Paul Goble

Paul Goble is an American analyst, writer and columnist with expertise on Russia, Eurasia, public diplomacy and international broadcasting. Trained at Miami University and the University of Chicago, he is the editor of four volumes on ethnic issues in the former Soviet Union and has published hundreds of articles on ethnic and nationality questions. Goble served as special adviser on Soviet nationality issues and Baltic affairs to Secretary of State James Baker. Goble also served as a visiting scholar at the University of Tartu, Estonia. In 1995, Goble received Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana from President Lennart Meri, for his role in supporting Estonia's re-independence.

A Russian propaganda site incites breaking up Baltic countries

Arguing that the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are more russophobic than any other nation in the world, the Russian propaganda site, SputnikPogrom, outlines how Moscow must work to split up the three countries into smaller units dominated by ethnic and linguistic minorities to put them on course for reabsorption into a Russian empire.

The 3,500-word unsigned article, entitled “How We Will Reorganize the Baltic Region”, is one of the most detailed offerings of its kind, something intended to support Moscow’s claim that the three Baltic countries are not full-fledged states and to sow fear and division in each of them.

The article begins with a broad attack on the three: “The Balts to this day,” it says, “are conducting an ethnocide against the Russian people,” they supported Chechen separatists in the 1990s, and “applaud” Ukrainian separatists now. They are a NATO place des armes against Russia, and they all have “territorial claims” against Russia.

Despite what their governments claim and what many in the West believe, the portal says, “the countries of the Baltic region are not monolithic. Each has its own wound which Russia not only can but must exacerbate … in order to completely reform the political space [there] in the national interests of Russia without war or a clash with NATO.”

Most likely points of potential instability

The way forward, SputnikPogrom says, is to “support regionalists” in each of the three, to “assist” those in various parts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to recover their genuine identities that Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius have sought to repress, to promote the rights of Russian speakers, and to transform the historical narratives of the three countries.

Among the mechanisms Moscow should use, the portal continues, are “promoting the historical memory of residents of the regional communities”, demanding they be given “regional autonomy or self-administration” and “the transformation of regional dialects into independent languages or alternatively the revival of ancient but now forgotten languages”.

All those things are intermediate steps toward the acquisition by these regions of “independence” from the three Baltic countries and then either their integration into Russia in the manner of Crimea and Sevastopol or their close alliance with Moscow on the pattern of South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

But the portal argues that “the most likely points of potential instability and thus for the application of soft force are [the three Baltic capitals] where a significant part of the population consists of representatives of national minorities, and chiefly of the Russian-language community”.

Next, it says, Moscow should focus on “existing regional projects” like Latgale in Latvia, the Narva region in Estonia, and Vilno kray in Lithuania even as it promotes new regional movements like Klaipeda (Memel) kray, Suvalkia (Yatvyagia) and Zemaitiia in Lithuania, Courland in Latvia, and the islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa in Estonia.

Rewriting of the national narratives

The article discusses in detail the situation in each of these places, the levers Moscow can use, and what it describes as “the best outcome for Russia” in each case. And then it turns to a discussion of how to “strengthen pro-Russian influence among the three titular nationalities by promoting a broad rewriting of the national narratives of those peoples”.

The article concludes that Moscow will likely have the greatest success in promoting its ideas in Latvia, given the high rate of inter-ethnic marriage – “20 per cent of Latvians are married to representatives of other nationalities, in the overwhelming majority of cases with Russian speakers – and the large share of Russian speakers among Latvians”.

Moscow will face more problems in dealing with the Estonians, the article continues, because the rate of inter-ethnic marriage is much lower – only seven per cent – and Russian language knowledge is less as well. It recommends that Moscow promote itself as “the chief homeland” of the Finno-Ugric peoples as a way around this.

Using soft power and other means

To get this process moving, the SputnikPogrom portal says, Russians should stop using Baltic toponyms and replace them in every case with Russian names in order to stress the Russianness of the region. Thus, “not Tallinn but Reval or Kolyvan, not Tartu but Yuryev, not Ventspils but Vindara” and so on.

It also suggests that Russians are fully justified in doing so given that the Balts substitute their national names for Russian ones in the areas they claim: thus, Latvians call Putalovo in Pskov oblast Abrene, Estonians call Ivangorod Jaanillinn and Lithuanians refer to Kaliningrad as Karalyaucius.

What is striking and undoubtedly intended to be striking is the level of detail this article offers. While decision makers in the Kremlin may not do everything the article calls for, clearly there are many in Moscow who have been thinking long and hard about how to break up three NATO member countries by using soft power and other means.

That should be a matter of concern given that Moscow has demonstrated elsewhere that it views regionalism in other countries but not of course in its own as an important resource it can use to promote Russian interests by weakening the countries where such regionalism exists or can be created.


Cover: The maps of Estonia, Lativa and Lithuania. The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog.

Four thousand ethnic Russians in Estonia now consider Estonian their native language

Four thousand ethnic Russians and more than 2,000 ethnic Finns who live in Estonia tell officials they consider Estonian to be their native language, while 24,000 ethnic Estonians say they don’t speak Estonian – and the state statistics department says that most of those speak Russian.

In addition, the officials in Tallinn say more than 220,000 ethnic Russians say they now speak Estonian, and more than 8,000 people from all nationalities, who are not citizens, say they consider Estonian their native language.

