Tomorrow is election day in Russia. Vladimir Putin is expected to win easily. His campaign was heavily seasoned with anti-American rhetoric and a call to restore Russian greatness.

The weakness projected by the American president is certainly a factor but there is more to it. I’d like to point your attention to the Russian people.

We in the West, especially Americans, believe there is an innate human desire for freedom. We may be overly optimistic about that. The anti-American rhetoric spewing from Putin is vintage Soviet-style propaganda—there are external enemies, the United States is meddling in internal affairs, the military must be strengthened to project Russian greatness. The Russian people are going for it despite an authentic opposition to Putin.

Why would the Russian people fall for this stuff all over again? After the 70+ years experience with Communist lies and propaganda you’d think they learned something. They haven’t. They don’t want to. They like the idea of a strong, even feared motherland, a big time player internationally. That’s why Stalin does well in public opinion polls.

From 1929 to 1953 eighteen million people passed through the Soviet Gulag. Seven million died during the artificial famine of 1932-33. At least a million were shot during the Great Terror of 1937-38. The KGB had an arrest quota. They exceeded it. Torture made it easy to get confessions and acquire “informants” who named names. There is a recorded case where the KGB made a mistake concerning two unrelated people with the same name living in the same apartment building. The KGB mistakenly arrested the person not intended for arrest. By the time they realized their mistake and returned to get the correct “enemy of the state”, the first arrestee had confessed.

Just knowing or having some vague connection to a designated enemy of the state could get you arrested. After a woman’s husband was apprehended in the middle of the night (The KGB always did their arrests during the night, robbing the entire citizenry of sleep and deepening the sense of terror.), she called her brother to tell him what happened. The brother’s response to his distraught sister was to beg her never to call him again.

The Russian people are still not taking calls from this part of their history.

To a disturbing number of Russian people, the years of Communist terror are not remembered as one of the most horrific eras of human history. To them it was more like a bad spell of weather.

The above stories are related in David Satter’s book, “It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway”.

He writes about how the attempts to memorialize that era and its victims are resisted, not just by the state, but by the Russian people. It isn’t a case of denial or guilt or traumatized memories. They simply do not care.

There have been brief flareups of interest in the victims during Perestroika and after the fall of the Soviet Union. After Khruschev’s famous speech denouncing Stalin, there were rehabilitations, freeing many prisoners from the Gulag. A writer, Vasily Grossman fictionalized the train ride home of such a prisoner in Forever Flowing

…the old man sat at the table, his fists tight against his temples, looking out the window…The train had already entered the green belt around Moscow. …And the man who for three decades had forgotten that clumps of lilacs still existed in the world…this man sighed deeply, seeing once again, this time under a new aspect, that life had gone on without him.

There are no national monuments or museums dedicated to that era and its victims. A volunteer group called the Memorial Society is trying to locate and catalog locales such as interrogation centers, prisons, execution sites and mass graves. They want to identify the buried bones and document each victim’s fate for posterity. They believe, rightly so, that the era and its victims must be remembered as a matter of conscience and moral justice. They find resistance from the Russian citizenry. Much of the physical legacy of that time has already been destroyed.

Satter explains:

In Russia, the idea that tragic history can be absorbed and made part of the national consciousness has not been acknowledged. In place of national memory, a new national myth has replaced the myths of Communism. It says: “We are a country with a great past. There were bad things in our history. No one justifies terror and repression. But we were great in the past and we will be great in the future”. Talk of terror interferes with the return of historical pride.

Putin will get 60% to 70% of the vote. There is an opposition and street protests against him. We shouldn’t get our hopes up. We shouldn’t look to the Russian streets for a sign that the indomitable spirit of freedom exists in Russia. We must look to the mass graves of unidentified bones to know whether that spirit is still buried somewhere in Russian hearts or if it is dead.

Satter writes about visiting a burial pit that Memorial had partially excavated.

It was the excavation we were seeking. At the bottom of the hole, which was filled with branches and leaves, I noticed bones dyed green by the moss. “Could these be the bones of the victims?…”The very ones.”…He leaned over, picked up a jaw bone, and held it in his hand. I was reminded of the skull of Yorick. “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.” But who knew the name of the person to whom this jaw belonged, and was anyone alive who still remembered him?

Until Russians are willing to look upon those bones and remember, the great terror is not over. I can imagine the souls of those millions of victims watching life go on without them. They are ghosts riding a phantom train that cannot take them home. Sadly, the West is not eager to remember them either.

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16 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. Patricia says:

    Great post Pat – thanks. Our dear leader is giving all the tyrants in the world a boost. It’s a sad state for Russia and a giant step back. When you ignore history you are bound to repeat mistakes. November cannot come fast enough, not just for America, but for the world.

