According to the popular, if in this instance slanderous, wartime song, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s principal ideologue, had no… well, he was testicularly challenged.
That, however, didn’t prevent him from making the great-men list compiled by the Russian TV channel VESTI-RU, the Kremlin’s mouthpiece. The list, published on the channel’s Facebook page, featured Goebbels along with Lenin, Stalin, Ghandi and Einstein.
The Nazi was quoted with obvious editorial approval as expressing his admiration for Lenin: “Whoever one day leads the Russian people out of their suffering will become their Saviour, their Apostle, their God. Lenin was the greatest of such people. He wanted to show the people the way. For his people he became everything.”
…while the people themselves became nothing, one is tempted to add, but this is beside the point.
Goebbels’s admiration for Lenin was understandable: young Joseph came from the leftmost wing of a socialist party, the NSDAP. Hitler himself admitted he “owed everything to Marx”, and both he and Mussolini venerated Marx’s most diligent and consistent pupil.
Protests against glorifying Lenin and Stalin are fraught with danger in Putin’s Russia, but Nazis are still not off limits. What followed was an outburst of public indignation spearheaded by liberal (meaning on-line only) magazines and the few surviving war veterans.
Such survivors would have had to be born no later than 1927. Considering Russia’s third-world life expectancy, the number of veterans must therefore be roughly equal to the number of magazines, but nevertheless their protests were heard.
Goebbels was removed from the page, even though Lenin and Stalin stayed. The next day the page itself was taken off Facebook, which was followed by the summary sacking of the entire staff of the channel’s social media department.
Yet according to the story making the rounds in Moscow, the unfortunate youngsters were sacked not only, nor even particularly, because of their affection for Goebbels. It’s just that, when queried, none of them could quite place Goebbels’s name.
They had picked up the Nazi’s quote about Lenin from a website featuring such trivia and thought the accolade ipso facto merited its author’s inclusion. They didn’t have a clue who the author was.
I occasionally rebuke British education, using such immoderate modifiers as ‘moron-spewing’, ‘pathetic’ and ‘shameful’. So much happier, in the Schadenfreude sense of the word, I am to see that we’re not in that boat alone. In fact, the boat is overloaded and due to capsize.
Why, the Russians are just like us. In fact, they’re even worse: according to a recent poll 30 percent of them think the sun revolves around the earth. So far only a negligible proportion describe the earth as flat, but give them another generation or two.
This is indeed a generation game. When I was going to a Soviet school back in the ‘60s everyone knew who Goebbels was. We might have been unaware of the emotional and ideological links between Nazi and Soviet chieftains, but we could place all the key names.
Russians of the current generation are allowed to learn anything they want, this side of the KGB archives. What they want to learn most of all is how to be Western.
However, they’re finding out the hard way that, though borrowing Western technology is easy, borrowing the Western ethos is not.
When we want to become like someone else we tend to suspend any critical judgment of our role model. That’s why whenever the Russians try to borrow Western ways, be it during Peter I’s, Alexander I’s or Putin I’s reign, they fail to realise that now is the wrong time.
Peter was only interested in Western trinkets, while ignoring the civilisation that had made them possible. Neither did he realise that those Western institutions whose outer shell he wished to import were already tottering in the West itself. It was early eighteenth century, and the unenlightening Enlightenment was beginning to sabotage the West.
By the time of Russia’s 1812 victory in the Napoleonic war, the Enlightenment had already turned the West into a lender from which one would have been well-advised to borrow with caution. After Waterloo all those dashing officers in the occupation force spent a year in Paris and came back screaming Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité at every corner. We all know what happened a century later.
Under Tsar Putin, the Russians yet again strive to learn from the West. Yet again they’re finding that it’s only the bad things that are easy to pick up. And even the good things lose some of their lustre when transplanted onto Russian soil.
Western materialism puts on manic fervour when in Russian hands. Commercial activity in the West may no longer be restrained by God’s laws, but at least it’s still largely controlled by the man-made variety.
The Russians, however, are showing that, when unchecked by laws, material pursuits turn into gangsterism. To make that point Putin and his cronies have successfully turned the country’s economy into an international crime syndicate.
Pornography, gambling, money laundering, protection rackets, tasteless palaces and megalomaniac yachts all carry Western labels in Russia, as does the dromomaniac urge to travel non-stop.
Meanwhile the Russians’ traditional dedication to learning is falling by the wayside. They’ve picked up Western pragmatism, and to them as to us education has become a purely utilitarian necessity (or not even, as the case may be).
Some types of knowledge can make you rich, some can’t. The knowledge of modern history clearly falls into the second category, so never mind Goebbels – feel the marketing courses.
As a result, one observes the Western kind of anomie brewing in Russia. Reducing education solely to the acquisition of marketable skills creates a chasm between the people and their civilisation. Those falling in are traditionally called barbarians, and that’s what we’re all becoming.
A note to the Russians: Don’t borrow things from the West, chaps. You’re a 1,000 years too late. Try to find your own way, one that would exclude Putin but include familiarity with the key figures of modern history.