Posted Friday, November 6, 1998
New Canadian Newspaper Inspires Hope for Greater ObjectivityConrad Black's New Venture
The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
Letters to the National Post
November 3, 1998Adolf Hitler was evil incarnate
A FRONT-PAGE picture of Hitler with Mussolini. A full pictorial on the third page. National Post reporter Shawn Ohler indicates these newly found images of Hitler are historically significant, and they surely are.
However, while Hitler was visiting wounded soldiers, reading a newspaper, viewing the Eiffel Tower [in 1940] and standing with a fellow fascist dictator, one and a half million Jewish children were being murdered in Nazi gas chambers.
"A Hitler we haven't seen before" (Oct. 30), by its very heading communicates a certain human normalcy and decency to the most vile mass murderer in the annals of human history. Surely, this could not have been your intent.
Adolf Hitler was evil incarnate. To suggest otherwise, even unintentionally as you have done in this article and photo spread, was insensitive, and smacks more of tabloid journalism than the truly national newspaper you are striving to be.
Mark S. Weintraub,
National Community Relations Committee
Canadian Jewish Congress,
To which letter, another reader replied (printed on November 6):
I WAS pleasantly shocked to see historically significant, newly available pictures of Adolf Hitler in the *National Post*. Less interesting was Mark Weintraub's denunciation of it (Letter, Nov. 3).
Biographies and historical works about Hitler are numerous, but none are simple-minded enough to portray this complex but evil person as one-dimensional.
Study of important historical figures should not be made subject to censorship based on whether the subject was good or bad. Historical application of Mr. Weintraub's standards might well have resulted in history being a far narrower field of study, and in some of Shakespeare's work being tiresome reads.
Don Carr, Brantford, Ont.
Weintraub's complaint was pure hyperbole, and innacurate. Conrad Black evidently assesses that a fifty-eight year old photo of the German Führer is more newsworthy than a modern picture of less evil world leaders.
Conrad Black's new national daily, National Post, had its debut on October 27, 1998. The first issue published this article on page A.18, by the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. It seems an auspicious beginning.
Crying to heaven for vengeance
AS ONE of the founders of the 1960s human rights movement, and particularly as a former Soviet political prisoner who was exchanged for a Chilean Communist leader in 1976, I feel obliged to contribute to the debate over the recent arrest of General Augusto Pinochet in London. This event raises all sorts of alarming questions. Although I would be delighted to see justice done and those who made our century one of the bloodiest in human history be properly prosecuted and punished, I am appalled to observe blatant political manipulation of this idea, its selective application only to the politically "incorrect," "right-wing" forces and personalities.
Thus, in the wake of the collapse of communism, any attempt to prosecute (or even to name) secret police torturers, murderers and terrorists in the service of the former Soviet empire (as well as their accomplices abroad), was greeted with indignation and branded as a "witch-hunt." Yet, at the same time, all sorts of "truth commissions" sprang up from South Africa to Latin America, investigating human rights violations and punishing perpetrators in their respective regions. Needless to say, no dared to call these "witch hunts."
Remarkably, the power to punish crimes against humanity has remained dormant since 1946. It was invoked for the first time only against some small-time thugs in Bosnia. Neither the crimes committed by Stalin in Eastern Europe, nor those by the Soviet army in Afghanistan, nor even the "social cleansing" conducted by Pol Pot in Cambodia were deemed worthy of international judgment. Chinese genocide in Tibet, Russian genocide in Chechnya at best provoked an expression of "regret" on the part of Western governments.
Actually, in many cases it would not even have been necessary to convene a special tribunal: for example, the murder of captive Polish officers in Katyn was already acknowledged as a crime against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. Yet the man who was in charge of the execution - former head of one of the Directorates of the NKVD, Pytor Soprunenko - was still alive and well in Moscow on a good pension several years after the USSR collapsed.
Everyone knew this, Muscovites willingly pointed out the windows of his apartment in a house on the Sadovaya Ring. MGB investigator Daniil Kopelyansky, who interrogated Raoul Wallenberg, was also thriving, as was the organizer of Trotsky's assassination, General Pavel Sudoplatov, but neither Poland, nor Sweden nor Mexico were seeking the extradition of these criminals.
