Staunton, Dec. 31 – Given the propensity of many to date changes in Moscow’s policies and Russian attitudes almost exclusively with changes in the leadership of the country, most observers date the changed Russian attitude toward the Soviet past as having occurred in 2000 when Vladimir Putin replaced Boris Yeltsin.
But in fact, Anatoly Razumov, the founder of the Returned Names data base, argues the key turning point came three years earlier in 1997 when the Yeltsin administration declared a Year of Reconciliation that sought to overcome the divisions in the country between pro and anti-Soviets (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/12/31/ne-bylo-nikakikh-millionov-donoschikov).
Up to that year, investigations into the crimes of the Soviet period proceeded relatively unimpeded, the activist says. But after that, they were increasingly blocked. The point is that it was Yeltsin’s move in this direction rather than Putin’s that set the stage for what has followed: “after that date, nothing especially new took place,” although the new attitude hardened.
After that date, Razumov continues, “repressions ceased to be a theme of free discussion in society.” And one of the most important consequences of this was the increasingly widespread belief that everyone in the Soviet Union was somehow involved with the crimes and therefore singling out individuals was wrong.
But this was a mistake in a double way, he says. On the one hand, there were never the million of snitches that people began to speak of. The archives show that denunciations came almost exclusively from people the Soviet state controlled, not from the broad masses as Stalin had insisted and Russians again came to believe.
And on the other, this notion had the effect of distracting attention from where it should be: on those who were most responsible for what happened. After all, “the main executioners and main snitches on the people lie in places of honor on Red Square in Moscow.” Nothing was allowed to challenge that.
“Without free discussion when those having all points of view speak on equal terms, without a strong public position, and without political will,” Razumov says, “I do not s ee any chance for changing the situation in our days.” Indeed, at present, almost everything is pointing in the wrong direction.
A large swath of Russians had never even heard of Memorial, making it all the easier for the Putin regime to close it down. And many Russians refuse to believe the facts about the Stalin period or comfort themselves with the lie that “perhaps no one told Stalin” about the crimes being committed in his name.
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