A Memory Without Limits: Prof. Giuliana Mazzoni at TEDxHull
While Putin’s Russia is trying to rehabilitate Stalin and hide the atrocities committed by his regime, the cabinet of the historian Anatoly Razumov is at the forefront of the fight against communist revenge.
The Russian historian Anatoly Razumov has been working on the identification of people who died during the Stalinist repressions for more than thirty years. “We are not people if we have no memory,” he is convinced.
Bustling about in his cramped office, from floor to ceiling lined with bookcases and stacks of newspapers, he assures: “Everything is very well organized here, I can quickly find everything I need.”.
Razumov’s office, nestled in a maze of narrow corridors and winding staircases in the building of the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, is at the forefront of the fight against communist revenge in Russia..
Justifying Stalin’s Crimes
The name of Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s to 1953, has slowly but steadily been rehabilitated since Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia. Now monuments to the dictator are being erected in the country again, and high-ranking officials are no longer ashamed to hang portraits of Stalin in their offices..
On the shelves in Razumov’s office, rows of red folders are a multivolume study, as a result of which the historian was able to establish the names of people who became victims of Stalin’s Great Terror, the largest-scale repressive campaign, which peaked in 1937-1938. People were killed with a shot in the back of the head – and in this case they could be considered lucky. Many died from torture or from cold and hunger in labor camps, where the so-called “enemies of the people” were sent to the “construction sites of socialism”.
The accounts also contain the names of those who died during the Nazi siege of Leningrad. “We have more than 900 thousand names of people who went through the blockade,” says Razumov.
“I do this every day. So I have enough work, ”says the historian. “We must remember. We work for people who want to know and for people who want to know about it someday, ”he says. The Kremlin does not want to know about this. Any reminder of the dark past is now regarded by the authorities as subversive actions of the “fifth column” working in the interests of the West.
The key battle in this battle for history is now taking place over the mass graves discovered in Karelian Sandarmokh, near the border with Finland, where, according to Razumov and other scholars of the Gulag history, at least 6241 were killed in 1937-38. person. All these people became victims of Stalin’s Great Terror. These allegations are based on fieldwork and documents from the secret archives of the secret services, which also include testimony from the people who carried out the executions. A little later, the authorities also executed the executioners.
Blaming the Finns
In August, government-sponsored excavations were carried out in Sandarmokh by a Kremlin-sponsored organization called the Russian Military Historical Society (RVIO). The RVIO is trying to prove that not all people buried in Sandarmokh are Stalin’s victims. Representatives of the pro-government organization claim that Soviet soldiers captured and killed by the Finns during the occupation of this territory by Finland, which lasted from 1942 to 1944, could have been buried here..
The participants in the excavations say that they are not going to rewrite history, but want to test the hypothesis, according to which, since the Finns kept Soviet soldiers nearby, the version that they could have used the same site for massacres looks quite logical. However, at a press conference in Sandarmokh, Sergei Barinov, the head of the excavation team, showed an official invitation to participate in the excavation from the Russian Ministry of Culture. The letter said that Sandarmokh “damages the international image of Russia”.
The theory that Soviet military prisoners could have been buried in Sandarmokh was first voiced by Sergei Verigin, director of the Institute of History at Petrozavodsk State University. He says that he does not deny the fact that victims of the Stalinist regime are buried in Sandarmokh, however, he claims that his own hypothesis also has a right to exist, despite the lack of documentary evidence..
In August, the Finnish National Archives issued a short statement refuting the RVIO hypothesis. “Finland has opened materials concerning [Soviet] prisoners of war. According to these archival sources, Soviet prisoners of war were not buried in Sandarmokh, ”the archives said..
Razumov and other researchers of the GULAG history believe that the RVIO is trying to rewrite the history of Sandarmokh, shifting part of the blame for the massacres of people onto the Finns.
Tough battle for the truth
Disputes over history, most likely, will only escalate further. Razumov says researching the Great Terror has always been challenging, even in the comparatively liberal era, when the USSR and then Russia were ruled by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s predecessor. He says that this “thaw” ended in 1997. It was then that Yeltsin announced that 1997 would be the Year of Reconciliation. “After 1997, this topic began to be hushed up,” Razumov said..
Ironically, in 1997, his good friend and colleague Yuri Dmitriev, with the help of searches in the archives, relying on the results of excavations, discovered mass graves in Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor, on the outskirts of Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia. Dmitriev has been in prison for the third year now, awaiting trial on charges of sexual harassment of a minor. Relatives, friends and colleagues of Dmitriev consider these accusations absolutely far-fetched..
“We are lucky that these places were found in 1997. Now we would not be able to do this, ”says Razumov. Access to archives is now difficult and often simply impossible. Razumov believes that the Kremlin has long been “afraid of people, afraid of the truth and afraid of free discussion”.
“What anthem are we using now? This is the anthem of the Soviet Union, not Russia. On Red Square in the Kremlin (buried) are the people responsible for all these atrocities – from Lenin’s terror to Stalin’s Great Terror – and they are honored, ”the historian regrets. History cannot be rewritten for political reasons, Razumov believes.