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A Worrying Development

Russia Shuts Down Memorial

Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg. No similar trials have been held over communist leaders.

Putin seems to be trying to erase authentic voices from the past...

The Platform of European Memory and Conscience passed the following resolution on 5 January 2022:

On 28 December 2021, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation decided to shut down the Russian International Memorial organisation. In addition to earlier accusations of violation of the ‘foreign agent’ legislation, the prosecutor accused Memorial of ‘creating a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state’, the defamation of the memory of the Great Patriotic War, and an attempt to rehabilitate Nazi criminals. The Platform of European Memory and Conscience condemns the liquidation of Memorial in Russia. The Memorial organisation has, over the course of more than 30 years, raised awareness about the history of the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union as well as other Communist regimes, built up on the Soviet example and with Soviet support. The efforts of Memorial in preserving the memory of the victims of Communist crimes are known worldwide. Their input into recovering forgotten histories of mass repression both in the former Soviet Union and abroad is hard to overestimate. In addition to that, the work of Memorial in protecting human rights in contemporary Russia and other countries is invaluable. The Platform of European Memory and Conscience calls on the European Parliament and the European Commission to take action to guarantee the continuation of the work of the Memorial organisation, Russian historians and human rights activists in uncovering the totalitarian Communist past as well as the various forms of its legacy in the modern world. We call on all individuals and organisations involved with memory and remembrance and the protection of human rights to join an international campaign of solidarity with Memorial. 

This is a worrying development. The present authorities in Russia are trying to erase the memory of the many victims of communism. The Soviet Union was indeed a terrorist state. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution was a criminal enterprise. According to the authoritative Black Book of Communism, around twenty million people were killed by Soviet communists from the Bolshevik Revolution till the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The difference between the authoritarian Tsarist regime before 1917 and the totalitarian Bolshevik regime was one in kind and not in degree. Between 1825 and 1917, the total number of people sentenced to death in Russia for their political beliefs was 6,360 of whom 3,932 were executed, mostly in the aftermath of the 1905 rebellion. (There were only 191 executions in the period from 1825 to 1905.) But the Bolsheviks had only been in power for four months when the number of executions surpassed that of the whole Tsarist era. The Bolshevik terror was not the continuation of a Russian tradition, even if eminent scholars such as Professor Richard Pipes thought so. It was the logical consequence of the futile attempt to reconstruct the whole of society according to Marxist fantasies. Such an attempt requires the sacrifice of all those groups who do not fit in.

Stalin and Hitler Were Allies

The Russian authorities rarely speak about the Second World War. For them it is ‘The Great Patriotic War’ of 1941–1945 that matters. But it should be emphasised that from August 1939 to June 1941 Stalin and Hitler were allies. They had divided up Central and Eastern Europe between them in the Non-Aggression Pact signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939. It was this Pact which made possible Hitler’s attack on Poland and thus the Second World War. For the people of Central and Eastern Europe two wars were fought at the time: One was between Great Britain and France on the one hand and Germany and Italy on the other hand, from 1939 to 1941, and the other war was between Great Britain and the Soviet Union on the one hand and Germany and her allies on the other hand from 1941 to 1945. It was a bitter irony that Soviet judges participated in the 1946 Nuremberg trial of former Nazi leaders because the Soviet rulers was just as cruel and oppressive as the Nazis. They were guilty of the same war crimes and crimes against humanity as the Nazis. The difference between our perceptions of communism and national socialism is however that hardly any photographs or films are to be found of Soviet labour camps, whereas the whole world was shocked by what Allied soldiers saw and filmed when they entered Nazi camps at the end of the war. Again, there were never a Nuremberg trial of communist leaders, with dramatic revelations about their crimes.

The Problem of Evil

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky discussed the problem of evil. He told the story of a retired general who punished a little boy for a minor mishap by setting a pack of hound on him. They tore him to pieces before his mother’s eyes. It is almost an unbearable thought that perhaps the general died peacefully in his sleep many years later. Dostoevsky’s message was that there had to be a God to reward and to punish. Perhaps modern man would not fully accept that reasoning. But certainly History can act as a judge, registering and condemning crimes which go unpunished in this life. This point was eloquently expressed by French writer François-René de Chateaubriand:

When in the silence of abjection, the only sounds that can be heard are the chains of slaves and the voice of the collaborator, when everything trembles before the tyrant, when it is as dangerous to curry his favour as to merit his disgrace, the historian appears, charged with the vengeance of the peoples. Nero prospered in vain, for Tacitus was already born during the Empire.

Before Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Adolf Hitler gave a secret speech to military leaders at his home in the Bavarian Alps. ‘Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter—with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me,’ Hitler exclaimed. ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’

Disappearing Victims

Indeed, who speaks of the annihilation of not only the Armenians, but many other defenceless minorities? Now Putin is trying to silence the very few Russian voices that call a spade a spade and a murder a murder. The Bolsheviks executed some of their opponents by putting them on large barges in rivers and lakes in the Volga Basin and then sinking the barges. The victims disappeared without a trace. Would anyone have known about such atrocities if a few courageous individuals like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had not written about them? The water gurgling for a while, and then nothing …