The Corner

Captive Nations Week: Not a Joke

I would like to quote from my “Baltic Journal” today, in order to link to a piece, and then to another piece. Here is that quotation, that chunk:

I talk to many people here in the Baltics, and they all say the same thing: They stress how grateful they are for the U.S. non-recognition, during those long years. Washington never accepted the occupation and annexation of the Baltic states as legitimate. America always withheld recognition.

Some experts counseled against this — “realistic” ones, “pragmatic” ones, Kissingerian ones. But they did not prevail. And Balts are very, very grateful.

I always thought that Captive Nations Day, or Captive Nations Week, was sort of pathetic — such a weak gesture, when Balts were enduring such hell. I thought it was almost insulting: better nothing than a special “day,” or even a “week.”

But I was wrong. This gesture was very meaningful to the Balts. And non-recognition was key.

For one thing, this non-recognition helped the Baltic nations to regain their independence. They had an international status different from that of other Soviet “republics,” thanks to our stubborn non-recognition.

Let me recommend a piece written by James Kirchick for Foreign Policy magazine last year: here. It is titled “Cold War Symbolism: Not Just for the 1950s Anymore.” There is this further description: “You don’t have to be a musty old relic to know that symbolic gestures still have a place in the fight to defend freedom and democracy from Russia.”

Do you know that Captive Nations Week is still officially observed? It is. And ought to be.

Finally, I thought of an interview I did with János Horváth, two years ago. He is a Hungarian politician and economist: a onetime prisoner of the Nazis and the Communists, the youngest member of the Hungarian parliament and then, decades later, the oldest. An extraordinary human being.

I will quote from an installment of the series I did on him:

In the revolution, Horváth once more took a leading part. I ask him a question I have long been curious about: “Did we Americans behave badly in 1956? Did we encourage the Hungarians to rise up and then fail to help them? Did we let them be crushed?”

No, says Horváth — you hear that, but the answer is emphatically no. “In 1956, the Hungarians rebelled because we were fed up with Communism. The United States, at that time, was not ready to face the Soviet military. The United States would have had no chance. Could the U.S. have been more skillful in diplomacy? Most probably, but that is another issue.”

He also wants to say something about Yalta. In fact, he says it at the top of his voice, emotional. “Everyone says that Yalta was a sellout. No! Just the opposite! Yalta guaranteed that eventually the Soviet Union would fall apart. The Soviet Union would be with us today if not for Truman and all the American presidents thereafter. Every year, they declared Captive Nations Week. The legitimacy of Soviet domination was never granted. America was consistent and ethical throughout.

“It is unfortunate that Americans blame themselves for things they are not guilty of. About some things, America should do some soul-searching, but not these particular things.”

Is Horváth too generous toward us? Maybe, but heaven knows he is entitled to his say.

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