or was rather the last Soviet tyrant. There was no investigation into state violence against Soviet people in Russia. Therefore, democracy did not last even a couple of years. Yeltsin, the supposed super-democrat, began to concentrate power in his hands. In the autumn of 1993, a formal civil war took place in Russia, even if it was limited exclusively to Moscow (the shelling of the White House on October 3, 1993, when Russian President Yeltsin, in violation of the Russian Constitution, dissolved the Russian Supreme Soviet, and then severely suppressed society’s protests).
After that, Russia’s democratic path of development ended, and all these un-lustrated officials and party apparatchiks raced to strengthen Yeltsin's power vertical. Thanks to this apparatus, Yeltsin, who had 2% support at the beginning of the First Chechen War, was able to win the 1996 elections with the help of the oligarchs and the apparatus to which he gave power.
People believed that a firm, strong hand at the top was what they needed, but as for everything else — well, they were communists, well, they ceased to be communists — they became "Yeltsin's" people. This was secondary. Imperialism and autocracy were not condemned, and gradually re-emerged. And if Yeltsin nevertheless relied on a decentralized oligarchic network, then everyone fell under Putin and his vertical in a few years.
Poverty is one of the most influential movers of totalitarian regimes
But it is necessary to understand that neither in Germany after the First World War, nor in Russia after 1991, was dictatorship revived immediately. Both at the end of the Weimar Republic and at the beginning of the 90s, the population became disillusioned with democracy and liberalism and willingly supported tyrants under certain conditions. And here we come to the second point — economic crisis. We talk about it very little, but it is poverty that is one of the most influential movers of totalitarian regimes.
People easily exchange freedom for bread when they have no bread. As a result, we already know they will have neither freedom nor bread. In Germany after the First World War and hyperinflation, and in Russia after the economic crisis that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union – both fell into conditions when the people associated everything bad, namely poverty and hyperinflation, specifically with reforms and democracy. So the second wave of economic crises is just beginning, and it ends with dictatorship.
For Germany, the second wave was the Great Depression. It began in the United States in 1932, and literally a year later, Hitler won elections in Germany. In Russia, the 90s were just falling into the rearview mirror when 1998 came, bringing the state default, and then in 1999, Vladimir Putin became prime minister, and then acting president. This second important difference between successful and unsuccessful cases is the impoverishment of the population, which leads to the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies.
Where transformation has been successful, economic miracles have occurred, as in Japan and Germany after World War II. These economic miracles were a sign that the West realized that these mistakes should not be repeated. The Marshall Plan was extended to Germany. Japan had its own stabilization measures, but it was not the state that received additional resources for its budget, but rather a bet was made on raising the solvency of the middle class. A powerful, active middle class that doesn't have to be fed out of the hand of a dictator, and doesn't need fighting and wars because they have something to lose, is the key to the sustainability of democracy.
It is strange when good Russians start to bulge their eyes and say — give us money, because our population will again fall into resentment and revanchism and choose a new Putin. These are mutually parallel processes. First, with the money that has already been confiscated, Ukraine must be rebuilt. Then we will be able to consider issues of Russia's economic recovery, so that Russia is able to pay the reparations that will be imposed on it. To think that the Russians should just get this money, like the Ukrainians, is stupidity. I'm sorry if this is what they are hoping for.
The third, last, and most important stage is repentance. It is very easy to ban all Z-symbols and punish portraits of Putin with 10 years in prison. It will take much longer to create a middle class and instill in it the values of private property and economic competition. Theoretically, this is also possible in a few years, and this can be done with the help of foreigners. But if the local population does not realize the problem that lies in their imperialism, if the population itself does not want to take responsibility –not guilt, but specifically responsibility — for what their parents have done, then again nothing will change. In today's Russia, we see that this understanding has not happened.
In 1991, everyone fraternized with the Americans, stood in line for "Bush legs" (frozen chicken meat supplied by the United States to post-Soviet countries in the 90s) and drank Coca-Cola, but the realization that the Soviet regime brought a lot of suffering to the Russians themselves, and neighboring peoples, did not come. As a result, in the mid-90s, Russia, which was the leader of the freedom and glasnost movement, simply stopped moving forward. They stopped opening archives and condemning repressions, and in the second half of the 1990s, a rollback to the old positions began. They restored the Soviet anthem without words, then added words back.
If instead of Putin there was some other head of Russia, even Nemtsov, then the questions and responsibilities of the older generation would be actively debated now — at least, as it happens in Ukraine today. Ukraine and Russia began to diverge in 1993-1994, and in the example of Ukraine we see that the dominant ideology, authoritarianism, and diktats can be gotten rid of, if there are grounds for this.
Ukraine is another successful example of getting rid of the ideology of Bolshevism. In 1994, the first step was taken in the a peaceful transfer of power. Then the first president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, went to early elections, lost them, and gave power to Kuchma, while the year before that in Russia, Yeltsin shelled the parliament and remained super-president, and back in 1994, Shushkevich was overthrown in Belarus and Lukashenka became president. So 1993-1994 is a fork in the road.
Ukraine, which had a powerful experience in the OUN-UPA resistance in the west of the country, where the traditions of the Cossacks were revived, and the super-powerful influence of the Ukrainian diaspora was felt, is changing faster and more successfully than other former Soviet republics.
The combination of these factors in 2004 lead to the victory of Viktor Yushchenko. It was in 2004 that the processes of decommunization began — the indictment of communism for the crimes of the Holodomor, and the rejection of the common victory in the Great Patriotic War as the definitive narrative of Ukraine's role in World War II. What happened in Ukraine did not happen in Russia and Belarus, but Germany followed the same path, and 10-15 years after the defeat of Nazism, also firmly established itself in its condemnation of its past.
Ukraine was able, even despite the Yanukovych revanche, to reach decommunization. But this did not happen in Russia, and Russia began to sink even deeper into this abyss of imperial madness. Ukraine is reminiscent of Germany after World War II also in that it is now actively discussing its Soviet past, even if the system is resisting (let’s remember Kharkiv, and how long city leaders defended the monument to Zhukov there).
A symbolic gesture of completing the “denazification” of Russia, a memorial to the victims of this war, will be erected in Mariupol or Bucha. And some leader of Russia, or of what remains of modern Russia, should someday kneel in front of this monument and say: forgive us (not us personally, because these future politicians of Russia are perhaps now only children), but us as the Russian people.
That's when the process will be completed. But if all this does not happen, Russia will enter its fifth imperialist circle or fall apart altogether. The denazification of Russia is a completely non-obvious thing, but now we have a historic opportunity to achieve this, and perhaps this should be done for the sake of the security of the world in the future.