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.

*********

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.