11 November 2009
The Baltics. Or, Europe’s Fun Times Battlefield
Having lived in Belgium I became acutely aware of the feeling that your land - your country - is being constantly rail-roaded by larger, more militarily powerful oppressive states. Belgium was really the western front line for both World War I and World War II. It was the site of the Battle of the Bulge. Miles and miles of trenches still stretch across the middle. After Arlington National Cemetery, more Americans are buried in Belgium than any other place in the world. Now look east to the Baltics.
The entire region’s population hovers around 7 million people. That’s 1.2 million Estonians, 2.4 million Latvians and 3.6 million Lithuanians. Historically they’ve “belonged” to Poland, Sweden, Finland and so on. Then, in 1939, Stalin and Hitler (two top guys, really) signed a secret pact that divided up “the world” so each got their fare share. The Soviet Union thus “got” the Baltics and subsequently invaded to take what was theres. Okay...
Then Hitler, being a man of his word, invades the Soviet Union, invades the Baltics and claims them as part of Greater Germany. The people greeted the Germans as liberators after nearly two years of Soviet oppression. A premature reaction, unfortunately. The Nazis set out to do what they had been doing everywhere else - killing Jews and anyone else that stood in their way. In just five years they killed 200,000 Jews just in Lithuania, leaving only 500 when all was said and done.
When Hitler began his westward retreat he did another really nice thing - burned, pillaged and destroyed most everything in the three countries. Then, at Yalta, The USA, Britain and Soviet Union carved up Europe into “spheres o influence” and essentially gave Stalin the go-ahead to carry on oppressing people in their “sphere” which included the Baltics. Thus begins 55 years of social “re-education,” Sovietization and terror.
A favorite activity of Stalin’s was to relocate people. Why? To kill off native races in an effort to Sovietize the people. Basically, it was a culture genocide. He would have them shipped in the thousands all over Siberia to work in forced labour camps or simply resettle with nothing in the middle of nowhere. More than a million people were taken from their homes with just minutes notice and shipped away from their friends, their family and their homeland.
When freedom finally came in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was naturally greeted with overwhelming excitement. For some it was the first time in their lifetime that they had known independence, freedom and choice. The more I see of this part of the World the more I question who, exactly, won World War II. Yes, we secured freedom and democracy for Western Europe by ending the reign of terror brought on by Hitler’s Nazi Germany but when all was said and done we handed over more than 100 million people to another oppressive regime whose reign of terror - led by Stalin - lasted nearly sixty years and brought an end to more lives than even Hitler could muster. How is that victory? I don’t doubt the courage and ability of those who fought for the allied forces; I only wish we had been able to secure the freedom of all people in Europe. It seems that some lives have more value than others. Maybe that is what I find most upsetting because in the end every great power rises and falls. At some point in history we’re all the little guy trying to make it. I only hope someone won’t forget me when I’m the little guy.