Nikolay Mitrokhin: The Church Militant, The Radio Complicit

Father Vsevolod Chaplin. Photo courtesy of Realnoye Vremya and Anna Artemieva (novayagazeta.ru)
Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox priest who recently argued on Russian radio station Echo of Moscow that it was sometimes necessary and possible to “destroy” whole groups of people as “internal enemies.” Photo courtesy of Realnoye Vremya and Anna Artemieva (novayagazeta.ru)

“For the Church, Violence Is the Norm”
Valentin Baryshnikov
Radio Svoboda
August 16, 2016

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, long-time head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Cooperation between Church and Society, made an appearance on Echo of Moscow radio in which he shocked many people by saying that some people “can and should be killed.”

Here is an excerpt of Father Chaplain’s appearance on Echo, which began with a discussion of erecting a monument to Ivan the Terrible in Oryol.

Presenter: Yes, but with that rationale you can also justify Stalin, for example. Sure, there were excesses, but he was an effective manager, they say.

Vsevolod Chaplin: He did a lot. Listen, at the end of the day what is wrong with destroying a certain number of internal enemies?

Presenter: “Destroying” people, that is what is wrong.

Vsevolod Chaplin: What is wrong with that?

Presenter: You cannot kill people!

Vsevolod Chaplin: Why not? Some people can and should be killed. That is for sure.

Presenter: “Some people”? Which ones are those?

Vsevolod Chaplin: So it is no accident that criminals are destroyed, and no accident—

Presenter:  I would remind you the death penalty has been abolished in Russia.*

Vsevolod Chaplin: I am not sure that was the right decision. Look, even God, if we read the Old Testament, if we read the Apocalypse, that is, the New Testament, directly sanctioned and sanctions in the future the destruction of a huge number of people for the edification of others.  For the edification of societies, it is sometimes necessary to destroy a certain number of people who deserve to be destroyed.

* In fact, capital punishment has not been abolished in the Russian Federation. President Yeltsin placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996 so that Russia could meet the requirements for joining the Council of Europe. The moratorium has remained in effect since then, but the death penalty is still listed in the law books as a legal punishment for certain crimes. TRR

When asked whether Chaplin’s statement was his personal opinion or a reflection of conversations within the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Nikolay Mitrokhin, a sociologist of religion and author of the book The Russian Orthodox Church: Its Current State and Challenges, confidently replied that church insiders think this way.

Nikolay Mitrokhin: The majority of rank-and-file clergy and the bishops are quite militantly minded. They do not rule out violence. Violence is the norm in ecclesiastical practice. Bishops hit priests who do something wrong on the altar. Its is a popular subject of stories told within the Church. In turn, priests are capable of hitting sacristans and subdeacons. The Church is now also the leading social institution that has come out against so-called juvenile justice, in other words, against bans on beating children. So for the Church, violence is the norm.  The Church supports militarist rhetoric. The Church supports the numerous military-patriotic clubs operating under its auspices. If you chat with a rank-and-file priest, he will surely talk like Chaplin or worse. It is another question whether it was worth putting Chaplin on the radio and giving his cannibalistic ideas a platform.  However, that is the stance of Echo of Moscow, which has given various kinds of fascists the chance to speak out on its airwaves. Let us not forget that several right-wing radicals have their own programs on the station.  So it all fits, in the first place, not only the mindset of the ROC but also the mindset of Echo of Moscow.

Echo of Moscow actually plans not to publish the transcript of this speech and, as far as I can tell, will not be inviting Father Chaplin on the air again.

With Chaplin’s appearance, they have reached a point where a lot of people have wondered whether the prosecutor’s office is asleep at the wheel and whether they should not file a complaint against Echo of Moscow radio station. In this case, they face quite specific criminal charges. But the reason they invited Chaplin to appear on the air is itself quite obvious. Yet again they had to rile up the liberal public with harsh statements so that a discussion would emerge around them. They are not shy about inviting someone who on several occasions has voiced his tough and, quite frankly, fascist stance. So I think this was a big mistake on the part of Echo of Moscow, which is no less liable for the statements than the person who made them.

