The Russian aggression in the Ukraine has met with general disapproval in the main and so far unanimous condemnation in Europe. But, if for some it is only a difficult diplomatic issue, for others, in the East, Putin has awakened memories past.
This war is taking place in territories that have witnessed the worst mass killing of civilians ever, those "Bloodlands" described by the historian Timothy Snyder, which stretch from Ukraine to the Baltic States, passing through Poland and Belarus.
There, dictators ordered the massacre of more than 14 million civilians within a time span of under 12 years (1933-1945), to which must be added the even greater number of victims of the Second World War fighting in these same lands.
The Holocaust is known, has been well documented and condemned, and the memory of it, which has been quite rightly preserved, is crystallised by the Nuremberg trial held specifically for its perpetrators. The Soviet crimes, on the other hand, were forgotten, hidden, and drowned out by communist propaganda, and were not given the legal attention they deserve, which is the only way we can hope to continue living in peace. By trying to rewrite history, Putin is now reviving those memories of the past.
Stalin's Russia had committed more crimes prior to the war than the Nazi dictator. 700,000 Soviets were "purged" in 1937-38, 4 million civilians voluntarily starved in Ukraine between 1933 and 1937.
Together, by officially joining forces in 1939 through the German-Soviet Pact, the two dictatorships martyred, deported, and murdered the civilian populations of these regions and carved up their states for two years.
Then, as the Great Reich collapsed, the communist dictatorship took hold behind the wrong side of the Iron Curtain and continued to mow down the elites and the lifeblood of these peoples.
This is what the descendants of the Gulag deportees, who are often the modern leaders of these states, remember. In Central Europe, there is no family that has not had to face, at some point, the barbarity of communist Russia, of which Putin is a reminder.
For them, the memory of the massacres has become genetic in nature.
It is not revenge that they seek, it is the return of the mass killings of civilians that they fear. And Putin's army is giving them plenty of reasons to believe this. By waging a twentieth century war, based on crushing and pure violence, rape and theft, disregard for all rules and the assumed choice of brutality, the progeny of the Red Army is reminiscent of the worst exactions committed by its ancestor.
The countries of Eastern Europe are now responding in the right manner to Russia’s aggression. Ukraine is not only defending its territory and its identity, which is already legitimate: it is protecting Europe from the worst sufferings by enduring them in its stead. It is honouring the cause of freedom.
The West and the Old nations would do well to realise this before it is too late. Putin is incapable of offering his people their attractive standard of living and of achieving even a tiny fraction of their economic power. He has lost the competition in this area. All that remains is fear, terror, massacres and war.
This is why it is not pertinent to speak of humiliation. What matters is the necessary defeat of Putin's Russia, in the name of humanity, for the sake of the world and the peace of Europe.