The Unheralded Putin—Russia’s Official Anti-Stalinist No. 1


The John Batchelor Show, November 7

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor proceed their weekly discussions of the brand new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now of their fourth yr, are at

In November 1961, on the finish of a Community Party Congress that publicly condemned Stalin’s crimes, Soviet chief Nikita Khrushchev unexpectedly known as for the constructing of a nationwide memorial to the tens of hundreds of thousands of victims of Stalin’s practically 25-year reign, a lot of it accompanied by mbad terror. During the subsequent 5 a long time, a fierce political wrestle raged between anti-Stalinists and pro-Stalinists, generally publicly however usually behind the scenes, over whether or not the victims ought to be memorialized or deleted from historical past by means of repression and censorship. On October 30 of this yr, Russia’s anti-Stalinists lastly received this wrestle when Putin formally and personally inaugurated, within the middle of Moscow, a big memorial sculpture named “Wall of Sorrow” depicting the victims’ destiny. Though nominally devoted to all victims of Soviet repression, the monument was clearly—in phrase, deed, and design—targeted on the Stalin years, from 1929 to his loss of life in 1953.

Cohen explains that he has spent a long time finding out the Stalin period, throughout which he got here to know personally many surviving victims of the mbad terror and had carefully noticed varied features of the wrestle over their subsequent place in Soviet politics and historical past. (This historical past and Cohen’s is recounted in his e book The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin.) As a outcome, he and his spouse, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and writer of The Nation, felt a compelling must be current on the ceremony on October 30. Having gained entry to the semi-closed occasion, attended maybe by some 300 individuals (together with officers, representatives of anti-Stalinist memorial organizations, aged survivors, family members of victims, and the principally Russian press), they flew to Moscow for the event.

Cohen gave Batchelor his firsthand account of the occasion, at which Putin, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a consultant of a memorial group, Vladimir Lukin (whom Cohen had identified since 1976, when Lukin was a semi-dissident outcast in Moscow, and later a post-Soviet Russian ambbadador to Washington), spoke. The formal ceremony started simply after 5 pm and lasted, after a choir’s hymns, about 45 minutes. At first, Cohen felt it was marred by the darkish, chilly, wet climate, till he heard somebody within the gathering comment quietly, “The heavens are weeping for the victims.” In the context of different anti-Stalinist speeches by Soviet and post-Soviet leaders through the years, Cohen thought Putin’s remarks have been heartfelt, transferring, even profound. (They might be present in English at Without mentioning their names, Putin alluded to the essential roles performed within the anti-Stalinist wrestle by Khrushchev and by Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet chief throughout the years of reform from 1985 to 1991. (Cohen and vanden Heuvel spent the night earlier than the ceremony at a personal dinner with Gorbachev and certainly one of his closest buddies, usually recalling Gorbachev’s pathbreaking de-Stalinizing reformation, referred to as perestroika, a lot of which they’d additionally noticed firsthand.) One of Putin’s remarks on the ceremony struck Cohen as particularly essential. After permitting that the majority occasions in Russian historical past have been the topic of professional debate, Stalin’s lengthy mbad terror, Putin steered, was not. Other controversial episodes could have their historic pluses and minuses, however Stalin’s terror and its penalties have been too legal and ramifying for any pluses. That, he emphasised, was the important lesson for Russia’s current and future.

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