In short, Intermarium (Latin for In between Seas) is a well-researched and well-written book; a balanced combination of theoretical insights with good narratives; an objective study of an area full of subjectivities; and, a thorough summary of important historical events. The book also offers an exhaustive bibliography full of valuable quotations and a much needed alphabetical index. Although it took a team to accomplish this exhaustive study and two decades of research, as well as many field trips, personal interviews, translations and interpretations, all these do not diminish the great personal contribution of the author.
Intermarium is defined as the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the early modern period (1386-1795) or western Ruthenia of the old “Rus.” Currently, the area is made up of the three Baltic republics to the north, Belarus and Ukraine in the center, and to a lesser degree, the republic of Moldova or former Romania Bessarabia, to the south. However, few people associate this vast area with the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. A more detailed background in this regard would have been welcome.
The work is well organized into four parts: Background and brief history; The Armageddon and its aftermath (the period from 1939 to 1992); the post-Soviet years; and, a short segment dedicated to individual recollections.
By reading the brief historical background of the Muscovy princedom, the reader is surprised to realize how much Russia’s behavior of today mirrors the behavior of the old Muscovy of yesteryears. In fact, it appears that the attitude of the new Russia toward the Intermarium has changed little over the centuries. By reading, for example, the short chapters “Medieval Ruthenia and the Mongols,” along with “The Balts, the Germans, and the Poles,” the reader understands better the roots of Moscow’s rejection of anything Western, Polish, or of Catholic influence. It appears that the Moscow of today has virtually the same mentality and geopolitical goals as the old Grand Duchy or Grand Principality of Moscow, more commonly referred to as Muscovy.
Intermarium summarizes how Moscow first seized the other “Ruthenian” principalities, while it was still under Tatar domination. Then, Moscow kept expanding westward to the detriment of the Poles and Lithuanians. Eventually, under the banner of Communism, Moscow reached its maximum extension from the Baltic to the Black Sea. This is the Intermarium analyzed in the book, representing the “Near Abroad” of today’s Russia. It seems that in order to feel secure, Russia must control all the lands around its periphery, as far as nature allows it or to the point when other powers stand up against its inherent expansionism. This is what Moscow has done for over 500 years! And, according to several of the book’s chapters, specifically “Transformation,” “The Liberation,” and “Post-Soviet Continuities and Discontinuities,” this is still what Moscow does these days, but in a more subtle and less overt way. While 21st Century Europe is moving toward freedom, democracy and integration, Russia is stuck in the 19th Century geopolitics. Will Russia ever change and become a normal country?
The author, Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, a professor of history, who holds the Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. makes his study mostly through a Polish intellectual prism and with the interests of the United States in mind. Considering the past history of the area, the Polish-centered point of view is quite justified, indeed. However, the American interests in the area must be interpreted in light of Washington’s past and recent policies and must be balanced against the Russian ones. From this point of view, it is questionable whether the United States would ever challenge Russia in its own backyard. It certainly did not do so at the time of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 during the presidency of George W. Bush. Actually, given the facts offered by the author about the past and recent American and Western ambiguities, it is hard to believe that the United States would necessarily change its position regarding the Intermarium.
Among the many case studies, Chodakiewicz’s book emphasizes the extremely complicated relations between various social and ethnic groups during the Russian Civil War and during the occupation of the area by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The aspirations of the local people were incompatible with both occupiers, and the invaders would not accept neutrals in the conflict. The suffering of the local people was beyond endurance. Courageously, the author puts the Nazi and the Communist atrocities on an equal footing: “Mass terror, extermination and deportations were the trade mark of both the Germans and the Soviets.”
According to the study, counting the number of those deported to Siberia by the Soviet authorities is impossible. The author thinks that maybe twice the number of deportees found in official records were actually deported. In my own research on Moldova, by using Soviet official data and by very conservative estimates, I found about 200,000 people missing due to deportations. Local analysts, however, claim a minimum of a half-million victims. Yet, the short section on Moldova is frightening. It is difficult to believe the stubbornness with which Moscow is still clinging, even now, to this small territory.
Intermarium clearly depicts how most people suffered at the hands of both Russia’s Communists and Germany’s National Socialists, with some ethnic groups suffering more than others. The Poles, for example, fought against both occupiers and as a result were horribly victimized by both. Next to be victimized were the Ukrainians and the people of the Baltic nations. Some ethnic groups also turned against each other. The Jews were victimized by the Nazis, but Communists among them victimized other ethnic groups. Most nationalities were split, but as a general rule they feared the Germans and hated the Russians. The author should be commended for his objectivity and the courage to tell the entire truth.
