Followers of the turmoil in Ukraine should make a note of one word used by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to newly annexed Crimea on Thursday, May 8, one of the most sacred days on the Russian calendar. The word Putin chose, in referring to Russia, was "Motherland."
The word conjures memories of Josef Stalin, who used the word to rally the Soviet people against German troops in the darkest days of World War II. Stalin urged Russians (and other ethnic groups in the vast Soviet empire) to defend the Motherland against the invading Nazis. The invocation of "Motherland" was a desperate attempt to rebuild national pride where it had been destroyed by Stalin's own ruthless tactics of forced collectivization, rigged trials, mass starvation, executions and imprisonments for anyone who dared to cross Stalin or oppose his policies.
The tactic worked. Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Latvians and all the others rallied to fight the Germans, whom some had welcomed as liberators from Stalin's deadly regime. Defending the Motherland, Russians pushed the unstoppable Germans back from the Eastern Front, back through Poland, all the way to the German Fatherland, to the gates of Berlin. The Allied victory proclaimed May 8, 1945, was in large measure a Soviet success that had hinged on Stalin invoking the defense of the Motherland just as German troops dug in on the outskirts of Stalingrad and Leningrad.
Putin's borrowing of Stalin's phrase has ominous implications for Russia, Ukraine and the entire world. If Putin is following Stalin's world view and not just his choice of words, America can stop celebrating its victory in the Cold War and prepare for a new world order that is too much like the world of 1950.