When Chaplin says this, when priests en masse within the ROC hold such positions, does this somehow link up in their minds, if I can put it is this way, with the concept of Jesus Christ, who spoke of love and non-violence?

As we know, there is no Christ in the ROC. There is Orthodoxy in the ROC, but there is no Christ in the Church in the sense in which the idea of Christ was shaped by the Russian intelligentsia in the early twentieth century. For centuries, the phrase that Jesus is love just did not make sense. It was not a subject the clergy considered. From that point of view, it is not clear why it should be considered now. The concepts that the liberal intelligentsia have been attempting to discuss are all seemingly variations on western Christianity, so-called post-Holocaust thought, which has nothing to do with what the majority of the ROC’s ordinary parishioners think and believe. They see Orthodoxy as the national religion, which provides them with spiritual strength to oppose the “godless” west, and so on.  So Chaplin, who was driven from his post in the Church, deliberately shocked the audience by divulging what the conservative half of his brain thinks. The audience talked about it. Basically, though, any average Russian priest, whomever you approach, thinks exactly the same thing.

Does it come from the Church? Or does the Church trail behind its flock?

It comes from the Church, of course. Within the Church there has long existed a concept, which has been its main content, that has to do with Russian nationalism and militarism. The vast majority of the clergy espouse these ideas and communicate them to parishioners in one form or another. It is another matter to what extent the Church’s leadership controls all of this. To what extent are the clergy permitted to speak out or keep quiet about political issues? This is something that the Church’s leadership monitors. When it wanted the ROC to have a fairly decent image in Ukraine, priests were told they should not travel to Ukraine and help the separatists. A couple of people who violated the ban were banned from the ministry. The Russian clergy immediately began speaking carefully about Ukraine. The clergy can keep thinking as aggressively as it likes. The question is the things it will say in ordinary life. This is something that can be regulated both by society and the state.

Let us come back later to the question of regulation on the part of society and the sate. Let’s talk about the situation within the Church. Are there priests who follow the idea that God is love?

This is a concept common among a very narrow segment of Moscow and Petersburg intelligentsia, among university-educated intellectuals in the broad sense. The majority of clergymen have no secular education whatsoever (I mean higher education), and they have had a very average secondary education. Many of them either do not know about this concept or regard it as a bit of intellectualizing. There are individual priests (among the ROC’s 20,000 priests you might find several hundred, at best) who espouse this concept. But they are outside the mainstream of the Church and do not constitute a respected or influential minority.

Are they persecuted within the Church?

No, but these ideas are so remote from what priests really do it is impossible to say they in any way define the life of the Church. Especially because ideas of this sort are clearly articulated only by individual priests, priests who are closely associated, again, with liberal circles. One level down, in the provinces, a priest can very well tell his parishioners that Christ is love while running a military-patriotic club. It all gels perfectly in their minds depending on their personal views and the last book they read ten years ago. Nothing contradicts anything else. That is why priests with distinctly liberal views who are willing to say that God is love amount to a dozen. They are known to journalists, who turn to them all the time. Beyond the confines of this narrow circle, such concepts are not particularly popular, and they are not subjects of conversation.

The real life of the clergy and the real ideas in their minds are so diverse, so not amenable to systematization, that we can speak of a society, an ideology, that is in fact unknown to us. We can speak of their militarism. But for some priests this militarism is clearly defined—they wear camouflage all the time except during services—while other priests have these ideas in their heads, but they do not express them too publicly, because they think they should say something else to their parishes. In addition, there are the changes that come with age. When they are young, people’s blood runs hotter. As they age, they become smarter, but in old age, on the contrary, they lose their heads, senility sets in, and they can say things that completely contradict what they had said fifteen or twenty years earlier. For example, Father Dmitry Dudko became a communist in old age, although his whole life he was a harsh anti-communist. It is a dynamic environment of generally anti-liberal ideas, but certain noble notions can be found in what they think or say.

