What Victory? Whose Victory?

Bolshevik (1920), by Boris Kustodiev
Bolshevik (1920), by Boris Kustodiev

Many people are rushing to remind us these days of the Soviet contributions to the Allied victory in WWII. Most of these people of course conveniently forget to mention that Stalin had signed a pact Hitler that allowed them to divide Poland between them, and that he turned against Germany only after Hitler broke the pact and invaded Russia. The same experts also forget to mention that Stalin, and long before the German invasion, had already killed more Soviet citizens than Hitler’s forces would later do. Indeed, ever since the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia’s “victories” have always come at the expense of her peoples’ basic freedoms and their hopes for a dignified existence.

Meanwhile, and for all the complaints we hear from the extreme Left and the extreme Right, and for all the corruption and all the hypocrisy that remain part and parcel of their politics, domestic and foreign, Western democracies remain able to achieve victory without sacrificing their peoples’ freedoms and wellbeing.

True, sometimes, if not even oftentimes, this situation comes at the expense of other peoples of the world; for despite our growing interconnectedness and their rhetoric on human rights and democracy, western countries still project themselves as entities separate-and-above all others and that, by virtue of their level of development and economic and military prowess, are entitled to pursuing their interests even at the expense of others. Of course, this is how every powerful state or empire throughout the history of human civilization has thought and acted. If this attitude sounds hypocritical today, it’s only because Western nations have been the real power behind the establishment of the United Nations, the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more recently, the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect.

“The real story here is a simple case of power envy. The ruling elites in these countries are simply interested in increasing their power and their wealth rather than changing the rules of the game.”

Moreover, when one examines the complaints made by Russia, China or Iran in this regard, then, juxtaposes these complaints against the actions and policies of these states, it becomes clear that none of them is really interested in or capable of offering an alternative way for managing international power politics.

The real story here is a simple case of power envy. The ruling elites in these countries are simply interested in increasing their power and their wealth rather than changing the rules of the game. They speak of their longing for a more just international order, but their actions reveal that they are quite willing to play by the same rules, including dabbling in the affairs of other countries, and invading when necessary, and providing material and logistical support to client regimes. What these regimes really want is a greater share of the pie and greater influence, and they want this for themselves, not necessarily their people. After all, we are not dealing with democracies here.

Indeed, for all their complaints against Western nations, the ruling elites in Russia, China and Iran remain dedicated to oppressing their own people and silencing any voices of dissent, making it virtually impossible for anyone to assess their policies, protest their adventurism and/or hold them accountable for their failures, their mismanagement, and their corruption.

Despite all their talk of national pride, the ruling elites in these authoritarian regimes, and all like-minded regimes, are loyal above all to their parochial and downright criminal interests. They are the real disease that gnaws away at the very fabric of their nations. Beyond the façades they maintain, there is ample amount of misery waiting to burst, and when it does burst, they will blame conspiracies rather than their own avarice, and there will be enough brainwashed fools to believe in them and fight for them to the bitter end. For their end is always bitter, always bloody and ignoble.

Meanwhile, democracies go through ups and downs, taking a step or two backward for every few they make forward. They may even go through more serious setbacks on occasions. But their peoples’ belief in state institutions and in the political process itself, for all its flaws and their usual complaints, make these democracies resilient, far more so than their authoritarian counterparts, for all the doomsday talk of their cynics and critics.


Smaller nations better take heed of this fact, as they would fare much better in this world if they empowered their people through genuine commitment to democratic transitions. Democracy, development and modernization are all equally important, and should be pursued in tandem. Those who insist on putting development and modernization first, are actually rejecting democracy and the accountability that comes with it. There is no logical reason for delaying reforms other than the desire not to have them at all.

Regimes whose sense of accomplishment and victory is measured by the ability of the ruling elite to maintain their hold on power irrespective of the cost to the people and the state are blight on our collective conscience. The only accomplishment that matters in this world is the one that liberates and empowers, and this means that people who live under authoritarian rule can never be truly victorious until they shake off their shackles.

Until then, the sentiments expressed by Russian novelist Mikhail Shishkin, as he addressed his late father, will express the reality of the situation better than any celebration:

“Russia’s rulers have stolen my people’s oil, stolen their elections, stolen their country. And stolen their victory. Father, we lost the war.”