Staunton, July 27 – Russians have manifested “nobility and sympathy” to Poland over the Katyn massacres, but “so far, they have not found in themselves the strength to recognize that all Russia is one large Katyn” filled with “the nameless graves of millions of victims of the regime” that ruled over the Soviet Union for most of the last century, a prominent Russian analyst says.
Moreover, Sergey Karaganov argued in an essay in “Rossiiskaya gazeta” last week, their failure to do so not only has contributed to mutual distrust between the people and the powers that be and to the moral decay of Russian society but also threatens the ability of Russians to move forward toward a better future (www.rg.ru/2010/07/22/istoriya.html).
Russia’s problems today have deep roots, all of which deserve to be discussed in full, the Moscow commentator said. But among these roots, he argued, one of the most important and the one he focused on in this essay is “the inheritance of Soviet socialism” – that is, “Stalinism” and its consequences.
“Over the past year,’ Karaganov noted, “both the president and prime minister have condemned Stalinism. And all the same, we have not been able to make the decision to reject his inheritance, to repent for the outrages committed by us and our ancestors over ourselves and our own people.”
Some say that this cannot be done lest it offend the veterans, he continued, but that is “a cowardly and intellectually unworthy argument.” To accept it fully would mean that Russians could never honestly examine their own history because there would always be some group of “veterans” who might be offended.
And others say that Stalinism cannot be denounced fully because it would give support to “foreign Russophobic attitudes.” But those attitudes, Karaganov acknowledged, are “objective” and will “exist” regardless of what Russians do. Moreover, they are as strong as they are because “we ourselves are not able to escape from the worst in our history.”
“Without bowing before the victims of Stalinism and without recognizing the guild of their own country before them,” Karaganov went on, “we will remain inheritors only of another part of our people – their executions, guards, and snitches, of those who voluntarily de-kulakized the country and destroyed the churches,” and who then “often became victims as well.”
Historians dispute just how many victims the Soviet regime had – “many millions or even tens of millions,” Karaganov said, “but one thing is beyond debate: The Soviet Stalinist regime destroyed in a large part the best, the most outstanding, the most committed to work, and the freest.”
Everyone in Russian now regularly recalls that “the majority of Russian families and families of other countries which were formed as a result of the disintegration of the USSR lost relatives in the years of the Great Fatherland War. But no smaller number of families lost relatives during the Civil War, Collectivization,” and other Soviet crimes.
To regain their self-respect, Karaganov says, and to “overcome the inheritance of the accursed 20th century,” Russians must not only “rehabilitate the victims of the regime but recognize our guilt before them – and provide them at the very least with the same rights as those who worked in the rear and perhaps even the veterans of the war.”
These people “did not fight because they couldn’t: they were sitting in camps, digging coal and iron, cutting forests, and building roads.” And they in this way “forged the weapons of Victory” just as much as those who are now recognized as heroes. There should be monuments to them right alongside the monuments to the others.
Indeed, Karaganov continued, “alongside the monuments to fallen soldiers should be raised crosses or other obelisks to our compatriots who fell from the hands of this regime.” Young people should be encouraged to gather the names of these victims of Stalin and erect monuments to them.
Such a movement “could become one that would unify the peoples of the former USSR and unify [Russians] with [their] former inmates of the unfree socialist camp. For the regime destroyed the best of all peoples – Russians and Ukrainians and Georgians and Kazakhs and Estonians and Tatars and Jews and Hungarians and Poles and Czechs.”
And such a movement would also highlight the reality that “among the executions also were represented” all these nationalities. Once that is recognized, “the streets of Russian provincial towns should bear the names” not of those who helped build the Stalinist system but “of the best sons and daughters of our people who were destroyed by us in the 20th century.”
There were of course many remarkable Russians who lived at that time, and they must be remembered, but the 20th century beyond any question was “a catastrophe for Russia.” That must be acknowledged, if Russians are to “have the chance with a pure conscience and the main thing with self-respect to look into the future.”
Karaganov’s argument is not a new one: Russian human rights activists have been making it for years. But his offering of it now is intriguing, one more indication that there may be hope for repentance from the most unexpected quarters, a reality that provides some hope for Russia at a time when so many indicators are pointing in a negative direction.