Medvedev warns against softening of Stalinist horrors


POSTED: Saturday, October 31, 2009

MOSCOW » Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, warned yesterday that Russians had lost their sense of horror over Stalin's purges, and called for the construction of museums and memorial centers devoted to the atrocities, as well as further efforts to unearth and identify the dead.

Medvedev made the comments on his video blog, on the occasion of a holiday devoted to the memory of victims of repression. He warned that revisionist historians risked glossing over the darker passages of the Soviet past, citing a poll that showed that 90 percent of young people could not name victims of the purges.

“;Even now we can hear voices saying that these numerous deaths were justified by some supreme goals of the state,”; Medvedev said. “;Nothing can be valued above human life, and there is no excuse for repressions.”;

Millions of people were killed under Stalin as a result of forced collectivization, deportation of ethnic groups, imprisonment in the Gulag and party purges, among other tactics.

Though he reiterated his worry that Russia was demonized in contemporary histories of World War II, Medvedev added, “;It is just as important to prevent the justification, under the pretext of putting historical records straight, of those who killed their own people.”;

His comments are the latest round in a long conversation about how to interpret Russia's past.

Under Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, Russian opinions of Stalin became far rosier. Government-endorsed textbooks now balance Stalin's atrocities with praise for his achievements—especially victory over Hitler—and recent polls show that most Russians believe Stalin did more good than bad. Meanwhile, leaders have railed against Eastern European historians who paint Soviet forces as occupiers, and in May, Medvedev created a commission to prevent such attempts to “;falsify history.”;

Arseny Roginsky, chairman of the human rights organization Memorial, said Medvedev's speech struck directly at “;the center of the contemporary discussion of Stalin and Stalinism—the question about victory and the price of victory.”;

Though Putin spoke with compassion of Stalin's victims on the same holiday in 2007, Medvedev went much farther by offering concrete proposals about museums and the search for mass graves, Roginsky said.

Whether those proposals are realized “;depends entirely on Medvedev and the current authorities,”; he added.

“;What we are waiting to see is whether he has the power to realize even part of our expectations,”; he said. “;I have serious doubts about that. But of course, I am waiting.”;

The president's remarks came as good news to Roman Romanov, the deputy director of the State Museum of the History of the Gulag, a cluster of five rooms whose entrance is in a courtyard off one of Moscow's most upscale shopping streets. The signage is so poor, Romanov complained, “;that people walk down Petrovka and don't even know we're here,”; and he gently criticized the exhibits as “;a bit provincial.”;

There is, as well, a generational problem. At 27, Romanov is younger than his co-workers by 30 or 40 years. When he took the job, he said, people his age did not understand, and one friend tried to talk him out of it.

“;He told me not to do it,”; Romanov said. “;He said it was too depressing, and I needed to be more positive. He thought this was all about criminals. I told him, 'Now I understand I am doing the right thing.' “;