  2. LucyLadley says:

    I was aware that Putin is projected to win the election. A few years ago I met a woman that was a little girl in Russia when Putin was the head of the KGB. She remembers being awakened in the middle of the night by Putin & his men bursting into her home just to horas her family. She said this was typical of Putin & knew other homes where this happened. She said for me to never be fooled, Putin is ruthless. I will always remember her story. Russia is a key player in the future dangers that this world will face. Thank you Pat for your powerful post!

  3. Maynard says:

    The human capacity of even the most intelligent people (maybe I should say “especially the most intelligent people”) to live in a land of fantasy is astounding and terrifying.

    Did Stalin’s foreign fans have the excuse of not knowing any better? Then, as now, media corruption was a problem. Walter Duranty, an apologist for Stalin, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reportage out of the USSR (“Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda…” during the famine Pat mentioned.)

    A number of Lefty Americans did feel betrayed when it turned out Stalin had allied himself with Hitler in the opening salvo of WWII. But that was forgotten when Hitler turned on Russia. (And of course we had to ally ourselves with Russia when we got in the war, and rightly so. But that doesn’t make Stalin a good guy.)

    We know of the atomic treachery after the war, in which some of our people decided the moral thing to do was give the technology of the world’s deadliest weapons to the world’s greatest mass-murderer. It has been suggested that the Communists wouldn’t have dared launch the Korean War if not for that gift of the atom bomb, which gave Russia the confidence to back the adventure.

    God save us from our own suicidal stupidity. (Except “stupidity” isn’t the right word.)

  4. RuBegonia says:

    I read this three times. Haunting.

  5. Shifra says:

    Thanks for this post, Pat_S. Much “food for thought.” This is all very disturbing. Stalin’s reign of terror was a living nightmare, and the Russian people don’t seem to remember? However, there are some Russians who *do* remember — Russian Jews, who suffered terrible hardships, and sacrificed so much to get out of the country. Some went to Israel, many came here. Whenever I meet a Russian Jew, the word “Obama” seems to set them into a fury; after so much effort to come to America, they are horrified by this socialist/Marxist POTUS.

  6. tamcat says:

    My grandparents fled Russia with their parents when they were babies. So glad for them and us.
    The Russian people will only be as informed as their media will allow. As here in America, some folks make it a priority to know what the Gov. is up to. Some don’t care. Some would rather stay ignorant, feeling safer or more comfortable. Unfortunately researching a family tree in Russia is almost impossible. It may be harder to be a Russian patriot. Communists are merciless.

  7. Karan says:

    I never knew this history. Wow~ It is unbelievable. I plan to share your post with my friends, Pat.

  8. FrankRemley says:

    Everybody knows the names of Heinrich Himmler, Herman Goering, Adolf Eichmann, and the like. Nobody has the first clue who Lavrenti Beria and Nikolai Yezhov were. Until the past is fully exposed, there can be no future in Russia except the Putin/Stalin way.

    • LucyLadley says:

      Frank, you caused me to expand my knowledge & research Beria & Yezhov. Thanks! I love reading all the TAM responses. I am surrounded by mind expanding historians & it is so good for me. Thank you for stretching my Russian history. Thank you all TAMS for stretching me to want to go to the next level.

  9. morecowbell says:

    Oddly enough, I like Putin. You may not like his position, but at least you know what you are dealing with and what to expect from him…. and he hunts with his shirt off. I can’t say that about any of our leaders here in the USA.

    • FrankRemley says:

      You’re pretty much right about Putin. He’s predictable and leads with his chin unlike the freaks in North Korea and Iran of whom you never know what to expect. If he were an American politician he’s be your classic Southern demagogue along the lines of a Huey Long or a George Wallace. Just don’t let him sing “Blueberry Hill.”

    • Pat_S says:

      Did you look into his eyes and see his soul? 🙂

    • ME_only says:

      To know Putin socially, it can be said that he is a leader of men. However, you must never become an enemy. The person who is in the White House is the antithesis of the dynasty of Russian political and social dogma. Obama and Putin get along only because they both have the same objective; the destruction of the United States.

  10. flaggman says:

    The only immunity from tyranny is to accept natural law, and honor the concept of limited government. (Even that can be broken down by the right liar, as we may be seeing in America…but I digress.) Russia has no tradition in these concepts. Plus, their best and brightest head to Toronto, New Jersey, Israel, London or elsewhere at the first opportunity. The expats despise Putin…but that’s why they’re expats. They wanted freedom, and they weren’t going to wait around for it.

  11. Alain41 says:

    Excellent post!

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