|(Photo by Donald Weber/VII Network)|
By Owen Matthews
Newsweek, December 19, 2011
"Spring 1989: a group of young students bends over their spades as they dig in a Siberian forest clearing. In shallow depressions, they quickly uncover human remains, the skulls all neatly pierced by bullet holes, the work of Stalin’s executioners. All around the small group of diggers, dozens more mass graves stretch into the forest, extending, like the old Gulag Archipelago, from one end of the former Soviet Union’s 11 time zones to the other. The scene opens David Satter's It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway, a sweeping study of how the former Soviet Union's bloody past continues to poison Russia's present and threatens to strangle the country's future. 'I know as one who stood at the edge of that cold pit that a person who sees this, forever becomes different,' recalls one of the student diggers, now a leading liberal politician. Satter's point is that too few Russians have been willing to peer into the burial pit of their country’s own not-so-distant past. 'Russia today is haunted by words that have been left unsaid,' he writes. Unlike Germany after the Second World War, post-Soviet Russia was never wracked [sic] with collective guilt for the crimes of the old regime. There was no South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission; there was no opening up of secret-police archives, as there was in East Germany or Hungary. The closest Russians came to such a self-examination was during the brief phase when Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost filled the airwaves and newspapers with harrowing gulag memoirs. In the wake of a KGB-led attempted coup in August 1991, thousands gathered on Lubyanka Square beneath the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, and screamed anti-KGB slogans. Fearing that the KGB building might be stormed, city authorities called in a crane to remove the statue, which dangled from a steel noose as though lynched. But the wave passed. Most ordinary Russians quickly forgot their indignation at the KGB's crimes as a tide of free-market reforms swept away their savings and their jobs, together with any remaining illusions of imperial greatness. For many Russians, reforms meant not freedom but a slow implosion of life’s possibilities. Small wonder that a counterrevolution against glasnost quickly ensued. By the early 2000s, pro-Kremlin political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov (the grandson of Stalin's foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov) could accurately say that 'people are not interested in the past. Any attempt to dig into the past evokes only irritation.' [...]"