Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I don’t know how they say it in Russian but there is a new expression current in Moscow to describe President Putin’s Russia — “Stalin lite.” The expletive took on a poignant relevance when the Putin government a few days ago celebrated the 90th birthday of Yuri V. Andropov, the merciless head of the Soviet secret police, the KGB.

Andropov, who died in 1984 as general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and chairman of the USSR’s Supreme Soviet, was better known in the West as the Butcher of Budapest. As ambassador to Hungary during the October 1956 people’s uprising he was responsible for the deaths of at least 50,000 Hungarians. It was on his watch that the Korean airliner, Flight 007, was shot down September 1, 1983 over the Pacific killing 269 persons, among them 61Americans.

In the West the Andropov celebration didn’t create much notice. Yet there would have been hell to pay even a half century later had the German government in 2000 celebrated the centenary birthday of Heinrich Himmler, the remorseless head of the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo and the SS, and one of the architects of The Holocaust.

The Andropov commemoration was widely publicized in the Russian media. Top officials of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) paid tribute to one of the most inhuman secret police chiefs in a long line from its founder, Felix Dzerzhinsky to Stalin’s fearful police chief paranoiacs who at Stalin’s orders killed millions of their own countrymen. Despite Andropov’s well-documented record, then-Vice President George Bush, in an irresponsible comment, said:

“My view of Andropov is that some people make this KGB thing sound horrendous. Maybe I speak defensively as a former head of the CIA. But leave out the operational side of KGB — the naughty things they allegedly do… .” No “evil empire” for this future U.S. president, just “naughty things.”

Andropov held the KGB post for 15 years before he reached the top. The FSB Public Relations Center said the FSB leadership laid flowers at Andropov’s monument and memorial plaque at 2 Lubyanka St. The official line on the KGB and Andropov was expressed by FSB Director Nikolay Patrushev in the official Rossiyskaya Gazeta:

“Time has no power over memory about the people, who served their Fatherland in earnest. Yuri Andropov was one of those people. His entire activity in the agencies of national security aimed to strengthen the state and consolidate its positions in the world.”

The newspaper announcement carries this peculiar last paragraph (note the last nine words) which tells me at the very least that the FSB is really an alias for the KGB:

“In connection with Andropov’s 90th birthday, the FSB leadership instituted special grants for the cadets and adjuncts of the educational institutions reporting to the FSB.”

The commemoration of Andropov by the Putin government follows a series of episodes which make the phrase “Stalin lite” an understatement. On December 21, 1999, the 120th birthday of Josef Stalin, Mr. Putin assembled the leaders of the Duma into his office and toasted Stalin. He appointed 10 identified former KGB secret police officers to high government posts out of 24 such jobs (the number was up to 17 by March 2000). It is even more today. Mr. Putin now controls the nation’s three TV networks. The Christian Science Monitor (Sept. 23, 1999) called Russia “a police regime,” Is it less of a police regime today?

A government which honors an insatiable violator of human rights like Andropov, a man who turned pharmacology into a weapon of human torture (overdosing a political prisoner with quinine, for example), who put dissidents into insane asylums, discredits that country’s leadership. The act of honoring Yuri Andropov tells the world more about Mr. Putin than any of his speeches about leading Russia on the road to democracy.

Arnold Beichman, a columnist for The Washington Times, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author of “Yuri Andropov: New Challenge to the West.”

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