With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.
Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page
The 50th anniversary of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's death on 5 March was an occasion for an old Russian woman to remember going to a transit camp in Arkhangelsk in 1937 at the age of 12 to peer through a knothole in a wooden fence to catch a glimpse of her father, arrested after a police search of his home turned up a small icon. Catching sight of the girl, the prisoner tried to throw a matchbox weighted with a rock containing a note over the wall. He missed, and his ardent appeal to Comrade Stalin, whom he was sure would deliver justice if only Stalin could learn about such abuses, fell into the space between the fence and the barbed wire, dangerously visible to the guards. The girl ran home to get a poker from the stove to try to skewer the note, but failed. Then rain washed mud over the letter, and her father was hauled away, never to be seen or heard from again.
The girl and her mother laboriously copied out appeal after appeal to Stalin and his ministers, never losing hope. Her 14-year-old sister was forcibly taken to a factory. Later, she married a man who was small in stature, his growth stunted during the Ukrainian famine. His family had been "dekulakified" when the Soviets picked out their humble home from dozens of others with tin roofs, because his father had painted it red against the rust. Eventually, he volunteered to serve at the front during World War II.
The couple served the state faithfully for many years, for a time losing two rebellious sons to the gulag and appealing to Stalin's successors. Through the years, the man proudly preserved his wartime medals and marched in veterans' parades. When he died, his widow lovingly mounted his medals with a portrait of Stalin on a pillow by his coffin. To this day, she only rarely recalls the terrible years when most of the able-bodied men in her town were arrested under a quota defined by Stalin and embellished by local commissars. If she does speak of it, it is to recall an era when at least there was work, cheap food and rent, and far less crime -- a time when people looked out for each other.
To understand the grip that Stalin and the totalitarian system founded by Vladimir Lenin still has over Russia and the other former Soviet states is to recognize the complex emotions of this woman and countless others who yearned to be a part of the great project of communism, who believed fervently in social justice and repelled fascism, and yet became victims of the Stalinist system and, in some cases, even went on to victimize others.
"There has been no de-Bolshevization comparable with the de-Nazification in Germany. The issues aren't even being talked about," former Soviet Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev, now a historian of totalitarianism, told "The News International" of Pakistan in an interview published on 28 February. The Russian public "appears unable to absorb this knowledge. It's as if they don't want to know."
The lingering aftereffects of Stalinism are most evident in the very lack of a name for this phenomenon of mass murder and abuse on an unprecedented scale. Historian Robert Conquest called it the "Great Terror" in his book of the same title, although people who lived through it do not use the term. Most of them speak evasively about "the repressions" -- a bland word that in fact aptly captures the twofold act of eliminating or marginalizing people, and then also compelling them and others to repress their own experiences and the collective memory.
While anti-Stalinist expression surged in the late 1980s with the publication of many hitherto undisclosed files and memoirs, many now prefer to keep the subject buried. Also missing from the national and international understanding of Stalinism and the entire project of Soviet totalitarianism is a readily accepted number of victims. They range from 10 million to 20 million to 60 million, depending on the political affiliations and research capabilities of the scholars or public figures making the claims. The Russian human rights organization Memorial and its affiliates in the former Soviet states shy away from giving numbers of victims for the whole era, citing incomplete records, the continued lack of access to archives, and the dying out of the generations of victims. They prefer to make concrete reports of specific mass graves and camps and to publish eyewitness testimonies.
No other world-class criminal guilty of killing his own people seems to have an affectionate nickname like "Uncle Joe." Nor are his lapel buttons sold as a form of kitsch memorabilia on the streets of Eastern and Western capitals. In his 2002 book "Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million," Martin Amis strives to fill the public's knowledge gap about the appalling dimensions of Stalin's crimes. His uneven effort was slammed by critics who singled out gaffes like his inept comparison of his colicky infant's screams to those of the inmates of Butyrka. Christopher Hitchens, attacked by Amis in the book as soft on Stalinism, objected in a "Harper's" review that "everybody already knew" about the horrors of Stalinism and Amis himself was coming late to the discovery. Anne Applebaum, reviewing the book for slate.msn.com on 13 August, wonders: "Why did so many Western liberals fail to absorb the full horror of Stalinism while it was happening? Arguments among the comrades on the far left notwithstanding, why does Stalinism still not inspire anywhere near the same kind of horror as Nazism today? Hitchens writes that Amis occasionally makes us wince at things we 'already know' -- but who really does already know them? And who really cares? Certainly they aren't part of what one would call popular knowledge, or popular culture, or public debate."
A crude but popular assessment of the recognition factor for Stalin on the 50th anniversary of his death turns up 628,000 references at google.com, contrasted with 1,700,000 for Hitler.
Today, Stalin is remembered less for his own awful deeds than as a yardstick for other modern tyrants. Stalin's famous comment summing up the machinery of repression -- "there is a person, there is a problem -- no person, no problem" -- is noted in descriptions of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a reputed admirer of Stalin, responsible for an estimated 1 million deaths in wars and terror against his own people.
Stalin's sayings are even compared to the speeches of leaders of democracies. In a 10 February comment in "The New Yorker," Hendrik Hertzberg associated what he described as Hussein's favorite maxim -- "no person, no problem" -- with a passage in U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union that he characterized as "tasteless." "We've arrested or otherwise dealt with many key commanders of Al-Qaeda," Bush said. "Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies." The millions of unrecognized victims of Stalin would know the difference.