For Estonia as a whole, the figures released in advance of the Native Language Day show 68 per cent of the total population identify Estonian as their native language, roughly the same share as of those who identify as Estonian by nationality, and a significant fraction of the remainder speak Estonian as a second language.

Non-Russian speaking Russians

On the one hand, these figures reflect the success of Estonia in integrating non-Estonians, including ethnic Russians, few of whom spoke Estonian at the end of Soviet times, and the willingness of these people to identify not only with the country as a political entity but with the Estonian language community.

But on the other hand, they highlight something else that Moscow with its obsessive insistence on the tight relationship between language and ethnic identity among Russians is not willing to acknowledge: the increasing propensity of those who identify as Russians to view a language other than Russian as their native language.

Not only does that suggest that the relationship between language and ethnic identity among Russians is less close than many in the Kremlin believe, but it suggests that over time, those who analyse developments in the post-Soviet states are going to have to cope with new category of people who might best be called “non-Russian speaking Russians”.

Such a category would consist primarily of those who speak a non-Russian language as a second language, but continue to use Russian as well. But as the new Estonian data suggest, over time and under the right conditions, it may also include those who change their own definition of what constitutes their native language from Russian to a non-Russian language.


The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog. Cover: A student at the University of Tartu’s Narva College on Estonian Language Day, 14 March 2017.

Paul Goble: What Putin got and what Trump gave up

Paul Goble argues that the first phone call between the new US president, Donald Trump, and Russian president Vladimir Putin was a victory for the latter, while Trump got very little in return. 

In advance of talks with a foreign leader, the sides often employ one of two strategies to ensure that the outcome can be presented in the ways that they want. Thus, one side may suggest no real breakthrough is possible, thus lowering expectations. Or it may suggest something many oppose could happen in order to get credit when it doesn’t.

Both these tactics were on display in advance of the telephone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on 28 January, with the former leaking that sanctions might be lifted when that wasn’t going to happen overnight and the latter signalling via his foreign ministry that any talks with the Americans would be difficult.

That is all in the way of such events, but it has the unfortunate effect of leading some to misread what in fact happened. Thus, in this case, because Trump didn’t end sanctions, many in the US are delighted because what they feared most didn’t happen and even allowing themselves to believe that their opposition to such a step played a role.

Well-prepared trap

In order not to fall into that well-prepared trap, it is important to look at what each leader took away from the talks. If one does that, it becomes clear that not only did Putin get far more that he wants but that Trump received in return promises that aren’t worth the air the Kremlin dictator used in expressing them.

Using the Kremlin readout of the talks on which almost all commentaries east and west currently rely, it becomes obvious just how much a victory the phone call was for Putin and how little, all the hoopla notwithstanding, Trump got in return. The consequences of this imbalance tragically will be seen soon enough.

Here is a list of what Putin got:

  • An end to his diplomatic isolation that has been in place since his invasion of Ukraine
  • Explicit promises of a summit soon between the two leaders
  • Implicit recognition of spheres of influence and of Russia and the US as equal “partners”
  • Explicit acceptance of his insistence that the US and Russia should decide things, apparently without the participation of those involved, including Ukraine
  • An implicit promise to lift sanctions in the name of improving economic relations between the two countries.

Here is a list of what Trump got:

  • A promise that Russia would cooperate in the war on Islamist terror and assurances that Russians like Americans just as Americans like Russians.

Putin’s behaviour in Syria shows just how little that promise is worth, although one can be sure that Moscow and its Western supporters will view this as a great breakthrough, just as Putin and apparently Trump as well intend them to.

Conversation between two “friends”

But the real meaning of yesterday’s conversation between the two leaders is underscored by the reactions of Russian commentators who signalled that their hopes were coming true: one politician, for example, said that as a result of the Putin-Trump talks, NATO is in disarray.

And others suggested this conversation had been between two “friends” rather than just chiefs of state or insisted that it was a breakthrough to a new era of good feelings in which Ukraine and other problems of the past could now be put aside.

The author of these lines has often lamented the unfortunate impact of jet travel and telephonic communication on relations between countries, two technical innovations that have elevated the importance of personal ties among leaders above other things even as they have reduced the role for diplomats and a careful consideration of national interests.

That unfortunate trend has some deep and disturbing precedents: When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich, he celebrated what he said was the fact that Hitler really liked him and that such feelings could be the basis for a new era of good feelings between Germany and the United Kingdom.

One can only hope that no Western leader in the rush to boost his ratings will be similarly manipulated by this generation’s counterpart to the Nazi dictator.


The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog. Cover: Vladimir Putin holding Donald Trump (the image is illustrative/courtesy of Esquire magazine/Pinterest.)

A tale of two cities: Estonia’s Narva prospects while Russia’s Ivangorod decays

Few in the West had ever heard of Narva – the city of some 60,000 residents, more than 80 per cent of whom are ethnic Russians, located on the eastern border of Estonia – until Vladimir Putin’s propagandists, in the wake of the Russian Anschluss of Crimea, raised the question in NATO capitals, “are you prepared to die for Narva?”

That question was intended to sap Western support for its NATO ally, Estonia, and more generally for NATO countries neighbouring Russia and threatened by Putin’s aggressive stance. But it had exactly the opposite effect, leading ever more people in the West to recognise that unless they were prepared to defend Narva, they would be destroying the Western alliance.

