Russia fails to remember Stalin’s victims

‘Fake news’ and ‘disinformation’ gets a lot of attention nowadays. But the thing about propaganda is that it’s best when it’s true. Likewise, media bias doesn’t normally consist of publishing identifiably false information. It more normally consists of slanted analysis and a confusion of fact and comment, combined with a highly selective choice of stories – it’s not that the stories are untrue, it’s just that one chooses only to publish those stories which support one’s political line while ignoring others which don’t.

Let’s take the example of the Russian state and its alleged rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin. In June of this year, the Western press seized upon a statement by Vladimir Putin during an interview with film director Oliver Stone in which he said that Russia’s enemies were using ‘excessive demonization’ of Stalin to attack Russia. The Times of London reported this, as did The Washington Post, the New York Times and, it goes without saying, RFE/RL. The story was in many cases combined with coverage of a Russian opinion poll which listed Stalin as the greatest person in Russian history to generate headlines like that of a photoessay in the Los Angeles Times, ‘Russia’s Reembrace of Josef Stalin.’

Now, it is of course true that Putin did tell Oliver Stone what was reported. And it is true that Stalin topped a poll of greatest Russians. But how many reporters covered other stories which pointed in a direction other than ‘Putin and the Russian people are reembracing Stalin’? Take, for instance, Putin’s attendance at the opening of the Sretenskii monastery, which I mentioned in a previous post, and which given the monastery’s dedication to the ‘New Martyrs’ had considerable symbolic significance? How many Western media outlets covered that story? According to Google: the BBC – no; The Guardian – no; The New York Times – no; The Los Angeles Times – no; The Washington Post – no; and RFE/RL – well, do I really need to say?

So what about the big Stalin remembrance story this week? You haven’t heard about it? Don’t be surprised. It didn’t feature in the English-speaking press. On 27 September, a new Garden of Memory opened at the former Butovo firing range to commemorate the 20,000 people executed there during the Great Terror of 1937-1938. There has been a memorial at Butovo since 2007, but it has now been expanded and a wall has been added listing the names of all the 20,000 known victims. But you wouldn’t know about it if you relied on the BBC, Guardian, Washington Post, and all the rest of them, none of whom uttered so much as a word about it as far as I can tell. (Nor for that matter did RT, apparently. Make of that what you will.) The New Times instead chose to publish a long piece about how the people of Crimea were coming to regret their decision to reunite with Russia. For all I know, everything the New York Times chose to say about Crimea is true but, like I said, it’s what stories you choose to publish.

Priests bless the memorial to the victims of the Great Terror at Butovo

The lack of interest in this story is all the more interesting given that the Western media gave a fair bit of attention to the unveiling of the original memorial at Butovo in 2007, and to a visit to it by one Vladimir Putin. On this occasion, Putin remarked that, ‘We know very well that 1937 was the peak of the purges but this year was well prepared by years of cruelty. … [such tragedies] happen when ostensibly attractive but empty ideas are put above fundamental values, values of human life, of rights and freedom. … Hundreds of thousands, millions of people were killed and sent to camps, shot and tortured.’ But as we know, Putin seeks to downplay the negative side of Stalin’s rule!

The Butovo memorial to Stalin’s victims isn’t the only one appearing in Russia this month, although my favorite punchbag, RFE/RL, would have you believe otherwise. On 5 August, RFE/RL published an article entitled, ‘Great Terror: Russian Government’s Silence Means Stalin’s Victims Honored Only With A #Hashtag.” According to RFE/RL:

On July 30, the Russian government held lavish celebrations to mark the annual Navy Day holiday. But there were no official commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of the July 30, 1937, Soviet government order that formally launched dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Terror that left around 700,000 people dead and millions displaced, orphaned, or crippled. The silence of the government and the Russian Orthodox Church was symptomatic of Russian society’s ambiguous interpretation of the Great Terror and the other crimes committed by the Soviet government against itself and its own people.

RFE/RL’s timing was a little unfortunate, for on the very same day as this article appeared, workers began to assemble what the BBC calls the ‘first ever national memorial to the millions deported, imprisoned and executed in Soviet times.’ This is the so-called ‘Wall of Grief’, ‘a vast bronze sculpture’ by sculptor Georgy Frangulyan, which is being erected in Moscow to commemorate Stalin’s victims. Apart from the BBC, as far as I have been able to find out, no major English-speaking media outlet has reported this story. And so the ‘Russian state rehabilitates Stalin’ meme continues on its merry way.

wall of grief
The Wall of Grief in Moscow.

The order to create a monument to Stalin’s victims was signed in September 2015. The person who signed the order: Vladimir Putin. I heard somewhere, probably when I was in Moscow recently, that Putin will turn up to the official opening of the Wall of Grief at the end of October. If that is true, I wonder how much publicity it will get in the Western press.

11 thoughts on “Russia fails to remember Stalin’s victims”

  1. “And so the ‘Russian state rehabilitates Stalin’ meme continues on its merry way.”

    Okay, Professor, I guess you’ve convinced everyone. There is no use to pander to the West and our domestic liberasts. It’s high time to can this self-depricating and self-hating practice. Instead – we need more Stalin monuments.

    Besides – your blogpost uses the word “victims” 7 times. Do you really think that everyone was innocent among them? How often do you use the term “victims” to describe those who were sentenced before the court of law?


    1. ‘court of law’ – interesting description of a troika. And of course, the rules of procedure were always followed, and were utterly fair and gave the accused a genuine ability to defend himself/herself. And the investigative process didn’t involve any torture or anything like that. A thoroughly decent legal system. All guilty. Deserved what they got. Long live Stalin! Down with the enemies of the people!


      1. Who says that only bourgeoisie democracy definition of the “fair trail” is the only true and acceptable one? You?

        We already had this conversation. Just because you personally dislike the procedure does not mean that it wasn’t just and those persecuted by it were not guilty.

        “And the investigative process didn’t involve any torture or anything like that. A thoroughly decent legal system. All guilty. Deserved what they got. “

        Hey, Professor! I’m shocked, shocked, that you stoop so low as to steal an opportunity to strawman other people! Even I (usually) manage to contain myself when it comes to arguments. There better ways for much more refined, “thin” trolling anyway. Like demanding the equal attention and repentance to such “victims” of the purges like Yagoda, Yezhov and Bela Kun.

        No, no all were guilty. The fact that first rehabilitation happened during the time of the “bloody ghouls Stalin and Beria tells so much.

        BTW, Professor, do you know the history behind the “New Martyrs”? Who were they? Which Church recognized them as such first and why the Moscow Patriarchate followed the suit years later?

        ” Long live Stalin! Down with the enemies of the people!”

        Stalin is alive in the people’s memory, yes. Nothing done by the generations of the Anti-Sovietists “purged” him from there. He’s still there, still viewed favorably. What a bummer, yeah?

        Also – yes, totally down with the enemies of the people, totally agree. I hope you won’t be so contrarian as to claim that there ain’t any in the past or present, so they shouldn’t be persecuted according to the law.

        Give me just one good reason, why this pathetic necrofililiac circus must continue in Russia, seeing as there is no use for it?


      2. You’re absolutely right, Paul. But I would go even further and argue that Stalin didn’t kill nearly enough enemies of the people – only a triffling 5% of the Soviet population. What a loser and revisionist relative to Pol Pot, who offed a quarter to a third of his. Only Khmer Rouge, only hardcore!


      3. Hollo, Tolya! How’s your efforts to grow an uplifted pig going on? Most splendidly I reckon, judgig by your recent photos.

        I know that you are compulsive liar. Not an idiot, no – you are too smart to make the same mistake (repeatedly). Stalin did not “kill” a “a triffling 5% of the Soviet population” (c). Maybe just beacause the repressions (overall – not just executions) affected over 30 years of his rule only 3% of the overall Soviet population.

        But I agree – not enough. Clearly, just prison sentences to the Banderites and Forest Brothers was a mistake.


  2. “The New Times instead chose to publish a long piece about how the people of Crimea were coming to regret their decision to reunite with Russia. For all I know, everything the New York Times chose to say about Crimea is true”

    In this article, what is “true”? The usual propaganda based on selective use of facts


  3. A problem with propaganda is that, often, the easiest person to fool is oneself.

    Reading your interview with Dugin, and his reference to Mikhail Agursky’s book on ‘National Bolshevism’ – which unfortunately appears to be prohibitively expensive – I could not help recalling that the view he describes was close to that held by the diplomats of the German Moscow Embassy at the time.

    As Gabriel Gorodetsky brings out in his study of the events leading to ‘Operation Barbarossa’, the conclusion the then German Ambassador, Friedrich Wilhelm Count von der Schulenberg, drew was that the Anti-Comintern Pact should be broadened to include the power against whom it had been directed. Had his strategy been pursued, the result might have been an essentially invulnerable ‘continental bloc’ – and we might have been writing about the ‘German century.’

