Bulletin 3:37 (2009)
- THE RUSSIAN NATIONALISM BULLETIN
A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs
Vol. 3, No. 37(79), 1 December 2009
Compilers: Scott Littlefield & Andreas Umland
I NEWS: 15 - 30 November 2009
II SURVEYS, ANALYSES, COMMENTS
III PRIMARY SOURCES
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I NEWS: 15 - 30 November 2009
Third Attack on Anti-Fascists in Omsk Since August
UCSJ, November 16, 2009
Neo-Nazis in Omsk, Russia have attacked anti-fascist activists for the
third time since August, but local police are not taking the incidents
seriously, according to a November 12, 2009 report by the Sova
Information-Analytical Center. On August 12, neo-Nazis assaulted two
anti-fascist youths in Omsk, but despite eye witness testimony, police
refused to investigate the crime as being connected to neo-Nazi
groups. In October, anti-fascist activist Evgeny D. was hospitalized
with multiple stab wounds after being attacked by far-right extremists
in front of several witnesses. His friends tracked down one of the
neo-Nazis allegedly responsible for the stabbing and turned him over
According to local anti-fascists, police investigating the attack
focused more on the political activities of the victim and his
friends, who have held protests against police abuses in the city,
than on the identity of the assailants. In addition, the anti-fascists
claim that suspects that they have identified for police have still
not been detained. On November 9, a friend of the victim who came
forward as a witness to the crime was stabbed in the stomach. He also
identified his assailants as local neo-Nazis.
Likely Racist Attack Leaves Victim With Multiple Stab and Gunshot Wounds
UCSJ, November 16, 2009
In what is being described as a likely racist attack, three Slavic
assailants stabbed an Armenian man and shot him twice in the head in
the Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy, according to a November 15, 2009
report by the newspaper "Erkramas" a Russian language newspaper aimed
at the Armenian diaspora. The victim was visiting his sister when he
was attacked on November 12. He is currently in the hospital and
police investigators are waiting for his condition to improve enough
that he can more fully describe his assailants.
Racist Attack in Moscow
UCSJ, November 16, 2009
A group of 7-8 men in their 20s attacked a man who appeared to be from
Central Asia in Moscow, according to a November 16, 2009 report by the
Sova Information-Analytical Center. The assailants used racist insults
as they beat their victim on November 14. Passersby intervened and put
a stop to the attack, after which the victim fled. It is not clear
from the report if the victim ever filed a police report, but Russia
is home to millions of migrants from the former Soviet Union, many of
whom are afraid to report crimes against them for fear of deportation
or abuse at the hands of the police.
Communist MPs File Bill On Excluding Reference To God In Nat Anthem
Itar-Tass, November 17, 2009
MOSCOW, November 17 (Itar-Tass) - Member of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Boris Kashin who represents the Communist Party of the Russian Federation /CPRF/ has introduced a bill demanding that a reference to God be excluded from the text of Russia's national anthem.
Stanza Two of the 2000 version of the anthem mentions "native land safeguarded by God."
Kashin says in part that the anthem is an official state symbol of the Russian Federation and that is must respond to provisions of the Constitution and promote consolidation in society on the basis of ideas and principles clear and acceptable for everyone.
He recalls that the Constitution defines Russia as a secular state where everyone is guaranteed the freedom of consciousness, the freedom of religion inclusive of the right to espouse religious beliefs independently or collectively.
Also, the Constitution has a provision for the freedom of non-observance of any religious beliefs.
"A considerable part of Russia's population doesn't espouse any religion and considers themselves to be atheistic," Kashin says.
"The words about "the native land safeguarded by God" that are included in the current version of the anthem run counter to the fundamentals of these people's worldview," he indicates.
He proposes to replace the word 'God' in the second stanza by the pronoun 'us'.
Kashin insists that the introduction of this change in the anthem will not contradict Russia's legislation on copyright, since the latter does not name state symbols among the objects of copyright.
Since the current version of the anthem is relatively new, the changes suggested will not do damage to Russians' historical memory, he says.
Anti-Russian Racists Sentenced in Moscow Suburb
UCSJ, November 18, 2009
Most racist violence in Russia is directed against minorities, but
earlier this month, a court in Dolgoprudny (Moscow region) convicted
two men of a hate crime against ethnic Russians, according to a
November 16, 2009 report by the Sova Information-Analytical Center.
Shamil Abdurashidov, a native of Dagestan, and Garib Garibov, a native
of Azerbaijan, pointed what appeared to be pistols at customers in a
store, threatening to kill them on the night of February 8, 2009. Mr.
Abdurashidov reportedly stated that, "Russian men should be killed and
their women raped" as he was committing the crime. Both men then
assaulted a man inside the store, and Mr. Abdurashidov tried to cut
his throat, but the victim was able to escape.
On November 13, the court convicted Mr. Abdurashidov of "threatening
murder, motivated by ethnic hatred or animosity" as well as attempted
murder, assault, and weapons charges. He was sentenced to seven and a
half years in prison. Mr. Garibov faced all of the above charges
except for the hate crimes statute, and was sentenced to two and a
half years in prison.
Three Novgorod Residents Face Trial on Hate Crimes Charges
UCSJ, November 18, 2009
Two young men and a juvenile face hate crimes charges in Novgorod,
Russia according to a November 16, 2009 report by the Sova
Information-Analytical Center. The three men allegedly attacked a
citizen of Uzbekistan on April 13, 2008, beating and kicking him, and
then stabbing him twice. The victim was blinded as a result of the
assault. The suspects face aggravated assault and "hooliganism"
charges, all motivated by ethnic hatred, which, if convicted, could
add to their prison time above standard assault and hooliganism
Russian human rights activists appeal to antifascists to refrain from violence
Ekho Moskvy, BBC Monitoring, November 19, 2009
Moscow, 19 November: Russian human rights activists are calling on antifascists to refrain from violence and "acts of revenge by force" similar to the attack on the office of the Young Russia (youth movement on 17 November). This is stated in an appeal of well-known human rights activists, Ekho Moskvy radio station has learnt.
"We are appealing to young people who took part in acts of revenge by force similar to the attack on the Rumola office or are preparing them - you will not stop political terror in this way! You will rather give an excuse to law enforcement agencies for fresh repression against NGOs," the appeal said.
The human rights activists also said that they see "political and ideological attacks and murders" as "acts of political terror". They said that "the regularity and impunity" of these crimes spoke for the fact that they were prepared by "shrewd professionals provoking a street war". The human rights activists appeal to antifascists movements not to yield to this provocation.