And their actions have led some commentators to say that the person the question, “are you prepared to die for Narva?” should be directed to is Putin, who by asking it has helped revive NATO and underscored the reality the Kremlin dictator is quite prepared to go to the brink of nuclear war to try to achieve his ends.

But now, as even Russian news agencies concede, there is another reason to focus on Narva and ask what may prove an even more explosive question about Russia and the West. Narva is prospering while Ivangorod, the Russian town just across the river from it, is slipping ever further behind.

Narva - Jaak Kadak

The reason such a question is so provocative is that the ethnic Russians in Narva, a city in a NATO country, are doing far better than the ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation currently ruled by Putin, a pattern that indicates just where the responsibility for their success in the former and their failure in the latter belongs.

Narva invests

Picking up a report, Russia’s Regnum news agency reported that in 2016, the city of Narva invested more than €4 million (US$5 million) in construction and reconstruction of roads, housing and other social infrastructure.

Building on those accomplishments, the Narva mayor’s office says the city will be expanding its investment projects in the coming year, refurbishing two major squares, building new schools, extending the river promenade (facing the Russian side) and upgrading and expanding its tourist infrastructure as well.

Narva river promenade - Visit Estonia

During the past year, the Narva leaders continue, “the entire complex of services and subsidies allowing for timely help for urban residents with local incomes, elderly people, families with children, and people with special needs was preserved in tact in 2016”, an achievement the EU has recognised and praised.

Meanwhile, just across the Narva River in Ivangorod, Russia, the situation is very different. Incomes are stagnating or falling for its 10,000 residents. The city has fewer resources than before to provide social services because of cutbacks in Moscow’s transfer payments. And the prospects for the future are anything but bright.

Russians clearly recognise this: there is currently a two-kilometre line of cars leaving Russia and seeking entry into Estonia for the holidays; there is no such line of cars leaving Estonia and seeking entry into Russia.


The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog. Cover: Narva castle (courtesy of EAS.)

Paul Goble: Putin and Russia both far weaker than many think, three analysts say

Russian president Vladimir Putin and the country he leads are far weaker than Moscow propaganda suggests and, what is equally important, far weaker than many in Russia and the West think, the result of a successful combination of propaganda and dramatic action against those within his country and abroad who are intimidated or unwilling to stand up to him.

And while it would be a mistake to underestimate either, it is also a mistake to overrate Putin’s power and that of Russia because to do so gives him and it victories they do not deserve because it leads the population of his country and the leaders of Western countries to underrate their own powers and to assume that there is little or nothing they can do.

Moreover, to fail to understand the weaknesses of Putin and those of Russia is to ignore one of the major drivers of the Kremlin leader’s behaviour and thus to fail to anticipate or respond appropriately to Putin’s actions, which, in the past and even now, are driven less by his and its real strengths than by his and its profound weaknesses.

The effect of wars quickly exhausts itself

Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin says Putin has nothing to offer his people to gain their support and to consolidate public opinion except “militaristic rhetoric and short victorious wars”. But the effect of those wars – and there have been three so far – quickly exhausts itself.

Not only do Russians grow bored but they also discover, to their horror, that these wars cost money as well as lives, and at a time when even their leaders tell them “there is no money” and when they are seeing their standard of living decline, ever fewer of them are prepared to support such adventures or the authors of such adventures for long.

Putin’s standing in the polls declining

That is reflected in the decline in Putin’s standing in the polls. Two years ago, some had him garnering 89 per cent; now, he is getting 74 per cent. Still high but not as high as it was – the result, Oreshkin says, “of the natural disappointment of the people” that “neither the annexation of Crimea nor the war in Ukraine has brought Russians anything good”.

Valery Solovey, an MGIMO professor who comments frequently on politics, is even more blunt: “…the powers that be in Russia are not very firm. They try to give the impression of a strong, self-confident and even brutal state. But this is an exaggeration, an attempt to frighten the external world and Russian society.”

Indeed, he adds, he is “not certain in the ability of the Russian powers that be to withstand many serious challenges. If such challenges occur, then we will see that all those who show their absolute, even lackey-like devotion to the supreme power will suddenly turn out to be disloyal and even members of the opposition.”

Infighting within the elite

Solovey says there are essentially two challenges ahead: “…the probability of mass social dissatisfaction which can combine with political protests” and “destabilization in the elite and splits in the elite in the vent of mass pressure from below”. There is already evidence of infighting within the elite over resources and even distancing from the Kremlin.

So far this infighting has not led to direct splits. Members of the elite are still afraid of Putin even if they believe he is ineffective or wrong. One major entrepreneur supposedly was told recently to stay in line because “Khodorkovsky’s prison bed is still available”. Fear matters to many, but there are still “some sincerely loyal” people, although even they “are beginning to express doubts about the future of the country and their own well-being”.

Putin has miscalculated in Syria: he didn’t get the grand bargain from the West about Ukraine he expected, and members of the Russian elite can see this. “But the main challenges to the Kremlin,” Solovey says, “will come not from outside but from inside the country.” Once the domestic scene begins to shake, then the impact of foreign events will matter even more.

Russian military might “a media product”

And Kyiv military expert Aleksey Arestovich states bluntly that “Russians for a long time already do not have any chances to seize even a small piece of Ukrainian territory let alone cities of a million people” or more like Odessa. Suggesting otherwise simply plays into Russian propaganda.

