Friday, March 19, 2010

Between two evils

During the 1930s and 40s the peoples of eastern Europe were caught between two totalitarianisms. If, unlike the Jews, they were not collectively targeted for extermination, then they were almost inevitably forced to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, trying to make a morally impossible choice between Hitler and Stalin. It was not at all clear that either was a lesser evil. Nevertheless, often a choice was made, and many became complicit in the worst conceivable crimes. Countries like Lithuania suffered first through Soviet, then Nazi, and then again, Soviet occupation and oppression, only winning freedom at the end of the twentieth century. Walter Russell Mead is in Vilnius, and writes about visiting "The Museum of the KGB":
.... It’s corny and unfashionable to write about the evils of communism, but in Vilnius it’s hard not to think about the suffering and ruin Stalin and his heirs left here. ....

...[Y]esterday I had some time off after my lecture at the university and went down to see the building used by the KGB and the Gestapo as a prison and torture chamber from 1939 through Lithuanian independence twenty years ago. ....

Today the solitary confinement cells, the cells where prisoners were forced to stand in icy water and beaten brutally when they fell, the holding cells for the condemned and the execution ground are all open for visitors. ....

Standing in the cellar of the KGB prison, admiring the ingenuously designed torture cells, retracing the final steps of the prisoners on their journey from the condemned cells to the execution yard, it’s impossible not to think of Vladimir Putin bemoaning the fall of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century. Putin made his career in the same KGB that murdered and tortured for decades in Lithuania and its neighboring republics; the longing for the good old days must sometimes grow unspeakable. .... [more]
The Museum of the KGB - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest