Saturday, January 8, 2022

Stalin’s Tightening of Screws on Special Settlers Set the Stage for Their Loosening after His Death

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 18 – Dictators often assume that the systems they have created will outlast them, but it often happens that the very measures they adopt to tighten the screws on the population set the stage for their loosening after their deaths. That is what happened in the case of Stalin and his treatment of the special settlers at the end of his lifetime and after.

             In November 1948, Stalin was informed that 77,000 of the 2.8 million special settlers, people deported to distant parts of the country because of their ethnicity or nationality, had fled their places of settlement and that some 20,000 of them had not been caught and returned to those places (

            The Soviet dictator, who remembered his own flights from tsarist exile, was outraged and decided to put in place rules that would establish that those nationalities which were deported would never be allowed to return home and that those who sought to do so on their own would be subject to 20 years more of hard labor.

            To ensure that this would be the case, Stalin ordered that the police and all other officials responsible for the special settlers were to be transferred from the interior ministry to the Ministry of State Security, something he assumed would prevent flights and ensure that none of the special settlers would ever be able to go home.

            The interior ministry protested that such a change would limit its ability to use prisoners for priority economic development projects, typically a trump card in bureaucratic infighting in Stalin’s times and later. But this time, Stalin ignored their objections, costing the MVD enormous numbers of personnel and cutting its budget.

            But the interior ministry did not forget and less than five years later, when Stalin died, it launched its own campaign against the successor of the Cheka, an action that within four years led to the end of the special settler system and the return of most of those in that category to their homelands.

            Those suffering under Putin’s repressions should remember this history, and Putin and his entourage should remember it too. Often as authoritarian regimes reach their apogee, they do things that have the unintended consequence of setting their demise in train as soon as the author of these tightening policies leave the scene.


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