“One must understand,” he says, “that Russian military might doesn’t exist. This is a media product.” Even its military buildup now is not about an attack but about defence against what some in Moscow expect will be a NATO advance. That is clear if one looks at the situation of the Russian army.

It has about 330,000 soldiers in the land forces. Ukraine has 400,000. To change that equation, Arestovich says, “Russia would have to declare a general mobilization and rearm the military. But they will not do this because as soon as such a mobilization began the Russian economy would collapse, the West would introduce additional sanctions and all the couch lovers of ‘the Russian world’ would begin to run away.”

An enemy of the civilized world

Moreover, the Kyiv military analyst says, Putin has been backing down repeatedly in recent months as any examination of his words about Novorossia, then LNR and DNR and then Ukraine show. He faces more opposition abroad and at home. And “if Russia clashes with the US in Syria, it will lose.”

“The result will be a strong hit to the image of Putin as a strong politician. After such a defeat he may try to do something in Ukraine or in the Baltics. But all the same, his military opportunities remain limited and that means that his attacks would have the character of local operations.”

But while they would be local operations, they would be interpreted in the West as indications of Putin’s “complete insanity” which “for Ukraine would mean a further rapprochement with NATO and the receipt of lethal weapons”, things that would raise the costs to Russia of any action.

Moreover, this would mean that there would not be any politicians left in the West who could defend Putin and he “would become an enemy of the entire civilized world”. That too “would accelerate the defeat of Russia”, something that the Ukrainian analyst suggests people in the Kremlin are well aware of.


The opinions in this article are those of the author. The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog. Cover: Russia’s ageing and unreliable aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, billowing clouds of black smoke, while sailing through the Dover Strait on 21 October 2016 (courtesy of Dover Marina.)

Paul Goble: Like her predecessors, the new Estonian president understands the transforming power of words

Under the Estonian constitution, that country’s president has few enumerated powers, but he or now she does have the power of words and thus the power to help shape the understanding not only of the residents of that Baltic country but of the Western world of which it is very much a part.

In her open letter a week ago “to all the residents of Estonia”, Kersti Kaljulaid both by the title she chose to address the country prior to her election in the third round of voting and by the points she made in it demonstrated that following her inauguration on 3 October, she will continue the tradition of Lennart Meri and Toomas Hendrik Ilves even as she chooses her own words.

Few countries have succeeded in boxing above their weight class more than Estonia and in large measure because first Lennart Meri and then Toomas Hendrik Ilves understood the power of words to shape how Estonians see the world and how the world sees Estonia and its place on the map.

The two of them, the first a remarkable novelist and filmmaker before becoming foreign minister and then president, and the second an equally remarkable journalist and writer before becoming the Estonian ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister, were so successful that many worried that no one could do what they did.

From her open letter, it appears that Kaljulaid herself was among them, given that she expressed her worry that the election process hadn’t resulted in the choice of one of the party candidates but had led to her selection, a non-party person who had worked as an EU official for the last dozen years.

In her letter, she commented that by the nature of things, she was convinced that anyone elevated to the office of president in the way that she was would in the nature of things have “meager” authority and that there was a real risk that the individual chosen this way would be like “a porcelain statuette on the mantel”, attractive enough but not that important.

On the strength of her words and words about words, neither she nor anyone else need to worry that that will be her fate.

Perhaps most significantly, Kaljulaid addressed her letter to “the residents of Estonia” and not just to Estonians or Estonian citizens; and she signed it with the familiar “thou” rather than the more moral “you”, both of which will be read by Estonian citizens and non-citizens alike as heralding a new day.

“Perhaps most significantly, Kaljulaid addressed her letter to ‘the residents of Estonia’ and not just to Estonians or Estonian citizens; and she signed it with the familiar ‘thou’ rather than the more moral ‘you’, both of which will be read by Estonian citizens and non-citizens alike as heralding a new day.”

But she made several other important remarks that should be noted. She said that the election process, although protracted, was not a government crisis but rather represented “a step forward” because in the end if forced the various sides involved to “speak with one another”, a process Kaljulaid indicated she would like to continue.

“What can a president do?” she asked rhetorically. His or her role is described in the constitution, and it is quite limited under most conditions, “but the president always has the power of his words about which the constitution doesn’t speak”. He or she can’t propose a solution for “every problem of Estonia but can help structure the discussion about each”.

Kaljulaid reiterated her view that “the cornerstone of a strong democracy consists of citizens who are confident in themselves and an ethical state”. The latter is a state that helps those who need it without getting in the way of those who do not and among those who need it are children, the ill, and the elderly.

After Estonia restored its independence, Estonians sought to build a state that was as lean as possible, she continued. “The countries of Western Europe have now caught up with us: too large expenditures on state services is a problem almost everywhere. We, however, have already entered a new era,” and “our state must be a state of civic unions”.

“The easy part has ended,” she said. “We are in the trap of a middle income country.” Now, we need to move forward, and in this “the role of the president in Estonia is very important”. Estonians need to know their president, and the world needs to know Estonia even better than it does.

Her immediate predecessor, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, did “brilliant” work in this direction, Kaljulaid says. Indeed, he set “a very high standard”, which she pledges to uphold. “Obviously, the boots remaining in Kadriorg Palace,” the presidential residence, “are too big;” and Kaljulaid pledged that she would find her own. It’s already clear that she is on the way to doing so.


