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By John Helmer in Moscow

The English comedian, and co-founder of the Goons, Spike Milligan, once said that Americans are the new Germans.

He wasn’t exactly joking, but he was being selective. Not every American, he meant, was susceptible to the type of fascism that everyone who has ever been jack-booted by the Germans recognizes. But all too many are, the English jokester thought.

In these days of Russia’s remembrance of the 60-year old victory over Hitler’s Germans, there is one American who, if not cognizant of Milligan’s warning, might have been sensitive to current perceptions in Russia. But Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, who visited Moscow ahead of President George Bush’s attendance at the Victory Day ceremony, was having trouble with the difference between “da” and “nyet” in one of her interviews. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that she mightn’t be able to hear that what she was saying sounded to Russian ears not at all unlike what Hitler had thought best for Russia, before he was driven back into his bunker.

Had Adolph Hitler won his war against Russia, he had an economic reform plan that should ring a bell with Secretary Rice.

Deficit cutting, market relations, free but unequal trade, and corporate takeovers of Russian resource industries were the watchwords. Hitler wasn’t sentimental about what they meant in practical terms. “No vaccination for the Russians,” he wrote in February 1942, “and no soap to get the dirt off them. But let them have all the spirits and tobacco they want.”

Hitler wasn’t expecting to lose the war, much less have his table talk, from which I have quoted these excerpts, published afterwards by his enemies. And so he was frank. Setting up markets “at all the centers of any importance,” Hitler’s idea for Russia was to “sell the more trashy products of our manufacture. Our agricultural machinery factories, our transport companies, our manufacturers of household goods, and so forth will find there an enormous market for their goods.”

Today, the conventional wisdom is that it wasn’t just Hitler, but his ideas that were defeated sixty years ago on May 9. And you are sure to be called a dangerous crackpot if you dare say that what has been happening to Russia for the past decade might be as bad or worse, ideologically speaking, than Hitler’s war or Stalin’s persecution.

Of course, this depends on whose suffering we are talking about. For the cattle, one distinguished Russian economist has written, it is clear that the five years between 1992 and 1997 were the worst Russian cows have ever seen — 19.6 million head of cattle slaughtered. That compares with 16.6 million culled during Stalin’s collectivization experiments, and 2 million killed by Hitler’s invasion.

But we need to talk also about the reform of Russia’s human population. About that, the same economist wrote, Russia is suffering from “economic immunodeficiency,” and he lists the elimination of the very same agricultural machinery and household goods industries which Hitler thought should go. For the decade after 1991, the ersatz Russian reform economy was living, literally, on borrowed time. And when a sustained boom in international commodity prices enabled the state treasury to begin recouping its losses, and taxing its assets back to solvency, the table talk of American officials like Rice has focused on how to stop this process in the name of US oil companies and Russian democracy.

On Rice’s visit to Moscow, these ideas weren’t just table talk. In texts released by the State Department, or reported by the BBC and US news media, Rice appears to have said, among other things: “The [Russian] president should not have so much powers concentrated in his hands.” “We’ve been concerned about certain
centralizing tendencies in Russia; for instance, the decision to no longer directly elect governors but to appoint them from the center.” “We would note that there are people who are emerging who say that they are going to challenge the President, President Putin, in his next [sic] election.” “Our concern is that in trying to rebuild the Russian state, that it not be such a centralized state such as to begin to mimic the Soviet state.” “People are already sort of starting to talk about running and running for the presidency and challenging the President’s party and so forth. So I think that’s a positive development.” “We have to continue to impress upon the Russians that certain responsibilities come with membership in the G-8, that this is, in fact, a group of democracies, that it is a group that is fully committed to free market principles, free trade, rule of law…” “On certain agricultural protectionist measures it’s extremely important that Russia come into conformity with WTO rules on agriculture. There may be issues on financial services, for instance.”

After Rice broadcast some of these opinions in a 30-minute interview on a Moscow radio talk-show, a not exactly random sample of listeners may have thought they heard an old echo. Asked to vote on whether the US is now an adversary or ally of Russia, the vote was a narrow one – 46 percent to 54 percent. You might say that Russians are still having difficulty detecting the difference between the old Germans, and the new.

As for the American media, they have used the occasion of the Victory Day ceremony in Moscow, to reverse Milligan’s warning, and editorialize on the likeness they detect between Putin and Josef Stalin. Putin tried hard to make his own distinction. “It goes without saying,” Putin told the German press, “that Stalin was a tyrant, whom many call a criminal, but he was not a Nazi. “And they were not Soviet troops that crossed the German border on June 22, 1941, it was the other way around. ”

Curiously, it has not been the Germans, but the Americans, who were the only ones promoting acrimony and rancour during the Moscow ceremonies. But when Milligan first issued his nationality warning, he was very clear what he was warning about – nationalities who can’t take a joke about their nationality.

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