In addition, the human rights activists appealed to the Russian authorities with a demand "to stop political terror in our country". The appeal was signed, in particular, by Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lev Ponomarev, leader of the For Human Rights movement, Aleksandr Cherkasov, a board member of the human rights centre Memorial and Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civil Assistance committee. (Passage omitted)
Priest shot dead in Moscow church
BBC News, November 20, 2009
A masked gunman armed with a pistol has shot dead a Russian Orthodox priest in his Moscow church, police say.
The gunman walked into St Thomas Church in southern Moscow, asked priest Daniil Sysoyev his name and then opened fire, investigators said.
The church's choirmaster was also injured in the attack.
A police spokesman said they believed the gunman had "religious motives". Reports said Father Sysoyev, 35, had received threats via e-mail.
Russian media said he had been involved in missionary activities aimed at encouraging young people to choose the Orthodox Church.
A statement on the website of Father Sysoyev's missionary training centre said he had been threatened by Muslims, AFP reported.
Anatoly Bagmet, a spokesman for the prosecutor general's office, said Father Sysoyev died of his wounds on the way to hospital.
"Investigators are looking at all possible versions, but we are inclined to think that the main motive of the crime was hatred on the basis of religion," Mr Bagmet told the Interfax news agency.
The choirmaster, named as Vladimir Strelbitsky, was treated in hospital but his injuries were not believed life-threatening, officials said.
The dominant Orthodox Church has become an important political force in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But Orthodox bishops have complained that other religious groups have tried to make converts in their territory.
Court Gives Suspended Sentence to Man Who Called for Murder of Jews, Government Officials
UCSJ, November 20, 2009
A resident of Kovrov, Russia was given a suspended sentence on
incitement charges, according to a November 17, 2009 report by the
newspaper "Komsomolskaya Pravda." Vladimir Sofronov posted calls to
murder Jews, local government officials and their children, on the
Internet. The suspended sentence is for 10 months in prison if he is
convicted of another crime during that time period.
Tver Far-Right Activist Faces Hate Crime Charges
UCSJ, November 20, 2009
Prosecutors in Tver, Russia brought incitement charges against a 50
year old member of an unspecified local far-right group, according to
a November 20, 2009 report by the Regnum news agency. The suspect
allegedly painted the word "evil" on Jewish, Armenian and Gypsy
gravestones. He signed a written pledge not to leave the city until
his trial, the date of which has not yet been set.
Mosque Vandalized in Kirov
UCSJ, November 24, 2009
Someone painted neo-Nazi slogans on the walls of a mosque in Kirov,
Russia, according to a November 23, 2009 article in the local news
supplement to the national daily "Komsomolskaya Pravda." The words
"Russia" with the SS capitalized in the Latin alphabet were daubed on
the walls. According to the local mufti, someone painted a swastika on
the mosque recently, but although he reported the crime to police, "no
measures of any kind were taken" to find the culprits.
USSR meets YouTube in Russian web nostalgia project
AFP, November 27, 2009
MOSCOW (AFP) - Huge red banners hang over Moscow's Red Square and hundreds of Communist dignitaries are awaiting the annual May Day parade as the announcer's booming voice, filled with pride, breaks the silence.
"Red Square is especially beautiful on this holiday morning!" he says. "On such days every Soviet citizen, whether in Moscow or far from the capital, in any corner of our country, has Red Square in his heart and mind."
This isn't now. This was 1974, but the clip from Soviet television can be found on a new Russian website that seeks to bring Communist nostalgia into the Internet age with content ranging from anti-Western propaganda to comedy shows and Soviet sports victories.
The creators of CCCP-TV.ru, whose address resembles the Russian letters for "USSR," believe that millions of Russians will eventually use the site to get their fix of childhood memories.
Longing for Communist times is common in Russia, two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Fully 58 percent of Russians agree that "it is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists," according to a poll published this month by the US-based Pew Research Centre.
Against that background, cable television channels offering old Soviet broadcasts and cafes decorated with kitschy Communist memorabilia do brisk business.
The new website was launched on November 7, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution which is no longer an official holiday in Russia though still typically marked with protests staged by elderly Communists.
November 7 was the "right date" to launch the website, said Andrei Akopian, the head of Uravo, the company behind the site.
Akopian denied his project had any political agenda.
"Our main goal is to bring this content to everyone who wants to see it," said Akopian, whose company launched the site in partnership with Russia's State Television and Radio Fund, which provided the recordings.
"You can't get away from the political context, of course. Everyone will see this in their own way," Akopian said.
The purpose of the website is strictly capitalist: Akopian eventually plans to sell advertisements on the website and to link it to online auctions for Communist-themed collectibles.
He also hopes to expand its content from the several dozen clips available currently to thousands more, drawing on the vast archive of the State Television and Radio Fund.
"There is a potential audience of several million people in Russia... plus several more million in ex-Soviet countries and abroad, in America, Canada, Britain and so on," Akopian said.
The CCCP-TV.ru website is following in the footsteps of the Nostalgia and Retro cable television channels, both of which have found an audience by re-broadcasting old Soviet television recordings.
Such channels owe their popularity to nostalgia for peoples' younger days, rather than a desire to restore the Soviet empire, said Arina Borodina, a television critic for the Kommersant daily newspaper.
"I don't see anything bad about this. It puts one in a good mood," Borodina told AFP.
However she questioned whether CCCP-TV.ru would find a large audience, noting that the majority of Nostalgia and Retro viewers were middle-aged and not likely to subscribe to high-speed Internet services.
"This isn't exactly the Internet generation," Borodina said.
Some clips on the website provide a glimpse into the Soviet state propaganda machine and its attempts to portray the capitalist West as an immoral and decadent empire in decline.
One video, a 1974 documentary on gambling in Britain, shows men chomping on cigars and wearing bowler hats as the filmmakers expose the evils of casinos, which were illegal in the Soviet Union.
"Gamblers bet twice as much money as England spends on education, four times what it spends on scientific research, 10 times what it spends on building new roads," it says as dogs are shown running around a racetrack.
But other videos, which range in date from the 1950s to the 1980s, are non-political broadcasts of ballets, children's shows and comedy shows featuring widely loved stars.
The most popular clips, according to tests conducted before the launch, were the comedy shows, a 1960 Soviet-Canadian hockey match, and footage of a 1975 meeting of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev with cosmonauts, Akopian said.
