The news headlines of the last few weeks have been filled with events in the Ukraine. As I have observed the reaction of Russia to recent events in Kiev I have been reminded of the importance for Christian observers of world events to watch and pray. I have also pondered the several similarities between the present situation of Russia and that of Germany in the 1930s.
In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles enacted a humiliating settlement on the German people. To the victors of the Great War belonged the spoils. The German Empire was divided up. Punitive reparations were demanded by the allied powers and some German lands within Germany itself were even occupied! The changing map of Europe left many ethnic Germans living in non-German nations.
In 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved. This was not as a result of the end of a war of violence, but was a factor in the end of the Cold War. Russia ceased to be a superpower and many Russian people found themselves living in newly created nations ruled by peoples of other ethnicities.
In 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power with a leadership style that united the German peoples, saw a rapid rise in German nationalism and set Germany on the course of geographic expansion.
Without saying that Vladimir Putin manifests the latent evil that was in Hitler, his rise to power in the first decade of the new millennium and later re-election to the presidency of Russia has been borne of a popular nationalist appeal to the Russian people. The Russian economy has been stabilized and grown under his government much as the Nazi movement stabilized that of Germany.
There are further similarities.
The Anschluss in 1938 saw the Nazi occupation and annexation of Austria, the German part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 2008 Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia and following a short war, occupied and recognized the ‘republics’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, areas of Georgia with a majority of ethnic Russians.
In 1936 Berlin hosted the Olympic Games. Hitler saw an opportunity to promote the racial supremacy of the Aryan race. The official Nazi newspaper strongly stated that other people, most particularly Black and Jewish peoples, should not be allowed to participate. Proposals by other nations to boycott the games saw that threat removed. We have just witnessed Russia host the Sochi Winter Olympics, the prelude to which was marred by news headlines about the host nation’s discrimination against the homosexual community.
The parliament of the Crimea has just voted that the Ukrainian province of Crimea be separated from Ukraine and join Russia. A referendum is proposed for March 16th to give the people of the Crimea the opportunity to say which nation they wish to be a part of. 58% of the peoples of Crimea are ethnic Russians, the Ukrainians and other people groups being in the minority. The Ukrainians have rightly stated that they would not accept a regional referendum because their constitution submits the territorial integrity of the nation to the will of the whole population, not just that of one province. The Russians, not surprisingly, have stated that they do not recognize the current regime in Kiev. However, they fail to consider that the flight of Yanukovych, the former and pro-Russian president, required a new regime to be set in place.
Going back to 1938 we find a similar situation in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. After the Anschluss, leaders of the German people within Czechoslovakia began to agitate for the absorption of Western parts of Bohemia and Moravia, where they were in the majority, to be similarly absorbed into Germany. The British and French agreement with Hitler, known as the Munich Agreement, whereby the Sudetenland was given to Germany without reference to the will of the Czechoslovak government was a factor that emboldened Nazi Germany in its expansion plans. The road to Warsaw led figuratively through the Sudetenland annnexation!
Germany long blamed its post-World War I plight on the Jews. The sad plight of the Jews under Nazi Germany needs no restating. The Crimea contains a substantial minority of Tatars. Under Stalin Tatars were either starved to death or deported from the Crimea. Under an independent Ukraine more than a quarter million have returned. The Tatars are one of many minority Muslim people groups in former Soviet lands. They have a long history of grievance against Russia, not dissimilar to that of the more well-known Chechen people.
Under the guise of the international war on terrorism, Russia has strongly suppressed endeavors by some of the Muslim regions in the Caucasus to gain more autonomy. The actions of Chechen terrorists against Russian schools, and other public buildings have further hardened the Russian attitude. Many would say that the civil rights of some of the Muslim people groups have been restricted. The terrorism of some Muslim factions in many places around the world is abhorrent to us all, however in Russia there are some similarities between the attitudes of a rediscovered nationalism toward its minorities comparable to those of Nazi Germany toward the Jews.
The Anschluss and the Sudeten annexation were not the end of Nazi expansion. Subsequent invasions and occupations led directly to the European Second World War, and also to the Holocaust. What might we expect from a Crimean defection? Russian expansion into ethnic majority Russian areas of Belarus, and the BalticRepublics! Further restrictions on the rights of minorities within Russian borders!
The apostle Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus Christ encourages his readers to be self-controlled and alert because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Casting current events in the light of a greater spiritual battle is an important reminder to those of us who seek the Kingdom of God that we can be involved with the Lord in changing the otherwise course of events.
Is history repeating itself? Sometimes it does, if we do not learn the lessons of the past, be watchful, and pray wisely into present experience.