Ihar Kuzniatsou: “Repressions are both history and reality in
A wave of terror swept over the
In the countries of the former
No, of course not. Active repressions began much earlier, immediately after the “October coup” of 1917. Cheka, the first Soviet secret service, was created in December 1917, headed by Dzerzhinski. This organization was the first to adopt the practice of extrajudicial executions. Political enemies were eliminated without even keeping up appearance of any courts or tribunals.
Historians speak about the period of active repressions beginning with the October coup in 1917 and coming to an end with the death of Stalin in 1953. After that, the era of Khrushchev and Brezhnev came, and the repressions become much milder. The repressions die away during Perestroika and cease after the break-up of the
How many people were subject to the repressions in the
The first official information was published in 1991. It was said, that about 3 mln. people were subject to repressions during the Soviet rule, including 600,000 of those who were executed. However, these numbers were deliberately lowered. No less than 20 mln. people were murdered during this time, and according to some sources – almost 60 mln. Speaking about the number of the repressed, the range is enormous, but in any case we should count with dozens of millions of people.
According to the official information, about 600,000 people were repressed in
What was the ultimate goal of the repressions? Why did the Soviet state adopt such a brutal policy?
Why did the Soviet regime need repressions? Nobody has found an answer to this question, and probably no one ever will. In the
There is a rather widespread opinion that Stalin didn’t know about the real scale of repressions. Allegedly, it was his surrounding, which got out of hand. Is that true?
Indeed, some people believe that Stalin had nothing to do with the repressions. Supposedly, his secret services got out of control and started massive executions. This belief is completely refuted by the scientific research. The repressive process was strictly regulated and all the instructions came directly from the Central Committee of the Communist party, from Stalin and Politburo. One should mention the infamous order #00477, signed by Mr. Ezhov, People’s Commissar of NKVD (predecessor organization of KGB). It introduced the so-called “genocide instructions”. It determined in advance, how many people should be arrested, executed or deported in every single administrative district of each of the Soviet republics. Moreover, even the social structure of the repressed-to-be people was regulated. The “genocide instructions” determined how many priests, engineers, intellectuals, workers, peasants, etc. should be arrested. It was often carried to the point of absurdity. For instance, some regions ran out of priests, but the instructions kept on coming from above. Then, local secret services “borrowed” priests from neighbouring regions. It was vital not simply to fulfill, but, so to say, to over-fulfill the order. Those, who fell behind the numbers set in instructions, ran the risk to end up in the same holes, where they buried the executed.
Why did the peak of the repressions fall on 1937-1938?
Speaking at the March congress of the communist party in 1937, Stalin proclaimed the following thesis: “As the socialism becomes successful, the resistance of enemies will increase”. The order #00477 was the immediate result of the Stalin’s speech – the words of the “chief” were put into practice. A massive purge began, which had the gravest consequences. Just in the single year of 1937 about 7% to 15% of the total population of the
The people who executed the sentence – didn’t they become victims too?
Concerning the people who were members of the so-called “troikas”, “dvoikas”, extraordinary councils and execution squats – this is a very difficult issue. They are usually called butchers, but I would add that they were victims too. They were forced to execute the orders. Some took part in the repressions because they genuinely believed in the Soviet idea, they believed to be executing real enemies. Others did so because they wanted to stay alive, because they thought that by killing others they would save themselves and their relatives. But in 1938 it was the time for them to pay… Those, who were the most active in implementing the policy of repressions, were eliminated. According to the official information, more than 20,000 Cheka officers were executed during the Stalin’s rule. The regime got rid of witnesses, so that no one would be able to find out what really happened in the thirties.
Which peculiarities did the repressions in
Another peculiarity of repressions in
The sad anniversary will be marked this year – 70 years ago, on the 29th of October, 1937 more than 100 outstanding intellectuals were shot dead in the NKVD prison in
The executions by shooting were very widespread, but it was not the only way of eliminating people. Which other methods did the Soviet regime use to fight “public enemies”?
The so-called “philosophers’ steamships” were, undoubtedly, the mildest form of repression. During Lenin’s rule they were used to deport the unwanted intellectuals to the West. By doing so, the Soviet regime has fueled scientific communities in Europe and in
Administrative deportation was another type of repression. Deportations were most characteristic for 1922-1932, when whole villages and towns were deported into the depth of the Soviet territory. This was a period of massive collectivization, when peasants were forced to join collective farms, giving up most of their possessions and personal freedom. Those who refused were repressed, as well as those, who were too well-off. Deportations were also used to eliminate the homesteads, which were quite numerous in
Court trials were purely formal and rare. The executions by the list were common practice. We also have evidence, that many people were executed without their death being documented at all. As a result, the person vanished, and even today relatives have no information about the time and place of the person’s death.
The Holocaust is believed to be the most documented crime in human history. What about the Soviet repressions? How thoroughly were they documented in archives, and how easy are these documents to be accessed?
First of all, all the repressive actions were secret, and many of them were not documented. Second, many of the documents, such as the deeds stating that the execution took place, or maps with execution sites marked, were destroyed in the first years after Stalin’s death by the members of his clique, who remained in power and wanted to cover their tracks. Third, in
The present Belarusian regime has virtually no attitude towards this problem. For Belarusian authorities, the Soviet repressions are non-existent. The Citizens’ Committee on Honoring the Victims of the Stalin’s Repressions has recently asked the president and the council of ministers to proclaim 2007 as the year of remembrance, and the 29th of October as the Day of Remembrance of the Repression Victims. There is no answer. By giving this silent refusal, the regime shows that it doesn’t want to have anything to do with this problem.
Now I would like to tell a couple of words about the scientific sphere. With the beginning of Perestroika and the break-up of the Soviet Union, a special working group on the study of the Soviet repressions was created at the
The scientists are divided over the issue. Those representing the official point of view claim that the repressions were justified and natural, because no state can exist without them. The French Revolution is usually given as example. Other historians, who operate the objective information, see things differently. They clearly show that the Soviet rule was not too different from the nazi regime by its cruelty. I can even say, that the methods used by the NKVD were often more brutal than those used by Gestapo and SS on the occupied territories of Eastern Europe and the
Which affect did the repressions have on the minds of people?
Beginning with 1996-1997, the official Belarusian press has practically published nothing on this topic. If it did so, then the repressions were presented in a positive light. The whole new generation grew up without knowing about the brutality of the Soviet system. The older generation didn’t know about the repressions before, and didn’t accept the truth about them during Perestroika. Information given in present textbooks for schools and universities is very limited and presented in the traditional Soviet context. Allegedly, the October revolution was successful and needed to fight the enemies on the way of its development.
Kurapaty (the place of mass execution of Belarusian people in the times of Soviet repressions)
Questions by Ales Kudrytski
Photos by K.Shastouski