Putin is No Stalin: Like a Bird in a Cage

When I graduated college I went to live in Minsk Belarus to work as the youth director for the Jewish community. I like to think that I did a fair amount of teaching during that time, but upon reflection I realize that I learned much much more. I learned skills, a language, a lot about myself, and new perspective as I learned another culture. What was the culture of the former Soviet Union?

I have reflected on this part of my life as Belarus is joining Russia in attacking the Ukraine. Under the Soviet, they were all neighbors. And now they are killing each other. And we are inching closer to the brink of a 3rd World War. So again I am left thinking what do we know about the culture of the former Soviet Union? Upon reflection I recall a story that I heard during my time in Minsk. As it goes:

When Josef Stalin was on his deathbed he called in two likely successors, to test which one of the two had a better knack for ruling the country. He ordered two birds to be brought in and presented one bird to each of the two candidates. The first one grabbed the bird, but was so afraid that the bird could free himself from his grip and fly away that he squeezed his hand very hard, and when he opened his palm, the bird was dead. Seeing the disapproving look on Stalin’s face and being afraid to repeat his rival’s mistake, the second candidate loosened his grip so much that the bird freed himself and flew away. Stalin looked at both of them scornfully. “Bring me a bird!” he ordered. They did. Stalin took the bird by its legs and slowly, one by one, he plucked all the feathers from the bird’s little body.  Then he opened his palm. The bird was laying there naked, shivering, helpless. Stalin looked at him, smiled gently and said, “You see… and he is even thankful for the human warmth coming out of my palm.”

There are many reasons that Russia is invading the Ukraine (e.g. politics, religion, ego, economy, etc.) Beyond the rationale, it is clear that Putin expected to pluck the feathers and hold a thankful Ukraine in him palm.

Putin is no Stalin even if he wants to be because Ukraine will not be a play the part of the bird. For now they are refusing to be caged. Let’s hope for peace and soon. I have trouble imaging Putin calling it quits quietly.

1 Response to “Putin is No Stalin: Like a Bird in a Cage”


  1. 1 Arthur Schwartz March 2, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Avi;

    Thank you for the Stalin story and how it connects to Ukraine today.

    Arthur S


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