The cliché “one side’s traitors are the other side’s heroes” has always struck me as cynically relativist.
It’s that old moral equivalence again: they have the KGB, we have MI6 and the CIA; they spy on us, we spy on them; they recruit our citizens, we recruit theirs. What’s the difference?
The difference is in who ‘we’ and ‘they’ are. Soviet spies fought for the most evil regime in history. Western spies fought against it.
Seen in that light, the difference shines through. But, obsessed as we are with arguing who’s left-wing or right-wing, we are no longer able to judge states, or for that matter parties, on moral criteria.
Of course, some people, especially in Russia’s government, don’t see Stalin’s USSR as evil. On the contrary, they glorify Stalin’s achievements, downplay his crimes, describe him as a stern but fair manager and dream of reassembling his empire.
For such people, British subjects who hurt their country are heroes, while Russians who spied on the Soviet Union are despicable traitors.
It’s in this context that one should ponder the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Burgess and MacLean in Samara, where the traitors lived for three years after fleeing Britain.
According to Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence (SVR), they and the other members of the Cambridge Five, “made a significant contribution to the victory over fascism”.
I’m confused. Those chaps didn’t operate against Nazi Germany or fascist Italy. They betrayed British and American secrets, including those of the atomic variety, to Stalin.
Hence, by inference, the Russian government has to regard Britain circa 1930-1950 as a fascist country, which isn’t a far cry from the way she was treated in the Soviet press until 22 June, 1941, when Hitler narrowly beat Stalin to the punch.
The unveiling was part of the celebratory festivities for the Security Agency Workers’ Day, led in his inimitable manner by one such ‘worker’, Putin himself.
Thus the Russians are expected to honour the agency that murdered some 60 million of them and enslaved the rest. I doubt many of them do, but what’s important here isn’t ordinary Russians but those who rule over them.
Burgess and McLean didn’t spy for the Russian Federation, a country that in 1991 replaced the Soviet Union, for which the traitors did spy. Honouring them shows yet again that an unbroken continuity exists (at least in Putin’s eyes) between Stalin’s USSR and today’s Russia.
True enough, Lenin’s mummy still adorns Red Square, Stalin’s portraits (and even icons) are everywhere, and now the Cambridge Five are feted as heroes. Do imagine for the sake of argument the Germans having a Hitler statue at the Brandenburg Gate and a memorial plaque to William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) in Unter den Linden.
Don’t you think some doubts about Germany’s rehabilitation might have crept in? Wouldn’t we be within our rights to accuse Germany of still cherishing her Nazi past?
Speaking of cynicism, if it were an athletic event, Col Putin would have just broken the world record. Recovering from the KGB galas, he yet again attacked Western appeasers and justified the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
“Stalin did not stain himself with direct contact with Hitler whereas the French and British leaders met with him and signed some documents,” declared the KGB man. “The Soviet Union was the last country in Europe to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany. All the others had signed it.”
Molotov, head of the Soviet government, actually did meet Hitler. Also, neither Britain nor France had a formal non-aggression pact with Germany, although one could argue that the treaties they did have might have amounted to the same thing.
But let’s not nitpick – you can’t expect the likes of Putin to be up on such details. However, the British and French appeasement of Hitler was deplorable, he’s right about that.
Yet neither Britain nor France signed a single scrap of paper dividing Europe between them and Hitler and allowing them to pounce on their neighbours. That was exactly what the so-called Non-Aggression Pact was, especially its secret protocol the Soviets kept under wraps for decades after the war.
It’s in accordance with it that the Soviets occupied the three Baltic republics, tried to do the same to Finland and annexed parts of Romania (one of them, Bukovina, wasn’t covered in the protocol, and Hitler was incensed about the occupation). It was also following that misnomer, the Non-Aggression Pact, that the Soviets attacked Poland from the east 17 days after Germany attacked her from the west.
Stalin was Hitler’s accomplice in starting the Second World War, and no one who denies that against indisputable facts has the right to talk about Britain and France “staining” themselves with appeasement.
As to Burgess, MacLean and Philby, their lives in Moscow illustrate a salient difference between Putin’s cherished institution and the British Intelligence Service.
The British traitors lived in Moscow openly (having known some members of MacLean’s family, I can testify to that) and under only token protection, serene in the knowledge that MI6 wouldn’t try to assassinate them.
Yet their Russian counterparts who managed to escape to the West lived in safe houses under new identities and yet were murdered en masse by Putin’s colleagues. Col. Skripal will testify that this fine tradition is lovingly upheld in Putin’s Russia.
P.S. Greta, the Evil Child of the Year, is missing a trick. Since, as we all know, emission of noxious gases is threatening to end life on our planet, she should campaign for a ban on the cultivation and consumption of beans, peas, Jerusalem artichokes, nuts and Brussels sprouts. Every little bit helps the noble cause, I say.