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East: Historian Norman Stone Ponders War, Peace As Victory Day Marked

The siege of Leningrad (official site) Norman Stone, former regius professor at Oxford University and now modern history professor at Turkey's Bilkent University, has a reputation for upsetting conventional thinking with his short, sharp assessments. In this interview with RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke, coinciding with the 63rd anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, Stone ponders the impact of that war and other wars of the 20th century on the Soviet Union, Turkey, and the Balkans.  

RFE/RL: How did the Soviet Union use the experience of World War II to weld its empire together?

Norman Stone: I think in a funny sort of way the war turned the Soviet Union into a sort of superpower, in that quite possibly without the war the thing would have collapsed. It was in a terrible state in 1941, and if it hadn't been for the way the Nazis behaved [by invading], who knows what would have happened. You know, being forced to transport all that industry off to Kazakhstan and places like that forced them to rethink what they were doing and gave them a kind of patriotic mission to do. With the effect that it did in a way turn them into a superpower and postponed the collapse for quite a time.

RFE/RL: Do you think the Cold War was inevitable after the hot war?

Stone: Oh, yes. I think the way Stalin looked at the world, it was pretty well inevitable -- you know, the utter incompatibility of the two systems. The Americans at the end of the war were fully expecting to give Russia quite a lot of money and rope her into some kind of, if you like, anti-imperial alliance which would be against the British and the French in some ways, and it was the Russians' absurd behavior that turned everybody against them.

There was a scene in 1957 when [Soviet leader Nikita] Krushchev turned around on [former Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov and started ranting at him, saying, 'Look, at the end of the war you managed to turn places like Iran and Turkey into enemies' -- Turkey which in a sense had even been created by the Bolsheviks. It would not have existed if it hadn't had all the help from the Bolsheviks initially.

Norman Stone

RFE/RL: Could you expand on that, how the Bolsheviks in your view helped the Turkish nationalists set up modern Turkey in the chaos of the end of the First Word War, when various nations and people were fighting over the bones of the Ottoman Empire?

Stone: Through the Caucasus, the Bolsheviks heard about the [Turkish] nationalist movement just at the same time as the [Ottoman] sultan was having the Treaty of Sevres signed -- which was the partition of Anatolia. The Bolsheviks and the nationalists were signing another treaty, which supplied the nationalists with about 500 kilograms of gold, if I remember rightly, and an awful lot of weaponry. And it was with that they managed to defeat, in the first instance, the Armenians and then the French. And once that had happened they had the wherewithall to take on the Greeks and the British, which they did in 1921-22. So, in a sense, it was the Bolsheviks who created modern Turkey.

Then, in '45, Stalin, in an excess of megalomania, said, 'Right, I'm going to realize the old tsarist dream of taking Constantinople back.' So he demanded bases from the Turks in the Dardanelles, and he also demanded the eastern provinces back. And at that point the British and the Americans put their foot down. The Americans sent some warships to protect the Turks. And in '57, Krushchev ranted at Molotov and said, 'You know, if you hadn't done that, Turkey and Iran would have been in effect Finlandized.'

RFE/RL: Stalin in some quarters is still glorified as a military genius for his turning back of Nazi German forces. Was he a genius?

Stone: No, I wouldn't call him a military genius. He had the sort of quality, I suppose, that [French Marshall Joseph] Joffre had had in the First World War, of just never quite knowing when he was beaten. So he could tough it out at colossal expense in lives. If you compare him with a real military genius, it would be with somebody like Napoleon, for all his horrible sides, and I don't think Stalin would count as that at all. All he had was that horrific ruthlessness, which kept the show on the road in its way in Russia. You could call him a manager of a sort, I suppose. You know, the answer is as Trotsky called him -- Genghis Khan with a telephone.

RFE/RL: Turning to the Balkans, did German-style facism leave a lasting mark on the Balkan countries, as indicated by the emergence of a hatred for "others" or "otherness" during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s?

Stone: If you're actually in the Balkans, the [ideological] lines are much less solid than they were in Nazi Germany itself, where even people who wouldn't necessarily be particularly anti-Semitic would nevertheless obey the law [relating to Jews] -- let alone in a place like Holland, where [during the occupation] there were only about six SS officers, and the Dutch police -- though themselves not particularly anti-Semitic -- rounded up about 100,000 Jews whose names and addresses had been supplied by the Jewish Council. And that Jewish Council was put on trial after the war for collaboration, and all they were doing was to obey the law in this sheeplike, northwest European way. In the Balkans, that sort of thing would not have happened.

RFE/RL: Why not?

Stone: [In the Balkans] it was a much more fluid situation. People could say, 'Yes, down with the Jews,' but then in practice they couldn't bring themselves to do it, or they would be bribed, or the state would turn a blind eye.

RFE/RL: Do you think that in the post-Yugoslav era in the Balkans, fascism finds a place?

Stone: No, I never went along with all that stuff about how the Croats are all turning back into [far-right nationalist] Ustashi just because they brought back the medieval flag, and there would be occasional silly things said by silly asses. No, I never really went along with that. It's actually remarkable in the circumstances how very little any of that came up. You know, you have to work terribly hard to make out that present-day Croatia or Croatia of say, 15 years ago, was turning back into a little fascist state.

RFE/RL: What about the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Bosian Serb forces at Srebrenica. Was this an indication of how little we have progressed since the Second World War?

Stone: Srebrenica is unique. It can't be compared with the great orgies [of killing] that went on in the Second World War. For a lot of it, I think the Dutch [peacekeeping troops] were responsible, but it couldn't be compared with what happened in the Second [World] War. The Serbs obviously got gripped by a sort of mania at the time. [They thought] they could browbeat the Bosnians into going back into their kennel, as it were.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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