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Subject: THE TORONTO SUN: Britain's dirty little secret
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 08:07:27 +0400
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THE TORONTO SUN, Sunday, July 11, 1999

Britain's dirty little secret

Ethnic cleansing was called "forced repatriation" after World War II

Toronto Sun

The chilling phrase of our times - ethnic cleansing - has different
meanings to different people, but at its most benign it is forcing
people to become refugees, as happened in Kosovo and, before that, in

Britain and NATO have said it was Yugoslav President Slobo Milosevic's
alleged plan to "ethnically cleanse" Kosovo of its Albanian population
that ostensibly caused the NATO/U.S. air strikes.

NATO's daily press briefings during the 78 days of air strikes, via the
ubiquitous working-class accent of Britain's Jamie Shea, seldom failed
to mention the horrors of "ethnic cleansing."

A cynic might have noted that it was Britain itself, after World War 
II,which escalated "ethnic cleansing" into state policy - only in those
days it was called "forced repatriation."

Immediately after World War II, tens of thousands of refugees, possibly
hundreds of thousands - prisoners of war, escapers from communism - 
were forcibly sent back to Stalin's Soviet Union and Tito's Yugoslavia 
and certain death.

Britain instigated the policy, which the U.S. echoed, giving it the
cynical code name Operation Keelhaul. This shameful policy has been
dubbed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn as the "last secret" of World War II,
in violation of every tenet of decency and justice.

British troops forced men, women, children into boxcars headed for the
U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia, using rifle butts as prods.

One British regiment, the London Irish, refused, saying their duty was
to fight German soldiers, not club refugee women and children.

American soldiers were more inclined to open the gates of refugee 
camps, and look the other way as they fled.

Forced repatriation was a humanitarian and political abomination - a 
war crime every bit as much as the ethnic cleansing by Serbs of 

No one has worked harder or done more to expose Britain's shameful
secret than British historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy.


For some 25 years, he's dedicated himself first to exposing the policy
for the world to see, second to perhaps identify those responsible.

He's succeeded admirably in the first, failed wretchedly in the second 
- and suffered accordingly.

Tolstoy is the great grand-nephew of Russia's great novelist (War and
Peace) and humanitarian, Count Leo Tolstoy, who repeatedly put his body
on the line against injustice.

Nikolai has written three books on forced repatriation, each more
revealing than the previous one, as more suppressed information came to
light. Britain has embargoed files pertaining to the policy.

In 1977 his Victims of Yalta was published, followed by Stalin's Secret
War in 1981, and then his most controversial book, The Minister and the
Massacres, 1986, in which he named names, was sued, and lost a libel
case that I consider a travesty and which has been condemned by the
Human Rights Court at Strasbourg.

Periodically, Tolstoy visits Toronto, usually to be feted by grateful
Slovens, Serbs, Croats, Russians, Cossacks, etc., whose relatives and
countrymen died by the tens of thousands when the British forced them
back to Stalin and Tito and death.

Britain's Lord Aldington, formerly Brig. Toby Low, successfully sued
when Tolstoy identified him as a key figure in implementing the policy.

Aldington acknowledged signing the repatriation orders, along with
others, but said there was no way he could have known the refugees 
would be killed, and that if he had known, they would not have been 
sent back.

"We were told that international law would be obeyed," he said at the

A jury found against Tolstoy and awarded Lord Aldington nearly $3
million in damages in 1990.

Tolstoy, who declared bankruptcy, was denied the right to appeal. He 
was in Toronto this spring and is anything but subdued. He says he 
hasn't paid anything, won't pay, can't pay, and has a book in the works 
about his trial.

So far, there's been no serious attempt to collect damages and he feels
the courts are embarrassed by the whole process.

No references

Forced repatriation was such an appalling policy that even Winston
Churchill omitted any reference to it in his Nobel Prize-winning 
history of World War II.

While muted, the issue is far from dead. The European Commission on
Human Rights in Strasbourg has supported Tolstoy. A semi-retired
American lawyer, Charles O'Neall, living in Switzerland, was so 
offended at the trial that he offered to represent him, pro bono, at 
the prestigious Strasbourg Human Rights Court. The mystique of British
justice has been mauled.

Also named in the The Minister and the Massacres along with Aldington
were the late British prime minister Harold MacMillan and the late
Thomas (later Lord) Brimelow.

Soldiers the like of Field Marshall Alexander and Gen. Keightley 
opposed the policy, but obeyed orders.

Some of the displaced people being sent back to communism committed
suicide by sawing their throats with barbed wire. Some mothers threw
their babies from trains into the river. Panic reigned.

After Tolstoy's trial his Minister and the Massacres book was banned
from British libraries and universities.

"Interestingly," Tolstoy told me, "it's begun to re-appear on library
shelves." To him "the policy was a war crime that fits the definition 
of war crimes at Nuremberg."

A couple of Canadian officers attached to the British army at the time
did their best to short-circuit the policy.

Saving victims

Maj. Herb McFarland of Toronto refused to obey the forced repatriation
orders and risked court martial, while Maj. P.H. Barre of the Royal
Montreal Regiment worked tirelessly to save the victims.

Because Tolstoy was broke after the libel verdict, Britain's High Court
ruled that he had no right to appeal unless he came up with about
$250,000 in advance to cover Aldington's legal expenses. The court
denied Tolstoy access to a defence fund set up in his name. Although 
the British government would like to silence Tolstoy and any reference 
to forced repatriation, the Internet has proved an invaluable outlet.

Anyone interested can go to Yahoo on the Internet and search "Tolstoy,
Nikolai" and see an account of events that is chilling to those who
think British justice is pure and fair.

After the trial, the BBC ran an excellent TV documentary on forced
repatriation, which explored why and how Britain could be involved in
such a policy - especially when Churchill expressly forbade sending
unwilling people back to Stalin.

There's even evidence that British officers attached to Tito
participated in the execution of these Serb, Croat and Sloven victims.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Boris Yeltsin has
ordered that Tolstoy be given access to Russian files.

Tolstoy says he's amassed hitherto unknown details that will appear in
his next book.

I've periodically written about forced repatriation ever since being
based in Moscow over 30 years ago when I heard tales of the policy
which, frankly, I doubted.

Before Tolstoy's experience, I wouldn't have believed an appeal would 
be denied anyone in Britain, or that a British trial could be as 
bizarre as Tolstoy's was.

Some people thrive in adversity - that is, their character sustains 
them in crises or when times are tough. Nikolai and Georgina Tolstoy 
and their three grown daughters and son could be called adversity's
children. And they stand defiant.

Others stand with them. The school of one daughter suspended fees, and
others came forward to help financially.

Just as Tolstoy has stood up for the victims of Stalin and Tito when no
one else did, so survivors and their kin now stand up for him.

Letters to the editor should be sent to


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