Stalin and Hitler were possessed by the devil. So says Pope Benedict XVI’s so-called “caster out of demons” and founder of the International Association of Exorcists, Father Gabriele Amorth. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Amorth said,
“Of course the Devil exists and he can not only possess a single person but also groups and entire populations.
“I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler – and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil.
“You can tell by their behavior and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That’s why we need to defend society from demons.”
Who would have guessed? But Amorth would know. He has conducted over 30,000 exorcisms. And in an interview in 2001, he revealed that he talks to the Satan everyday, “I speak with the Devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in day out, for 14 years.” So there you have it.
More fascinating is the fact that according to Vatican archival documents, wartime pontiff Pius XII attempted a “long distance” exorcism of Hitler. Sadly, it seems to have failed.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Perry Anderson, prominent left wing social critic and historian at UCLA, has written an insightful analysis of Putin’s Russia for the London Review of Books. I recently translated an interview Anderson gave to Kommersant, and in the LRB piece he elaborates on some of the ideas he presented there. I highly recommend reading it. It’s quite lucid and thick. Not to mention the guy can just flat out write. Here is an opening excerpt:
Under lowering skies, a thin line of mourners stretched silently outside the funeral hall. Barring the entrance, hulking riot police kept them waiting until assorted dignitaries – Anatoly Chubais, Nato envoys, an impotent ombudsman – had paid their respects. Eventually they were let in to view the corpse of the murdered woman, her forehead wrapped in the white ribbon of the Orthodox rite, her body, slight enough anyway, diminished by the flower-encrusted bier. Around the edges of the mortuary chamber, garlands from the media that attacked her while she was alive stood thick alongside wreaths from her children and friends, the satisfied leaf to leaf with the bereaved. Filing past them and out into the cemetery beyond, virtually no one spoke. Some were in tears. People dispersed in the drizzle as quietly as they came.
The authorities had gone to some lengths to divert Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral from the obvious venue of the Vagankovskoe, where Sakharov is buried, to a dreary precinct on the outskirts that few Muscovites can locate on a map. But how necessary was the precaution? The number of mourners who got to the Troekurovskoe was not large, perhaps a thousand or so, and the mood of the occasion was more sadness than anger. A middle-aged woman, bringing groceries home from the supermarket, shot at point-blank range in an elevator, Politkovskaya was killed for her courage in reporting the continuing butchery in Chechnya. An attempt to poison her had narrowly failed two years earlier. She had another article in press on the atrocities of the Kadyrov clan that now runs the country for the Kremlin, as she was eliminated. She lived and died a fighter. But of any powerful protest at her death, it is difficult to speak. She was buried with resignation, not fury or revolt.
In Ukraine, the discovery of the decapitated body of a journalist who had investigated official corruption, Georgi Gongadze, was sufficient outrage to shake the regime, which was brought down soon afterwards. Politkovskaya was a figure of another magnitude. A better historical comparison might be with the murder of Matteotti by Mussolini in 1924. In Russian circumstances, her moral stature as an opponent of arbitrary power was scarcely less than that of the Socialist deputy. But there the resemblance ends. The Matteotti Affair caused an outcry that nearly toppled Mussolini. Politkovskaya was killed with scarcely a ripple in public opinion. Her death, the official media explained, was either an unfathomable mystery, or the work of enemies of the government vainly attempting to discredit it. The president remarked she was a nobody whose death was the only news value in her life.
