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Whose death camps, Mr. Putin?

This article was also published by Newsmax

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has finally picked on someone his own size: Finland. His officials have virtually accused the Finns of genocide of Soviet civilians in “concentration camps,” allegedly complete with gas chambers, during the Second World War. It is charged that some 8,000 died, including children.

This horror story comes complete with a state-subsidized “camp” museum to be set up in the village of Sopohan (Suopohja), where there are no records of any juvenile detention facility, and a movie for Russian kids, “Vesuri,” which milks this bogus tale. In fact, the museum, which was endowed with a presidential grant, pretends to be an old concentration camp. Actually, it is a movable movie set left behind after filming the propaganda piece.

There is more than meets the eye here. In addition to a neo-Stalinist narrative of eternal Russian victimhood aimed at Western audiences, the master of the Kremlin has his own captive people in mind. His is, in fact, a typical, comprehensive Bolshevik propaganda maneuver that has never gone out of style in Russia.

The last Soviet manifestation of this tackle occurred in the late 1980s. During his policy of “loudness” (glasnost) and “restructuring” (perestroika), General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev resolved to admit the Soviet Union’s responsibility for the slaughter of some 22,000 Poles, mostly captured Allied POWs, a sordidly genocidal affair known as the Katyn Forest Massacre. Among other things, the Soviet leader hoped to pacify Poland with this admission and to thwart Lithuania’s bid for independence in a quid pro quo with the Vatican. Gorbachev pledged to owe up to Katyn, if Pope John Paul II restrained Catholic Lithuanians from proclaiming sovereignty.

In any event, always a dialectician, Gorbachev immediately worked out a propaganda fallback position for the Katyn affair.  He claimed that 100,000 Bolshevik POWs were allegedly killed by the Poles in 1920. True, perhaps some 20,000 Red Army men did die in the Polish captivity, along with their Polish guards, because the “Spanish Flu” epidemic killed them. There was a global pandemic, and they fell victim to it, along with about 50 million other human beings globally. The “Spanish Flu” was the deadliest killer ever, felling more people than perished in the First World War.

Putin has decided to copy the former General Secretary’s playbook. The current master of the Kremlin has deployed the narrative against Poland quite a few times, while also denying that Katyn ever happened.  Now Russia’s President has turned his ire on the Finns.

In December 1939, unprovoked, the Soviet Union attacked Finland. The latter put up stiff resistance and sued for a ceasefire only in March 1940. Peace came at a forbidding price. Stalin demanded a chunk of their national territory, Karelia in particular. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, the Finnish government ordered its troops to recover the area.

The Nazis admonished the Finns to join them in their anti-Communist war of extermination, which included the Holocaust. Yet, the Finnish declined. They simply wanted the restoration of the status quo ante. They did not share the Third Reich’s insane ideology.  There were even Jewish soldiers in Finland’s armies fighting against the Soviets.

After reclaiming Karelia, Helsinki’s troops took some prisoners; they also encountered Russian-speaking colonists who were dispatched by Moscow to help Sovietize Finland’s territories. Thus, the Finnish authorities set up POW and internment camps for enemy aliens, and everyone suspected them of aiding and abetting Stalin. The conditions in the camps were rather mild by Soviet and Nazi standards, but there was some suffering indeed because of general destitution and hardship at the time. Some internees died. Moscow claims the victim count was in the thousands and their deaths were deliberate. In other words, they were allegedly mass murdered.

However, to make the Finnish legitimate effort to secure their country into a genocidal project is neither factual nor convincing. In fact, it is rich coming from an heir to, and beneficiary of, Stalin’s mass murder.  At best, this a morally relativistic effort to claim that Finland was “just like” the Soviet Union – murderous. At worst, it is a brazen attempt to equate the Finns to Nazi Germans. In the West, it is the best way to de-legitimize any polity. In particular, because of their acute awareness of the Holocaust, the Americans tend to be very prickly about such charges and associations.

There is another angle to this deception operation. In Russia, it is primarily about domestic politics. The nature of the post-Soviet “counterintelligence state,” as John Dziak has dubbed it, is to maintain itself in power by ferreting out all real and imagined enemies. One of them is Yuri Dmitriev, an amateur historian and an affiliate of Russia’s prime human rights organization Memorial. Dmitriev’s focus is the Great Terror, as Robert Conquest memorably dubbed it, particularly in Karelia, where the scholar happens to live. He devoted an enormous amount of time to discovering its horrific secrets.

At least from 1936 through 1940, Stalin’s secret police in Karelia murdered tens of thousands of people, Soviet citizens, who remain buried in anonymous graves.  Dmitriev discovered a few of the graves and described the slaughter. That was too much for the Kremlin. The historian-cum-human rights activist was arrested on charges of child pornography. He maintained a medical folder on his computer for his chronically ill adopted daughter, which included several naked pictures of her, documenting her affliction. Dmitriev was arrested and exonerated, but now he has been rearrested again and awaits a re-trail.

Human rights organizations in and out of Russia are outraged. Moscow has counterattacked. Nothing detracts the attention of the free world and Russia’s own citizens than a bogus story of Finnish death camps for children. Please take careful note, because this is standard modus operandi of the Kremlin spin masters. Fake news galore.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC
18 June 2020

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