Learning To Live With Shame For Your Country
To Ukrainians, I’ll always be ‘another Russian.’ Which is to say, I’ll always be the enemy.
When in the aftermath of WWII, the Red Army entered East Prussia in 1945, they committed war crimes that could easily equal those the Russian army did in Bucha. The Soviet people have been humiliated and suffered throughout the war. Mass killings and rape of German citizens ensued.
What followed had been largely kept secret until the collapse of the Soviet Union and still isn’t talked about in Russia: the co-habitation of the Soviets and Germans. The Soviets killed half of the population of Keningsberg, seizing and repopulating its town and renaming it after a Bolshevik zealot Mikhail Kalinin. But what’s more interesting is the few thousand remaining Germans who fell under the de-Nazification program, or “Sovietization” — attempts by the Party to “make decent people out of Nazis”.
The Germans who remained in Keningsberg — rebranded as Kaliningrad in 1946 — were taught to speak Russian. Some of them would become communists. They’d dress differently. On rare occasions, a Russian and a German would fall in love and marry secretly. Still, after so many years of attempts to de-Nazify the German population, the Soviets would find new faults. Most of the remaining 1,000–10,000 Germans lived in buildings’ basements and on the margins of society.
Gradually, it became clear that nothing the Soviets did to the Germans was enough. They would never become “true Russians”, “true communists”, or “true Soviets”. To be a “Soviet”, one must have been born in the Soviet Union or at least be one of the Soviet 15 ethnicities. (Preferably, Russian.)
Having stripped an ex-Nazi of their identity, language, and territory and put them in a Soviet context, you still wouldn’t get a Soviet person. You would get a mathematical limit — an approximation that, however close, will never reach the absolute value of what it’s trying to approximate. Anti-fascism, in its extreme, became fascism with the opposite sign.
I am reminded of this story whenever I speak to Ukrainians, especially radical ones that call to “burn all Russians alive” or swear to “spit in the face of anyone who dares to speak Russian”.