Protests, fights mark opening ceremony of restored Vladimir Lenin monument
Kyiv Post, November 27, 2009
Several representatives of nationalist parties clashed with Communist Party members at the opening ceremony of the newly restored monument to Vladimir Lenin on Bessarabska Square in Kyiv on Nov. 27. Several dozen nationalists threw bottles with red-and-white paint at the monument, surrounded by some 700 Communist Party activists. Some of the bottles missed the target, however, and injured people in the crowd. The Communists paid for restoration of the monument to the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The monument was vandalized on June 30 by five nationalists who broke off part of the statue's nose and left hand. Many Ukrainians want all monuments to the Soviet era and Lenin removed from Kyiv, but have encountered stiff opposition from Lenin diehards.
See http://www.kyivpost.com/gallery/album/622/photo/5/ for photos.
Ukraine does not blame Russia for Holodomor Yushchenko
RIA Novosti, November 28, 2009
KIEV, November 28 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine does not think Russia is to blame for the 1932-1933 Holodomor famine, President Viktor Yushchenko said.
"We do not accuse Russia, we do not accuse the Russian nation," he told the Inter TV channel prior to Saturday's commemoration of a Holodomor anniversary by the ex-Soviet state, adding that the country that is to blame does not exist now.
In late 2006, Ukraine's parliament recognized the Stalin-era famine known as Holodomor as an act of genocide by the Soviet authorities.
Russia says the famine cannot be considered an act that targeted Ukrainians, as millions of people from different ethnic groups also lost their lives in vast territories across the Soviet Union.
Kiev has been seeking international recognition of the famine as an act of genocide. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly refused to include a discussion of the famine on its official session agenda.
A number of Ukrainian nationalist parties say that Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, should bear responsibility for the famine.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church believes separation from the Moscow Patriarchate is "not good"
Interfax-Religion, November 30, 2009
Kiev, November 30, Interfax - The Ukrainian Orthodox Church keeps its position concerning its canonical status stated in the Russian Orthodox Church Statute adopted by the Local Council on 28 January 2009.
"We believe any review of the existing canonical status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not good for church life. We remind out flock that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is self-governed part of the ROC with the rights of broad autonomy, as stated in the Russian Orthodox Church Statute," the UOC Holy Synod said in the Appeal to the Faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church adopted at its recent session in the Laura on the Caves in Kiev.
The Appeal stresses the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is united with "the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church through the Russian Orthodox Church."
"Our Church (UOC - IF) is in unity with Universal Orthodoxy precisely through canonical and devotional bonds with the Russian Orthodox Church," the document says.
The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believes, that its present status "is optimal for her fulfillment of saving mission in the modern Ukrainian State."
As well as the aim of Ukrainian Church's dialogue with non-canonical church groups is not a desire "to separate ourselves canonically from the fullness of the Russian Church but the desire to restore church unity," the Appeal further reads.
Anti-Semitism growing in Europe, waning in Russia Rabbi
Interfax-Religion, November 30, 2009
Moscow, November 30, Interfax - Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar has expressed concern about growing anti-Semitism in Europe.
"Here in Russia the situation was rather serious just recently. Synagogues would be blown up, graves destroyed and Jews attacked. The situation has improved now. But in Europe, the situation is what it was in Russia in the worst years," Lazar told the Russian leadership, according to the rabbi's press service.
"Happily, the situation is improving in Russia," he said.
"That's not just my impression. I often meet with the leaders of international organizations, which monitor anti-Semitic sentiment, and they see positive trends in this country. By contrast, the situation has been deteriorating in many of the European countries, especially in recent years," the rabbi said.
On the life of the Jewish community in Russia, he said that, "dozens of Jewish schools have opened over the past few years and new synagogues and community centers are build each year."
"Two hundred cities have Jewish communities. But what matters most in combating anti-Semitism, aggressive nationalism and xenophobia is prevention. People must be reared in the right ideology," Lazar said.
The fight against xenophobia and anti-Semitism is scoring successes, the rabbi said, noting that, "the government has been demonstrating a robust approach to those who popularize hatred and ethnic enmity."
Forty-seven people were prosecuted in the first nine months of 2009 on charges of anti-Semitism, and all of them were convicted, six of them to prison terms of five to ten years, he said.
November, 2009. Monthly Summary
SOVA Center, November 30, 2009
In November, 2009, according to our data, not less than 10 people, including 2 fatalities, became victims of neo-Nazi and racist motivated violence. Beside Moscow, the incident took place in Omsk, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and St. Petersburg. The most high profile murders, in all probability committed with a hate motive, were the ones on the antifascist Ivan Khutorskoj (Kostolom) and the Orthodox priest Daniil Sysoev. In comparison, in November, 2008, 6 people were murdered and not less than 28 injured.
In all, from the beginning of 2009, in 36 regions of Russia, not less than 54 people were murdered and not less than 294 were injured as a result of racist and neo-Nazi attacks. In the same period of time, in 2008, 105 people were murdered and not less than 449 injured.
In November, not less than 5 acts of vandalism were reported in 5 regions of Russia, 1 against each of Jewish and Muslim objects, and 3 graffiti actions which were in some way or another connected with the Russian March. In all, from the beginning of the year, we have registered not less than 91 acts of ideologically and racist motivated vandalism, including 9 arson attacks.
However, this statistics does not include arson attacks, attempted and perpetrated explosions committed by the ultra right-wingers out of ideological motives, because, in our opinion, it is not correct to define such acts as arson attacks on police stations, property of policemen or people of non-Slavic origin, or fake bombs, as "vandalism". In November, not less than 2 episodes of this kind were reported: a fake bomb in the St. Petersburg underground and arson attack on a shop "Pivnyak" in Moscow. In all, from the beginning of the year, we have registered not less than 18 episodes of this sort in 7 regions of Russia.
Moreover, in late November, three statements by ultra right-wingers were published on the Internet, claiming responsibility for a series of crimes: 3 murders, an explosion at a St. Petersburg bus stop on November 25, a fake bomb in St. Petersburg subway on November 14, and the derailing of the Nevsky Express train on November 27. The Nevsky Express claim seems to be no more than empty bluster, while other claims, it seems, were made by someone either involved in the crimes or somehow connected with the perpetrators.
