Soviet Smoke Screen and the Hague

A June 1922 international conference at the Hague aimed to settle Soviet Russia’s economic issues. For example, should the nation be absolved of its WWI debts?

Although more than 30 nations participated, primarily from Europe, the U.S. refused:

The Russian memorandum of May 11… set forth that Russia of the Soviets was not bound to recognize the Czar’s debts, was not bound to pay the money Russia borrowed during the war, and was not bound to make compensation for the foreign-owned property Moscow nationalized. … Secretary [of State] Hughes said, in declining the invitation to send a delegation to The Hague, that it is absolutely no use trying to get along with folks who talk that way.

Charles Hughes’s prediction proved correct. The conference ultimately resulted in a stalemate, with neither side giving in and no binding decisions being reached.

Another question the conference aimed (and failed) to resolve: what should happen to the formerly-private property that the Soviet government had recently nationalized? Some of it was owned by foreigners, that is to say non-Soviets, so other nations very much had a stake in this issue.

Under the Soviet regime, no individuals could own real property. And the Russians were not going to give to foreigners a privilege they refused their own nationals. Not only was it against their principles but, a consideration probably stronger, it would be poor politics.

In 2022, one of the big Russian economic questions is what to do with the oligarchs’ yachts seized by foreign governments, after international sanctions were levied over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Italy is actually trying to decide what to do right now. One of their options is told an auction to sell off the yachts.

I enter the news-themed humor contest of the news magazine The Week every Friday, and two weeks ago their contest asked readers to title that hypothetical auction. My five favorite winners:

  • the third-place winner from Kenneth Burgan of Grass Valley, California: “Everything Moscow!”
  • from Glen Alfredson of Durham, North Carolina: “Lloyds of Laundering” 
  • from Patty Oberhausen of Fort Wayne, Indiana: “All Sails Final” 
  • from Michael Grossman of San Dimas, California: “Make us an offer—he can’t refuse!”
  • from Pamela Keating of Phoenix, Arizona: “Leningrab”

Soviet Smoke Screen and the Hague

Published: Sunday, June 11, 1922

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