What about the natural objection that, in the twentieth century, a huge number of Russian Orthodox priests were murdered by the Bolsheviks on the same grounds that Father Chaplin cited? Does this objection just have no effect on these people? Do they not feel they are the successors to those priests, to the church that was destroyed by this massive crackdown?

They feel like this when it suits them. When they have to argue with the former collective farm chair and current local council head that the church needs paint, they remember the new martyrs. Generally, a person who is willing to remember the new martyrs was probably a Party or Communist Youth League member or even a political officer in the Soviet Army (that is a quite common case) or a local university graduate who wrote pro-Soviet articles. The fact is that there are very few people directly associated with the new martyrs in Russia, and there are fewer of them as the years go by. The bulk of the Church consists of former Soviet people who until 1991 believed in socialist ideas of some kind, were card-carrying Party members, were involved in political organizations, and did not give a second thought to anything religious. Ideas about the regime’s responsibility, ideas about the memory of the mass repressions, all had some importance in the late 1980s, but then quickly came to naught. In this case, what is urgent for the ROC is the question of so-called post-Holocaust thought that the intelligentsia has proposed, meaning the awareness of guilt and the needlessness of so many victims, but the Church has consistently rejected all this now. It believes you can kill, but you have to pick the right group to kill, as Chaplin said. This is the basis of the current ROC’s ideology.

Nikolay Mitrokhin is a research fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. He is the author of important books on the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalist movements in the postwar Soviet Union. Read his previous reflection on the fascization of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Right-Wing Saints.” Translated by the Russian Reader

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Between the Ages of 17 and 25

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Since Putin couldn’t smash Aleppo with his pal Bashar Assad, he is now going to provoke all-out war with Ukraine. Or he is going to play at provoking all-out war. Either way, he is going to have some fun.

In 1939, the Finns likewise “provoked” Stalin into invading Finland. Meaning that Stalin pretended to be provoked, and then went in guns blazing, getting three hundred thousand Soviet soldiers killed or wounded in the process.

There are oodles of serious problems with the Russian economy, which Putin shows no interest in solving, because really solving them would involve the self-liquidation of the  current elites. Although pumping up defense spending and, hence, the military-industrial complex, which is what he has been doing in the past few years, has been a temporary patch on some of those problems, of course.

It is funny and sad that Russians themselves don’t get tired of this merry-go-round, but they seem to be sinking ever deeper into various species of emigration, internal or actual, or what they themselves call a “second childhood.”

It is even funnier that Jill Stein, presidential candidate of the US Green Party, could believe she was doing the work of peace or “anti-imperialism” or whatever she thought she was doing when she dined with Putin in Moscow or that she could imagine the “crisis” in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine was caused by anything other than domestic Russian politics or, rather, the snowballing contradictions spinning off the tiny, eccentric orbit inhabited by the country’s president-for-life in all but name and his retinue of oligarchs and FSB veterans.

Anyone who thinks the Kremlin’s policies are a rational or predictable response to the “international situation” or the bad deal Russia allegedly got when the Soviet Union broke up is a complete fool or a bought-and-paid useful idiot. You can be traumatized by the “bad things” your parents did to you (unless they really were bad things) for only so long.

When, however, you have reached the ripe enough age of twenty-five, as the new Russia has this year, it is time to stop telling stories about your bad upbringing or how you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

In other words, this is all about the dead end Putin and his pals from the FSB and the Ozero Dacha Co-op drove the country into when they decided they would run Russia like Tony Soprano and his crew ran whatever they were pretending to be running in the fictional TV New Jersey.

Putin has flagrantly and criminally misruled Russia for seventeen years as of August 9. That is one year less than Brezhnev reigned as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. But Putin, to all appearances, is fit as a cello, unlike Brezhnev was in 1981, the year before he died.

Ugh. Happy new year.