Traditionally, one of the high profile events of this month is the Russian March on November 4, organized by the ultra right-wing supporters all over the country. In 2009, rallies and marches took place in Moscow where there were, as usual, several events organized by competing ultra right-wing groups, and in 12 other regions of Russia. In 3 more cases the ultra right-wingers either assumed events organized by somebody else, or claimed to had organized an event which was not reported by any other source of information.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials was enlarged on November 12 and 19, by paragraphs 450-454. By December 1, 2009, the list contains 454 paragraphs, 15 of which were included twice and one three times. The decisions to rate 6 other materials as extremist ones were cancelled by different courts.
In November, there were not less than 3 guilty verdicts for violent hate crimes, two in Moscow region and one in Voronezh, against 8 people. All of the accused were sentenced to various terms of imprisonments. In all, from the beginning of the year, there were 41 verdicts for violent hate crime against 125 people (including 27 people who got suspended sentences or were released from punishment for different reasons).
However, the most important event of the month became arrest of Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis who are suspected of murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastassia Baburova.
There were 4 guilty verdicts for xenophobic propaganda in November, in Ivanovo, in Vladimir, in Kaliningrad and in Republic of Komi. 4 people were doomed, including one who got a suspended sentence and one who was released because of expiry of period of limitation.
In all, from the beginning of the year, there were 35 guilty verdicts for hate propaganda (article 282 of the Criminal Code) against 47 people, including 22 of them who got a suspended sentence and one who was released because of expiry of period of limitation.
Neo-Nazis Claim Responsibility for Shooting Anti-Fascist Activist in Moscow
UCSJ, November 30, 2009
An anti-fascist activist was shot dead in Moscow and neo-Nazis claimed
responsibility, according to a November 23, 2009 report by the Sova
Information-Analytical Center. Ivan Khutorsky, age 26, was killed on
November 16 in the lower level of his apartment building. He is the
fifth anti-fascist activist to have been murdered in Moscow since
2006. In 2005, he was attacked twice, and his name appeared on
far-right web sites as an "enemy" to be killed. Police are
investigating the murder, which a shadowy group calling itself "The
Militant Group of Russian Nationalists" claimed responsibility for.
Juvenile Prison Colony Fines Convict for Neo-Nazi Tattoo
UCSJ, November 30, 2009
For the first time that UCSJ is aware of, a prison colony for
juveniles fined a convict 500 rubles for a neo-Nazi tattoo, according
to a November 26, 2009 report by the Jewish.ru web site. It is not
clear from the report if Stanislav Korobeynikov, age 17, is a member
of a neo-Nazi gang. Swastika and other neo-Nazi tattoos are not
uncommon in Russian prisons, and some even appeared during the Soviet
Patriarch Kirill urges new Russian emigrants to preserve purity of the Russian language abroad
Interfax-Religion, December 1, 2009
Moscow, December 1, Interfax - Emigrants from Russia shouldn't refuse Russian culture and language and replace it with "fashionable" foreign accent, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia believes.
"First wave of Russian immigration preserved the Russian language, faith, love to Motherland. The third generation born to these families sometimes speaks Russian better that the third wave of our emigration," the Patriarch said at the World Congress of Compatriots in Moscow on Tuesday.
"Young people who admire their newly acquired accent are very frequent. Nobody knows if they really have this accent, but they speak accented Russian with pleasure. And very soon refuse the Russian language, Russian culture and Orthodox faith," Patriarch Kirill said.
According to him, to preserve national and cultural identity abroad, it is necessary to set up centers for learning Russian. "I believe such centers should be set up at those parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate where they haven't been opened yet," he said.
"The principle of Church separated from the state shouldn't prevent the state from supporting life, including religious life, of its compatriots," the Primate believes.
Russian Church considers strange U.S. State Department protects rights of Satanists
Interfax-Religion, December 1, 2009
Moscow, December 1, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate is perplexed that the U.S. Department of State criticized Russia's struggle against extremism in its religious freedom report 2009.
"It is precisely the extremism, with its abuse of the innate religious feeling, that underlies international terrorism, which claimed lives of many Russian and U.S. servicemen who fought against it," head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk said in his letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, posted on the DECR website.
The Inter-religious Council of Russia "spoke against extremism on many occasions, condemning the abuse of religious freedom and freedom of speech, be it anti-Semitism, or publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed or the anti-Christian exhibition in Moscow," the Archbishop said.
"In this context, the report's authors seem to have ambiguous concerns about the rights of the Satanists whose cult is related with the profanation of sacred places of religions, the review of which is given in the report by the U.S. Department of State," the letter said.
Regrettably, the report condemns "the restrictions imposed on certain "new religious movements," Archbishop Hilarion said.
At the same time, the report says nothing "about the instances that led to such restrictions," he said.
"Many former followers of the said movements, who were psychologically and morally traumatized after becoming victims of fraud, go to Church. The religious and secular rehabilitation centers spend a lot of effort to get these people back to normal life, to deal with their suicidal inclinations, to restore their ruined family happiness," the letter said.
This is why "most often behind many restrictive measures imposed by the state on minority religious groups there is a concern about its citizens' rights and the demands from citizens themselves," the Archbishop said.
The 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom was published by the U.S. Department of State on October 26. The report's section about Russia says that although the religious freedom is fixed in the Russian Constitution and the government generally respects this right, the authorities impose restrictions on a number of groups in certain cases.
II SURVEYS, ANALYSES, COMMENTS
Stalin ¬ a hero for our time
By: Tatiana Shcherbina
www.opendemocracy.net, November 13, 2009
Tatiana Shcherbina is a poet. She lives in Moscow, speaks fluent French, writes poems in French and Russian and has translated a number of French poets into Russian. In 2002 she took part in the Poetry International at London's Royal Festival Hall and in a UK tour by Russian women poets. Her poems appeared in a special Russian women's poetry issue of 'Modern Poems in Translation', and a selection of her earlier poetry has been published by Zephyr Press in the US.
The myth of Russia's beautiful past has gripped the popular imagination, thanks to state propaganda, the poet Tatiana Shcherbina laments. Stalin is the nation's hero, heir to the Tsars. Russia is once again `encircled by enemies' and the people's list of those who ought to be shot grows longer daily.
