By Paul Goble
Seventy-nine years ago, on December 14, 1939, the League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union from membership for its actions against Finland, an act of principle by an organization most people consider to have been incapable of that and one that has not been equaled by international bodies for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Georgia and Ukraine.
The motion to exclude the Soviet Union for its actions was introduced by Argentina on the basis of the League’s own 1933 resolution defining aggression, Russian commentator Yury Khristenzen recalls, along with information about Stalin’s bombing of Helsinki that has an all-too-disturbing echo in the words of Putin representatives now (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5C153AA75C3E2).
At the time that Soviet planes were bombing the Finnish capital, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov insisted that the Soviet bombers were not dropping bombs but rather “food for starving Finns. That led the Finns in turn to refer to Soviet bombers as “Molotov’s bread delivery trucks.”
In a similar way, the Finnish army began to refer to homemade weapons it used to fight the Soviet invaders as “Molotov cocktails,” a name that has survived. Unfortunately, the principled position of the League of Nations has not. To be sure, the League’s actions did not stop Stalin, but they did underscore that the international community viewed him as a criminal.
The great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam famously observed that “happy is the country in which the despicable will at least be despised.” Sometimes despising evil is all that someone can do; but at the same time, it should be the minimum.