Thanks to Comrade MT for the felicitous line about the cello. Photo by the Russian Reader

Vasily Gatov: Forgive Me If You Can

vasily gatov
Vasily Gatov

After Apologizing for Genocide of Crimean Tatars, Vasily Gatov Attacked by Russian Channel One Employees
15 Minut
May 20, 2016

Well-known journalist and media manager Vasily Gatov, grandson of Ivan Sheredega, the NKVD Internal Troops commander who, in 1944, oversaw the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, has been targeted by his former colleagues at Russia’s Channel One after publishing a post on Facebook.

On May 18, Gatov wrote the following on Facebook.

“Today is the anniversary of one of the most shameful events in the history of the Soviet Union, the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people. I don’t find it so easy to write these words: my own grandfather commanded this ‘operation.’

“In May 1944, the Soviet Army was in the midst of liberating the lands of Europe from the Nazi genocide machine, and the concept of ‘death camps’ was clear to the soldiers and officers. During these very same days, Stalin decided that another entire people, from its children to its heroes, was the ‘enemy.’

“As it is euphemistically called in the relevant documents, the ‘expulsion’ of the Chechens, Balkars, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians is nothing but a form of genocide. A genocide that has never been recognized, that has never been mourned, and that has never been paid for.

“The Crimean Tatars, Chechens, and Ingush are nations that have suffered at the hands of both the USSR and Russia.

“It is not only a shame. It is not only a sin.

“It is a crime that has been committed twice, an aggravated conspiracy by a gang whose objectives completely fall under the definitions of the crime as laid down by the International Court.

“And until a trial takes place in one form or another, any reasonable and sober person will have to repeat the same words:

“Forgive me if you can.”

Gatov also published his comment on the condemnation of his actions by his former colleagues on his Facebook page.

“Towards evening, I read the [minutes of] the long-distance Party meeting held on Facebook by Channel One employees and a few invited guests in order to condemn me. My thanks to Ksenia Turkova and Arina Borodina for their efforts to defend me in circumstances in which I cannot even reply to Svetlana Kolosva (director of Channel One’s documentary films department) and her fellow Party members.

“As for the claims made there, I have the following to say. Only a complete raving lunatic whose head was chockablock with propaganda and had been made insecure by continually lying to himself and others could have read into what I wrote yesterday everything my former friends and acquaintances discovered there. Basically, that’s all I have to say.

“Actually, it’s not quite everything. I discovered several interesting likes from people I didn’t expect to see on the list of invitees to the Party meeting. However, upon reflection, I concluded that the people who left those likes also completely fit the definition written above.”

[…]

Vasily Gatov is a Visiting Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Photo courtesy of 15 Minut. See my translation of Gatov’s recent essay on the dismantling of RBC and the demise of the free press in RussiaTranslated by the Russian Reader

Back to the Future: Why Putin Criticizes Lenin

Factory wall, Krasnoye Selo, October 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Factory wall, Krasnoye Selo, October 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

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

Lev Rubinstein: “Rehabilitation” of Nazism

Lev Rubinstein
May 12, 2015
Facebook

Criminal prosecution for “rehabilitation of Nazism,” you say?

Well, it’s a respectable cause. Especially in a normal country, where the main features and properties of Nazism itself have been clearly defined, articulated and, more importantly, grasped by public opinion.

In a country where, on the contrary, the president of another country is referred to as a “black monkey” quite openly and with impunity, in a country where state TV facilely reports that the people of a neighboring country are a historical misunderstanding, and their language a parody, in a country where a classified newspaper ad that reads, “Apartment available for rent to Slavs,” is considered quite normal and natural, this talk about “rehabilitation” is rather strange, because there is nothing in particular to rehabilitate. And if anyone is going to be tried for such a crime, there aren’t enough judges for the job.

The point, of course, is something else.

11182204_864970266884978_1670294015098677080_nVictoria Lomasko, In the Neighborhood. View at the exhibition Post-Soviet Cassandras, Berlin, April 2015

The fact is that their “Nazism” is not Nazism in the conventional sense of the word, but what they themselves define as such or have already defined.

“Everyone” knows that a Nazi regime is now blossoming, for example, in Ukraine. And denying or even questioning this “indisputable fact” amounts, apparently, to rehabilitating Nazism.

