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Endless Funerals of Stalin

“In the life of our country, August is not the only symbolic month, but March as well. In March, Stalin was buried. His funeral took place in Moscow, but the commemoration of his death took place not just in the capital, but across the entire Soviet country.” - Valentina Sharipova, Tver Memorial

I remember how it was. A snow-filled street in a small town in the Donbass. My mother is leading me by the hand, but suddenly stops at the sound of a siren. And we stand still while the factory sirens howl. I see dark figures motionless in the distance ahead of us; someone else is standing behind us. Everyone was standing still, as ordered!

This was long ago, but it still seems that the tyrant is “more alive than the living”, and we see manifestations of Stalinism every day. More than that – Stalinism sits inside every one of us like a splinter. For some, Stalin is inside the heart, for others, inside the head. Some want to get rid of him, as if it were a nightmare: others want to submerge themselves in this morass...

Tver Memorial, together with the Lesser Russian Orthodox Brotherhoods (Bogoliubskoe and Spasskoe), the Tver affiliate of the Russian State University for the Humanities, and Tver’s Gorky Library organized a round table event entitled “Ordinary Stalinism”. The discussion marked the 70th anniversary of the Politburo’s decision to destroy the Polish prisoners of war in the USSR.

The Tver Region, known as Kalinin Region in Soviet times, has a special place in the history of the mass annihilation of Polish citizens. On 5th March 1940 the decree on liquidation was passed; on 5th April, the killing began, and continued until 19th May. This difficult issue continues to divide society in Tver Region in the most bizarre manner.

I remember the preparations in 2008 for the screening in Tver of Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn. Staff from one of the local museums were invited: charming, intelligent ladies. The ladies refused to attend, saying: “But those Poles shot our boys.”

Now, in 2010, you might wonder who would come on the eve of a public holiday to discuss the issue of the mass murder of people? But come they did! Nearly 80 people showed up and actively participated in the discussion. There were opponents as well – young communists led by a deputy from the city Duma. Judging by their arguments, they had decided to give battle to the opponents of their beloved Stalin.

Our tough Elena Obraztsova, a historian with Memorial, recounted how the killing of the Polish prisoners of war was organized: “On the first day, 343 people were taken from Ostashkovo to Tver to the basements of the NKVD headquarters. But two days later they brought only 56. Obviously, shooting live people is no easy business... On 19 May, the last eight were shot; they were all colonels...”

Then a young deputy from the city Duma started arguing: this all still needs to be investigated, what happened in actual fact. It could be that it wasn’t us at all... What happened at Katyn still needs to be proven...

That’s when a former KGB man stood up. At the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s he had worked on the issue of the rehabilitation of those repressed, and now with genuine emotion he recalled the thousands of cases he had examined: “I looked into the abyss...”

Yury Sharkov from Memorial recounted how at one time he had met with General Tokarev who had supervised implementation of the criminal decree. By then the General was already blind, deaf and harmless, but he still remembered how the Chekists’ revolvers had become hot from shooting people.

And at that point the same young Duma deputy objected: “But members of the White Army shot the Reds! You know how many – tell us the number!” Then another one from his group mockingly read a paragraph from the Statement by the International and Moscow Memorial Societies about the plans of Moscow’s mayor to decorate Moscow with portraits of Stalin for Victory Day (supporters of Tver Memorial had handed out this Statement to participants in the discussion, as well as an appeal by the International Memorial Society to President Medvedev on the 70th anniversary of the shooting of Polish citizens.)

He read those lines where it says that Memorial will put up, alongside these portraits, information about the evil deeds of the “effective manager” and asked: “Were there really no achievements under Stalin? All the veterans seem to support him!”

It turns out that the Moscow mayor has supporters in our town too. They go from door to door collecting signatures for portraits of Stalin to be put up in Tver. And 95 percent of veterans sign the petition. And it remains for us to rejoice that 5 percent of veterans, the true veterans of war, have the courage to say they do not want to see portraits of Stalin on Victory Day.

People who do not want to continue living with Stalin are equally few in numbers. He really does get out of his grave, rotten and terrifying, and walks through the streets, knocking on doors.

Tengiz Abuladze [Georgian director of the anti-Stalinist film Repentance (1984, released 1987) – ed.] showed what happens when a vampire rises from his grave. And until today, he keeps on getting up. Some greet him with tears of joy, others with embarrassment: Iosif Vissarionovich - it’s too early, too early, wait a while, we will call you ourselves... The third group would be happy to bury him once and for all, but they don’t have the strength. And as a result, everything living is poisoned with the stench of hatred, anger and revenge.

It is this that those who came to the library on Sunday afternoon were trying to oppose. And those who will come to the conference entitled “Review as a matter of priority...,” which will take place in Tver on 15th March, will be doing the same thing.
Rights in Russia,
14 Mar 2010, 12:22