Based on facts, Chodakiewicz writes that Poland was betrayed by the West during the most critical years covered by this book. Worst still, most of this time the Western historiography accepted Stalin’s propaganda; allegedly, that the USSR “liberated” Eastern Europe and brought “democracy” to the region. For much too long, writes the author, America embraced the official Soviet lies. The question is, can he still trust the West knowing its past deceptions and betrayals? Apparently, the author does, but it is not clear if he truly believes it. Given the history of the Roosevelt administration during the Second World War as well as the Obama administration during Washington’s “reset” policy, one couldn’t blame him if he didn’t entirely trust the West.
Eventually, the Intermarium region was liberated in the early 1990s by a combination of internal forces and external factors. In the author’s opinion, the true liberation “started with the offensive unleashed by John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. ” In this vein, he writes: “Gradually, the nationalist dream was realized. The nationalists, however, were excluded from its fruits. Ultimately, it was the post-Communists who stole the thunder of the nationalists and emerged victorious in most of the newly independent states of the Intermarium.” And further, freedom did come, but it was skewed. “Once the dissolution of the USSR occurred, the former Communist masters continued to exercise power over their former captive peoples.” In fact, the former Communists morphed into the new capitalists.
From this standpoint, one can understand the author’s disillusionment. He writes that the Communist societies have been “transformed,” but not really “reformed.” And the book also offers a very good analysis of nationalism, which is so much maligned in the West. He writes that the West still fears nationalism, whereas, the former East European and Soviet Communists are fully accepted. As a result, millions of victims have been forgotten and the truth about the Communist atrocities is carefully avoided by many Western circles. “Let us forget the past. We were all victims,” cry the post-Communists rebranded now as Social-Democrats. Here, the author cogently writes, “It is singularly unhelpful that the postmodernists dominating the historical discourse in the European Union refuse to equate Nazism and Communism, or even acknowledge the crimes of Moscow, for example, the Katyn Forest massacre.” In this regard, Chapter 16, “Contemporary Politics,” offers a good analysis of the current left-leaning attitudes of the West and concludes, “Thus, Communism may be ‘dead’ but the nefarious leftist ideas which birthed it are well and alive.” And, I may ask then, who really won the Cold War?
On a rather small critical note, despite a comprehensive bibliography, I could not find the source of certain precise data about Moldova that is given in the book. The root of the Polish-Lithuanian friction is not well explained either. In addition, the current sizes of ethnic minorities living in the post-Soviet republics are not given even though the issue of nationalities continues to be important.
In conclusion, “Russia is angry and wants to reassert itself,” writes the author, adding: “The Kremlin’s aim is clear: to reimpose its control over the Intermarium in the short run and over the rest of the post-Communist sphere in a long run.” As for the Intermarium as a whole, the region is too weak and too fragmented to stand on its own and that is an invitation for Russia and Germany to reenter the area. Indeed, these days Moscow is cozying up to Berlin, a fact that is worrisome to the local people.
And what is America doing? The author writes, “The United States lacks a coherent geopolitical vision and foreign policy in regard to the post-Soviet sphere, including in Europe.” And further, “NATO is often perceived as rudderless,” while “America has failed to provide appropriate leadership.” The author also warns that dispensing false hope to the people of the area is no longer enough in our age. “America may no longer take for granted the support of its foreign policy by the nations of the post-Soviet sphere.” Therefore, Washington needs a proactive policy in the Intermarium region of Europe: “In essence, promoting a pro-American bloc in the middle of Europe, either to complement or counterbalance the increasingly anti-American Western Europe, would be indispensable to return US influence in the old continent.” The author deftly points out, “outside the Baltics, Brussels has played a rather ambiguous role in the region.”
On a positive note, the author recommends objective research and studies, publishing personal recollections, accepting the truth, and starting the process of reconciliation. First, however, Moscow will have to accept its past wrong doings and reconcile itself with the truth. And, as a reviewer, in closing, I am asking a simple question: If Nazism was condemned at the Nuremberg trial, why not a trial of Communism? Why not go to the roots of the evil? And, if I am allowed to answer my own question: it is because the former perpetrators are still there, maybe still pursuing a Marxist ideal; albeit, in a more subtle manner.
Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.