Stalin has suddenly become the point of reference in Russia today. Not really suddenly, of course ¬ there was the TV programme "Name of Russia", and his was the name people voted for. Though there was an amusing switch at the last moment to Alexander Nevsky, hardly a well-known figure among the masses. The Prokhanovs and Zyuganovs of this world went banging on about their hero, as they have done for years; elderly men and women wear medals with his portrait to their mini-demonstrations; seasoned drivers and long-distance lorry drivers have been hanging them on their windscreen as talismans from time immemorial. This did all actually happen. For 4 years Putin-TV has drummed the image of the efficient manager of «great construction projects» and the face of World War 2 into the collective sub-consciousness. But the masses know (and not only in their DNA) that Russia means poverty, thieving, bribes, lawlessness, injustice and backwardness, and it has always, always been that way .. Or perhaps not always? After all man, like society, has to be able to think that something which is bad is not going to go on for ever, that it's not a sentence or a diagnosis of ingrained feeble-mindedness ¬ once things were really good. Not just good, but in superlatives ¬ great, powerful, abundant and worthy. If this is the case, then the people who destroyed it were evil. You can point a finger at them («the borders are open, get out of our country!») and they can be made either to toe the line or be shot (from 1 January 2010). Then the question «who is to blame?» that interferes with our sleep, work or life will let up again for a bit.
The main advantage of a beautiful past is that if you had one, it will come again, once exile, imprisonment or capital punishment have been meted out and not just to individual Khodorkovskys, but to all of them ¬ in folk perception this is about two thirds of the adult population.
Firstly the «embezzlers of national property», from Putin, who is rumoured to have an astronomically enormous fortune (some bloggers name figures in the trillions of dollars) to the oligarchs or not-oligarchs ¬ people whose castles, palaces or just houses are protected by high stone walls. Whoever has a dacha that is not a complete wreck will certainly have a wall like this to protect him (or his elite village) from thieves and bandits. These are not the «godfathers», whose funeral ceremonies are shown on TV for a week, but common thieves. Both kinds would be bumped off by the people, after the embezzlers.
Actually opinions vary about the leader of the nation and his entourage: less emotional people think that the residents of the Kremlin will be packed off, if not like that, then to their luxurious villas, which they have bought in that same pernicious West. So they don't include them in the lists of those they would like to see shot. Others don't want to let them get away and think they should be publicly hanged. Yet others think the Tsar can do what he wants, that it's not up to us, the hoi polloi, to discuss or condemn his actions.
Next come the bribe-takers. Probably half the population falls into this category from minor officials to nurses. In short the longing to clean up the country is becoming stronger in the national subconscious by the day. But we did have a positive example ¬ Stalin! Rootless cosmopolitans, spies, fifth columnists, traitors to the motherland (including those closest to him), their wives and children, older comrades and teachers were all sent to the gulag or executed. As were the Meyerholds, Mandelstams, Weismannist-Morganists and geneticists. As was Uncle Vasya from the collective farm - no papers, a former kulak (we would say farmer) - who had his business taken from him («everything belongs to the people, everything is mine»), and indeed any worker or peasant, uneducated and very poor. Because someone had denounced them. Or because he had «given himself airs» (defended his human dignity) before a low-ranking official. Uncle Vasya is, of course, not Jewish (the recent wave of hatred for the Jews is the strongest yet), but (in today's terms) a yid and at that time ¬ a class enemy.
During the last two weeks I have been coming across the term «yid» to mean not people who are Jews or who are actually anything to do with ethnos. They're just people who don't fit in, not one of us, like the Soviet «dissidents». Tsvetaeva wrote that «all poets are yids», so those «poets», if you give our lot their head, would also be singled out. Some bloggers think that it was right to punish Mandelstam for his anti-Stalin poem and that any country would have done the same. The «repressions» were justified and the results are obvious: the USSR succeeded in stealing the secret of the atom bomb and the tall, Stalinist apartment blocks were well-built and have still not collapsed. The Belomor Canal was built by those who needed to be reformed by labour for the good of the motherland. Back then the elite, including the modest leader, lived in spartan conditions.
There is no point in trying to convince the Stalinists that Stalin's comrades in arms lived in unheard of luxury, secretly, behind the same high walls as today, because they simply don't want to know. Nor about wartime «cannon fodder», a subject on which volumes have been written. They don't want to know about the starvation which caused death on such an enormous scale, or the fact that there were no laws, written or unwritten, which would guarantee your safety if you obeyed them. How could there be? Beria fancied a girl he saw in the street and a Black Maria picked her up for his sexual gratification. I recently went to what was once his luxurious mansion ¬ it's an embassy now. What can one say? The «historical image» of Kursk metro station in Moscow is being recreated, though there's no monument yet to give it authenticity, historical images (of the 30s and 40s, that is) will probably be officially rehabilitated all over the place and Stalin is a TV hero.
I said that Stalin had «suddenly» become a point of reference. It happened just the other day, when a Tendency acquired the force of Truth. When the TV programme about Stalin on Channel 1 asked viewers to vote, 54% said he was a hero, 7% an effective manager (as I understand it, these were probably Putinists), and 39% a criminal. 39% might seem quite a good figure, but the difference is the same as between a controlling stake in a company and all the other percentages, even if there are 39 of them. This TV programme gave rise to heated discussions, which go on to this day. By heated I mean 500 comments for each showing.
These discussions have happened before, but this time something else happened. The anti-Stalinists have ended up on the defensive, referring to historical documents, wringing their hands and clutching their hearts. The Stalinists (it's as if in Soviet times a dissident had argued with a member of the Communist Party) simply brush these documents away, saying that anyone can put any figures together. They also dismiss arguments that the USSR was completely isolated, the cupboards were bare and that almost everything was forbidden. Too right, say the Stalinists, what was forbidden was harmful, an infection from the West which corrupted homo Sovieticus. Private property was just such an infection: today a honest man can't buy himself a flat or a dacha, whereas then they were handed out for free.
You won't convince a Stalinist that a family would be allocated one room in a huge communal flat, that this was living in inhuman conditions, that people were sent to camps or shot for no more reason than there was nowhere to house them, nothing to feed them with or no means of paying them a wage ¬ convicts worked for nothing and produced the lion's share of the GDP at the time. Many of the Stalinists are quite young and didn't know even Chernenko ¬ for them today's heroic mythology comes from the current agitprop. They are sure that everything in the USSR was right and proper: the central figure was Stalin, so he's the one selected as the epic hero. Lenin is currently out of the popularity stakes: he was a revolutionary, terrorist and extremist. For the Putin generation he is not the forerunner of Stalin, just one of the many barely distinguishable spectres of communism. Today Stalin is the heir of the Russian tsars. For the nationalists ¬ a majority among the Stalinists ¬ he's not even a Georgian, but a Russian and a baptised Orthodox christian! No, no ¬ he didn't blow up the churches including the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, he didn't root out the opium of the people following on from Lenin. After all, he went to seek the advice of St Matrona ¬ you can see that on the TV. Other priests have elevated that closet Orthodox christian Stalin to a saint and practically put icons to him into the church, but it's a bit early for that, so they've had to take them home.
