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Russia Remembers Stalinist Repressions, As New Poll Predicts Fresh Round


A man holds his father's portrait near a memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repressions on Lubyanka Square in Moscow on October 29.

A man holds his father's portrait near a memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repressions on Lubyanka Square in Moscow on October 29.

Hundreds of Russians lined up outside Moscow's former KGB headquarters on October 29 for an annual ritual commemorating the tens of thousands of people executed during the Great Terror of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Each victim is granted just a few words -- name, age, occupation, and the date when they were killed, usually by a shot to the head.

Sometimes, the speakers have no connection to the victims they name. Other times, it couldn't be more personal.

"Avramov, Roman Petrovich, 56 years old. My father," an elderly man says in a shaking voice. "Manager of the All-Soviet Bakery-Building Trust. Shot January 8, 1938. After several months they arrested my mother, Avramova, Faina Avramovna. She spent eight years in the Karaganda labor camps. I was 5 at the time."

The ritual is simple but staggering in its reflection of the sheer scope of the Stalin-era purges, when people of every ethnicity, profession, and political leaning were subject to summary arrest, sentence, and execution, often on flimsy political pretexts.

The daylong commemoration, organized by the Memorial human rights organization, comes as a new public survey shows many Russians expect to see a fresh wave of similar repressions in the future.

The poll, conducted by the pro-Kremlin Public Opinion Foundation (known by its Russian acronym, FOM), indicates that 48 percent of Russians surveyed said there was a chance they would live to see a repetition of Soviet-style repressions.

Such a response might seem to reflect growing wariness about President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule. But speaking to Kommersant.ru, sociologist Leonty Byzov said that many Russians welcome repressions as "not only possible, but necessary."

"They're ready to take strict measures against corrupt officials or anyone who disturbs public order," Byzov says. "People favor the hard suppression of 'enemies.'"

A woman places a candle and flowers at the memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repression in Moscow. New polls show that 50 percent of Russians believe they may see similar political repressions again in their lifetime.

A woman places a candle and flowers at the memorial to the victims of Soviet-era political repression in Moscow. New polls show that 50 percent of Russians believe they may see similar political repressions again in their lifetime.

The FOM survey indicates that two-thirds of Russians believe "mass political repressions" took place in the 1930s in the Soviet Union and mainly blame them on Stalin, his inside circle, the NKVD secret police, or a variety of all three.

An additional 15 percent said no one could ultimately be held responsible for the purges because "such were the times."

In a note seemingly directed at the media and government critics, FOM also noted rising resentment among Russians at what they say as excessive contemplation of the purge.

FOM notes that 33 percent of Russians now believe the media "talks too much about political repressions" -- a figure that has reportedly doubled since 2012. The polling agency observed a simultaneous rise in annoyance with "liberals" who continue to ponder Stalin-era repressions.

The poll comes as Memorial, Russia's oldest human rights group and the primary organization behind the October 29 political-victims commemoration, stands to be liquidated for alleged procedural violations.

Aleksandr Cherkasov, the head of Memorial's Human Rights Center -- which maintains a list of current political prisoners as well as Stalin-era victims -- told RFE/RL that public interest in human rights is waning at a time when the country needs it most.

"At one point in our history, solidarity with political prisoners was the very basis of the dissident movement and moral opposition to authority in the Soviet Union," he says. "If it's the goal of the state to atomize society, and liquidate independent activism and independent public organizations, then solidarity with those under pressure must be the most important thing."

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