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Russia remembers victims of political repression

October 30, 2014, 15:36 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Alexey Schukin/ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW, October 30. /TASS/. Russia is remembering the victims of political repression on Thursday. Remembrance ceremonies are taking place across the nation, with lists of those shot in 1937-1938 being read out. At some Russian schools and universities special “remembrance classes” have been arranged and the few surviving witnesses of those tragic events invited to share reminiscences with the younger generation.

While the country’s authorities have long condemned Stalinist crimes in very certain terms Russian society’s attitude to those tragic events of national history and the key figures that embody them, Joseph Stalin first and foremost, remains mixed.

According to the Levada Center pollster, in 2013 as many as 49% of the polled described Stalin’s role in history as positive, while 32% said it was negative. Experts attribute this divergence of opinion to the fact that the sad past has not been outlived yet. Nor has it become a matter of repentance at all levels.

According to the public opinion studies fund FOM, quoted by the daily Vedomosti, 66% of Russians know that Russia saw massive repression, 16% disagree with that, and 18% are hesitant. The people who offer different answers to the question about repression seem to be living in different countries with different histories.

There are no authentic statistics as to the death toll that political repression in the territory of the former USSR claimed in the 20th century. The reasons are varied. Formally, the term “repressed’ was applied to those mentioned in official verdicts. But there were also indirect victims - the families of the repressed, of the exiled “kulaks” (wealthy peasant farmers) and the forcibly resettled ethnic groups.

According to the law On the Exoneration of the Victims of Political Repression, the purges affected 12.5 million people (about five million were repressed by courts and other authorities and seven million, on the basis of administrative decisions to enforce collectivization, deportations, etc.). The names of 2.6 million victims have been documented and published by the non-governmental organization Memorial. During the Great Terror alone (1937-1938) a total of 1.7 million were arrested on political charges and no fewer than 725,000 were shot.

The most well-known of the published documents that contained summarized repression statistics is a February 1, 1954 memorandum the prosecutor-general, interior minister and justice minister submitted to the then Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev. It says that “in 1921 up to the present day a total of 3,777,380 million people have been convicted of counter-revolutionary crimes, including 642,980 sentenced to the death penalty, 2,369,220 to prison or labour camp terms of up to 25 years, and 765,180 to internal exile.”

Russia’s top officials have expressed their attitude to this issue, still so sensitive to society, in very clear terms. In October 2007, while visiting the Butovo execution and burial site, where more than 20,000 were put to death in the late 1930s, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “Such tragedies happened when ideas, looking attractive at first sight, were placed ... above human rights and freedoms.”

“No national development objectives, no successes and no ambitions can be achieved at the cost of human grief and losses. Nothing can be placed above the value of human life. There can be no excuse for repression,” the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said in October 2009.

Far from everybody shares such opinions, though. The list of school history textbooks the Russian Education Ministry authorized in 2008-2009 contained a highly controversial manual a History of Russia in 1945-2007, by Aleksandr Filippov. In that book the author drew a rather favourable picture of Stalin’s role. “The Stalinist purges brought into being a new managerial class, adequate to the tasks of modernization amid a shortage of resources,” the author claimed.

At a time when there is no national consensus there have been repeated attempts at presenting Stalin as an effective manager. On the streets one can still see quite a few busses and trucks whose drivers keep pictures of the tyrant on the windshield. Now and then debates flare up over restoring the previous name of the city of Volgograd - Stalingrad. And the leaders of Russia’s second largest party in parliament - the Communist Party of the Russian Federation - annually lay wreathes at Stalin’s tomb near the Kremlin wall.


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