The role of state propaganda
How much of a role has state propaganda played in this new mythology? The main role, the controlling stake. All these feelings of love for Stalin, the thoughts, the arguments are completely fresh and not talismans on the windowscreens of long-distance lorries. From 1956 they were isolated cases, marginalised, the lumpen class who demonstrated their devotion more or less defiantly. From the moment the party i.e. Khrushchev revealed the «terrible truth» about Stalin, which many knew already, that became the right, recommended and approved view of things. If the internet and bloggers had existed at the time, anyone who had tried to write something laudatory about Stalin and that whole period would have been attacked and pilloried in the same way as is happening now, but the other way round. If anyone had tried saying publicly that Khrushchev himself was one of the «notables» - the mayor, in today's parlance ¬ of the Stalinist system and had as much to do with the repressions and executions as Beria and Malenkov, whom he annihilated in the struggle for power (though this is true), the youth of the time would have angrily condemned him out of hand, because the Khrushchev thaw was opening up the future. Aksyonov-Voznesenky-Okudzhava-Vysotsky, the pleiad of unofficial artists and poets (Rabin, Brodsky) and the scientists who subsequently became the leading lights of world science: oxygen had been released into this society of fear and terror and people could suddenly breathe. No «historical truth» was more important than that. But no one did say anything in public, because in Soviet times, even during the thaw, not agreeing with the policies of the party and the state was not an option. There's no oxygen today, no sense of the future, just a disconnected nation which feels it has been deceived, humiliated, is helpless and futile. This is why it can only rummage around in the past ¬ a past which was also deprived of oxygen («we will perish openly», as Pasternak said), was as cruel and bloody as the reign of the second current hero, the completely prehistoric Ivan the Terrible. The humane way doesn't work, so let it be bloody and cruel, but we have to get out of our current psychological quagmire somehow. And then, of course, there's the conspiracy theory: we are encircled by enemies, no one loves us and we'll show 'em.
Love Russia, love her government
The Stalinists-nationalists see Putin as their ally. FSB-KGB-MGB-NKVD-OGPU ¬ each name is unable to get away from the sinister glory of its predecessor ¬ in short naked power. It's «our» «Russian» power and anyone who doesn't like it is not one of us. Which was exactly what the propaganda was aiming for. Anyone who loves Russia will love her government too ¬ imperial, Soviet or post-Soviet. State authority ¬ state-country-people ¬ is monolithic. Yeltsin and Gorbachev were the exceptions. They were «yids», enemies, accomplices, shitocrat-liberasts, so nothing to do with state power at all. That is what puts you up against the wall if you do anything wrong. Or if they simply don't fancy you. Just like in Stalin's time. No less a personage than the pro-rector of Moscow State University, A.P. Chernyaev, has said publicly that in his opinion the Stalinist concentration camps should be re-established.
But state propaganda is playing with fire by using Stalin as their support mythology. Stalin's name is more likely to sweep away this rotten regime than the vertical of power is to be strengthened.
I had just written this phrase when I heard on the news that President Medvedev had criticised Stalin and Stalinism. Responses came thick and fast. A lawyer writes: «Do you want to kill off Stalin, Dmitri Anatolievich? Do you really? I'll tell you how to start. Get rid of corruption (but without executions), increase productivity (without the gulag), strengthen our defence capabilities, rebuild science and education, settle the question of the health service, the birth rate, securtiy and law and order. Do it. You will inspire the nation. You will convince us that you need us and will not allow anyone to hurt us. You know what you have to do to achieve this ¬ you know very well indeed. Then no one will remember Stalin. They will remember you, only you. But for the moment we've got what we've got ¬ Stalin, who is as relevant now as he ever was».
And everyone sort of understands that nothing will happen without executions and the gulag. If the «troika» courts represented the rule of law and security, with no courts and no investigations and with torture, which meant that anyone might admit they were a Martian spy. If science and education, as well as industry and agriculture, were stronger than they were before the revolution. The demographic argument has been raised endlessly: under Stalin, it goes, the population increased, in spite of the purges of the gene pool; now, with no purges, it's shrinking. But it's shrinking in Europe too, not hitting zero only because of migrants from Arab and African countries, whereas before it was growing. In the 19th century people used to have 12 children in a family and in Stalin's time there was still an echo of the 19th century with its ideas about honour and dignity. Now, if corruption and tax dodges were completely rooted out, what was left would be pretty pathetic.
The most unpleasant thing is that, in spite of her open borders, Russia is psychologically isolating herself from the world. A world where science and electronics produce miracles, where people think about the meaning of things and about trivia, where there is an unbelievable multiplicity of life forms. It's as if there's sun and sky everywhere, but for us everything is clogged up, entrenched in battlefield positions: are we for or against Stalin, for or against Putin? This is what is vitally important and so urgent. Everything else depends on that. It's the meaning, the very sensation of life.
And the richness of life is evaporating before our very eyes.
TV holds debate on Russia's future, relations with the West
NTV Mir, BBC Monitoring, November 16, 2009
As the West celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - often described as the symbol of the Cold War - a talk show on Russian TV deliberated how the event had changed the world and Russia's relations with the West, and what Russia should do next.
Opening the "Honest Monday" programme on Gazprom-owned NTV, presenter Sergey Minayev said: "Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the world has changed but not the way ordinary Germans and Russians would have wanted."
He defined the topic of the programme in the following way: "Has the West become our friend or has it taken advantage of our difficult situation to expand its own influence?"
Taking part in the debate were Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, a deputy speaker of the State Duma and the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia; Mark Urnov, head of the Department of Applied Political Science at the Higher School of Economics; Sergey Kurginyan, a political analyst and the president of the Experimental Creative Centre; and Gleb Pavlovskiy, a political analyst and the president of the Effective Policy Foundation.
The debate was preceded by a video report which drew a gloomy picture. It said Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, felt let down by the West which had not met its promises. Cheap foreign foodstuffs that flooded Russian in the 1990s destroyed Russian agriculture. Also, according to the report, the West "was annoyed" by the independent foreign and domestic policy Russia embarked on in the early 2000s, and the resumed talk of a new Cold War was evidence that in recent years relations have deteriorated even further.