Still free to go around the world promoting his book is former KGB General Oleg Kulagin, who organized the murder of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in 1978 -- the famous case of the poisoned umbrella. Kulagin even wrote about this a few years ago under the challenging headline: "I Organized Markov's Execution." It never enters anyone's head to arrest him. Indeed, in 1994, after many protests to the British Home Office, General Kulagin was detained at Heathrow Airport, questioned, and released the following day. Apparently, the poor Scotland Yard detectives could not find reliable evidence of his crime.
Surely, if the events in question had occurred 50 years ago, there would be no need to try to persuade anyone or to prove anything. Why indeed? To bring to justice those who took part in Nazi atrocities is the duty of one and all. But God forbid you should so much as point a finger at a Communist (let alone his fellow-traveller) - that is a "witch-hunt." When did we let ourselves become bound by this flawed morality, this schizophrenia of the conscience? We continue to hunt down senile 80-year-olds in the jungles of Latin America for the evils they perpetrated half a century ago. They are murderers. Proudly, we declare: never again! And a noble tear moistens our eye. But when it comes to putting Eric Honecker in the dock, a man on whose orders people were killed as little as a few years ago -- why, every feeling is outraged. It would be inhuman, he's old and sick. And we release him into the jungles of Latin America.
Without an even-handed investigation of the Cold War conduct of the involved parties, any court case against even the most notorious violators of human rights is bound to be a travesty of justice. In 1992, while an expert of the Russian Federation's Constitutional Court in the case of President Yeltsin vs Communist Party of USSR, I had limited access to the still secret archives of the former Politburo and Central Committee. What I saw there exceeded even my expectations. I doubt many people know the extent of the subversive activity conducted by the former Soviet Union against the outside world throughout the postwar years.
All in all, it was an undeclared war, with thousands of "activists" from practically every country being "specially trained" by the KGB, supplied with "special equipment," "special materials," with cash on a large scale and, of course, with guidance from the International Department. Thanks to my notebook computer and a hand-scanner, I managed to copy many thousands of pages. Some of them are even funny, but usually there is nothing to smile about. On the contrary, their dry official clichés only hint at pictures of death and destruction, so familiar to everyone from nightly television news broadcasts over the past 30 years.
Almost every such tragedy had its beginnings in a neatly-typed Central Committee resolution, with the invariable clarion call "Workers of the world unite!" in the right-hand corner. The tempest they unleashed swept away millions of lives in Ethiopia, Vietnam and Central America; it will rage on in Angola, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan long after the last Communist regime vanishes from the face of the earth. How can we judge now the behaviour of the unfortunate governments faced with this tempest without taking into consideration the undeclared war conducted against them by a superpower? Are we going to condemn and punish them now without even looking into the other side's activity?
Needless to say, Chile was no exception. Soviet involvement there started long before Pinochet's coup in 1973, and continued on a huge scale until 1990, that is after he resigned. Hundreds of Communist activists there were "specially trained" by the KGB, including in handling explosives. General Secretary of the Chilean Communist Party, Louis Corvalan (for whom I was exchanged in 1976), illegally returned there in 1983 (after undergoing plastic surgery and being provided with forged documents) in order to lead this activity. In reply to his numerous requests, his comrades were supplied from Moscow with mines, explosives, weapons, money. Far from trying to justify Pinochet's conduct, I would merely point out no court on earth can try him either without taking into consideration these circumstances. His actions must be weighed against the actions of his opponents, as is routinely done in criminal proceedings. Yet, no court anywhere has this documentary evidence at its disposal.
Let me repeat again: like anyone who lived most of his life under totalitarian oppression, and especially as someone who spent 12 years in prisons, labour-camps and lunatic asylums, I understand the feelings of those whose friends and loved ones have "disappeared" in Chile, or elsewhere. Like them, I crave justice. But it will be a mockery, a travesty, an insult to the memory of tens of millions who were slaughtered, starved or tortured to death in our century, if this justice is administered selectively, for political gains by the New World Order utopians who have seemed to establish their authority in the post-totalitarian world.
What we need is powerful pressure on the Russian government to force it to open all secret archives of the former Politburo and the KGB, which should be studied by an impartial international commission, openly and publicly. Only then can we pass the ultimate judgement on our troubled century, as well as on its political leaders, many still active in their respective countries. Only then can we say the Cold War is truly over.
But as long as this work is not finished, let us withhold our judgement and restrain ourselves from a temptation to score a dubious political victory at the expense of the truth. Vladimir Bukovsky's latest book is Reckoning with Moscow.
| © 1998. Both items reprinted from National Post|
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