In my writings on the national question I have already said that an abstract presentation of the question of nationalism in general is of no use at all. A distinction must necessarily be made between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that of an oppressed nation, the nationalism of a big nation and that of a small nation.
In respect of the second kind of nationalism we, nationals of a big nation, have nearly always been guilty, in historic practice, of an infinite number of cases of violence; furthermore, we commit violence and insult an infinite number of times without noticing it. It is sufficient to recall my Volga reminiscences of how non-Russians are treated; how the Poles are not called by any other name than Polyachiska, how the Tatar is nicknamed Prince, how the Ukrainians are always Khokhols and the Georgians and other Caucasian nationals always Kapkasians.
That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or “great” nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.
While I realize it was only two weeks ago when I wrote about finding four Last Address memorial plaques in my neighborhood I had not seen before, I would like to document another six plaques I found today, because I do not think it is enough to know they are out there somewhere. Instead, we should pause for a few minutes and read the bare facts on each plaque out loud or silently. It is also important, given the current frightening atmosphere in Russia, to show passersby that they, too, can stop and honor the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror in this way, as well as to share this witnessing and remembering with readers out in the big wide world, whoever and wherever you are.
While that day seems far off, it is surprising how quickly Petersburg has filled up with Last Address plaques in a mere two or three years.
The plaques my companion and I found earlier this evening were attached to the streetside façade of the building at 146 Nevsky Avenue, the segment of Nevsky, east of Insurrection Square, known to locals as “Old” Nevsky.
The plaques have been placed on the building at eye level and are thus quite easy for passersby to notice, read, and photograph.
The building itself is a hybrid of two eras. First built in 1883 by Valery von Gekker to house the Menyaevsky Market, the building was rebuilt and expanded in the constructivist style by Iosif Baks in 1932–33, turning most of it into a block of flats.
The address listed on the Last Address map is thus 146 October 25 Avenue, as it would have been listed in the NKVD case files of the victims at the time.
“Here lived Mikhail Pavlovich Kovalyov, welder. Born 1887. Arrested 30 October 1937. Shot 7 December 1937. Rehabilitated 1958.” Born in the village of Raivola, Finland, near the Russian/Soviet-Finnish border, Mr. Kovalyov worked at the Khalturin Factory and lived in flat no. 186.
“Here lived Vaclav Adamovich Zaikovsky, litographer. Born 1897. Arrested 31 August 1937. Shot 21 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1957.” Born in the Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empire, Mr. Zaikovsky was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1917 to 1937, and director of the First Art Lithography Works. He lived in flat no. 163.
“Here lived Dmitry Andreyevich Yeretsky, civil servant. Born 1900. Arrested 23 September 1937. Shot 21 September 1938. Rehabilitated 1957.” Mr. Yeretsky was born in Beredichev, Belarus. He was director of the State Institute for the Design of Wood Chemical Industry Enterprises (Giproleskhim) and lived in flat no. 164.
“Here lived Alexander Kirillovich Sirenko, civil servant. Born 1903. Arrested 10 February 1937. Shot 24 August 1937. Rehabilitated 1955.” Born in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region, Mr. Sirenko was director of the Nevsky Chemical Plant and lived in flat no. 146. He was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1924 to 1937.
“Here lived Alexander Genrikhovich Kogan, theater manager. Born 1898. Arrested 26 August 1946. Shot 13 April 1938 in a work camp in Kolyma. Rehabilitated 1956.” A Jew from Nikolayev, Ukraine, Mr. Kogan was accused by the NKVD of involvement in a wholly fictitious “counterrevolutionary insurgent organization.” The number of the flat where he lived is not listed on the Last Address map or in Memorial’s Leningrad Martyrology database.
“Here lived Melania Ignatyevna Shoka, civil servant. Born 1908. Arrested 2 September 1937. Shot 1 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1989.” An ethnic Pole born in the Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire, Ms. Shoka was a personnel instructor in the non-steamboat fleet of the Northwest River Shipping Company. She lived in flat no. 70 and was not a member of the Communist Party.
