Leading Russian historian sacked for comparing Ukraine invasion to Sudetenland

Andrei Zubov, a history professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was fired today from his job for writing a piece earlier this month comparing Vladimir Putin’s desire to invade and annex his neighbors in the name of protecting ethnic Russians everywhere, to Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

Zubov’s op ed was titled “This has already happened,” or “This has already been.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty talked to Zubov about his piece:

We always make prognoses based on the assumption that the politician, even if selfish and cruel, is intelligent and rational. But what we are now witnessing is the behavior of a politician who has clearly lost his mind.

These actions are absurd because of [the possibility of international] sanctions and of the sharp economic downturn, which is causing the collapse of the Russian financial market. If this continues, it will lead to an impoverishment of the population in a matter of months and huge social protests.

I think that’s certainly the hope, that the sanctions might lead to such development.  But first, I suspect the sanctions need to be far more expansive than what we’ve seen to date.

And more from Zubov:

Germans formed an ethnic majority in those territories. In all these places, they led perfectly normal lives. In Austria, they were the main ethnic group. In Sudetenland, they enjoyed self-governance, they had the right to use their own language, attend their own schools, publish newspapers. It was the same in Memelland, where they even had an autonomous status and their own parliament. These Germans were not repressed in any way.

But Hitler had a maniacal desire to restore the Reich, destroyed in the wake of World War I. This is precisely why these Anschluss were conducted. In all three cases, the local population did not strive for unification. But thanks to the activities of the secret services, of the SS, and of the Nazi party, public opinion gradually shifted. In the end, these territories were seized through unlawful annexations.

Exactly the same happened in Crimea. People without identification badges emerged, armed to the teeth and carrying brand new weapons. The main buildings, including parliament, were seized. Then the parliament, defended by special forces, chose a new prime minister. Everything was established retroactively and more troops were sent in. It’s exactly the same scenario.

Putin is pursuing different goals that Hitler. Hitler strove to expand [German] territory and chauvinistically brainwash his people. I think the main goal here is to make Ukrainians hateful to Russians, so that the Maidan is not perceived by Russians as their own experience. So that it is seen as the experience of an enemy that needs to be rejected.

That’s interesting. It sounds like Professor Zubov is saying that Putin is afraid of a popular democratic revolution.

The BBC’s description of the Sudetenland crisis sure does sound a lot like Ukraine today:

In 1938, Hitler turned his attention to the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia.

The nation of Czechoslovakia had been created after WWI. Two Slavic peoples, the Czechs and the Slovaks, came together to form the country along with three million German speakers from the Sudeten area on the border with Germany, and smaller numbers of Hungarians, Ukrainians and Poles. The 20 years since its creation had seen its democracy and economy flourish.

 People of Cheb salute the German troops entering the town in the Anschluss of the Sudetenland in October 1938. (From the German Federal Archives.)

People of Cheb (now the Czech Republic, then Czechoslovakia) salute German troops entering the town in the Anschluss of the Sudetenland in October 1938. (From the German Federal Archives.)

The main threat to the fledgling nation was from Hitler’s plans for expansion and from the Sudeten Germans who, used to being part of the German-speaking Austrian empire, were not happy at their inclusion in a Slav-controlled state.

By March 1938, Hitler had successfully invaded Austria without a shot being fired. With one major German-speaking territory under his control he then turned his attention to another – the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler wanted to use the Sudeten Germans to create trouble in Czechoslovakia and, as he had in the Rhineland and Austria, use this as a pretence for invading and “restoring order”.

Not content with merely one piece of Czechoslovakia, Hitler planned to smash the country.

Which brings us back to Hillary. Not so crazy, after all, was she, when only a few weeks ago, she compared all of this to Germany in the 1930s.

“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s,” Clinton said Tuesday, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

She was right.

And a quick word about Hitler references.  This is a point that I’ve raised a few times in the past.  There is such a thing as invoking Hitler too often. And there’s also such a thing as invoking him too little.

The lesson from history, especially horrific history, is not that it could never happen again. Quite the opposite.  The lesson is that it could happen again, and that we should remain ever vigilant.

It’s true that most Nazi references are overblown, and that they risk making the memory a caricature of itself.  But when you when counties invading, and annexing their neighbors, under trumped-up excuses, because they share the same blood, things start to get creepy fast.  Especially when it’s a country with a recent and unique history of excess like Russia, and its predecessor the Soviet Union.  Say what you will about America’s leadership in the world, but we never killed four to ten million of our citizens (or anyone else’s), like Stalin did.  And to the degree we’ve made mistakes, like Iraq, our political leaders paid a price for it, and they don’t now look back on that time as our golden age.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Here’s a BBC interview with Zubov about his being fired:

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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