Ominous Parallels

This insightful warning was written on 2/21/2010 by former Soviet Dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. Thus far, it is the only article I have found to be so compelling and yet so concise that I have reprinted it in its entirety.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was welcomed with great enthusiasm as the end of the Cold War, the end of communism, and even the end of history. Twenty years later, we must admit we were too enthusiastic. Not only are there still communist regimes, but countries like Venezuela are joining that would-be-extinct camp.

The worst scenario we could have imagined 20 years ago is happening in Russia today, where there is a march backwards, a revisionism or restoration process. Vladimir Putin, when he was president, called the end of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” I always believed that the emergence of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of all time, but the current Russian leader thinks the opposite — and acts accordingly.

Russian elections are no longer actually elections. I participated two years ago in the “presidential election,” which was not a presidential election. It was a game. What would they invent to disqualify you? I managed to hold on a little longer than most. The longest was Kasyanov. He managed to get two million signatures but was then told they were forgeries, including his own. They disqualified him.

Other institutions of democracy have also been dismantled. The freedom of the press is symbolic. Particularly depressing is the return of political repression. Russia today has political prisoners. Even more troubling is the resurrection of psychiatric hospitals for repression. I thought we’d buried that forever. Luckily we managed to stop it in time, but we cannot guarantee that it won’t be renewed tomorrow.

This pattern of dictatorship, oppression, and lack of freedom of speech is rising not only in third-world countries, but also in Europe and the United States. Europe faces the emerging monster of the European Union, which looks suspiciously like the Soviet Union in many respects — though admittedly only a pale copy. There are still no Gulags in Europe. If you look at what they are doing, however — how they are developing their future structure — you can see how it may go very badly. For example, just now they’ve managed to force Ireland to vote for the Lisbon Treaty, which is a substitute for the EU Constitution. The treaty was previously rejected by France and Holland, but it has now been slipped in through the back door.

What does the Lisbon Treaty include? Among all the symbols of the unitary state –the presidency, the emblems, the anthem — it also creates Europol, the European Police Force. Naturally, being an old convict, my first interest is in what these police will be doing and what power they are going to have. Unfortunately, their powers will be sweeping.

To begin with, they have diplomatic immunity. How do you like that? A policeman with diplomatic immunity can come in, take whatever he likes, beat you up, and you can’t even sue him. Europol will have the right to conduct extradition from one country to another without a court appearance. Furthermore, Europol will police us on 32 criminal counts, two of which are particularly interesting because they don’t exist in the penal code of any civilized country. One is “racism” and the other is “xenophobia.”

Of course, the authorities have already explained to us, in a very quiet manner, that those who might object to the immigration policy of the European Union can be accused of racism. And those who oppose the further integration of Europe can be charged with xenophobia. We can see now where the first European Gulag is going to appear.

I doubt there will ever be camps, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those who don’t like their freedoms abridged are sent for psychiatric observation. In Britain, they already have a bureaucracy which will do exactly that. It is a joint operation of the Home Office and the Ministry of Public Health, and it will recommend people for observation in a psychiatric ward if they show any manifestation of extremism. As you can imagine, the definition of “extremism” is so subjective that anyone could be labelled “extremist” at any moment.

The European Union itself is becoming more and more bizarre. Each country that joins is supposed to adopt 80,000 pages of regulations and rules. This in itself is crazy, not least because the national parliaments are not given time to consider the regulations, but are just supposed to rubberstamp them. Some of these rules are incredibly strange, a case of bureaucracy gone mad. Several years ago, I was reading a new directive of the European Union which required all the owners of pig farms to supply their pigs with coloured balls in case the animals got bored. And this year I found another new piece of legislation which prohibits Europeans from killing horses and zebras. My immediate thought was, what about giraffes? Can we at least kill giraffes?

We are living in a mad house in Europe. They decided that we produce too much garbage. As a result, our garbage is collected only once every two weeks. In the summer, the bags pile up, the rats multiply, and the stench in cities is incredible. We try to protest, but what can we do? There is no mechanism in the European Union by which you can change their mind. We’re not electing them so we cannot sack them. They appoint each other — exactly like the Politburo.

The only elected part of the European Union is the European Parliament. The Supreme Soviet of the whole Soviet Union looks like a model legislature when compared with the European Parliament.