It is tempting, but would be a mistake, to see in that casual dismissal no more than the ordinary arrogance of power. All governments deny their crimes, and most are understanding of each other’s lies about them. Bush and Blair, with still more blood on their hands – in all probability, that of over half a million Iraqis – observe these precepts as automatically as Putin. But there is a difference that sets Putin apart from his fellow rulers in the G8, indeed from virtually any government in the world. On the evidence of comparative opinion polls, he is the most popular national leader alive today. Since he came to power six years ago, he has enjoyed the continuous support of over 70 per cent of his people, a record no other contemporary politician begins to approach. For comparison, Chirac now has an approval rating of 38 per cent, Bush of 36 per cent, Blair of 30 per cent.Tags: Putin|Russia|Perry Anderson|London Review of Books|journalism|human rights|democracy|economics|historyPost Views: 453
By Sean — 13 years ago
Two articles in today’s Moscow Times concern the Russian military and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s attempts to get a handle on it. The first, “No More Free Labor for Soldiers” reports on Ivanov’s decree forbidding officers from using conscripts to perform work outside their military service. Forcing conscripts to build dachas, collect harvests and other labor is a common practice in the Russian military. Some of these tasks fall under dedovshchina, or hazing, where new conscripts are forced to perform all sorts of laborious and humiliating tasks for older soldiers and officers under the threat of violence. According to the article, the Defense Ministry has recorded 662 non-combat deaths since January to August this year. This number is disputed by the soldiers’ rights organization Mothers’ Rights Foundation. Veronika Marchenko, the head of MRF claims that non-combat deaths, including deaths from hazing, number around 3,000 per year. This number would presumably include other types of deaths from abuse such as suicide and mental illness.
Conscript abuse is a serious problem in the Russian military. Human Rights Watch released a report late last year chronicling the abuse associated with the hazing of new recruits. In one of its most horrific passages, the report summed up dedovshchina with the following incident:
“No sooner was Alexander D. assigned to the Third Company at his unit, than the rules of dedovshchina became apparent. While he described the abuses during the first week as “not all too strong,” after about a week, Alexander D.—a young man with a strong sense of personal dignity—came into serious conflict with the dedy [short for ???????, or grandfathers. In this context senior conscripts—Sean] when he refused to comply with one of their orders. He told Human Rights Watch that “the one way to avoid physical abuse was complete submission—turning into a ‘lackey’ (in Russian: shesterka) who does whatever he is asked no matter how humiliating or senseless.” And Alexander D. was not willing to become one. While Alexander D. was standing guard at night, the dedy ordered him to sew collars on their jackets, and went to bed themselves. Alexander D. did not do any sewing that night. The next morning, when the dedy found out, they made it clear his refusal would not go unpunished. One of the dedy told Alexander D. he would be better off “hanging himself.” Later that morning, one of the dedy took Alexander D. to the storage room and started beating him on the arms with an iron bed post wrapped in a towel. When Alexander D. tried to resist, the ded twice beat him with full force on the thigh. Alexander D. fell and the ded hit him on the back and head. The ded then told Alexander D. that the worst would follow at night. Indeed, that night, after Alexander D. had gone to bed, the dedy hit him over the head with a stool to wake him up and took him to the sergeants’ room, where they beat him for a while and then told him to do push-ups. Alexander D. initially refused but after more beatings he did push-ups until around 2:00 a.m. when they told him to dust and themselves went to bed. Alexander D. again refused.”
Despite this, the Ministry chose to tackle the problem of conscript labor. At a press conference this week in Lisbon, Portugal, Defense Minister Ivanov said this, “The myths that exist in society say that soldiers do nothing else but collect harvests and build generals’ dachas. As of today, if such a case is recorded, the commander that gave such an order will be fired and may even land in prison.” Ivanov also warned in June that the names of dead soldiers would be published monthly on the Defense Ministry’s website for all to see.
Not everyone is optimistic. In an editorial accompanying the article, Alexander Gots doubts that Ivanov’s decree will make a difference.
“Whatever lofty sentiments the brass might express about their concern for the average soldier, disdain for the grunts is the foundation of any large conscript army. Our military leaders can’t understand why they’re being made to answer for the lives of individual soldiers. If there’s one thing our generals are good at, it’s calling up huge numbers of young men, providing them with the most primitive combat training and then using them as cannon fodder. This is why the generals require a ready reserve that comprises the entire male adult population of the country. This is why they bitterly oppose the creation of a professional army. By vowing to investigate and publicize all deaths of military personnel in an attempt to force the generals to see conscripts as human beings, Ivanov has infringed upon one of the armed forces’ basic operating principles.”
