'Everything Stalin did was legal'

Such paraphrasing of the phrase 'Everything Hitler did was legal' (admirably analysed by Noung) may not sound any more serious than its model. But believe it or not, 'Everything Stalin did was legal' is actually used as a serious statment in the foreign policy of the present Russian administration. The need for Russia to use such a seemingly absurd statment stems from Russian border problems after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These were in turn caused by unnecessary (and often inexplicable) fiddling with the borders of various Soviet 'republics' during Soviet times. But as the Soviet Union at that time was just one indivisible monolith, any shifting of local borders was just a pencil exercise on a fictious map, without practical consequences.

Consequences galore

The consequences surfaced when the old 'Soviet republics' gained independence in 1991. A typical example is Moldavia (previously called Bessarabia), which was originally just a stolen piece of Romania (with a Romanian-speaking population, see: A case of cheap booze). But some time after the Soviet occupation of Moldavia in 1940, Moscow molded it into the 'Soviet Republic of Moldavia', by inexplicably adding a sliver of Slavic-speaking territory from the other side of the Dnester river (Transdnestria).

The decent thing to do after Moldavian independence would perhaps have been to return the Slavic-speaking Transdnestrian sliver to Russia or to the Ukraine. But no government is happy about giving up pieces of their 'rightful' territory, so in the early 1990-s a nasty civil war broke out between Moldavia's Romanian-speaking and Russian-speaking parts. The fighting has stopped, but the conflict is still unsolved. Georgia's present problems have analogous causes –- a long time ago in Moscow, Soviet bureaucrats simply pencilled South Ossetia and Abchasia into the map of the 'Georgian Soviet Republic', with a characteristic Soviet insensitivity toward the populations involved.

Argument about succession

The borders of the Baltic states had also been tampered with. The minor border changes 'made in Moscow' were of little importance as such. But what was important was that the borders of the 'Estonian Soviet Republic' came to differ from the borders of the pre-war independent Republic of Estonia. When Estonia regained its independence in 1991, it wanted its original borders restored. This Russia categorically refused to do.

The Russian argument was that the present Republic of Estonia was not a successor of the pre-war Republic of Estonia. Rather, what had happened (according to the Russians) was simply that a legal Soviet entity by the name of 'Estonian Soviet Republic' had been granted independence in 1991. To this argument the Estonians (as well as the Latvians and Lithuanians) correctly responded that originally their independent pre-WWII Republics had been illegaly and forcibly occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and just as illegally converted into 'Soviet Republics'.

In 1940 the Western powers (UK, USA, et al) all made strong protests against the illegal Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. They never ceased to acknowledge the pre-war government emissaries as the only legal representatives of the Baltic States.

The only major power that acknowledged the bogus 'Estonian Soviet Republic' (and the analogous bogus 'Soviet republics' in Latvia and Lithuania) in 1940, was none other than the principal ally of the Soviet Union's at the time –- Nazi Germany.

The eternal legality of The Big Fist

Today the Russians habitually reply: well, yes –- the annexations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania may have been a bit heavy-handed, seen in retrospect. But, nevertheless, everyting that was done, was legally done. How can that be? Simple, according to current Russian foreign policy: ”Everything was done in accordance with the laws that were valid and in force at the time”. What laws were in force in 1940? The only laws in Soviet Russia 'at the time' were the arbitrary totalitarian decrees issued by the Russian dictator Josef Stalin.

This legal thinking is the official position of the present Russian administration. Hence: Everything Stalin did was legal. Why? Because at the time of Stalin, dictator Stalin was The One And Only Law. Interesting legal reasoning in 2008, isn't it?

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