Thursday, September 2, 2004

Chile’s highest court last week stripped Augustus Pinochet, 88 years old and ailing, of his immunity from prosecution as a former head of state. That means the former president of Chile will probably be tried for human-rights abuses that occurred during his 17-year dictatorship.

Gen. Pinochet took power in a coup in 1973 and some 3,000 “leftists,” Reuters says, were killed during his rule. Though out of power since 1990, he retained immunity from prosecution — that is, until now. Chile is a democracy and lives under a definable rule of law. Therefore, the legal procedures are understandable, especially since a U.S. Senate committee report has just revealed Gen. Pinochet kept up to $87 million in secret offshore bank accounts.

A far worse dictatorship than Gen. Pinochet’s was Nazi Germany, which lasted a dozen years. After Adolf Hitler’s defeat, there were trials, convictions, executions, imprisonment, and more investigations lasting for years not only of top Nazi leaders but also of Holocaust camp guards. Italian Fascists were barred from office after Italy’s surrender in World War II. In both countries, the rule of law was restored and trials instituted.

But for the inhuman, seven-decade-long Soviet dictatorship, and for its villainies, there is nothing, no compensation to the victims, no trials, punishment and no exposes. The only rule of law is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “rule of law.”

Stalin’s testicle torturers are living out their lives on pensions. There has not been a single trial for any of the brutes who fulfilled their KGB duties by destroying millions and millions of Soviet citizens at Stalin’s orders. Responsible for this dereliction of duty to conscience and human decency is one man — Mr. Putin, a former KGB officer himself. Mr. Putin would certainly appreciate one of Stalin’s sayings: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

And why won’t Mr. Putin and the Russian people face up to the crimes of V.I. Lenin, Stalin and their heirs? Because, said Mr. Putin, it would be a “mistake to get bogged down in old problems from the past.” Imagine the world reaction if the Chilean government were to say it couldn’t do anything about Mr. Pinochet because it would be a mistake to get bogged down in old problems of the past.

Old problems from the past? Marvelous phrase to describe today the existence of the regional “Office for the Fight Against Cannibalism” established during Stalin’s sanguinary reign when tens of millions died of a Stalin-induced famine.

So to avoid discussing problems of the past, Mr. Putin has brought back the Soviet national anthem, unveiled a plaque in Moscow commemorating Stalin, and authorized the Russian Central Bank to issue 500 special silver coins bearing Stalin’s portrait. This is the “managed democracy” of Vladimir Putin.

I ask Mr. Putin’s apologists: Suppose the German government were to bring back the Horst Wessel song as the national anthem, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were to unveil a plaque in Berlin commemorating Adolf Hitler and then authorized the German Central Bank to issue coins bearing Hitler’s portrait, what would be their reaction? The democratic world would recoil in horror at the return of Nazism. How can anyone pardon Mr. Putin’s restoration of Stalin in the Russian pantheon?

There was a 1930s politician named Frank Hague, mayor of Jersey City, N.J. He was called the King of Hanky-Panky, a tribute to his corrupt political machine. When his continued violation of civil rights was challenged in the courts, he announced “I am the Law.”

President Putin, meet Frank Hague.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times. His updated biography “Herman Wouk, the Novelist as Social Historian,” has just been published.

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