I am not an expert on the Great Terror, but I have noticed a preponderance of non-ethnic Russians and people born outside of Leningrad/Petersburg in the three hundred or so database case files I have perused. Given that the NVKD would also have had to fill its arrest and execution quotas in Central Russia, I am certain, of course, that ethnic Russians are also more than amply represented among the Terror’s myriad victims. It was just that Petersburg had been a cosmopolitan city almost from its foundation and twenty years previously had been the capital of a multi-ethnic empire. In its first two decades, the Soviet regime had also encouraged what historian Terry Martin has dubbed an “affirmative action empire.” But one of the signal victims of Stalin’s crackdown was faith in a polity that was “socialist in content, nationalist in form.” So, Leningrad’s non-Russians were easy targets for Stalin’s newfound anti-cosmopolitan paranoia.
Alexander Reznik Back to the Future: Why Putin Criticizes Lenin RBC
January 26, 2016
Vladimir Putin has condemned Lenin for ideas that, in the president’s opinion, led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the ideas were those of Stalin, whom the head of state has avoided criticizing.
The Flow of Thought
On January 21, 2016, Vladimir Putin gave rise to another round of quasi-historical debate. Summarizing a discussion on reforming the Russian Academy of Sciences at a session of the Council for Science and Education, the president reacted to an excerpt from a poem by Pasternak, as quoted by the head of the Kurchatov Institute: “He managed the flow of thought[s] and, only thus, the country.”
Pasternak was writing about Lenin, and the president ventured his opinion of Lenin, too.
“It is right to manage the flow of thought. Only it is important that the thought leads to the desired result, not as it did in the case of Vladimir Ilyich. But the idea itself is correct. Ultimately, the idea led to the Soviet Union’s collapse, that is what. There were many such thoughts: autonomization and so on. They planted an atomic bomb under the edifice known as Russia. It did, in fact, blow up later. And we had no need of world revolution.”
Thus, consciously or not, the president marked the anniversary of the death of the Soviet Union’s founder. Many observers were quick to detect a hidden message in his remarks and once again raised the question of burying Lenin’s body. (Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press secretary, had to quickly announce that this issue “was not on the agenda.”) It is more likely that the remarks, delivered as the curtain was falling on a boring meeting, were made on the spur of the moment.
Putin had obviously specially prepared for his speech at the January 25 interregional forum of the Russian Popular Front in order to smooth over the impression made by his previous remarks. Replying to a question about Lenin’s reburial, he outlined his views on socialism in more detail. He admitted he had always “liked communist and socialist ideas,” and he compared the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism to the Bible. Later, the president mentioned mass repressions, including the “most egregious example,” the execution of the tsar and his family, the “breakdown of the front” during the First World War, and the inefficiency of the planned economy. Finally, Putin separately addressed the question of why, from his viewpoint, Lenin had been wrong in his dispute with Stalin over the nationalities question: Lenin had wanted “full equality, with the right to secede from the Soviet Union” for the republics.
“And that [was like] a time bomb under the edifice of our state,” said Putin, literally repeating what he had said in an 1991 interview. To strengthen the effect, he mentioned the transfer of Donbass to Ukraine.
Who Planted the Bomb and What Kind of Bomb Was It
Historians will find it difficult to ignore that in the first instance Putin has mistakenly attributed to Lenin the idea of autonomization, which meant the inclusion of territorial entities in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In reality, on December 30 and 31, 1922, Lenin dictated a few notes, which were included in the leader’s so-called political testament.
“I suppose I have been very remiss with respect to the workers of Russia for not having intervened energetically and decisively enough in the notorious question of autonomization, which, it appears, is officially called the question of the Soviet socialist republics,” wrote Lenin.
His secretaries called these notes a “bomb,” so evident was their explosive effect, since they were directed against the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Joseph Stalin, who was accused of a “Great-Russian nationalist campaign.” As a centralist principle, Lenin wrote, autonomization was “radically wrong and badly timed.” It was necessary to “maintain and strengthen the union of socialist republics” and be more sensitive to the nationalism of “oppressed peoples.” The union’s republics were granted the constitutional right to secede from the Soviet Union.
Formally, Lenin’s policy was approved, and thanks to the policy of indigenization, which historian Terry Martin has christened “affirmative action,” the 1920s were the heyday of national cultures. But by bypassing the Constitution and Party Congress resolutions, Stalin’s project gradually emerged victorious. By the late 1980s, the federal principles of Soviet power had been discredited as a screen concealing Moscow’s omnipotence as the center. So it is, at least, naive to believe that the presence of the constitutional right to secede from the Soviet Union (and Lenin’s responsibility for it) played a crucial role in the disintegration of the Soviet state.
