Orderly transfers? Sure

August 20th, 2008
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Almost all of us benefit from modern time saving devices – washing machines, dishwashers, you name it. I’m happy to report one more. Even though it’s fairly old technology it saves me a lot of time every day.
It’s the Globe and Mail, Canada’s (self-proclaimed) national newspaper. On the average day it takes me just less than 200 seconds to get through the first section, news, commentary, verklemmpt editorials and all. A lot less than a paper whose content I might want to read.
That was until one day last week I got sucked into a reading a column by, of all people, Rick Salutin. It was his “take” on the Georgian situation. Forgive me but I spied references to the Soviets, Nazis and Noam Chomsky. I couldn’t resist.
If you don’t want to read it all, let’s just say he refers sarcastically to World War II as the last “good” war and descends from there. Along the way he challenges the Georgian president’s comparison of Russian tactics to those of the Nazis. Quite a gambit, refusing to side with the “little guy”.
He then throws away a line that bears further analysis. Pooh-poohing Georgia’s accusation that Russia was using “Baltic-type ethnic cleansing” (sic, did he mean Balkan?) Salutin maintains that ethnic cleansing “used to be called population transfer and was common. It is cruel and despicable, but it’s not Auschwitz.”
Wow. How much can you toss away in one sentence? There’s enough blood going back to the origin of the concept “orderly transfers of populations” – the euphemism used to describe how population patterns were made to fit borders drawn at the table of the treaty table. But using the WWII example is particularly distasteful.
After the millions of civilians either deliberately exterminated or killed as innocent bystanders in the actual conflict we come to the “orderly transfers”. Readers will forgive me if I mention the transfers that affected my own family. Between 12 and 14 million Germans from Eastern Europe either fled or were removed from their ancestral homes starting in 1944. Estimates vary from between 600,000 and 2.1 million killed during that process. An estimated 240,000 women died as a result of rape by Russian soldiers. One gets an impression of the scale of this in realizing that pre and post-war census data must be used to calculate numbers, the accounting for individual is simply too difficult. (As a comparison, similar techniques have been used in documenting the Holocaust and the Ukrainian Famine).
It may be instructive to look at an historical example closer in scale to the Georgian or recent Balkan situation. The city of Bruenn (now Brno) second largest in the Czech Republic had, of its over 100,000 population, a majority of ethnic Germans (Austrians) although – as was the case in many parts of the region, the surrounding countryside was majority Czech speaking.
Late on the evening of May 29th, 1945, Czech authorities came to known residences of German citizens. These were told to report to a collection point in two hours, with a maximum of 15 kilograms of possessions. After six hours of waiting the approximately 30,000 women, children and aged set out under guard toward the Austrian border. Hospitals and seniors residences were also cleared of their German inhabitants.
Over the next several days trek between 1000 and 3000 people died, mostly of dysentery due to the unsanitary conditions and lack of medicine. There were individual atrocities, people tied to trees and beaten to death or simply clubbed unconscious by the roadside and left to die. As Mr. Salutin says, cruel and despicable, but not (in and of itself) Auschwitz.
So there is clearly a sliding scale from “orderly transfers”, to expulsions, ethnic cleansing and finally genocide. Full marks to Salutin for splitting the ethical hairs between those various categories and figuring out the Georgians have been just protesting too much. Too bad he’s wrong.
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