The use of conscripts for labor has a long history in Russia. Before the Revolution, soldiers were forced to build roads, bridges, and collect harvests. After the revolution conscript labor was used to build railroads and work in coal mines. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gots claims that conscript labor became a “full-blown industry.” Soldiers were hired out to local factories. The money was used to supplement local military budgets, while some “good” commanders invested the money back into his units. Gots adds that since things have gotten worse. “In the North Caucasus,” he writes, “things have reached the point where soldiers are sold into slavery. And for officers who earn meager salaries and enjoy few rights, control of this pool of free labor is the last thing that ensures them a measure of social status.”
It is because of this, that Gots thinks that Ivanov’s decree will not be met with much praise within the command structure. The ban seeks to undo a long standing, yet unwritten privilege of Russian military commanders.
The decree does not, however, address the severe problem of dedovshchina. Even if it did, it probably couldn’t do much to alter its pervasiveness. Dedovshchina is too embedded in military culture. It allows older conscripts to regulate and dominate new ones, giving the military a self perpetuating code of conduct that has no written rules and functions according to the laws laid down by rank and file soldiers. As one ded interviewed by Human Rights Watch put it,
“When we arrived as first-year conscripts, nobody spared us, we slaved for the dedy, and were beaten much more than this [new recruit] now… And we did not complain, we did not run away, and eventually we became friends with the dedy. Now it’s our turn. That’s the law here. We didn’t put up with a full year here so that some dukhi [ or ghost, in this context a derogatory term for new recruits] can now ignore us. Let them take it, and then their time of compensation will come.”
As Gots correctly titles his editorial, slavery is not reformable.Post Views: 430
By Sean — 12 years ago
Twenty years ago the nuclear plant Chernobyl exploded. The Guardian did an excellent article on the event and its lingering effects. There is no official count on how many died as a result. The number is probably in the tens of thousands, and its effects will continue to be felt in the region for several decades more. In a UN report released last September that was supported by Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine estimates 4,000 deaths. The World Health Organization altered the estimate to 9,000. Greenpeace estimates up to 100,000 deaths as a direct or indirect result of the nuclear meltdown.
Chernobyl’s historical significance goes beyond environmental catastrophe. As Pyotr Romanov argues in a comment on RIV Novosti that Chernobyl was a major blow to the Soviet Union and should be included as one of the factors in its collapse. It completely undercut the moral and political authority of the Perestroika reformers.
There is one more consequence of the Chernobyl disaster, which is rarely mentioned. I think it was Chernobyl that exploded the U.S.S.R. Needless to say, the reasons for the disintegration of such a colossus were bound to be multiple. Some people say with good reason that the founders of Marxism programmed the elements of self-destruction into the Soviet Union’s policy and economy. Others justifiably quote the arms race or Afghanistan, which also undermined the Soviet might. Still others blame the then leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus for signing a document in secret from President Gorbachev in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. They believe, not without a reason, that this document finished the U.S.S.R off.
However, I still think that Chernobyl was one of the major factors behind the Soviet collapse. The tragedy was not just about radioactive contamination. It produced a huge pack of lies, which shocked the Soviet people. The authorities concealed from them the truth for several days. In blissful ignorance, children and adults were walking under the genial spring rain in Kiev and Minsk, eating fruit, fishing, going to Ukrainian and Byelorussian resorts. If they had known the truth, they would have been running away. When rumors finally got through, people panicked. They rushed to railroad stations and drug stores. Only the first semi-truthful official reports outlined the enormous scale of the catastrophe.
Importantly, the liars were the Party reformers whom many people had trusted when they said that the Soviet system could be reformed. After this lie there was nobody to believe. So, when a report on the Soviet Union’s demise came from Belovezhskaya Pushcha, nobody tried to resuscitate it. The lie proved to be as deadly as radiation.
In addition, what is more disconcerting is that the lesson of Chernobyl and the dangers of nuclear power have fallen on deaf ears. Nuclear power is considered acceptable again, not only in Russia, but the US, and of course in Iran. Unfortunately, nuclear power, whether it be fore energy or in its weaponized form is still with us.
For more news on Chernobyl, I point readers to Wally Shedd’s entry at his blog Accidental Russophile. He has provided a number of useful links to news stories debating, commemorating, and shedding historical light on the event.Post Views: 418