    His young subordinate Hans ‘Johnnie’ von Herwarth parted company with Schulenberg in the course of 1939, warning any of his Western colleagues who would listen that their countries needed to make terms with Stalin before Hitler did. But this was not due to any difference of opinion about Soviet policy. It was simply because Herwarth realised – as Schulenberg failed to do – that the result of a pact with Stalin would be that Hitler would embroil himself in a war with the Western powers.

    Decades later, in his memoir of those years, Herwarth would still describe Stalin as ‘the liquidator of Communism’; and regret that the National Socialists, ‘prisoners of their own anti-Communist propaganda’, had not realized the impact of the changes going on in the Soviet Union.

    I have no claims to be a Russianist – do not speak the language, never lived there – but it was reasonably evident thirty years ago if one listened to people who had studied the Soviet Union closely with reasonably open minds that radical change had been brewing, under the surface, for a long time.

    However, Western responses to Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ became focused on the notion of ‘reversibility’. It seemed to me then that this framed the argument in terms of a pair of alternatives – a rapid ‘transition’ to something resembling contemporary American or Western European models, or a reversion to the past – which were both among the least likely.

    What is now happening is that people scan anything that the current Russian authorities say or do for ‘proof texts’ to demonstrate that, as it were, the Putin ‘sistema’ represents the ‘reversibility’ – a kind of ‘return of Karla.’

    The responses which Putin gives to Oliver Stone’s question about Stalin are actually quite complicated. Actually, a great deal in the interviews turns out complicated. So, for example, he tells us that it was his maternal grandfather who cooked for Lenin and Stalin – which is interesting, given that his mother had him baptised.

    It may be useful to put this part of the interviews together with Putin’s account of being presented with an icon of Saint Elizabeth by the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, back in 2003. While I had read your account of the bringing home of the remains of Ilyin and Denikin at the time, this episode I had completely missed.

    I was fascinated to discover that she was actually a maternal great-aunt of Prince Philip. But, more significantly, from accounts of the request submitted through Father Tikhon to the hierarchy of the Russian Church abroad, and what happened, one can see how she was a figure charged with such symbolic significance.

    My reading of this is that the presentation of the icon was intended as a kind of test – and that those present thought that Putin’s response showed that he was not simply engaged in a propaganda exercise. What he wanted to tell them was that he was determined to attempt to heal the wounds of the civil war – and they believed him.

    (See ;–1918)

    In relation to arguments about Stalin, unfortunately I have not had time to get abreast of recent research.

    However, I do think back to the arguments of the ‘new thinkers’ of the Gorbachev period. I have a vivid recollection of an interview in Moscow in 1989, when I was working for BBC Radio, with General-Mayor Valentin Larionov, then about to retire as a professor at the General Staff Academy.

    It was clear that his secretary – a very beautiful girl – disapproved of our presence. He was a scholarly man, with steel teeth. Although I think slightly bemused to find himself being interviewed with the BBC, he was quite clearly concerned to explain matters. It did not seem to me at the time that he was talking propaganda, and everything I have learned since had made it clear that he was not.

    As became apparent to me later, what he said provided an object lesson in the importance of historical context. So Larionov talked at some length about a Soviet strategist of the ‘Twenties, Aleksandr Svechin, whom he said had been ‘repressed’ under Stalin.

    Only years later did I realise that I had been in the presence of arguments that echoed back through history. In the arguments of the ‘Twenties, Tukhachevskii had embraced the ‘Napoleonic’ side of Clausewitz, with the emphasis on what a great German disciple of the master, the military historian Hans Delbrück, had called strategies of ‘destruction’ – aimed at prompt victory by decisive offensive action.

    Among the most formidable of the ‘genstabisty’ – the Tsarist general staff officers who threw in their lot with the Bolsheviks – Svechin had followed Delbrück in developing the ambivalence of Clausewitz. In addition to the ‘offensive’ strand, there is also the emphasis on the strengths that the defence can have, in appropriate circumstances.

    Before 1914, the then Colonel Svechin had been one of those who had been sceptical of the notion that strategies of ‘destruction’ would result in a rapid decisive result, and avoid the need for what Delbrück had called strategies of ‘attrition.’ And in the wake of that conflict, he was not persuaded that the coming of the tank and aircraft had radically changed the situation.

    A corollary of Tukhachevskii’s position was the belief in the ‘complete militarization’ of the national economy, to produce the new instruments of mechanised warfare. This was the position which Stalin adopted in 1930, after he broke with Bukharin’s thesis on the stabilization of capitalism and began to associate the Depression with a rising threat of war to the Soviet Union.

