Monday, October 29, 2012

Russia / Stalinism / Genocide and Memory

Russians Gather against Totalitarianism
By Kathy Lally
The Washington Post, October 29, 2012
"The muddy slush numbed the feet. Voices trembled, not because of the freezing cold but because of the weight of their words. Russians gathered Monday in the shadow of the building where Stalin's secret police drew up their death lists, and they spoke the names of the murdered. This year, the reading had more than the usual resonance. Opponents of President Vladimir Putin have been saying that his crackdown on political opposition reminds them of those two years, the worst of Stalin's terror, when 1.7 million Russians were arrested and at least 725,000 of them were shot. Others were sent to the gulag. 'No,' said Vladimir Kantovsky, an 89-year-old survivor of the camps, after he had read four names of the dead and placed a candle next to the stone. 'It cannot be compared. You cannot even imagine what it was like.' He pointed across the square to the Lubyanka, the home of the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB. 'There were guards there with knives,' he said. 'People wouldn’t even walk near the building, they were so terrified.' Even so, Kantovsky said, it was more important than ever to read the names. 'We must make people remember,' he said. 'We can't let them forget. If they do, it can happen again.'
Memorial organized the first reading in 2007, the 70th anniversary of the terror. The names are read on the eve of Oct. 30, the day set aside to remember victims of political repression. The names, along with ages, professions and dates of execution, are read to defy a totalitarian system that tried to obliterate its victims -- relatives of the executed often did not know when they died or where they were buried. 'It is our duty to return their names to them,' said Yelena Zhemkova, Memorial's executive director. Memorial has been working for years to build a database of the victims of Soviet-era repression and was among the agencies supported by funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which the Russian government forced out of the country Oct. 1. A 45-year-old village laborer, a 52-year-old employee of a brick factory, a 42-year-old accountant, a 40-year-old newspaper editor, a 22-year-old unemployed man. The names went on and on. The reading began at 10 a.m. and would end at 10 p.m., still not enough time for every name. [...]"

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