Saturday, September 30, 2023

Putin’s Visit to Novocherkassk in 1991 Confirmed His Belief that Moscow Must Control What Russians Know about the Past

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 22 – There is a famous photograph of Anatoly Sobchak visiting Novocherkassk in June 1991 as part of an effort to uncover what had happened in that North Caucasus city in 1962 when Soviet troops fired on Russian workers protesting price hikes, one of the major demands of Russia’s democrats for glasnost about the events of the Soviet past.

            Among the bag carriers in Sobchak’s entourage was a very junior Vladimir Putin who had recently transferred from the KGB to Sobchak’s staff. The To Be Continued portal considers what Putin undoubtedly found out and how that shaped his views about what Moscow should do in the future (

            The Soviet suppression of worker protests in Novocherkassk in 1962 was something Moscow worked hard to suppress but which contributed to the rise of the dissident movement. (See Samuel Baron’s Bloody Saturday in the Soviet Union: Novocherkassk, 1962 (Stanford, 2001) and

            Sobchak at least publicly was committed to the idea that exposing the crimes of the Soviet past was the best way to prevent any repetition; but it appears likely, To Be Continued suggests, that Vladimir Putin drew entirely different conclusions and became convinced that the only way to prevent a repetition was to hide from the population what had happened.

            In the first decade of Putin’s time as president, the portal reports, “some of the exhibits were confiscated from the Novocherkassk tragedy museum – primarily documents from the KGB archives that were then classified again.” As a result, “the memory of the tragedy is slowly being erased” just as the memory of other Soviet-era tragedies.

            According to To Be Continued, what Putin learned in Novocherkassk is not that the past must be exposed to prevent a repetition but that “mistakes can always be hidden, history can always be rewritten, and this is the logic that guides the current president, who continues to cover up the crimes of his colleagues from the Soviet KGB.

            Other reports over the last decade show that the events of Novocherkassk in 1962 continue to worry the Putin leadership; but its leader and its members remain committed to a cover up rather than to an honest appraisal of what happened and why. (On current elite approaches to that tragedy, see and


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