The opinions in this article are those of the author. The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog. Cover: Kersti Kaljulaid took her oath of office in the Estonian parliament, Riigikogu, on 3 October. Kaljulaid and her husband, Georgi-Rene Maksimovski, were accompanied by outgoing president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves (photo by Andres Putting.)

Paul Goble: Ten reasons why we must remain anti-communists

The American analyst and expert on Russia, Paul Goble, delivered the following speech at the Triumph of Liberty reception and dinner on 9 June 2016 in Washington, DC, after receiving the annual Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a non-profit educational and human rights organisation.

A quarter of a century ago with the triumph of democratic revolutions first in Eastern Europe and then in the former Soviet Union, many people stopped thinking it was important to continue to be anti-communist. Some, especially those who had long fought for the end of communist rule in these countries, felt they had won and should now go on to other things. And others were seduced by the notions that the world had entered “the end of history”, that ideology was no longer relevant in a time of “the clash of civilisations”, and that talking about communism was passé at best.

We should have learned by now that none of those arguments holds is quite as convincing as they appeared. Many of the revolutions in the former Soviet bloc failed, with old communists remaining in power with only the party name changed. Vast numbers of people still live under communist dictatorships in China, Vietnam, Cuba and elsewhere. History did not end and the clash of civilisations did not eliminate the importance of ideology; however, much some hoped for that outcome.

Consequently, talking about communism, instead of being some kind of survival of a past that had disappeared, is still very important, and I would like to offer ten reasons why I believe this may be even more important now than it was during the Cold War, why I remain an anti-communist, and why you should be too.

First, we have an obligation to honour all those who suffered under communism.

No political or economic system has claimed as many victims as communism. Hundreds of millions of dead, and millions more deprived of their inherent rights and opportunities. We are compelled to honour those who have suffered and died because only in this way can be we be true to ourselves and our values – especially at a time when many people have forgotten what has happened or seek to minimise it or even equate communism with other systems.

“No political or economic system has claimed as many victims as communism. Hundreds of millions of dead, and millions more deprived of their inherent rights and opportunities.”

By remembering the victims of communism, we help ensure that future generations will not live under such a system and recommit ourselves to the defence of our own values which all too often get lost in the noise of political conflict. But more than that, we help encourage all those who are still struggling, including those in post-communist countries where some are building museums to remember the victims while others are gutting these institutions and making them into a celebration of the jailers.

Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lviv, June 1941 - Wikipedia Commons

That is not something that is happening only in the imagination of anti-communists as some defenders of this whitewashing of history say. It is happening today at the Perm-36 Museum where exhibits showing how people suffered in the GULAG have been taken down and how exhibits praising such noxious figures as Abakumov and Beria have gone up. Only by combatting this both in those countries and by erecting museums and carrying out educational programmes can we truly honour those who suffered and fought against communism in the past and now. Failure to do so is to give communism a victory that it does not deserve.

Second, we need to recognise how many people still live under that horrific system.

One of the greatest myths circulating in the world is that communism ended with the end of the Cold War. In fact, if anything, more people live under communism now than did then because of the population growth rate in China. Not only is mainland China still communist, but so too is North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and other countries as well. If what we were fighting in the Cold War was communism, and it was, then the Cold War is not over and our obligations to continue to be anti-communist fighters have in no way lessened.

Beijing’s repression of the peoples of Eastern Turkestan, Vietnam’s suppression of house churches of Christians, North Korea’s nuclear blackmail and Cuba’s celebration of revolutionary heroes who were responsible for some of the most vicious crimes in the past are not just matters of history. They are part and parcel of those countries today. Many here today are fighting these criminal states, and none of us should fail to support them in their struggle. To do so ultimately is to betray not only them but ourselves.

“Some write about China as a case of authoritarian modernisation, as if its policies were no more than perhaps an extreme form of that practice elsewhere. That is nonsense and it must be labelled as such.”

We live in an age when people seem more interested in blurring distinctions than in making them. Some write about China as a case of authoritarian modernisation, as if its policies were no more than perhaps an extreme form of that practice elsewhere. That is nonsense and it must be labelled as such. Communism is based on the denial of the value and rights of the individual human person, and as such, it is and will forever remain antithetical to the principles of free societies.

Third, we must acknowledge how hard it is to purge it from those places where it once existed.

Perhaps the best evidence of how insidious communism is has been provided by post-communist countries which in all too many cases have found it difficult to purge this horror from their social and political life. In rushing to proclaim a triumph over communism, many of those in these countries and in the West as well were prepared to accept as non-communist communists who simply changed the name of the parties they said they represented. Some of these transformations were real: people can change. But many of them were superficial and hid some fundamental continuity.

“Perhaps the best evidence of how insidious communism is has been provided by post-communist countries which in all too many cases have found it difficult to purge this horror from their social and political life.”

As Lithuania’s former independence movement leader Vytautas Landsbergis has taught us, communism can operate under many guises. It can even be called, he writes, “the new world order”. If it is to be overcome, it must be fought regardless of what it calls itself through lustration, education and a commitment not only from the peoples who have suffered its ravages on themselves but also by those who say they are anti-communists but are all too willing to cooperate for profit or out of geopolitical calculation with those who are in fact still communist in everything but name.

