What are we to make of the Red Army? On the one hand, it was the force that first stopped and then destroyed the armies of German National Socialism, in achieving which Russian soldiers suffered in ways that exceed the limits of Western imagination: the toll of dead - more than eight million - reveals numbers as the abstraction they are. And for much of the war those killed in combat were the lucky ones: the Germans let three million prisoners starve to death. On the other hand, once it left Soviet territory and marched on Berlin and Vienna, the Red Army outmatched every other fighting force in the European war - excepting its enemy - in violating civilian populations. In Berlin alone more than 100,000 women were raped, many repeatedly, and to this one must add tens of thousands of brutalised Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian and Yugoslav women. After the war, Soviet soldiers sealed their regime's hold on East Central Europe, and crushed any attempts by the population to wrest greater freedoms. For good reason we associate the years 1953, 1956 and 1968 with Soviet tanks appearing on the streets of East Berlin, Budapest and Prague. The region could not be liberated from totalitarian rule until the Red Army departed.
LRB 22 June 2006 | PDF Download