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by William H. Benson

March 30, 2000

     Vladimir Putin is Russia’s newest President, officially elected last Sunday.  He has been the acting President since last December 31st when Boris Yeltsin had had enough of the job and resigned and appointed Putin.  A former KGB officer who never quit the Communist Party, Putin is 47 years old, and unlike the typical robust Russian, he is thin.  He makes a striking counterpart to America’s Bill Clinton and Great Britain’s Tony Blair.

     Free elections in Russia are a cause for celebration.  After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Lenin had disbanded freely-held elections.  It was just eleven years ago on March 26, 1989 that Mikhail Gorbachev allowed the first free election in the Soviet Union.  Boris Yeltsin was the biggest winner that year, and that election opened the flood gates of change and of revolution.

      The following June Solidarity swept to victory in Poland.  In November the Berlin Wall crumbled, and then in October of 1990 the two Germany’s reunited.  On March 31, 1991 the Warsaw pact dissolved, and thereafter the various republics broke away from the Soviet Union.  Finally, on Christmas Day of 1991 Gorbachev resigned, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  In less than three years after that 1989 election, the people said, “No more!”

     Vladimir Putin inherits a mess.  Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev, and the Communist Part had abused and bruised the people.  Stalin’s regime deliberately slaughtered the nation’s citizens–an estimated 25 million.  (That figure does not count all those lost in the war.)  Robert Conquest in his book, “Reflections on a Ravaged Century” concluded that Stalin was motivated by “a savage desire to remake society according to a preconceived model.  Human variety had to be pulverized into a malleable and unresisting mass.”  Stalin had drilled round holes and saw people as square pegs who needed cut up. 

     We, the citizens of the early twenty-first century, know fully well that governments can sponsor deliberate killing of their citizens.  Hitler’s Nazi regime, Mussolini’s Facist regime, and the Japanese imperialist leaders required a massive second World War before their frenzied killing stopped.  Then, just a year ago Slobodon Milosevic practiced his own version of ethnic cleansing, extricating people from their homes and then killing those who chose to stay.   The Western powers watched and finally responded, bombing Milosevic into submission.

     Evil can work this way.  A sides with B and convinces B to injure, abuse, and then kill C.  B feels great to be especially chosen by A and does what all good henchmen have always done–B kills C.  Then, once C is eliminated, surprise!  A pushes B into the empty C position, and then finds a new B to attack the newly-designated C.  The pattern is repeated again and again.  Hitler and Stalin both played this game on a national scale.

     Fortunately, the fifty-year Cold War of West against East finally ended with a whimper when the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, totally discredited, dissolved under its own weight.  Ronald Reagan’s U.S. military buildup overwhelmed the Soviet leaders and eventually bankrupted the nation.  The planned economy could not feed and clothe the people and also support a modern military arsenal at the same time.

     And then the Soviet people heard whispers of Reagan’s rhetoric that America was a “shining city on a hill” and that the Soviet Union was “an evil empire”.  But they did not need Reagan to tell them, for they instinctively knew that the American system was vastly superior to theirs.

     “We the people”, says so much.  The Constitution assures its citizens that power resides with them–the people, with their vote, with their election ballot.  Individual differences of gender, race, and ethnic heritage are allowed and even protected by the law, as a matter of national policy.  The law accomodates all shapes of pegs–square, triangle, and odd-formed.

     The slick demogouges can misled the people in the short run, but in the long run they can see the truth–who it is that ultimately benefits from a policy.  Is it the leaders or the people?

     Vladimir Putin faces enormous challenges and obstacles.  Will he come down hard on those who disagree with him?  Will he allow different opinions?  Or will he pull out a saw and cut off the pegs’ squared corners?  How will he treat the people?  The answers will soon be forthcoming.