Victory Day parade in Moscow in 2016 - the Soviet heritage is clearly celebrated

That has led to tragedies in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and it is producing an even greater tragedy in the Russian Federation where the failure to extirpate communism is allowing it to return. While few in the West are paying attention, the KGB is being restored, collective farms are now going back up, those who think differently are being imprisoned or exiled, and freedoms of all types are being curtailed. Now is not the time to turn away from the fight. It is the time to recognise how hard and difficult the fight is – and to recommit ourselves to winning it.

Fourth, we must ensure that people in democratic societies know what communism is and what it isn’t.

We also have an obligation to ensure that people in our own societies know what communism was and is and what it is not. There are twin dangers out there. On one hand, all too many of our fellow citizens do not today know why communism represented a unique form of evil and see it as simply one system among many. They accept the arguments of those who say that Stalin may have killed some people, but he should be celebrated because he helped defeat Hitler. There is even a bust of the Soviet dictator at the D-Day Memorial in my home state of Virginia.

red rose is a symbol of social democrats, not communists

And on the other hand, there is a dangerous tendency to portray other social and economic systems as gateways to communism. Democratic socialism in Sweden, however much some may not approve of it, is not communism and the Swedes are not about to become communists. Instead, they are likely to join NATO to defend themselves against the resurgence of the Russian threat. And those who call for greater state support of the poor and despised in their own countries are rarely the communist radicals some of their opponents seek to portray them as.

“Those who call for greater state support of the poor and despised in their own countries are rarely the communist radicals some of their opponents seek to portray them as.”

We need to fight on both fronts, ensuring that new generations will know the truth about communism so that they can combat it and so that they will not see communism where it does not exist. Sometimes the one threat is greater than the other, and sometimes the reverse is true. And it is our obligation as citizens of a democratic and free society to ensure that the necessary distinctions are made in our own countries as well as elsewhere.

Fifth, we must recognise the ways in which the evils of communism have metastasised into other evils, including Islamist fundamentalism.

One of the most disturbing realities of the contemporary world is the rise of Islamist extremism, but one of the most frightening aspects of that is that the Islamist threat grew out of communism rather than being something entirely new. Many know from movies, like Charlie Wilson’s “War”, that Muslims fought and defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan and assume that the anti-communism of the jihadists there means that the jihadist movement is inherently anti-communist. That is not the case and in fact is a dangerous self-deception.

“One of the most disturbing realities of the contemporary world is the rise of Islamist extremism, but one of the most frightening aspects of that is that the Islamist threat grew out of communism rather than being something entirely new.”

Not only have communist ideas penetrated the Islamist cause by the actions of communists and “former communists” who viewed this movement as close to them and a useful ally against democracy and freedom – no one should forget that Vladimir Putin has said that Islam is closer to Russian national culture than Western Christendom – but the Islamist challenge could not have emerged without the active help of the communists and “former communists” who operate today as they have operated throughout their existence on the basis of the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The history of the interpenetration of communism and Islamism is a long and complicated one – far too long and complicated for me to discuss today. But it is a history we need to learn if we are to cope with the current challenge, which is in large measure the same existential threat to freedom that communism was in the past. That is something some communists and “former communists” know very well as we have seen in Syria; it is something we had better learn before the upsurge in Islamism leads to a resurgence of communism.

Sixth, we must combat revisionist history of what communism did.

One of the most important battlefields in this continuing war is against revisionist treatments of communism. My children have been told by their professors that Stalin raised the standard of living and made lives better and happier for the Soviet population – with the story of the GULAG and other repressions conveniently forgotten or cast aside as not really the most important thing that was going on. And I am sure that in this room tonight there are others with a similar experience.

Stalin crimes

Obviously, Stalin did many things and it is important to study them all. But they must be put in context rather than treated selectively in the way that they often are. One infamous example of this was a book that argued Stalin deserved credit for increasing social mobility but ignored the fact that he did so by killing again and again many of those who were nearer the top of the social and political pyramid.

“One infamous example of this was a book that argued Stalin deserved credit for increasing social mobility but ignored the fact that he did so by killing again and again many of those who were nearer the top of the social and political pyramid.”

One wise reviewer of that book observed that it was very much like a study of the shoe factory at Auschwitz in which the author decided in advance to ignore all survivor accounts as being inevitably biased and to consider only the inputs of leather and labour and the outputs of shoes. “All the facts,” he said, “are correct, but it misses the point.” That would not be allowed in the case of studies of Nazi Germany, but it is routinely allowed and even encouraged in the case of communism. It is something that must be fought and can be.

Seventh, we must avoid the trap of adopting communist tactics to oppose communism.

One of the real dangers during the Cold War was that some in the West were prepared to adopt the tactics of communism: be the repression or censorship or anything else in the name of defeating communism. That is not a danger that has entirely passed: we cannot fight communism with censorship, we can do so only by providing better information. Likewise, we cannot fight it by repression: we can do so only by making freedom more fully available.


It is always tempting, especially given the short-term thinking that dominates much of our political systems, to turn to what looks like the quick fix. But one of the reasons to remain an anti-communist is not to support such efforts but to fight them –because those who know about communist systems, know that such compromises have the effect of compromising democracy and freedom, and must be opposed lest communism gain a victory that it in no way deserves.

“We cannot fight communism with censorship, we can do so only by providing better information. Likewise, we cannot fight it by repression: we can do so only by making freedom more fully available.”

