On the other, however, as Putin’s actions continue, ever more people both in the former Soviet space and more broadly are seeking to oppose him by as many different tactics as possible. A new ABN, one committed to uniting the values of the defense of democracy and the defense of national rights, could provide a focus for many and thus promote the combination of values that the United Nations in general and the West in particular have long declared that they support. Consequently, at the very least, this anniversary and the appearance of Bykov’s article provides the occasion for discussing this possibility.
The strength and longevity of the West’s anti-Communist effort during the Cold War rested on two alliances that no longer exist. The first was the alliance between those committed to democracy and freedom and those committed to free market capitalism; the second linked together those who opposed Communism as a system and those who fought Moscow’s imperialist approach to the non-Russian peoples. It seems little chance exists that the first alliance is about to re-form anytime soon—the interests of the two sides have diverged beyond any reconciliation. But Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian and imperialist policies mean that the second might well be reconstituted, although in exactly what form is unclear.
What a new alliance of pro-democracy and anti-imperial national movements might look like is far from clear. Yet, some ideas about both the nature and strength of such a combination can be gleaned from a consideration of the history of the most prominent of its Cold War antecedents, the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations—or, as it was almost invariably known by both supporters and opponents, the ABN. Earlier this month, historian Vladislav Bykov posted an article about that on the Rufabula portal (Rufabula, July 5).
Bykov points out that 2016 is “a jubilee year” in the history of global anti-Communism: the 70thanniversary of the creation of the ABN, and the 20th anniversary of its dissolution at a time when its organizers believed they had achieved their goals and that these achievements were irreversible. The ABN was created in Munich, on April 16, 1946, by people who had fled the advance of Soviet Communism and were committed to the overthrow of the Communist regime and to the formation of nation-states across the region.
Its founding document declared: “In the name of the great goals of human progress, the freedom of nations and the freedom of peoples, the struggle with Bolshevism has decisive importance. We are the national-liberation anti-Bolshevik center consisting of organizations from countries enslaved and despoiled by Bolshevism. We are struggling for independence. In this struggle, we are uniting our forces for the achievement of the common goal of liberation and are establishing the Anti-Bolshevik Block of Peoples.”
Ukrainians played a central role in the organization of the ABN, but there were also Turkestanis, Belarusians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and ultimately more than 20 different nations, not only from behind the Iron Curtain in Europe and within the borders of the Soviet Union, but of peoples in Africa, Asia and Latin America who were also struggling with Communism and imperialism.
Drawing on the ideas of the pre-1939 Promethean League, the ABN made its core principle “anti-imperialism” because its founders considered Bolshevism to be “the latest reincarnation of the Moscow Empire.” Many Russians shared their views, but the ABN did not include them, because its leaders “did not trust Russians,” Bykov points out.
For 40 years until his death, Yaroslav Stetsko was the president of the ABN, a man whose career went from the Ukrainian underground to a Polish jail to a Nazi prison camp and, ultimately, to a dinner in his honor given by United States President Ronald Reagan. On his death in 1986, his widow, Yaroslava Stetsko, succeeded him. Earlier, she had been in charge of the organization’s publications, including the still valuable ABN Correspondence, which was published in Munich in English, German and French.
Today, 70 years after the ABN was founded, reasons have been multiplying for creating something like it for the future. Vladimir Putin has attacked both democracy and the rights of nationalities; and those opposed to his policies—and they include many ethnic Russians, it should be said—may want an organization that seeks to defend against the Kremlin leader’s attacks, especially because it is important that democracy inform the rights of nations and the rights of nations inform democracy.
But it remains to be seen whether this is possible. On the one hand, there are far fewer people in the West than there were in 1946 who have experienced on their own skins Moscow’s brutality and far less interest in the West in assuming any additional responsibilities with regard to promoting these values. The remaining groups are divided between these two sets of values as well as among the various nations involved. And many in the West now cast doubt on the entire enterprise of democracy promotion, let alone the defense of the rights of nations to self-determination however defined.