SECURITY OFFICIALS FROM BELARUS, POLAND, RUSSIA, AND UKRAINE MULL TERRORISM, IRAQ. The chiefs of the national-security agencies of Belarus, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine -- Henadz Nyavyhlas, Marek Siwiec, Vladimir Rushailo, and Yevhen Marchuk, respectively -- met in Polatsk, northern Belarus, on 5 March, where they discussed security threats, including terrorism and illegal migration, Russian and Belarusian media reported. Rushailo told journalists after the meeting that the four countries need to unify legislation to counteract international terrorism. He said he passed his counterparts a list of 15 groups that were declared terrorist organizations by Russia's Supreme Court. The sides reportedly disagreed in their assessment of the Iraq situation. Russia and Belarus reportedly believe it is possible to resolve the situation by diplomatic and political methods alone. Marchuk said Ukraine is for a peaceful solution, too, but added that Kyiv does not rule out a military scenario in resolving the crisis. Siwiec said Poland fully agrees with the United States that Baghdad has not complied with any UN resolutions on Iraq during the past eight years. "Military action in Iraq may be a unique possible variant in the settlement of the [Iraq situation]," ITAR-TASS quoted Siwiec as saying. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MAPS OUT POLITICAL REFORM. President Leonid Kuchma pledged in a televised address to the nation on 5 March that the following day he would submit to the Verkhovna Rada constitutional amendments to introduce a "parliamentary-presidential model" of government in Ukraine. Kuchma slammed the opposition for stalling the reform and called for a popular debate on his proposals. Kuchma recommended that parliament appoint the prime minister and most ministers, except for those heading the ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Emergency Situations, who, he said, should be nominated by the president. According to Kuchma, the president should have the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to form a working majority, appoint a government, or pass a budget. Furthermore, parliamentarians should be elected exclusively under a party-list system for five-year terms, he said, and a second chamber should be introduced to improve representation of the country's regions. Kuchma said the number of lawmakers should be reduced from the current figure of 450, but he did not elaborate. He also proposed that the results of national referendums be applied directly, without seeking approval for them from any branch of power. JM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER PROTESTS BAN ON MAILING FLYERS. Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko said on 5 March that the recent ban on the dissemination of political leaflets through the state postal service, Ukrposhta, deprives the opposition of a crucial means of communication with the electorate, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko was commenting on a statement by Mykola Hanchar, head of the State Committee for Communications and Computerization, who told parliament the previous day that he ordered such a step in the wake of the dissemination by Ukrposhta of a bogus letter that was crafted to look as though it was authored by the Our Ukraine leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003). Hanchar specifically said he forbade Ukrposhta to spread any "production with political traits." Yushchenko noted that the ban is another encroachment on freedom of expression and communication in Ukraine. Yabluko Party leader Mykhaylo Brodskyy suggested the "Yushchenko" flyer scandal was concocted for the purpose of eventually blocking the distribution of opposition materials by post. JM
POLISH PREMIER DETERMINED TO GOVERN WITH SEJM MINORITY. Premier Leszek Miller assured journalists on 5 March that his minority government will be able to rule the country following the recent coalition split between the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Peasant Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 2003 and "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report, 4 March 2003), PAP reported. Miller said the example of the former Solidarity-led cabinet of Jerzy Buzek proves that a minority government can last. Buzek's cabinet became a minority government in May 2000 after the Freedom Union withdrew from a coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action, and ruled until the end of its term in late 2001. Later the same day, Miller said the shortening of the parliament's tenure, now being discussed by some opposition groups, could be achieved by holding an election in the spring rather than the fall of 2005, as the law currently prescribes. Miller said some politicians' appeals for elections this fall are "theatrical gestures without any meaning." The SLD and its remaining partner, the Labor Union, control 212 seats in the 460-member Sejm, leaving them 19 votes short of a majority. JM
RUSSIA TO INTRODUCE VISAS FOR POLES IN JULY. Russia will introduce visas for Poles on 1 July, PAP reported on 5 March, quoting the Polish Foreign Ministry's Janusz Skolimowski. Skolimowski said Russia has not agreed to a Polish proposal that there be no visa requirement for Poles going to Russia if, in exchange, visas are free of charge for Russian citizens visiting Poland. Warsaw made such a deal with Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003) and is currently negotiating for a similar solution with Belarus. Skolimowski said Polish consulates in the Russian Federation will be able to issue up to 350,000 visas for Russian citizens annually. He added that the two sides left unsolved the question of visa fees. Poland is tightening its non-EU borders as it prepares for membership, expected in 2004. JM
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES RATIFICATION OF AGREEMENT ON TRANSITING NUCLEAR FUEL. The cabinet on 5 March recommended that parliament ratify an agreement for the transit of nuclear fuel via Moldova from Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear-power plant to Russia, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The agreement was concluded in Sofia in 1997 between Bulgaria, Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine, but the Moldovan parliament later refused to ratify it. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said the agreement will bring at least $5,000 for every trainload with nuclear fuel transiting Moldova and that all safety measures will be respected in accordance with international norms. He also said Bulgaria has promised to support Moldova's participation in the Balkan Stability Pact and to reduce consular fees for Moldovan tourists in exchange for the agreement's ratification. MS