Who gained from the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Who gained from the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia or the West? was the first question put to the panel.
According to Zhirinovskiy, as a result of the fall of the wall, "our country suffered a defeat". "The wall should not have been destroyed and under no circumstances should our army have pulled out. It would still have been there now and the proof of this is that the NATO army is still there in full," he said.
"They have taken the Baltics and are now moving towards Ukraine, South Caucasus and Central Asia. And we pulled out our troops from everywhere. We disarmed and we destroyed more missiles than they did. All we did was wrong. We acted against our own interests," Zhirinovskiy said.
According to Urnov, "the country stopped being a great power simply because it exhausted its potential and never again will it be a great power".
Urnov described Zhirinovskiy's view that the USSR could have carried on and even added Afghanistan, Mongolia, Bulgaria or Yugoslavia as a "fantasy".
Urnov also disagreed with the view expressed by Kurginyan that in 1989 the Soviet elite had "reached an accommodation with the elite in the West and given up the idea of being a superpower". Urnov described the idea as another "fantasy".
Who are Russia's allies?
Kurginyan said new empires were emerging in the world. According to him, Europe and the EU as its personification are one of them. The second is a caliphate emerging in the south. Expanding China is the third one. And the fourth one is America, including Canada and Mexico. Russia can either join one of the above or form its own empire, Kurginyan said.
According to Pavlovskiy, the main problem is that "we have not got a single strategic ally". At the same time, he added, Russia "is surrounded by five or six major and growing civilizations which are on the rise, even if they are not empires".
He said Russia should look for an ally and in this sense the West was the most plausible candidate.
Urnov agreed. Russia "will never understand" China or a caliphate. The West - i.e. Europe and the United States - is the only one that "could be our strategic ally", he said.
Asked what Russia could offer Europe and the USA, Urnov replied: "We can offer them our raw materials. We can open our border for their investment to make them interested."
Unless Russia creates a favourable investment climate for the West, it will end up either "as China's younger brother with a loss of territory" or, or rather in addition to that, "we will experience the influence of the Islamic world, which will also take away some of our territory", Urnov said.
According to Zhirinovskiy, "the West is the enemy of Russia" and Russia does not need the West because "everything is fine" in Russia.
Kurginyan said Russia "will never unite with Europe - not just because it is a bad thing but because this is simply impossible". The goals of joining the EU and NATO are "unachievable", according to him.
How should Russia behave towards the West?
Asked how Russia should behave towards the West, Urnov replied that Russia should try and realize that "there is no alternative to integration with the West if we want to remain within our existing borders".
"We should also realize", he continued, "that integration with the West will be very difficult for us and that we should be prepared to change very many parameters in our political and economic life. We will indeed have to introduce competitive politics, guarantee the right of private ownership and fight corruption.
"We should also realize something that is very important: that unless we give up the desire to be a superpower, including its military component, and direct our money towards resolving a problem which the West does not have - i.e. overcoming a horrendous demographic crisis in terms of its depth - in 10 or 15 years' time the question of the country's existence will no longer be on the agenda."
Zhirinovskiy disagreed: "The whole of mankind is dying today. But Russia will remain: it has a huge territory, resources and the most intelligent people on Earth."
Kurginyan reiterated that Russia would never become a part of the West - "this will never happen" - and, hence, "if we have to exist independently, we should get ready to become self-sufficient and then develop relations with others that are in our interests".
Pavlovskiy expressed a similar sentiment. "We should restore ourselves," he said.
What should Russia do in the next 10 years?
In the final part of the programme the presenter asked the panel "to give three recipes Russia should follow in the next 10 years".
Zhirinovskiy advocated "a hard-line stance on all positions with neighbours" and said his advice was "to seek no friends, to help nobody and trade with everyone at world prices".
According to Kurginyan, "Russia has something new to say to the world. It has done this before and it will do this again. The world currently has a huge number of problems. There are problems to do with the individual, with global projects and future history. Russia should restore its meaningful self-sufficiency. Of course, it should not just be a strong-muscled gorilla, so to speak. It should regain its cultural priorities."
Pavlovskiy said: "First and foremost, Russia should find accommodation with all its neighbours without exception. With everyone, with the West, with China and India."
"Openness, an absence of paranoia and strict control over resources" were Urnov's recipes.
His view was supported by Andrey Zagorskiy, a professor of the Moscow State University of International Relations who was a member of the audience. "We should not fight mythical enemies surrounding us and instead focus on our own development."
This was how the presenter summed up the debate: "We won't be able to modernize the country without the West and its technology but, in any case, it is us who will have to carry out this modernization."
According to an interactive poll conducted during the programme, 25 per cent of viewers see Russia and the West today as friends, 43 per cent as enemies and 32 per cent as competitors.
Stalin's Many Funerals: In the West, the Debate on Russia's Rehabilitation of Stalinism Is Highly Oversimplified
By: Dmitry Babich
Russia Profile, November 16, 2009
Russia's attitude toward Stalinism is rightly perceived not merely as an internal issue, but as a matter of interest for all the nations that suffered from this evil. However, the United States, the EU countries and the Western community at large have taken a simplified view this problem. For all its diversity, the West seems to be united by a sort of erroneous consensus on the subject.
The foundation of this consensus is factually and morally right. Stalinism is indeed a distinct and, unfortunately, widespread subspecies of the most violent and dictatorial form of communist ideology ¬ Bolshevism. It is characterized by indiscriminate use of force and eventual use of nationalist prejudice disguised by hypocritical talk of a "friendship of nations" and the "people's democracy" as a replacement for "bourgeois liberalism." Anyone objective either in Russia or in the West has no doubts that Stalinism is to blame for the deaths of millions of people.
But addressing the subject of Russia's attitude toward Stalinism inevitably leads to simplifications. There are two commonly-accepted views in the West. The first is that Stalinism was forced upon the Russian people by the totalitarian communist elite back in the late 1920s, and later, after a brief democratic recess under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, it was rehabilitated by Vladimir Putin's intrinsically evil government. The second opinion, which is a relatively new one professed by the most Russophobic circles in the West, claims that the Russian people prefer Stalinism to any other form of government and are thus responsible for its crimes. Both of these camps accuse the current Russian leadership of "tacitly rehabilitating" Stalinism, and, of course, both view Stalinism as a purely Russian phenomenon.