    The concomitant of the kind of strategy for which Svechin had argued had been the New Economic Policy. The expectation of a long war of ‘attrition’ would certainly have avoided many of the most costly mistakes which Stalin made – not least of them, the concentration of military-industrial industry in vulnerable areas like the Ukraine and Leningrad.

    In the very different circumstances of the ‘Eighties, the rehabilitation of Svechin, and the strategic defensive, by Larionov, his younger civilian collaborator Andrei Kokoshin, and others, became involved with the recognition of the evident intellectual bankruptcy of the Marxist-Leninist intellectual framework in which Soviet military thinking had developed.

    Among other fascinating elements in our interview with Larionov was his discussion of the 1986 study ‘Game Plan’ by Brzezinski – whom he described as ‘nash drug (our friend) – a Pole.’

    As it turned out, Larionov was rather well qualified to say that Brzezinski was talking rubbish, since he had been the compiler and co-author of the classic Soviet statement of the strategy of winning a nuclear war by pre-emption, the original 1962 edition of the study ‘Military Strategy’ published under the name of Marshal Sokolovskii.

    What Larionov also told us was that, to understand the ‘new thinking’, one had to go back to the realisation by Soviet planners in the ‘Seventies that it was not possible to win a nuclear war.

    And indeed, as evidence which emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union rather conclusively demonstrated, not only did Brzezinski not know what he was talking about – Richard Pipes and his followers, including so many of those who became ‘neoconservatives’, were simply incompetent as analysts of Soviet military strategy.

    More speculatively, while nothing that Larionov said turned out to be false, I think I was seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of arguments going on beneath the surface.

    With people like Georgii Arbatov, and the figure he recommended to Gorbachev as his foreign affairs adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev, had come to believe was that the Cold War was in large measure a Soviet ‘own goal.’ A corollary was the expectation that by liquidating the ‘Tukhachevskiite’ strategic posture, and, crucially, Stalin’s attempt to realise the agendas of pre-1914 Pan-Slav radicals in Eastern Europe, they would defuse the threat to Russia. This, as it were, was the radical development of Svechin’s ideas.

    This was, I know, the view to which Larionov – perhaps unduly influenced by Kokoshin – came. The alternative possible reading, which may have been implicit in his reference to Brzezinski, was that Western antagonism to the Soviet Union was only very secondarily related to ideology, and reflected antagonisms to Russia which had existed prior to the communist takeover and would not disappear with its end.

    It seems to me that a key part of the story told in Putin’s interviews with Stone has to do with his – actually reluctant – movement towards the latter point of view. What however palpably has survived, from the arguments that were going on under the surface in the late Soviet period, is the belief that Stalin’s attempt to realise the agendas of the Pan-Slav radicals was a total ‘own goal’ from the point of view of Russians.

    As to American, and British, perceptions, what is clear is that the ‘intelligence communities’ in both countries had not the foggiest idea of what was happening in Russia thirty years ago – and since then, have forgotten, and learnt, nothing at all.

    In the ‘Thirties, the inability of MI6 to grasp the strategic logics which could result in a ‘continental bloc’ led them to encourage Chamberlain in a course whose natural outcome was the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Today, they have been repeating their mistake – with the result that we now seem to be heading towards a new form of ‘continental bloc’, based on an entente between Russia and China.

    Meanwhile, the people running American and British foreign policy seem to have done more or less possible to demonstrate that the hopes of the anti-Stalinist elements that came to the fore in Russia in the Gorbachev era were totally naive. But then they scratch their heads in puzzlement, when one sees elements of a rehabilitation of Stalin.

    There should be some limits to human stupidity, but apparently not.


    1. “What he wanted to tell them was that he was determined to attempt to heal the wounds of the civil war – and they believed him.”

      Why? No, more important – how? The absolute majority of the current citizens of Russia are descendants of those, who won the war. The descendants of the losers while in emigration sullied themselves by cooperating with the enemies of Russia. They, not us, should beg forgiveness and tone down their crappy anti-Soviet rhetoric, they must do compromises – not us.


  4. The bolshvik jews are still in control of the gov and media use propaganda to control desent and to popularize the pos.. Even people that would hang stalin, jews and bolsheviks are living in terror of the jews, stalinists ect from giving critical opinions I was there in the 80’s and relatives were terrified and shocked when I would say anything negative about stalin or jews and refused to talk about them at home


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