At the Russian Popular Front forum, Putin clarified that, from the outset, he “had in mind the discussion between Stalin and Lenin about how to build a new state, the Soviet Union.” His speech showed that Putin’s attitude towards Lenin’s revolutionary project as a whole was not very different from that of establishment experts and commentators. Liberals, conservatives, members of the opposition, and “patriots” can forge a bond in their rejection of socialism, radicalism, and similar -isms. It suffices to carefully examine the responses to Putin’s speech to notice that dislike of Lenin is quite sincere and sometimes jealously competitive. Setting aside conservative fetishists of all things Soviet, sympathy for Lenin, on the other hand, remains the bailiwick of leftist intellectuals.
Putin’s activist dislike of Lenin is noteworthy, given his demonstrative neutrality towards Stalin. In Putin’s view, although Stalin was a dictator guilty of mass repressions, he de facto rejected Lenin’s revolutionary maximalism. We cannot rule out that the president has taken into account the growth of public sympathy for Stalin, warmed by the economic crisis and political developments in Syria and Ukraine.
Interest in the topic of the Soviet Union’s collapse may well be regarded as the hint of a veiled threat to today’s Russia that at some point can be used as the ideological basis, for example, of a public mobilization against “enemies.”
A Revolution for New Needs
The excitement generated by the statements of leading politicians about the distant past casts a negative light on Russia’s intellectual and political culture. The centennial of the 1917 Revolution is approaching. We can hardly expect success from the government’s project of reconciling the Whites, Reds, and Greens, as proposed by the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky. Rather, the symbolic resources of the Russian Civil War will be exploited for the production of more and more new conflicts, as was the case with the Great Patriotic War. On the lines of the Banderites, it will be easy to construct new imaginary enemies of Russia. The president has discovered one such group of national traitors, revolutionaries and especially Bolsheviks. It will be harder to find heroes, but here the market, which previously has been successful in selling the image of Admiral Kolchak, will lend a helping hand.
In these memory wars, academic scholarship, which cultivates the specific language of dialogue and therefore seldom provides simple and definitive answers to debatable issues, will hardly be heard. Thus, Pasternak’s line about “managing the flow of thoughts,” which flustered Vladimir Putin, takes on a particularly alarming ring.
Alexander Reznik is a senior researcher at Perm State University and a member of the Free Historical Society. Translated by the Russian Reader
“The 1930s saw a reawakening of Vepsian cultural identity. A literary language using Latin script was created (1931), and about twenty-five books were published, mainly school textbooks and also a small Vepsian-Russian dictionary. School instruction in Vepsian began in early 1937, replacing earlier attempts to use Finnish, which the Vepsians could not understand. However, late in the same year the Soviet Russian regime stopped all cultural activities and ordered the destruction of all Vepsian textbooks […]. After the Second World War the Russian authorities of Leningrad and Vologda, oblasts tried to hasten assimilation by entering all young Vepsians who reached the age of sixteen as Russians in personal identity documents and village soviet registers.”
—Rein Taagepera, The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State, 1999, p. 135
“In the early 1930s a literary language was created and the teaching of Vepsian started in the schools in 1932. This only occurred in the schools of the Leningrad district but not in Soviet Karelia. Literature was also published in Vepsian but again the centre of these ethno-cultural activities was not in Soviet Karelia. In Karelia the question of the Vepsian language gained little attention, and the events of the year 1937 put an end to the development of Vepsian culture in the Leningrad district as well[.]”
—Kaija Heikkinen, “The Ethnic Movements of the Finno-Ugrian People in Russia — Their Reflections on the Ethno-National Situation in Finland,”Etnichna istoriya narodiv Yevropy 9 (2001): 102
Read more about Vepsian language and culture:
Anja Kristine Salo, “I fear our language will die,” Barents Observer, May 8, 2013
Asya Pereltsvaig, “The Profound Vepsian Influences on Russian Culture and Language,” Languages of the World, July 6, 2014
The inscription under the picture of Stalin, above, reads, “Stalin is supreme leader of the Bolsheviks, supreme leader of the entire world working class, supreme leader of our new life’s regime.” The allegedly Vepsian words and phrases for “supreme leader” (voƶd’), “entire world working class” (kaiken mirun rabocijan klassan), and “regime” (stroindas) are clearly Russian borrowings, if that is the right way of putting it.