There are elements of truth as well as fallacies in both of these theories. Firstly, until very recently the Russian people were never really asked whether they wanted to reject or to support Stalinism. Both Russia's descent into Stalinism in 1923 to 1934 and "de-Stalinization" in 1953 to 1991 were decisions made by the elite. Secondly, many in the West applauded not only Joseph Stalin himself, but Stalinism as a system. Unlike "officially" Stalinist Chinese or Albanians, those who wrote articles in the Western press eulogizing Stalin in the aftermath of his death on March 5, 1953, did not face death or imprisonment for not praising this "genius." Yet many European newspapers lauded the dictator on March 6. Infatuation with what Vladimir Nabokov called the "pseudo-effectiveness of Stalinism" was by no means confined within the borders of the Soviet Union and its allies. Hence, describing Stalinism as a purely Russian phenomenon (a given conclusion for most Western authors) is not exactly fair.
The reason why it is taking Russia so long to say "goodbye" to Stalinism is the fact that the initial de-Stalinization, undertaken by Stalin's successor Nikita Khrushchev, was prepared in secret and conducted without consulting the people, very much in a Stalinist manner. In the late 1980s, the remnants of Stalin's system were embellished with just a few democratic procedures. Nowadays, when people are at last allowed to freely voice their opinions on Stalinism, opinions vary, which is a natural and, in essence, democratic phenomenon. But the West seems to require the Russians to stick to the most negative view of our 20th century history, denouncing any "deviation" from this line in harsher language than Khrushchev used to denounce the "anti-party group" of his pro-Stalin critics in 1957.
In Russia, differences of opinion are not surprising, bearing in mind that lies about Stalin's "strategic genius" in the 1950s were replaced by what one might call "silent lies." For decades following Stalin's death, textbooks and newspapers heaped all praise for war victories on the State Committee for Defense and the High Command Headquarters, all this despite the fact that both bodies were headed by Stalin. Marshal Georgy Zhukov even confused these establishments in his memoirs, since in both places he dealt with Stalin. Restrictions on mentioning Stalin's name were a substitute for true rejection of Stalinism, which is taking place now.
Instead of examining this process in all of its complexity, the Western media never tires of quoting the phrase about "Stalin as an effective manager," taken out of context from one of the 26 available high school textbooks on Russia's 20th century history. One doesn't have to be as suspicious as Stalin to venture a guess that these authors never took the trouble to read even one of these textbooks.
Unearthing truth about Stalin: At Memorial, relatives of his victims finally learn the truth ¬ but much is still buried
By: Anna Arutunyan
Moscow News, November 16, 2009
It was long past closing time at Memorial's office in central Moscow. But for Olga Nikolayevna, now in her seventies, it was the night her father was arrested all over again.
"All my life I didn't want to tell anyone that my parents were enemies of the people," she told the group's case worker, quietly sobbing as she clung on to a stack of photocopied documents. "And you just uncovered it."
She was crying, she said, because she still remembered the ridicule her mother had endured, and for over 60 years she had chosen to bury that shame.
Like many, whether they or their families suffered in Josef Stalin's purges or not, Olga Nikolayevna is reluctant to revisit his regime's traumatic murder of millions - a slaughter that many say has not been properly addressed to this day.
Olga Nikolayevna (not the woman's real name, as she asked that it not be disclosed even now) said her father, a Protestant pastor in a village in the Orlov region, was arrested one night in the late 1930s. Police took him and his two brothers away, along with all their belongings. The family never saw them again, she said.
At Memorial, a human rights organisation and historical society that aids the victims of political repression, Alyona Kozlova and Irina Ostrovskaya help dozens of people every day find out what happened to their relatives. There Olga Nikolayevna was told for the first time that there was a way to find out what happened to her father and uncles.
Kozlova helped the woman write two letters - one to the police in the Orlov region, and another to the Federal Security Service in Moscow. Once a person has gathered documentary proof that he or she is the next of kin of a victim of Stalinist repression, he or she is allowed into the FSB archives to view the case files.
"Make sure you bring someone along, like your son," Ostrovskaya told another woman looking for evidence of what happened to her father. "You will cry, and your son will take notes."
The woman's father, a loader in a factory in the Urals, was arrested and shot in 1938, allegedly for organising a terrorist plot.
"Of course, what else could a loader be doing besides organising a terrorist plot at the factory?" Kozlova said, ironically.
The current authorities have a mixed stance on Stalin's purges, with many officials on the one hand intent on letting sleeping dogs lie, while others, including President Dmitry Medvedev, making efforts to squash any attempt to rehabilitate the dictator.
In recent years, positive images of Stalin have been making a comeback, with him being referred to as an "effective manager" and victorious wartime leader in officially-sanctioned history textbooks, while an inscription praising Stalin was recently restored to the Moscow metro. Meanwhile, a city court heard an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit brought by Stalin's grandson against Novaya Gazeta, over its coverage of Stalin's role in sending millions to the gulag and signing death warrants.
Balancing this, on Oct. 30, the day in Russia when victims of political repression are commemorated each year, President Dmitry Medvedev took a noticeably tougher stance against Stalinism, saying there was "no excuse" for such repression.
Yet despite the words of sympathy, there is little - if any - official help for victims of Stalinist repression or their relatives. At Memorial, this was the only counselling that these women would likely ever get, the staff said.
Memorial director and history scholar Arseny Roginsky puts the death toll from political repression between 1921 and 1953 at 5.5 million people. But according to some scholars, the figure could be as high as 40 million.
Many of the purge victims were chosen completely randomly, according to Memorial staff. The lists of Muscovites who were shot in the cellars at Lubyanka, the headquarters then of the NKVD (now the FSB's head office) are replete with janitors, street sweepers, and one man identfied as "a cabby with his own horse."
That randomness is part of the reason why dealing with the crimes of the past remains a psychological trauma often too painful to endure.
"People cannot fathom that their parents were shot for nothing," said Ostrovskaya. "Imagine a child who is seven or 10. His parents are declared enemies of the people, yet he goes on to grow up in a country that is 'the best in the world' and he is inoculated with Communist ideals. Now he is in his seventies. He has to justify his life and he cannot admit that all that suffering was for nothing."
Ostrovskaya recalled a case of a man who saw the order to execute his father signed by Josef Stalin himself, but refused to believe that the dictator had signed the death warrant.
Among Memorial's archives are dozens of pleading letters, addressed: "Dear Iosif Vissarionovich". They ask for the leader to "find out the truth" and get their relatives freed from prison. One such 1946 letter, by an 11-year-old girl, complained to Stalin that "they tortured my father and forced him to sign" a false<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)