Remembering Stalin

March 5th is a day that will forever be associated with Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, known to the world as Joseph Stalin. It was on this day in 1940 that he and 5 other members of the Soviet Politburo signed an order for the execution of 25,700 Polish intelligentsia, including 14,700 military officers in what would later be called the Katyn massacre. It was a brutal attempt to suppress Polish culture in the land acquired through the Nazi-Soviet pact.

When Germany broke that pact and invaded Soviet territory, they found some of the victims' remains and told the world of the crime. After the war the Soviets claimed the Nazis had perpetrated the massacre, but the date confirmed it had been done under Soviet, not Nazi, occupation, and documents that emerged when the Soviet empire collapsed have confirmed their guilt.

It was also on March 5th, but in 1946, that Churchill made a speech in Fulton, Missouri, telling the world that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” Many Americans had been sympathetic to their wartime Russian allies who had borne such suffering, but President Truman wanted to alert them to what the Soviets were really like, and thought that they would take it better if it came from the man they regarded as a hero, Winston Churchill.

In that speech Churchill alerted them to the fact that half of Europe was now, in effect, a Soviet prison, with its peoples unable to leave, and forced to act in accordance with the instructions of their masters. Undemocratic puppet regimes, sustained by Soviet military might, stamped out free speech, a free press, and the rule of law. Furthermore, the failures of socialism doomed them to decades of want and poverty while the West streaked ahead in freedom and prosperity.

That "iron curtain" remained in place for decades, and marked the graveyard of thousands who tried to flee through it. No-one was ever killed trying to break into the Soviet bloc countries.

It was also on March 5th, this time in 1953, that Stalin died, having ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist for nearly 30 years. Nearly 3 years after his death, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, delivered a speech in secret to a closed session of the 20th Communist Party Congress, a speech that denounced Stalin, detailing some of Stalin's crimes and the "conditions of insecurity, fear, and even desperation" he had created. Stalin's mummified body, which had lain alongside that of Lenin in the Kremlin's wall, was subsequently removed and buried.

While some people today affect a respect for Stalin and his socialist system, most do so without any inkling of the utter evil he personified, or of the crimes he perpetrated that matched Hitler in their scale and savagery. A large part of the world lay under his thumb for decades, with its peoples denied the basic right to express themselves and to better their lives. Like Hitler and Mao, he is remembered as a monster, and when he died on March 5th, 66 years ago, the world started to become a better place.