Vladimir Putin decorates a murderer.
"The country where people have exterminated each other for half a century is afraid to remember its past. What lies ahead for this country with a waning memory, I wonder? What is a person worth anymore, if devoid of memory?”
– Nadezhda Mandelstam
History only apparently repeats itself, wrote Karl Marx; tragedy the first time turns into farce the second time around. Nevertheless, it can be a grotesque, bloody, and vile farce, we might add. Andrei Lugovoi, a FSB officer and Alexander Litvinenko’s assassin, received a decoration from Vladimir Putin for his “energetic legislative activity”. Jorge Semprún wrote a book titled “The Second Death of Ramón Mercader” – we are now witnessing his second life. The only difference lies in that the first Mercader, the character in the outstanding novel “The Man Who Loved Dogs” by Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, was one of the Comintern’s zealots, one of the possessed, a true believer.
Hiding under the pseudonyms Jacques Mornard and Frank Jacson, he seduced American Trotskyist Silvia Ageloff and took advantage of her in a most cynical manner in order to gain access into the residence (a real fortress) of the author of “The Revolution Betrayed” and accomplish what he regarded – in fact rationalized – as the purpose of History. He had begun his training as a killer under Genrikh Yagoda’s guidance. The second one, Litvinenko’s assassin, is a hired gun, an operative, a gangster in service of the Putin famiglia. Mercader had believed in Stalin, to quote Padura, “as a benefactor, as the Messiah, as the chosen one, as the son of historical necessity and the inevitable dialectics of class struggle...” Obsessed with the imaginary agents of Trotsky who were supposedly poisoning the food of the Soviet proletariat, Stalin sent his own agent into his nemesis’ house to eliminate him. Similarly, Putin sent Lugovoi to put an end to Litvinenko’s “debauchery”.
That same Ramón Mercader was the Spanish communist who murdered Leon Davidovich Trotsky with an ice pick blow to the head, on August 20, 1940, in Coyoacán, Mexico. He did so on Stalin’s orders, conveyed by NKVD colonel Leonid Eitingon and his mother, Soviet agent and communist fanatic Caridad Mercader, Eitingon’s mistress. Caridad worshiped Stalin and was ready to sacrifice her own son for the “great cause”.
When they saw that Mercader was not coming, the two – who were waiting for him on the street corner – understood that the orders had been carried out and there was no more need for additional risks. They were counting on his silence and were right to do so. Officially, Pravda wrote that the assassin was a disillusioned Trotskyist. The news report, extremely laconic, only contained a few lines; it mentioned the death of the “enemy of the people” L. D. Trotsky.
Ciudad de Mexico was filled with sad songs about the revolutionary killed by the emissary of the “Kremlin highlander”, as Osip Mandelstam called Stalin. We are not discussing Trotsky’s ideas here, which are obviously debatable, but his tremendous tenacity in relation to a force unparalleled in terms of worldwide influence:
Murió Trotsky asesinado
de la noche a la mañana
porque habían premeditado
venganza tarde o temprana.
Mercader was sentenced to 20 years in prison (Mexico does not have the death penalty), served his sentence and was released in 1960. Legend has it that in the spring of 1956, when the guards gave him Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” to read, his hair turned white. He arrived in the USSR in 1961 and received the “Hero of the Soviet Union” distinction (the highest possible) in a secret ceremony. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, then President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, was the one to award him the medal. The leader of the CPSU was Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the man who had denounced the cult of Stalin and whom Brezhnev would replace as the head of Lenin’s party in October 1964. All that remained of the original romanticism – perversely manipulated by Stalin and his people, including Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the Spanish Communist Party – was the appeal of alcohol, the ashen taste of illusions betrayed, and the passion for dogs. The “hero” of global communism left the USSR for Cuba and died on the “Revolution Island” – a witness to what the late sociologist Irving Louis Horowitz called the Stalinization of the Cuban Revolution.
Alexander Litvinenko defied the one we call Czar Putka (the nickname Putin’s high school classmates in Leningrad gave him, exasperated by his bully behavior). He revealed the criminal nature of the kleptocratic autocracy in the Kremlin. He was considered a traitor. He was poisoned with a substance created in the death laboratories of the KGB rebranded as FSB. The passion that Chekists harbor for poisons is notorious. We have written here before about Genrikh Yagoda, the head of the secret police (OGPU) in the 30’s, a longstanding Bolshevik, pharmacist, and professional revolutionary, collector of pornographic photographs and fine poisons. Lugovoi was the one who carried out the Kremlin’s orders. The similarities to the way in which Stalin and his successors rewarded Mercader cannot possibly be overlooked by those familiar with the bleak history of Bolshevism.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is a professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author of numerous books, including most recently “The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century.” Marius Stan is a Romanian political scientist, author of books in Romanian and Polish, and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bucharest. This essay was translated from Romanian into English by Monica Got.
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