VIENNA — More than 80 years after the Reds defeated the Whites in the Russian Civil War and more than 15 years after Moscow agreed to rehabilitate the victims of communist oppression, Russian politicians continue to argue over whether to grant blanket rehabilitation to the anti-Bolshevik White Movement.
For many in the Russian Federation, such debates seem almost precious but the stakes are in fact high, involving both the principle of the legal continuity of Russian statehood from tsarist times and the adoption of the kind of legal steps needed to prevent backsliding toward the communist past.
Last month, for the second time in two years, the Duma voted down a bill offered by Vladimir Zhirinovskiy’s Liberal Democratic Party “on the rehabilitation of participants of the White Movement.” But only 93 of the 450 deputies registered their views, with 40 voting in favor of the measure and 53 voting against.
One of the advocates of the measure, Vasiliy Tsvetskov, posted an article on July 17 describing the discussion leading up to the June 17 vote, the current state of play of the debate, and the reasons why he believes that this bill or one like it needs to be passed soon (http://www.rusk.ru/st.php?idar....
The LDPR measure, he says, is “not badly” designed – it focuses on the need to rehabilitate in addition to individuals “the integral counterrevolution” that the White Russian cause stood for – but he insists that the bill should be revised somewhat before it is finally passed.
Most of the draft’s shortcomings, he suggests, arise from its failure to precisely define to whom it would apply: those who actively participated in self-described White Armies, those who fought the Bolsheviks in other formations, and/or those who after emigration worked to overthrow the Soviet system.
Tsvetskov suggests more carefully drawn definitions for two groups that he says should be included in such a rehabilitation and two other groups that he says do not deserve to be grouped together with the White Movement and thus subject to rehabilitation once this measure is passed.
On the one hand, those “who participated in the White Movement and were condemned or subjected to criminal repression” by Soviet organs “for actions promoting the victory of the White Movement over Bolshevism” and those in emigration who struggled against the Soviets and were condemned by Soviet institutions as a result.
But on the other, those who would otherwise qualify for rehabilitation but whose actions “were directed at the territorial dismemberment of Russia along ethnic lines” or those who “voluntarily cooperated with communist regimes” of all kinds and not just the Soviet Union should not be rehabilitated.
These two exceptions would thus exclude those who fought for an independent Turkestan or an independent Ingermanland and, more importantly, deny rehabilitation to people like Skoblin, Tret’yakov, Plevitskaya and Slashchov-Krymskiy, who cooperated with Soviet agents against the Whites in Russia itself and/or in emigration.
The Russian government expressed its opposition to the rehabilitation measure, arguing that the bill was an unnecessary duplication of the 1991 act, that many in the White Movement had behaved criminally and do not deserve rehabilitation, and that giving compensation to the 19,266 people (and their 13,078 family members) Moscow says are involved would be too expensive – costing the state 19 million U.S. dollars.
Tsvetskov rejects each of these arguments: the 1991 measure, he insists, does not apply to many in the White Movement, focusing on the “crimes” of the Whites is just another excuse to avoid examining the crimes of the Reds, and the number of Whites is far greater – 500,000 – and the costs relatively small, given the importance of this step.
In the discussion of the draft bill in June, deputies staked out vastly different positions. Zhirinovskiy, for his part, said that the rehabilitation of “absolutely all, except those who rose up with the goal of dismembering our country” was a task of first importance.
And he rejected the notion, pushed by pro-government parties and spokesman that the Whites were somehow more disreputable than the Reds: Everyone “has blood on their hands,” he said. “Everyone stole, everyone killed, everyone raped, and everyone overthrew” something or other.
Communist Party of the Russian Federation deputy N.I. Kondratenko said “the civil war was our national shame. The Zionists drove us Russians into it.” And he added “Who destroyed and is destroying Russia? This is Zionism, international Zionism, the enemy of the Russians, the enemy of all indigenous peoples of Russia.”
A.N. Savel’yev, of the Rodina faction, in contrast, condemned the LDPR draft because “the Tsar-Emperor” had denounced all these Denikins, Kolchaks and Dieterikhs for their “cowardice” and “betrayal.” These people “were not true to their oath” to the tsar, he continued, and they were “overwhelmingly committed to democratic values.
Meanwhile, among the pro-Kremlin United Russia faction, there was a broad spectrum of opinion. N.N. Gonchar objected that the draft might allow for the rehabilitation of former Odessa residents living in Brighton Beach, while S.V. Zhitinkin said that the law was unnecessary because Russian prosecutors will complete their review of the 5,000 remaining cases involve White Movement Russians by the end of the year.
Even though the bill did not pass and even though it continued to be actively opposed by the Kremlin, there are two reasons for thinking that this superficially historical issue will not go away, even if few of those who might be rehabilitated were this measure to be adopted are still among the living.
One of these reasons was suggested by Ye.N. Trofimov of United Russia. The head of the Duma Committee on Nationalities and an opponent of the bill, he said that were it to be adopted, “one would need to reflect on the legal succession of Russia from the February  Revolution” and “then there would not be Reds or Whites,” an historical outcome President Vladimir Putin has said he favors.
Moreover, the question of how the Russian Federation deals with the White Movement, not as a collection of individuals but as a movement, and how Moscow decides to treat this movement are wrapped up with broader issues such as determining just what that country is the legal successor to, something that remains an open question.
But the other reason for thinking that this issue is not going to go away, however much some may want that to happen, was suggested by Tsvetskov himself. He notes that many now recall that the hopes stirred by the 20th Party Congress in 1956 ended in the crushing of the Prague Spring and ultimately the destruction of the Soviet Union itself.
And he says that many who had hoped in the early 1990s that Lenin would be removed from the Mausoleum just as Feliks Dzerzhinski had been struck from his pedestal and that words like “Cheka torture places” and “the Red terror” would be viewed with horror by all now fear that much of the Soviet past may be coming back.
Only by facing up to that horror and by honoring and thus rehabilitating those who first rose up against the Bolshevik system, Tsvetskov concludes, do the Russian people have a chance to slow, if not prevent, the kind of backsliding toward the Soviet system that unfortunately appears to be taking place now.
Fight over rehabilitating anti-Bolshevik White Movement heats up