Right now, we are all talking about fighting lies emerging from the mouths of “former communists” and about the need to combat disinformation. Those are noble goals. Let us fight them in the best way possible by providing more information and by recognising the shortcomings of our own media which all too often gives a platform for lies because of its increasing tendency to confuse balance with objectivity. Again, we wouldn’t do this was fascism; but we are all too willing to do it in the case of communism and “former communists”.

Eighth, we must recommit ourselves to the values of freedom and democracy.

In order to do these things, we must recommit ourselves to the values of freedom and democracy. These values represent a constant goal and constant goad for us to do more. We are privileged to live in societies where these values are celebrated; we must make sure that we live in societies where these values are increasingly realised in the lives of all people and where we are strong enough and confident enough to promote them rather than sacrificing them for short-term gains.

press freedom

This is a difficult challenge. There will always be those who will sacrifice freedoms for something else, but as one of the founders of the United States pointed out, “those who would sacrifice essential freedoms for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. We should recommit ourselves to our values so that we do not fall into that trap.

“There will always be those who will sacrifice freedoms for something else, but as one of the founders of the United States pointed out, ‘those who would sacrifice essential freedoms for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'”

Those who are anti-communists are in the best position to know what threats to freedom look like. We should be modest in advancing our case but we should remain proud to do so – because if we do not carry this fight forward, who will? And if we fail to see the challenge now, we may soon suffer our own Pastor Niemoeller moment, one in which when the threats to our own values intensify there will be no one left to defend them or us.

Ninth, having prosecuted the Cold War, we must reassemble the alliance that allowed us to fight and win that conflict, an alliance that is now in disarray but that can be restored.

One of the most remarkable but least remarked qualities of the Cold War, something that communism produced and that allowed the democratic West to fight for so long, was the alliance between democratic and human rights activists who were horrified by the ways in which communism denied these values to the peoples of the countries where that system existed and business people who recognized that communism was an existential threat to free markets and free people.

Anti-Soviet Union symbol - Daemorris, Wikimedia CommonsDuring the Cold War, this alliance kept together and ensured that we would continue to be united. But when some decided the fight against communism had been won, this alliance broke down with each of its components pursuing its own goals separately rather than together with the other. Many democratic and human rights activists continued to talk about their issues, but no longer about those of the business community, and many in business decided that they could exploit the new reality without being concerned about the way in which the absence of freedom in the political system would ultimately lead to the restriction of freedom in the economic realm.

“If there are no free elections and free speech, there will not be free markets because there will not be a serious system of rule of law on which markets depend. And if there are no free markets, there soon will not be free elections or freedom of speech.”

Some nominally post-communist governments have exploited this division. It must be overcome and both sides must come together because freedom is truly indivisible. If there are no free elections and free speech, there will not be free markets because there will not be a serious system of rule of law on which markets depend. And if there are no free markets, there soon will not be free elections or freedom of speech. Consequently, we must reassemble the old alliance rather than acting on the basis of falsely narrow interests.

And tenth, we must always remember that we weren’t and aren’t fighting a word: we’re opposed to what stands behind that word.

Finally, and in a way to repeat, we need to remember that we weren’t and aren’t fighting a word: we were and are fighting the actions that those who publicly or not are carrying out. I am an anti-communist because I value freedom, not because the people who suppress such freedoms call themselves communists. If we are truly anti-communists, we must recognise and communicate to others that the victory over communism will be possible only if there is a victory over all the forms of human oppression that are associated not just with communism but with other political systems as well.

“If we are truly anti-communists, we must recognise and communicate to others that the victory over communism will be possible only if there is a victory over all the forms of human oppression that are associated not just with communism but with other political systems as well.”

That is no easy challenge because all too often we fall into the tactical trap of making alliances with those who are repressive in the name of fighting those who are even more repressive – and then we forget what we are really fighting for. We allied with Stalin against Hitler, which was the right thing to do, but we forgot that in that arrangement, we needed a long spoon and we committed the crime of handing back to the Soviets people who had never been Soviet citizens and whose only crime was to have fought communism during the Russian civil war and then escaped to the West.

The list of such compromises with the truth can be extended almost at will. What is important is that it not be extended any further.

Oh, I’ve heard of Estonia. It is a little country that wants to be free

Let me end by sharing with you a personal story that I believe sums up all that I have said and involved my proudest moment as an American official. In 1990-1991, I worked at the State Department as the special advisor for Soviet nationality problems and Baltic affairs. One of my jobs was to play host to visitors from these countries and show them something of Washington. I can’t remember precisely how many times I took officials and activists in my car around the monuments of Washington, but I can remember one time which neither I nor the others present will ever forget.

I believe that the closest thing we Americans have to a civic cathedral is the Lincoln Memorial, and I always tried to arrange things so that we would end our tour there. On March 29, 1991, a dark and rainy day, I took the president and foreign minister of Estonia on such a tour, and we ended up as planned in the Lincoln Memorial. Because the only common language all three of us had at that moment was Russian, I was translating Lincoln’s words from the Gettysburg Address that are incised in marble on the left side of the building into that language.

I know I wasn’t doing them justice: any translation of such a speech about government “of the people, by the people and for the people” can’t compare with the original. But my translation that day attracted one of the National Park rangers at the site. He came running up and asked me what language we were speaking because of course he had materials in various languages he could offer. I told him we were speaking Russian. He then asked whether these people were from Russia. I responded “no, these people are from Estonia”.

