Author Topic: Purging history of Stalin's terror  (Read 580 times)

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Offline BlackVeil

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Purging history of Stalin's terror
« on: November 27, 2008, 12:56:21 AM »

Purging history of Stalin's terror

Clifford J. Levy

November 26, 2008

TOMSK, Russia: For years, the earth in this Siberian city had been giving up clues: a scrap of clothing, a fragment of bone, a skull with a bullet hole.

And so a historian named Boris Trenin made a plea to officials. Would they let him examine secret archives to confirm that there was a mass grave here from Stalin's purges? Would they help him tell the story of the thousands of innocent people who were said to have been carted from a prison to a ravine, shot in the head and tossed over?

The answer was no, and Trenin understood what many historians in Russia have come to realize: Under Vladimir Putin, the attitude toward the past has changed. The archives that Trenin was seeking, stored on the fourth floor of a building in Tomsk, in boxes stamped "KGB of the U.S.S.R.," would remain sealed.

The Kremlin in the Putin era has often sought to maintain as much sway over the portrayal of history as over the governance of the country. In seeking to restore Russia's standing, Putin and other officials have stoked a nationalism that glorifies Soviet triumphs while playing down or even whitewashing the system's horrors.

As a result, throughout Russia, many archives detailing killings, persecution and other such acts committed by the Soviet authorities have become increasingly off-limits. The role of the security services seems especially delicate, perhaps because Putin is a former KGB agent who headed the agency's successor, the FSB, in the late 1990s.

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To historians like Trenin, the closing of these archives reflects a larger truth. The country, they say, has never fully grappled with and exposed the sins of communism, never embarked on the kind of truth and reconciliation process pursued by other countries, like South Africa, after regimes were overthrown.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for this. For one, after the Soviet Union fell, Russia underwent a tremendous economic upheaval, and people were focused on just surviving. Still, now that the country is more stable, the Kremlin, if anything, is moving toward more secrecy. It tends to be hostile toward those who want to study the grimmest aspects of Soviet rule, as if attempts to diminish the Soviet image will discredit the current leadership.

"They say Russia has gotten up off its knees, and this is why we should be proud of our past," Trenin said. "The theme of Stalin's repressions is harsh and gloomy and far from heroic. So they say that this is why it should be gradually pushed aside. They say the less we know about it, the better we will live."

His comments were echoed in interviews with more than a dozen historians across Russia, all of whom said they had had far greater access in the 1990s to archives of the KGB and other security services. They spoke of the years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union as a time when scholarship flowered, saying that they had a chance to delve into historical episodes that had long been concealed.

"There was a period when we could go to the archives as if we were going to our workplace," Trenin said.

Under Putin, the historians said, these records have usually been out of reach. Putin, who served two terms as president, is now prime minister, after installing his protege Dmitri Medvedev as his successor in May.

Officials at the security archives, which are now mostly controlled by the FSB and the Interior Ministry, typically reject requests for access by citing a need to protect state secrets and personal privacy. (Though a vast majority of people mentioned in records from Stalin's time are obviously dead.)

The head of the FSB archives in Moscow, Vasili Khristoforov, has said all records related to "ways and methods of operational investigative activity" will never be declassified.

The chill over the Soviet security archives has not only thwarted inquiries into events of the 1930s, when millions were executed or died in prison camps. It also has prevented historians from gaining a better understanding of other aspects of Soviet persecution, like the hounding and the deportation of dissidents through the 1980s.

It also has aggravated tensions between Russia and its neighbors. The Kremlin, for example, has recently rebuffed requests from Poland to release documents related to the World War II massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and others at the Katyn Forest and elsewhere in Russia. For decades, the Soviets blamed the Nazis for the killings; Mikhail Gorbachev was the first leader to admit that Soviet security services had carried them out.

The restrictions have also frustrated Russians who are seeking the truth about their families and want future generations to be aware of what once happened here.

Offline thomaspain

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Re: Purging history of Stalin's terror
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2008, 08:33:35 PM »
"They say Russia has gotten up off its knees, and this is why we should be proud of our past," Trenin said. "The theme of Stalin's repressions is harsh and gloomy and far from heroic. So they say that this is why it should be gradually pushed aside. They say the less we know about it, the better we will live."

It has to be remembered that all these repressions were carried out by Russians upon fellow Russians. The people of Russia are still Russian and behave accordingly. I feel that the Jews are back in control of Russia since the fall of Stalin. He started to become an obstacle to them and is now gone.