Discover a Feeling of Historical Dignity
The director of the State Hermitage told MN about how he sees the program for commemorating the victims of political repression
- The program for commemorating the victims of political repression has been around for quite a long time, however, as far as I am aware, it has not been developed yet. Now a working group has been set up. Will this give it a kick start?
- If the whole Human Rights Council started discussing issues on commemorating the victims of repression, we would hear lots of pretty words on how important and timely it is. A sensible working group should deal with specific tasks, determine the legal status of future monuments, their financing and development concept. This work is not very visible, but this, and not the correct words said at large meetings, is what determines the initiativeís effectiveness.
- What needs to be done first?
- The first thing we need to do is to establish for ourselves how to
talk about the history of Stalinism. What museums, monuments should be
dedicated to the victims of repression, what should they say, what should
they promote? We could build a Disneyland type museum, as several ex-Soviet
countries have done, where the GULAG is presented as an attraction. It
could be done pompously, with a moralizing tone, politicized historical
facts and put people off. Or we could just look at our history, not without
emotion of course, but without excess. The emotional release should, I
believe, be a result, a consequence of being immersed in the subject.
Respect for tragedy
- Why does the state need to raise again the uncomfortable subject of Stalinist repressions?
- It is another attempt to understand our own history. If a state wishes to be strong it cannot avoid it. Historical dignity is formed gradually, through acknowledging the past in full. Without embellishment, with sorrow, shame and dark pages. We just need to discover it, as for decades we have rewritten history and lost it.
- The declaration from above on de-Stalinization is not reflected in society, it even irritates...
- I think that the more we pronounce the word Stalin, the more we make this mediocre person an historical personality. We need to fully understand our history without simplifications, without dumping all our misfortunes on Stalin alone. Was he alone, didnít anybody else exist near him, didnít anybody create this system with and before him? Stalin was not the first, he worked on foundations laid by Lenin. He was really Leninís successor. He was quite a mediocre person. He built a system for mediocrities.
- Stalin created a system led by mediocrities, therefore they felt unsure of themselves, and were always willing, out of fear, to give up their colleagues?
- He created a state for mediocrities so that he could easily manipulate them. We must not forget the nationís guilt, as we end up with all victims and only one executioner. Everyone else was clean. That is not possible. Many of the repressed, victims were also unfortunately not guiltless. They created the system and they served the system. Blood is on them.
- Donít you think that the public rejection of the truth about Stalinism is related to a subconscious guilt complex for the nationís complicity?
- Of course thatís natural. When we feel a certain discomfort, even an unconscious realism, we try to keep quiet. But this is infantile consciousness. We need to overcome it.
- Different nations have different memory cultures. For example, the Poles worship defeated heroes, for them sacrifice is more important than victory. The Russian tradition is different. In our country we mainly honor only victors.
- Yes, we associate victory with strength. Although, that is not always the case. As for cultivating suffering it dominates in Armenian cultural memory, and in Jewish. Tragedy, its experience and understanding are a part of national identity. This should also be the case in Russia. Respect for tragedy is an integral part of the past and is no less important than victory. We need to work long and scrupulously so that the public can accept that the period of Stalinism is not something to be ashamed of that should be hidden, but a tragedy. And as a given. And not distance ourselves from it. Akhmatova put it very well: ďI was with my people in those hours. There where, unhappily, my people wereĒ. A big mistake that many post Soviet denouncers of Stalin make is to stress the shamefulness of the period and not its tragedy. That is how hatred and not empathy was taught.
- The first meeting of the working group discussed the so-called Suprun case. He was convicted of publishing a Book of Memory (Department Chair of Russian history of Pomor State University Mikhail Suprun and Head of the Department of Internal Affairs information center for Arkhangelsk Region colonel Alexander Dudarev, studied the fate of victims of repression and compiled a Book of Memory were convicted at the end of 2011 - MN).
- This is a worrying precedent. It turns out that any researcher or archivist studying the repressions may be charged with breaking the law. We live in a subculture of distrust, so we should not be surprised by such things. However, we must find a way of protecting historians from such absurdities. I am sure that our working group will deal with this issue before many others.