To begin with, it is huge — something like seven hundred people. They don’t sit throughout the year but have only a couple of weeks each month in session. As a result, every member of the European Parliament has six minutes a year to speak in chambers. Yet they are paid incredibly fat salaries that are hardly taxed. They have a personal chauffeur and secretaries. They each have 100,000 Euros a year for extra-parliamentary activities.

And all of this moves. At least the Supreme Soviet stayed in Moscow. One week a month, the parliament is in Strasbourg, the other weeks it is in Brussels. The bureaucrats working in the parliament are based in Luxembourg. The cost of just moving the whole thing must be astronomical.

The European Commissioners themselves have a life that any one of us would enjoy. Not only do they not pay taxes, they also have life-long immunity from prosecution. So they can steal whatever they like — and they do. There was once a big scandal, so big that the entire commission had to resign. It was a theatrical gesture, though, because within two months the same people came back to occupy slightly different positions. It was like a deck of cards shuffled and dealt again.

The next strategy for the European Union is to spread to the Middle East, and then to North Africa, and on and on — until the whole planet is united under the EU. It reminds me of the Soviet Union. They couldn’t stop expanding. The moment they did they began falling apart. It is all so similar to the Soviet Union that I wake up every morning with a feeling of déjà vu.

The Cold War was a confrontation between liberal democracy and totalitarian socialism. It was an ideological battle, a war of ideas. And a war we never won. We never even fought it. We called it the Cold War but there was no war whatsoever. There was détente, improved relations, relaxation of international tension, peaceful coexistence — but there was no Cold War. Most of the time, the West engaged in a policy of appeasement toward the Soviet bloc — and appeasers don’t win wars.

Because we didn’t win the Cold War, it isn’t over. We were given a chance to win in 1991. To do it we needed a Nuremburg trial, but not a trial of people. In a country like the Soviet Union, if you tried to find all the guilty, you would end up with 19 million people, and who needs another Gulag? This isn’t about punishing individuals. It’s about judging the system.

I spent a lot of time trying to persuade the Yeltsin government to conduct such a trial. Yeltsin finally said, “No.” The reason he had to say no was the enormous pressure he felt from the West not to have such a trial. I’ve seen the cables he received from all over the world, mostly from Russian embassies, explaining that local politicians and governments were vehemently against any trials or disclosure of crimes or opening of archives. Finally Yeltsin just gave in.

Because of documents I recovered, we now understand why the West was so against putting the communist system on trial. It is not only that the West was infiltrated by the Soviets much deeper than we ever thought, but also that there was ideological collaboration between left-wing parties in the West and the Soviet Union. This ideological collaboration ran very deep.

For example — and this brings us back to the European Union — in the middle of the 1980s the European left parties talked to Gorbachev and explained to him that because it is difficult to organize socialism in one country, it should be done in all of Europe at once. Gorbachev agreed. They launched a project called “Common European Home,” which was, in essence, the precursor to the European Union.

Prior to 1985 both the Soviets and the European Left were very much against European integration. But after 1985, when both sides understood that socialism was in a deep crisis, they thought it would be a good device to “salvage socialism.” And in its last years the West was helping — with all its power — to retain, salvage, and support the Soviet Union. Not only did they give Gorbachev some 45 billion dollars (at that time a considerable amount of money), but they also helped him in diplomatic ways and every other way possible, even to the point that President Bush went to Ukraine in 1991 and tried to persuade the Ukrainians not to leave the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev’s supporters’ argument was very simple: we need a strong Soviet Union, because the collapse of socialism in the East would bring a crisis of the idea of socialism in the West. In order to save their own political privilege and position, they sacrificed all of us. They sacrificed our future and its democratic possibilities for an agonizing regime that was doomed anyway. And when it finally died, none of them ever expressed jubilation. I remember this puzzled me. The biggest monster on Earth had just died in front of us — a monster that could have killed us all many times — and there was no rejoicing. It was quiet. A European politician said, “Let’s say nobody’s a winner. Let’s call it a draw.” I was so angry that I planted a tree in my garden, in memory of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it is still growing — a very beautiful cherry tree.

Vladimir  Bukovsky

Vladimir Bukovsky is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and a former Soviet political dissident, author, and activist. After spending 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps, and forced treatment psychiatric hospitals, he authored numerous books describing his experience.