Katyn Memorial Museum

While Russia did not commemorate the 75th anniversary of Katyn this year, they are planning to build a museum near the site to commemorate victims of “political repression”.  A memorial complex has already been built at the site to both the Polish and the Soviet victims of the Stalin regime, and the museum has apparently been planned for awhile, but the money has finally been made available.

“124 million rubles have been allocated to the new museum, despite the [government’s] current austerity policy.” Russia’s Vesti reported in February.

“At the place where Soviet citizens were shot, a museum of the history of political repression will be erected.”

The director of the Katyn complex, Vladimir Teslin, noted that the museum would talk about political repression from the Bolshevik revolution through the 1950s under Stalin’s regime.  According to him, there are up to 3,000 people buried in the area.

Construction of the complex had begun in the early 2000s, but the museum has still not been built.  The funds from the Russian government are supposed to be spent on the completion of this project, slated to be completed by the summer of 2017.

It is planned that at the museum visitors will learn the history of political repression, not only in the “Katyn period” of the late 1930s and early 1940s, but the revolution, the civil war, as well as the crimes of the Nazis in occupied Smolensk.”

But even researchers say that while it is known that Soviet citizens were shot dead in the vicinity, they don’t know who they were, or how many there were.

The problem is not that the museum is being built.  Russia needs to come to terms with the fact that political repression on a massive scale took place under the Stalin regime.  A museum commemorating this fact could be a useful tool in making this known to a broader audience.  And it is a great step forward if it is done correctly.

But to place the museum in Smolensk draws attention away from the war crime that the Soviets committed at Katyn by massacring 20,000 Poles.  And it continues the narrative of the Russian people as victims of a horrific regime over which they had no control.  And as long as this way of thinking continues, Russia cannot move forward.

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Katyn

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when Stalin ordered the murder of approximately 22,000 officers and prominent citizens of Poland.  Russia’s government has made some attempts to reach a rapprochement with the Polish government in the past few years, including passing a statement in Parliament acknowledging Stalin’s role in 2010.  However, Russia did not commemorate the anniversary this year.

Vitaly Portnikov had a short piece on Radio Svaboda (in Russian) discussing Russia’s indifference to the anniversary this year.

Russia did finally concede to its role in the Katyn massacre, he says, but it “is still a tragedy that divides not only Russia and Poland, but also Russia and Europe.”

“Europe would like to see Russia as any civilized country, remembering the crimes of the state no less and even more so than its successes and victories.  Similarly, as it is impossible to erase Hitler, the Holocaust, and World War 2 from the history of Germany, it is impossible to remove Stalin, the Gulag, and Katyn from the history of Russia.”

Yes, the Russian authorities apologized for their regime’s role at Katyn, Portnikov says, but you cannot just acknowledge a tragedy like this and then ignore it.

“Because after an apology, in theory, this tragedy ceases to be Polish, and becomes Russian, as the Holocaust was after recognizing that what happened in Germany was first of all a German and not a Jewish tragedy.”

And the Soviet Union did not single-handedly defeat Nazism, Portnikov says.

“It did, however, like the rest of the world, eventually find itself in the anti-Hitler coalition, but it did not want to fight…. The Soviet Union had to fight not because it wanted to crush the Nazis, but because it was treacherously attacked, and it had to fight for survival.  And among the rest of the allies in the struggle against Nazism, Stalin is distinguished only by the fact that before this attack he was not against Hitler, but next to Hitler.  And this is why Katyn occurred.”

Sanctions

Many analysts are still advocating sanctions as a way to force the Russian regime to back down on Ukraine, and Lilia Shevtsova is just the latest.

What needs to happen, the Moscow analyst says, is for Europe and the West more generally to investigate Russian money abroad, where it is being invested, and to whom it is being paid, and then block the flows of money that Putin and his entourage have illegally obtained, as is the case with much of it.

This is easier said than done.  The Russian regime has spent decades setting up their money laundering schemes, and it would take years to unravel it.  Years that we frankly don’t have.

We condemned ourselves to a land war with Russia because we were greedy, and wanted cheap energy and cheap commodities and cheap labor.  Our governments agreed to it, and we acquiesced by refusing to hold our authorities accountable.

Make sanctions a prong in fighting Russian aggression, but understand that this has gone too far for it to be the only prong.  The time to end this conflict with sanctions alone has passed.  Russia must be completely shut out of our markets.  Then we can go in and clean up our corruption problems inside our own countries as Shevtsova suggests.

The Cult of Stalin

Alexei Navalny just shared a post on Facebook, and it really encapsulates what is happening in Russia right now:

My mom works in the archive in Rostov, and yesterday she told me a typical story.  The other day a girl came in search of references to her grandfather, who was of Greek origin, and worked as a doctor in Rostov.  It was easy to find him, first – the last name was memorable, and secondly, the doctor turned out to be famous.  In 1938, he was accused of creating an anti-Soviet cell to set the stage for the onset of the Nazis.  The grandfather denied everything.  He was advised to sign a confession, because then instead of 10 years [in prison], he would get 5 — but he refused, as there was no truth in the accusation.

He was exiled for 10 years, he served them all, and after Stalin’s death he filed a request for rehabilitation.  His case was raised, and they found out the following — the signed confession was forged, the two people who allegedly testified against him were never arrested or interrogated, and the third didn’t exist.  The investigator who faked the case and put an absolutely innocent man in prison was tracked down and punished.  Fiercely.  He was given 10 days in jail.

In the evening, my mother went to the copy center.  In front of her in line was a 38-year-old woman who was bustling and wringing her hands, her whole appearance showing terrible excitement.  She has a picture, she explained to everyone, a gift for a loved one.  It is a non-standard size, so it is difficult to find a frame.  Oh, how she dreams that now she would be able to do so!  At some point, the woman turned around, and my mother finally saw the painting.  It was a lovingly embroidered portrait of Stalin.

A recent poll by Levada Center published earlier this week showed that Russian society is split in their attitudes to Stalin’s legacy:

“If the prevailing attitude toward [Stalin] was negative at the start of the millennium, now a large proportion of respondents (39 percent) now evaluate him positively,” the Levada Center said. While 25 percent said they viewed the Soviet leader negatively, a further 30 percent identified their feelings as neutral, the pollster added.

In part, this is because the current regime is using Stalin’s legacy to justify their actions both domestically and abroad.

How this will end is unclear, but The Moscow Times quoted Levada’s Alexei Levinson:

“There are two consequences of that: On the one hand, the state might triumph in the further consolidation of its power. On the other hand, we are engaging in a conflict with the rest of the world and our regime will not last long under such pressure.”