A world of darkness

March 05, 2003

IN YALTA, the fragrant old Black Sea resort where the fate of postwar Europe was decided in a 1945 summit, only one of the participants in that Big Three meeting was later to get a street named after him. Roosevelt Street stretches inland from the harbor, passing not far from the Lenin Embankment.

Curious. Of course Winston Churchill, who coined the term Iron Curtain, would be neglected. But what about The Other? The Host? What happened to the memory of Josef Stalin?

The man who cast his dark shadow not only on the Soviet Union but on the imagination of people around the world died 50 years ago today. The Soviets began right away to edge away from Stalinism. Who could maintain that tireless malignity? They - and the Russians and Ukrainians and all the others who succeeded them - preferred to avoid him. They chose not to recognize his legacy. They never repudiated him.

At the heart of Stalinism was the kinetic power to be derived from The Enemy. The enemy drove every action. You never knew who might be the enemy. You might be the enemy. The enemy was insidious, everywhere at once and brilliant in his schemes. Stalin's men found millions of enemies within the Soviet Union, and imprisoned and starved and killed them, and then when Stalin's men were found out as enemies themselves they in turn were imprisoned, starved and killed.

Every family was touched by Comrade Stalin. Every family harbored an enemy. It was insanity. No one talks about it. His name appears nowhere. No one can pretend to have forgotten him.

We live in a better world today. There's much less killing. But there's a whiff of Stalin in all sorts of strange places, foreign and domestic. The enemy never tires of proving his convenience to those in power. Surely that's what animates Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein, to name just two. Your enemy is what makes you. Your enemy is a reflection - of you. Stalin just took that to a national scale. "How much," he once asked, "does the Soviet Union weigh?"

The people of Yalta, for whatever reason, got it right. That sunny seaside town chose to honor one of the few bright lights of the last century. Franklin Roosevelt, almost alone among his contemporaries, didn't go looking for enemies, and didn't prop himself up with enemies. There's only one thing to fear, as he so memorably pointed out - and it comes from within, not without.

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