Staunton, June 21 – Aleksandr Dyukov, the historian who heads Moscow’s Historical Memory Foundation, says there are three reasons why Stalin’s deportations of whole nations, while often less fatal for those involved that confinement in the GULAG, nonetheless continue to cast a darker shadow on Russia to this day.
In the course of a discussion on the history and meaning of deportations organized by the Lenta news agency, Dyukov lists three reasons for that conclusion: First, deportation unlike GULAG incarceration was not the result of actions by institutions constituted to establish individual guilt, however falsely (lenta.ru/articles/2019/06/18/deportation/).
Instead, it was the result of administrative decision by the Kremlin or by subordinate ministries and was and remains something that many view as more political, making any reckoning about it far more difficult for the successor state. There simply aren’t as many possibilities of a narrow legal rehabilitation in this case.
Second, those who were sent to the GULAG by the Stalinist troikas were at least treated as individuals even when they fit into a particular class of enemies of the regime. But those who were deported were deported not as individuals but as members of a class as such. Once you were identified as a Crimean Tatar, a kulak or a Jehovah’s Witness, you were to be deported.
And third, while the GULAG was a mass phenomenon, its inmates were all individuals, “the hostages of individual fates each of which had passed through various degrees of caricatured quasi-judicial organs” who treated them as individuals with “first names, patronymics, and last names.” Those deported were never accorded even that mark of respect.
“It is well-known,” Dyukov continues, “that an individual may change his social status, but it is practically impossible to change his ethnic one. Therefore, purges and repressions carried on an ethnic basis always are viewed as more serious because an individual becomes the victim of that which he cannot change.”
According to the historian and activist, “this approach gives rise to problems which last far longer than deportations on the basis of social status because this community supported from within does not disappear and memory about these actions continues” even after the last immediate victims pass from the scene.
That reality has forced Russian officials to turn again and again to the challenge of rehabilitating those deported on an ethnic basis, actions that inevitably help keep these memories alive and call attention to the especially criminal nature of the Stalinist state and its analogy to other totalitarian regimes.