Masha Lipman: The Third Wave of Russian De-Stalinization

[Masha Lipman is the editor of Pro et Contra journal, published by the Moscow Carnegie Center.]

"The Katyn crime was committed on direct order by Stalin and other Soviet leaders." This line, from a formal statement issued by the Russian parliament on Nov. 26, marks an important breakthrough. The execution in 1940 of about 22,000 Poles by the Soviet security police may be a well-recorded and broadly known historical fact, but it is the first time the Duma officially recognized that Stalin and his government were guilty of the massacre. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has now chimed in as well, telling Polish media before a visit to Warsaw this month that "Stalin and his henchmen bear responsibility for this crime."

These two official statements are the most recent examples of a surprising shift by the Russian government: Under Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin's stance on Stalinism was evasive at best, leading to a creeping restoration of Stalin's reputation in the early 2000s. But over the last year the Russian government has embarked on a new round of anti-Stalin rhetoric and initiatives, openly admitting some of the "forgotten" Soviet crimes revealed earlier under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.

What seems to drive the current de-Stalinization campaign is first and foremost Russia's new rapprochement with the West, which is pushing Russia for some recognition of the crimes of Soviet totalitarianism. But this doesn't necessarily mean the foreign-policy shift will be accompanied by political liberalization at home; in some ways, the current political order inside Russia is not too dissimilar from that of the Stalinist regime. Russia, whether there's a Stalin cult or not, is still being ruled under the centuries-long tradition that gives its top leaders a monopoly on decision-making, enshrines the state's dominance over the society, and relies on state security police as the main instrument of governance....

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Ludwik Kowalski - 12/18/2010

Thank you, Masha. Another detail worth mentioning, as far as Russian attitude toward Stalinism is concerned, is Medvedev's visit to Kolyma, about two years ago. It was a business trip but he visited the Monument in Magadan. That monument has been erected to commemorate victims of Stalinism. Medvediev kneeled and deposited flowers. This was very significant to me; my father died near Magadan, at the age of 36.

Intuition told me, when I was watching the photo, that he was thinking about someone from his own family. Nearly every Russian of his parent's generation had a friend, or a family member, who was a victim of the Soviet proletarian dictatorship. The number of people killed in Kolyma, mostly by cold, overwork, disease, etc. was probably larger than the number killed in Auschwitz.

Ludwik Kowalski, author of:

Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University, NJ, USA

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