Vienna, October 3 – The cult of Stalin that has emerged in the Russian Federation over the last decade is more dangerous than its Soviet-era predecessor not only because it celebrates his crimes rather than ignoring them but also because it is finding an increasingly enthusiastic and almost completely uncritical audience among the young.
Christians have a special responsibility to counter this trend by promoting the restoration of historical memory among Russians, according to speakers at a Moscow conference on “Spiritual Resistance in the Church and in Society” organized by the Community of Orthodox Brotherhoods (www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=23080).
The organizers asked participants to address three basic questions: Why after the opening of archives in the early 1990s did Russians not develop immunity” to the evil of Stalinism? “Why did our people turn out not prepared to do what, for example, Germans were able to do? And how can those who experienced Stalin’s rule find “a common language” with the young?
Irina Karatsuba, a historian at Moscow State University, told the meeting this week that Russia had lost 137 million lives during the 20th century from wars, revolutions and so on. Of that number, she continued, “the repressed formed a not insignificant fraction.” But today, all too few people are focusing on that.
Instead, she said, “surprising things are taking place in our time concerning recollections about this period of our history.” Indeed, she insisted, “now we are moving backwards in comparison even with how Khrushchev understood repressions.” In his time, Soviet textbooks “hid” what had happened. But now Stalin’s terror is presented as not only necessary but useful.
“In certain new textbooks,” she continued, the Soviet dictator’s actions “are presented as ‘an effective instrument without which industrialization and collectivization would have been impossible and without which the country would not have won the war and preserved its sovereignty – and [for the Kremlin and many ordinary Russians] sovereignty is ‘our all.’”
According to Karatsuba, the reason this has happened is that in the 1990s, “the root of [this] evil was not pulled out, the people did not repent, and there was not a Nurnberg Process against communism.” But she expressed the hope that “now it is still not too late” to do so and to ensure that Russians will be able “to distinguish good from evil.”
A second speaker, educator Yevgeny Knorre argued that “the waves of the revival of love for Stalin at the end of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s and now in the 2000s … are connected with periods of ‘the crushing of hopes’ and stagnation” – Brezhnev’s “zastoy” in the first case and Vladimir Putin’s “stabilization” in the second.
In such times, which often are characterized by spiritual emptiness, people are looking for a father figure who can take care of them and lead them out of their difficulties, Knorre said. And he suggested that the Russian Orthodox Church must take a more active role in countering this emptiness much as the Catholic Church has done in Italy.
Oleg Ushakov, a lawyer who spoke third, agreed but suggested that many people in the Orthodox Church are themselves attracted to the idea of a little father tsar and remain attached to “a terrible monarchical ideal” which itself “is also connected with a loss of historical memory and spiritual understanding.”
A fourth speaker, identified by Blagovest-Info.ru only as “an elderly artist from Yekaterinburg whose family was “subjected to repressions,” said she is shocked by the “nostalgia” for Stalin among his victims, but she added that she is even more “horrified” by school texts that seek to “justify” what Stalin did.
And a fifth speaker, Aleksandr Arkhangelsky, identified only as “not the television announcer,” said that these textbooks which argue that Stalin did the right thing are especially dangerous because in Russia today “there are already many young people who are ready to become active bearers of evil.”
“If the Church does not interfere,” he continued, “then the government will again make use of its ideological and repressive machine,” an action that could mean that many of the horrors of the 20th century in the Soviet Union will be repeated in the 21st century in the Russian Federation.