Or doubting the divine origins of the main antifascist of all time can easily be identified as Nazism.

And who knows what else. Why give them suggestions? Let them figure it out for themselves.

It’s a shit issue, as certain rude people would say.

__________

Kommunella Markman: Death to Beria

Kommunella “Ella” Markman was born in 1924 in Tbilisi. In 1943–1944, Ella Markman and her friends were members of the underground youth organization Death to Beria. In 1948, all members of the organization were arrested and sentenced to twenty-five years forced labor. Markman served seven years in the Inta camps (Komi Republic), working on logging and construction sites. In 1957, she married an ex-inmate she had met in the camps and returned to Tbilisi. She was rehabilitated in 1968. She lives in Moscow and writes poems.

My dad was a very committed communist and made me the same way. From early childhood, Dad taught me this principle: “What do you think your enemies want? They want you to feel bitter, be in a bad mood, and get you to throw up your paws. If you don’t want to make your enemies happy, always keep your chin up!”

Ella’s father, Moisei Markman, was a senior official in the Transcaucasian Soviet government. In 1937, he was arrested and shot. In 1938, Ella’s mother was sentenced to five years in the camps as a “family member of a traitor.” She served her sentence in a camp in Kazakhstan.

Dad was arrested. They left Mom alone then. She went around looking for work. She would go somewhere and say, “My husband has been arrested. I have two kids and I’m looking for work.” They would tell her they would think it over and to come back in five days or so. She would come back in five days, but there wouldn’t be a single person left there: everyone would have been arrested. Stalin did not like Georgia, and he particularly disliked Tbilisi.

I was at a very good school. Six of us were tried for organizing [Death to Beria], and then two more friends of mine were tacked onto the case just like that because it was convenient. Of those young folks, three of us, Tema Tazishvili, our leader, Yura Lipinsky, and I, were in the same class. Shura Baluashvili was in the class above us. Meaning that four of the six, and I was the fifth, were from the same school.

We were very good friends. What was really valued in those days was the willingness to do something heroic. Everyone just wanted to end up in a situation where they could do something heroic. For example, my friends brought this doggerel back with them from the Literary Institute [in Moscow]:

I’m talking like I’m crazed.
For this I am to blame.
I’d like to set your house ablaze
To save you from the flames.

In 1943, I was in Tbilisi. I met up with my classmates from school, and we decided we could not go on living in fright, our tails tucked between our legs, that something horrible was going on in Georgia. We hated Stalin and Beria furiously. No one believes that at the age of nineteen [we could do these things]. But I am surprised that at the age of nineteen—how should I put it? It was strange not to have seen what was going in. And we decided to fight. We posted leaflets and agitated where we could.

In the late 1930s, clandestine anti-Stalinist youth organizations emerged in the Soviet Union. Their members, high school upper classmen and university students, set themselves the ambitious goal of changing the existing regime. However, in practice they only managed to produce and distribute leaflets before they were arrested, sent to the camps or executed, and their organizations were shut down.

We just made plans. There could be no question of murder, of course. The only thing we could have done was kill Beria, since he was fond of pretty young women, and I was young and had a very good figure. I’ll show you the photographs. I said I would be ready to do that [i.e., seduce him] just to kill him. Beria could have been killed. But my dream was to kill Stalin, too. We all knew it was only a dream, so we called our organization Death to Beria.

Our organization existed only in 1943 and 1944. In 1949, I was arrested, arrested in Batumi and brought to Tbilisi. What was the reason for my arrest? They told me to tell them about my “anti-Soviet activities.” Now I thought, what anti-Soviet activities of mine are they talking about? Since we had not been caught either for passing out leaflets or agitating, I was certain this was not the reason. So much time had passed—1945, 1946, 1947. It was only in April 1948 that we were arrested.

So we could not figure out how they had found us out. We learned this much later, during the trial itself, when Dormishkhan Alshibayev stood up and said, literally, “I ask the esteemed Special Council [of the KGB] to take into account that on April 7”—we were arrested in late April—“that I myself went to the KGB and told them everything.” I was simply stunned!

 Yes, we made quite dramatic speeches during the trial. One of us said, “We hope that our blood will show people how those who stand for the truth are punished!” It was something like that. And then suddenly the judge said, “There won’t be any shedding of your blood.”

The judge said, “Although your acts wholly fit the death penalty, it has now been abolished, so [you are sentenced to] twenty-five years in the camps.”

So I ended up in a camp. And it was great, I mean that seriously! I would have never learned so many valuable things otherwise.

I said to myself I wouldn’t do any easy work in the camp. That is not how Dad taught me, I said to myself. And from the first day to the last I always did the work everyone else did.

At first, I worked quite poorly. The first time I swung a pick I nearly hit someone in the head. I was incredibly tired at first: I couldn’t even go to the mess hall. Lyuda busted her guts for me and brought me lunch. This (taking food out of the mess hall) was also forbidden.

All the girls would get tired. Our main job was building roads.

Then one day, I came back [from work] and felt I was tired, but no more tired than the others. And from that day everything became easier and easier. I started doing other people’s work for them.

In 1952, Minlag [Mineralny Camp Directorate, Komi Republic] tightened the rules for prisoners. The books they kept now had to undergo mandatory inspection. Books that passed inspection were marked with a stamp from the camp’s cultural and education unit.

I had this big book by Lermontov. Two female prison wardens came in, one of them normal and decent, the other, a disgusting warden we called the Rat. The Rat took a look at my books, grabbed the Lermontov, and said, “Confiscate this!” The other one said, “But that’s Lermontov!” And the Rat said to her, “Just look at his tsarist epaulettes! Confiscate it: we cannot leave it.” So they confiscated my Lermontov book.

In the evening, I had to go upstairs to the mess hall on some business. We were not allowed to go to the mess hall for no reason. I think I had forgotten something—either gloves (although I don’t think it was cold yet) or a handkerchief—and went looking for it. After a while, I saw the Rat sitting there and reading. She was moving her lips, because she was semiliterate. I glanced at what it was: she was reading [Lermontov’s poem] “The Novice” line by line. And she was crying! That is when I realized what poetry was.

You cannot imagine what a source of support it has been to this day.

We would be building a road in winter. I would recite, for example, four lines of some light verse, Blok, say:

Song will be song forever,
And someone in the crowd always sings.
There is his head on a platter,
Handed by the dancer to the king…

The girls would be carrying their handbarrows thirty meters, all the while repeating [the lines]. Then they would come back, and I would test them to see if they knew it. And so the whole camp was learning poems all the time. Wasn’t that clever of me?

And then, after Stalin’s death. . . Just you try with all your imagination to picture what was going on with the KGB leadership, KGB officers, and our wardens after Khrushchev’s speech [at the 20th Party Congress in 1956]. Stalin’s death was a very, very convenient time for freedom.

Beria was shot. The whole camp knew about my hatred of Beria. I heard something about “enemies of the people,” “Beria,” etc., on the radio. I could have put two and two together, but I didn’t. At first, I thought that 1937 had begun all over again, and Beria had strengthened his power.

Our work team, which had been out cleaning, was coming back [to the camp], and I saw a crowd standing around the doors, by the guard post. I walked in, and there was applause and joy!

But most important is that it’s not so easy even for a force like the KGB to eradicate humanity in human beings. What was the camp meant to do? In Stalin’s time, it was supposed to reform us, to make us tremble before power. They needed to make us submissive. Oh, how they failed!

I have been lucky in life. I had support from poems and from the fact that my parents had taught persistence and told me there could be no greater happiness than overcoming difficulties. So we need difficulties to be happy.

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Editor’s Note. This is one in a series of short films made by Petersburg filmmaker Alexander Slobodsky, based on material from the Virtual Museum of the Gulag and video interviews recorded by the Memorial Research and Information Centre, Saint Petersburg.

My thanks to Evgeniya Kulakova for providing me with the Russian transcript to this film.