The Return of Uncle Joe Crisis-Stricken Russians Nostalgic for Stalin
Part 5: 'In Those Days, People Like Putin and Medvedev Would Have Been Shot'
"Finally, finally, public opinion has turned around again after a phase of anti-Stalinism," says historian and writer Yuri Mukhin, who runs the leading Stalin website. According to Mukhin, Stalin tried to maintain his connection to the people, while the current elite merely get richer at the people's expense. "The Russians would understand," says Mukhin, slipping into the language of the Stalin era, "that in those days, people like Putin and Medvedev would have been shot."
Mukhin is very popular, because most Russians don't know how brutal the Stalin dictatorship really was. They are just as skeptical about the figures relating to the great terror as they are about reports on the Katyn massacre.
Is it really that difficult to discover the truth about Stalin? Oleg Naumov can provide one answer to this question. He is the director of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, the former central party archive of the Soviet Union.
He spreads out his treasures in his office not far from the Kremlin. One of the pieces is Stalin's red party book, where bears the number 000 0002 and was issued on May 29, 1936, which contains receipts for the leader's membership dues. According to the record, in 1948 he earned a monthly salary of 10,000 rubles and paid 300 rubles a month in party dues.
Another piece is a copy of Lenin's work "The State and Revolution," in which Stalin scribbled notes in red, including on the cover. He made a particularly large amount of notes in the section dealing with control over the class that is to be oppressed. Also using a colored pen, the Kremlin leader corrected secret maps of the front in January 1945, when the Red Army was on the outskirts of Kaliningrad.
Naumov's "Fund 558" contains 16,174 files, including a collection of Stalin's documents locked away in two windowless concrete towers. Only a decade ago, the Kremlin gave him another 1,700 documents from the so-called Presidents' Archive. "No one knows exactly how many of Stalin's documents are still in existence," says Naumov.
How can a country investigate its past under such conditions? To make matters worse, many documents, most of them containing sensitive information about Stalin's foreign policy, are still classified. Naumov has a few hundred of them in his collection.
Doesn't the law require the release of the documents after 30 years? The archive director smiles. It isn't automatic, he says, adding that the relevant commission is completely overwhelmed by its task of examining these documents. Only recently, says Naumov, representatives of the FSB, Russia's domestic security agency, stopped the release of a speech by the later NKVD director Nikolai Yezhov to intelligence agency employees in 1934. The FSB officials noted that the speech "still revealed far too much about the operational work of his agency."
Time to Look at Stalin's Legacy
Nevertheless, the opening of the archive is expected to continue. Naumov has signed an agreement with Yale University, under which Americans and Russians will jointly establish an electronic archive of all non-classified Stalin documents within three years.
The time has come to take a serious look at Stalin's legacy, the archive director believes. He is convinced that it will promote the truth: the truth about the camps, Katyn, the war and the Battle of Rzhev -- no matter what happens on May 9.
Perhaps Russia will find out who Josef Vissarionovich Stalin really was, after all.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Crisis-Stricken Russians Nostalgic for Stalin
- Part 2: Like Germans Glorifying Nazis
- Part 3: Reclaiming the Soviet Era
- Part 4: 'No One in Our Family Had to Suffer Under Stalin'
- Part 5: 'In Those Days, People Like Putin and Medvedev Would Have Been Shot'