Skip to comments.As its Stalinist past is exhumed, Russia turns away
Posted on 10/21/2002 4:32:12 PM PDT by knighthawk
"They would drive them here and turn down this track," Alexandra Reznikova said as she hiked into the woods deep within this military preserve northeast of St. Petersburg.
"Then they would bring them here, to the trenches," she said, making her way through the birch trees and pines. "Maybe soldiers dug them. Maybe they had to dig their own graves."
Here in these woods, accompanied by the frequent rumble of artillery barrages, Reznikova and a team of researchers from the human rights organization Memorial have unearthed what they say is grim evidence of one of the Soviet Union's most egregious crimes, Stalin's Great Terror of 1937 and 1938.
Since August, the team has discovered 50 trenches containing the skeletons of what may be thousands of people executed by Stalin's secret police in this region while he was consolidating absolute power.
(Excerpt) Read more at iht.com ...
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The graves discovered here are neither the first nor the largest found in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Two of the largest known mass graves lie on the southern fringes of Moscow.
Another was discovered in the basement of Russia's Supreme Court during renovations this year.
What is revealing about the discovery here has been the reaction to it.
Russia's security service, the FSB, issued a dismissive statement saying its archives held no information about burials here. The base's commandant, Colonel Valery Pestsov, bluntly warned Memorial that the group did not have permission to work on the range. Three weeks ago, bulldozers plowed over a back road Memorial's researchers had been using to get to the graves, forcing them to walk five miles (eight kilometers) to avoid the base's checkpoints.
What Memorial has unearthed here, it seems, is evidence not just of Stalin's crimes, but also of Russia's reluctance to come to terms with its Soviet past.
"It's our country's deep wound," said Inna Bulat, a resident of St. Petersburg whose father, aunt and uncle were all executed as enemies of the state during the Great Terror. "You can forget about a wound if you don't touch, but when you touch it, it bleeds again."
In 1992, Russia's Constitutional Court implicated the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the purges. But the country has never held trials for crimes committed for the Soviet cause, not even when Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's tyranny in the 1950s. The Parliament enacted laws in the 1990s to acknowledge the victims of the Great Terror and other purges, but many of the government's archives remain closed, their files still classified as state secrets.
Irina Flige, a geologist who is the director of Memorial's office in St. Petersburg, said the failure to have a full accounting of the crimes committed under Stalin reverberated through Russian society today - from the war in Chechnya to President Vladimir Putin's decision to revive the Soviet-era national anthem, with new lyrics.
It is the reason, she said, that Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, was able to propose returning the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet Union's first secret police, to its place of prominence on Lubyanka Square in front of the headquarters of the FSB, itself the successor to the KGB and Stalin's secret police, the NKVD.
"The problem is that during the entire Soviet period, accompanied by the Communist terrors, a great number of people were shot - simply annihilated," Flige said. "And we live with the heritage of that period. In the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed that our society was on the verge of historic changes. But it is necessary to stress that the Communist regime was never properly held accountable, as happened in Germany after Nazism."
Reznikova said Memorial's effort was not to collect evidence for a criminal case. And it is unlikely that any of those involved in the killing here are still alive today. The goal, she said, was to honor those who were unjustly killed and to provide a historical record of the atrocities committed under Stalin's rule. According to Memorial, more than 60,000 people were executed in the region during Soviet rule, including those during the Great Terror, meaning the burial sites of the others remain a mystery. Memorial estimates that, in all of the Soviet Union, a million people were executed for political crimes and that millions more were exiled or imprisoned.
Open the graves, and open the records. Russia on the threshold here.
This can't be said enough. Even mention Nazis and literally everyone from academia to celebrities blanches in horror. But Stalin? Poor old misunderstood Uncle Joe? He saved us from Nazis! Surely he did nothing wrong... it's not that communism kills, it's just that we humans are imperfect and incapable of understanding the truth, wisdom, and joy that comes from subjugating yourself to the most brutal thug in the country.
Bingo! We are still paying for Roosevelt's misdeeds.