The former mayor of St Petersburg and Putin’s mentor, Anatoly Sobchak, died 15 years ago this month. Sobchak’s wife, former Senator Lyudmila Narusova , recently published a book about Stalin that she says her husband had been writing when he died. According to Narusova, Sobchak was inspired to write the book when he was living and working in Paris in the late 1990s. Below are some highlights from a recent interview Narusova gave to Radio Liberty Russian Service.
It was there, while working in the White emigre archives and library of the Sorbonne (he taught at the university), he decided to write a book about Stalin – first as a sinister figure, to determine the course of our history. Secondly, after the first coup, he [Sobchak] was very disappointed that the country, which was already a new Russia, did not give a correct assessment of Stalin. In fact, besides the 20th Party Congress which exposed the cult of personality, and a little bit at the 22nd Congress, at the state level there was no conviction, as Sobchak said (and as a lawyer he knew it), there were no “Nuremberg Trials” of Stalin and Stalinism. And he urged Yeltsin to hold a true trial of the CPSU and of Stalin, not the farce that was arranged by Burbulis [an adviser to Yeltsin] and Shakhrai — for the destruction of the peasantry under the guise of dekulakisation, for the destruction of the intelligentsia, for the genocide of our own people.
Anatoly believed that the crime of destruction of millions of people in the concentration camps of the Gulag were comparable to Hitler’s crimes. Hitler destroyed other nations, but Stalin destroyed his own people. This book is about that. Sobchak understood that in our nation lie the roots of totalitarianism. The slavish obedience — to go vote for someone for whom they say they have an incomprehensible fear — all of this has not been eliminated, and this book is a warning.
Discussing what is currently taking place in Russia under Putin’s leadership, she stated:
You see, there is some kind of resuscitation of Stalinism, a Soviet renaissance. This trend is very disturbing, very dangerous. And we realized that the book is more relevant than ever. I am not talking about the restraining trend of restrictive law that directly violate the Constitution, those crazy invectives of our members who want to cancel foreign language lessons in school, beating their breasts, imagining themselves to be patriots. I would not be surprised if they cancel trips abroad, saying that there is nothing to see or do there.
This rolling back under the guise of patriotism. Although it is not really patriotism. This is what is called “jingoistic patriotism”. But under the guise of patriotism there is another “Iron Curtain”. Those who are in parliament, those who run the country, seem to want to cut us off from the world again, to close in on ourselves. And it is a very disturbing trend, because it is one step away from nationalism. We do not even understand how dangerous it is!
Narusova also implied that she would not leave Russia, saying:
I do not see another destiny for myself than to live in this country, in Russia. And I do not want to live in a country of totalitarianism. I do not want to go back to those years when my parents lived in fear.
When asked about President Vladimir Putin, Narusova stated:
“…Vladimir Putin is a man who believes he has a special mission, that he is a statesman — this is so. He really thinks he understands the public interest, and is implementing it… but as Voltaire said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Fifteen years is a long time.
This is not the first time Narusova has suggested that Putin has changed. In a 2012 interview shortly after she was ousted from the Federation Council, she lamented:
“This shattered some illusions that I still had regarding Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], who I know as an absolutely honest, decent and loyal man. But regarding his entourage, I feel squeamish towards those who surround him. He surrounded himself by United Russia’s leadership, where people are of very low moral standards. And can’t they understand, the petty, fussy, greedy ones, that once a liar, always a liar? They lie to each other, to him, but he keeps relying on them.”
In discussing her husband’s death, Narusova admitted that she thinks he was murdered, but she would not say who she thought was behind it, saying the time was not right. She does agree with the interviewer that two men who were murdered, in 2009 and 2011 respectively, had been present when Sobchak died. She also noted: