Vienna, April 24 – Six of the more than a dozen nations Stalin deported during World War II – the Kalmyks, the Chechens, the Ingush, the Balkars, the Karachays, and the Volga Germans -- have formed a Union of Repressed Peoples to demand an apology from Moscow and the return of the lands the powers that be at that time seized and have not yet returned.
This week in advance of the 18th anniversary of the Soviet-era law on the restoration of the rights of repressed peoples on April 26, representatives of six of them met in the Kalmyk capital of Elista to declare that the law has not worked and to form a group that will press for its realization up to and including with appeals to international courts.
The meeting initially attracted little attention inside the Russian Federation, but after Radio Liberty carried a story (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/1612195.html), domestic Russian outlets picked it up, either in support (www.ingushetia.org/news/19168.html) or very much in opposition (news.km.ru/ot_rossii_potrebovali_pokayaniya).
Arkady Goryayev, the head of the Kalmyk Foundation for the Support of the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples and one of the founders of the new group, told Radio Liberty’s Russian Service that the 1991 law had not worked because it had not led to the return of two of his republic’s “wealthiest regions.”
“But the basic problem is not a material one,” Goryayev said. “We demand repentance. During the 18 years since the law on rehabilitation was adopted, no one from the powers that be have apologized for the crimes committed against our peoples.” He acknowledged that there was one exception to that: Yeltsin publically apologized by “only before the Balkar people.”
Representatives of the other groups expanded on those points: They said their nations were interested both in the return of land but also in getting back or being compensated for other things of value that had been taken away from them and in receiving a formal apology from Moscow for what was done to them.
Dalkhat Kasayev, who spoke on behalf of the Karachays, said that the participants in the Elista meeting “had come together for a noble task – the achievement of the complete rehabilitation of our repressed peoples. The laws of Russia [on this issue] must be completely realized, and our task to act in a coordinated fashion in order to achieve this common goal.”
In order to provide context for this meeting, Radio Liberty interviewed Emil Pain, the head of the Moscow Center of Ethno-political and Regional Research, an interview that both Ingushetia.ru and “Komsomolskaya Pravda” drew on in their subsequent stories about the Elista event.
Pain told the station that he was “somewhat surprised” that the formerly repressed peoples were taking this step “precisely now” and that he was “even more surprised that it was taking place in Kalmykia,” where the issue has historically been far less sensitive than in the republics of the North Caucasus.
While acknowledging that the 1991 law had been “unsuccessful” in achieving all its aims, the Moscow expert said that to “realize the law fully, particularly with regard to territorial arrangements would now be impossible. Indeed, he said, any effort to do so would provoke serious conflicts.
But there are two larger issues, Pain said. On the one hand, given the human losses involved during the deportation, no one can speak about a full return to the status quo ante. That is simply impossible. And on the other, those who were the victims of this policy should recognize that the adoption of the 1991 law itself constituted a form of repentance.
But from the point of view of Yury Filatov of “Komsomolskaya pravda,” there is no reason to make any concessions to these punished peoples because, in his view, they were deported because Stalin found they had collaborated with Hitler, a view that scholars have shown is either completely wrong or dramatically overblown.
Indeed, Filatov concludes, the new Union of Repressed Peoples, is simply trying to “put ‘a murderous bomb’ under Russia,” by demanding not only an apology which he thinks they do not deserve and the re-division of the country which he believes would not help these peoples in any serious way but would create many and far more serious problems for others.