Without missing a heartbeat, this Park ranger smiled and said: “Oh, I’ve heard of Estonia. It is just a little country that wants to be free.” Everyone in our group teared up, and I am quite confident that these words of an ordinary American were more important to the Estonian visitors than any they would hear from far more prominent officials. I know that because both of the Estonians involved have told me and others exactly that.

11 September 1988 10

What being an anti-communist means is not only fighting communism but helping others to fight that system and all others that limit human freedom and, to put it in simplest terms, to help ensure that in the future, there will be many more ordinary Americans who will be ready to answer as the National Park ranger did a quarter of a century ago: Yes, they will say, we know about your suffering and we fully support your aspirations.

That is why I remain an anti-communist and why I very much hope you do too.


The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: The Communist Party of Kampuchea was responsible for the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the country’s then population. Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia (Wikimedia Commons).

Another defeat for Putin’s “Russian world” – very few Russians in Estonia want to leave

Over the last two-year period, for which statistics are available, only 37 ethnic Russians moved from Estonia to the Russian Federation despite Moscow’s programme for resettling what it calls “compatriots” and the regular complaints of Russian officials that Estonia is oppressing its ethnic Russian minority.

In the Moscow newspaper, “Novaya gazeta”, journalist Vyacheslav Ivanov suggests it is important for everyone to understand why despite the oft-reported problems of ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries, “the majority of Russians there prefer to live in Estonia” than to return to Russia.

Ivanov begins his article by recounting what happened when in the summer of 1994, the Russian Drama Theater in Tallinn put on Chekov’s “Three Sisters”. In that performance, actors dressed like Soviet officers left the stage at the end when the sisters talk about going “to Moscow, to Moscow!”

Their departure was met with thunderous applause, not because the performance was especially noteworthy but because it occurred when Russian troops finally left Estonia after it recovered its independence – and those applauding were not so much Estonians and ethnic Russians living there who viewed their withdrawal as a positive step.

To be sure, Ivanov continues, some ethnic Russians did leave – about 27,500 a year between 1991 and 1996. Most of these people were either retired military personnel and their families or civilians who “for various reasons considered it impossible for themselves to continue to live in independent Estonia”.

After 1996, the number of those departing began to decline precipitously to less than a thousand a year in the early 2000s. And in 2011, the number of ethnic Russians arriving to live in Estonia exceeded, admittedly by a small percentage, the number of those departing or dying, Ivanov says.

Today, 1,315,000 people live in Estonia. About 70 percent of them are ethnic Estonians, approximately 26 percent ethnic Russians, and the rest “representatives of other nationalities”.  In 1940, non-ethnic Estonians constituted less than 10 percent of the population and their number included Old Believers who had been living there since the 17th century.

Urmas Ott, an Estonian television host, once told him, Ivanov continues, that “Estonians at the beginning of the 1990s especially after the withdrawal of Russian forces from Estonia very much hoped that if not all ethnic Russians then their absolute majority would do the same”. Now, it is different, although Ott said Estonians remain a “patient” and “tolerant” people.

“Perhaps,” Ivanov suggests,” precisely these qualities of the ‘titular’ residents of Estonia are in a well-known sense a guarantee of the preservation of the balance between the two language communities. Not the main and not the only but one of the key factors.”

Another factor is that ethnic Russians living in Estonia have been profoundly affected by Estonian values: they are very different from their compatriots elsewhere, by their “greater restraint” and “greater moderation in their views. Although,” he adds, “from the point of view of Estonians, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were even more so.”

A major social-political problem in Estonia, the Russian journalist continues, is the existence of a large number of residents who are without citizenship and the large number who are citizens of a foreign country, in this case, Russia. Many in Estonia and Europe consider what Tallinn has done in this area far from “far-sighted”, but not everything is as it appears.

There are approximately 330,000 ethnic Russians in Estonia. About 120,000 of them have Estonian citizenship, about 100,000 are citizens of the Russian Federation, and about 100,000 are non-citizens who have many but not all the rights of those who are citizens of Estonia.

But at the same time, Ivanov continues, these non-citizens who carry what are known as “grey” passports have in a certain respect “more rights than do the citizens” of either of the other countries. They can go to Russia without a visa, something Estonians cannot; and they can go to the European Union without a visa, something Russian citizens cannot.

That is a considerable advantage as is the fact that Estonia even in Soviet times was distinguished by a relatively high standard of living. That still makes it attractive, but other “non-material” qualities are almost certainly more important. These include an independent judiciary which protects people even when they act in ways that some Estonians don’t like.

Many in Russia followed the 2007 case of the “Bronze soldier” monument whose removal from the centre of Tallinn to a military cemetery sparked protests. But far fewer are aware that some of those arrested at the time later won their cases in Estonian courts – or that such vindications are far from unique.

Ivanov concludes that “the situation of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia is far from ideal”. Unemployment is higher among Russians there than among Estonians, and pay is lower for them than for Estonian citizens. But what is important is that activists in Estonia are constantly raising these issues and often winning their cases.

That is one more reason why ethnic Russians in Estonia aren’t moving back to Russia where activists have far fewer victories and where the courts have far less independence than they do in European Estonia.


The article was originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog.

Cover: Narva castle/credit: Eduard Zentsik.

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