The ink was hardly dry on the proposal made by a citizens and human rights working group attached to the president’s office, when angry accusations characterized the ensuing debate.
Anna Prohhorova, a telejournalist with Russian Regnum TV stated that the proposals were “without a doubt a treacherous treatment of the country’s past and future.” She added that the proposals were written by individuals who pathologically hate Russia, that Russians are bad, were the cause of all the misery, and all the good that was created during 70 years of Soviet rule has been forgotten.
The proposals? The bold and blunt statement of the Council on Civil Society and Human Rights working within the office of president Dmitri Medvedev. In addressing the president in February, Sergei Karaganov, as spokesman for the Council didn’t mince any words:
“…the project, of course, is about de-Stalinization and de-Communization of the Russian public mind…(but) the term de-Stalinization leads us away from the truth, from the nature of the regime…its main goal is to ensure transformation of the conscience of both Russian society and the Russian elite…these days the elites are mostly contemptuous of the masses…society will be unable to respect itself and its country as long as it continues to hide from itself the terrible sin of 70 years of totalitarianism…concealing this history from ourselves would be tantamount to complicity in the crime…if we do not recognize the whole truth, we’ll remain heirs to the worst part of it…the executioners, police informers, collectivization activists, organizers of the holodymor, the destroyers of churches…the project must be implemented together with all the countries of the former Soviet Union…Russia is one large Katyn…any effort to restore public morals and self-esteem is depreciated by the Kohodorkovsky affair…it is impossible to believe that this case is devoid of politics…etc.”
One must note that Karaganov is not only the spokesman for this initiative, he’s also the head of Russia’s Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, has been advisor to both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and several prestigious international organizations. The working group advocating full disclosure and condemnation of Soviet crimes has not suffered Kremlin leadership harassment (at least not yet) like the Boris Nemtsov-led coalition of opposition groups.
The human rights working group’s suggestion that total honesty and candidness would help improve Russia’s relations with many countries. This has been attacked by media commentary insisting that Russia’s reputation will not benefit. Some even see the population’s sympathy growing for the Soviet period.
Lauri Mläksoo, international law professor at Tartu University remarks that many proposals have been offered through the years in Russia but haven’t been able to push through the “reality barrier”. This new initiative is directly counter to Putin’s position that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th century’s largest geo-political catastrophe. Karmo Tüür, political scientist at Tartu University, while acknowledging the lofty ideals of the initiative, says that “de-Stalinization” and distancing from the sins of the Soviets has always been among intellectual discourse, but has never gained wide acceptance.
Aleksei Semjonov, director of the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights in Estonia that often takes its cue from Moscow, states that Estonian-Russian relations would in fact suffer if Russia were to acknowledge the Soviet occupation of Estonia. His rationale: Russia should concentrate on human rights instead of truth in history.
The admittance of the guilt of the state in generations-long brutality and repression is not just a re-writing of history and changes in school texts. It`s recognition that the crimes cannot be dismissed as the product of the `cult of personality` and placing the blame squarely on Stalin. It is also a question of trust the that can be placed in Russia`s leadership, that the current idolization of many of the Soviet Union`s historical leaders, most of them equally complicit with Stalin, can be purged. The thoroughness with which the working group has made its proposals doesn`t give much hope for their realization. But the continuing debate that will continue will give an indication of the possibilities.
Kremlin’s willingness to condemn Soviet crimes is being truly tested (6)