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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Moves Onward

More than a half century has passed, but I clearly remember May 1945. We were marching through Czechoslovakia. Poland was behind us, along with other memorable places and battles. We were aware of ourselves as participants in a great liberation campaign - an act of deliverance of brother Slavs and other peoples, including the Germans, from fascism. And this is how we were greeted by the local populations - as liberators. The ecstacy with which we were met by the inhabitants of Czechoslovakia is unforgettable. Even in Poland, the attitude toward the Russian soldier was not bad.

Thirty years passed, and I again had occasion to visit such Czech towns as Pardubice and villages like Vainovice, where we had been at the end of the war. Several years later, I was in Krakow and other towns in southern Poland. During this period, Solidarity already ruled the streets and minds of the Poles.

At this time, I was the guest of regimes that were still Communist - which, like good hosts, tried to lead me away from undesirable excesses and impressions. But much was nevertheless obvious, without words or any kind of demonstrations. A Russian, particularly a representative of the ruling party, did not arouse sympathy, to put it mildly. At that time, I quickly digested the fact that on the streets of Prague and Warsaw it was preferable to communicate in English rather than Russian. My Czech friends recommended I speak in English to the waiters in the hotel.

So what happened over 30 or so years? A lot happened. Yes, the Czechs back in 1945 had met us like cousins. A huge ball was held in Vainovice, at which the Russian soldiers were the guests of honor. But the soldiers, inexperienced in political intrigues, were soon withdrawn. In their place came politicians, from whose mouths came words about the friendship of peoples and internationalism, but whose actions in fact betrayed a striving for and an attachment to ideological dogma. And along with them came foreign rule.

The results of this followed rather quickly. In 1948, a coup d'etat took place in Czechoslovakia, which ushered in a Communist leadership. It did not take an analyst to understand who was behind this, and so, many citizens of Czechoslovakia were forced to doubt that Moscow's friendly intentions were sincere.

Everything could have developed according to a different scenario. The Prague leadership, relying on the sympathies of the Czech population toward the Soviet Union, was prepared to cooperate with the Moscow authorities; indeed, they could not but do so. But the leaders in Moscow did not care about this. Instead, they embarked on a crazy policy of permanent revolution on a world scale, which ultimately led to the collapse of the entire system.

Time was not at all on communism's side, as its propaganda tried to convince us. The gulf between the living standards of citizens of the Western countries and those in the East became more and more obvious. In the West, a society of consumers, so hated by the Communist leaders, was in full bloom; while here in the East, the people were experiencing shortages in the most elementary food items. It became more and more difficult to hide these contrasts. The average citizen understood that he was being led on a voyage to nowhere.

Against this background emerged Alexander Dubc¤ek's Prague Spring. Dreaming of socialism with a human face, he was ready to remain a Communist but in a modernized, renewed form, and was supported by the people of Czechoslovakia. But Dubc¤ek's colleagues among the socialist bloc leadership viewed him as an apostate and a traitor. Had the Brezhnev-era leadership agreed to Dubc¤ek's reforms, many others could have followed the same road.

After many months of failed attempts at pressure and persuasion, the affair was brought to an end with the clanking of Soviet tank treads along Czechoslovakia's roads. August 1968 turned the majority of that country's citizens into our open opponents. The Soviet leadership managed to put loyalists in power for a time, but they found no support among the people. Loud and empty phrases about proletarian internationalism and friendship of peoples touched few people. Czechoslovakia was ripe for cardinal changes. They soon arrived in the form of a bloodless Velvet Revolution. And all of this eventually propelled the Czech Republic's new leadership, logically, toward membership in NATO.

Leninism dealt a colossal blow to the social development of mankind. Many of the planet's inhabitants fell victim to this false ideology. For some, it meant robbed and destitute lives, broken fates. For millions of others, it meant death in the trenches of war and in torture chambers.

Yet slowly, with difficulty, mankind has prevailed over brutality. World society has painfully and slowly mastered science and the principles of democracy. And so, as the 20th century comes to a close, so has another chapter in history. The specter of communism, which at one time ruled over Europe and then large parts of the rest of the planet, bringing misfortune to many nations, is finally fading into nonexistence.

It has taken 50 years for us, the victors and liberators who are still alive, to see the world in another light. For some, it has brought about insight; for others, a catastrophic collapse of illusions. For society in general, it has brought about a gradual recovery.

Viktor Rodionov is an economist and freelance journalist. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.