Writing between 1958 and 1968 about his own, and others, experiences of Stalin’s gulags, Solzhenitsyn reflected that – unlike Germany – Russia was unwilling to admit any crimes committed by Stalin. (And still being committed under Khrushchev.) It is worth asking if such a reckoning ever took place. I don’t know whether the full history of Stalin’s regime -as chronicled by Solzhenitsyn – is, or ever has been, taught to Russian children. I know it is not taught to British children in the same way the crimes of the Nazi regime are. I wonder why this is? And if, to understand what is happening in that country now, it might make sense to ask whether crimes that are not admitted by the state are likely to be repeated. (I mean this with reference to Western Europe as well as Russia.) Solzhenitsyn says:
“In a declaration by the Soviet government dated December, 1964, we read: ‘The perpetrators of monstrous crimes must never and in no circumstances escape just retribution…The crimes of the Fascist murderers, who aimed at the destruction of whole peoples, have no precedent in history.’
This was to prevent the Federal German Republic from introducing a statute of limitation for war criminals after twenty years had elapsed.
But they show no desire to face judgement themselves, although they, too, ‘aimed at the destruction of whole peoples.’
But in the U.S.S.R. no one would have to answer. No one would be looked into.
While in the records office they carry out a leisurely inspection and destroy all unwanted documents: lists of people shot, orders committing prisoners to solitary confinement in the Disciplinary Barracks, files on investigations in the camps, denunciations from stoolies, superfluous information about practical workers and convoy guards.”The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Abridged in One Volume, Collins Harvill 1988, p. 453
Solzhenitsyn outlines the horrors of Stalin’s regime in terrifying detail; I won’t disturb you with more graphic quotation here – you can read the book.
It is worth also mentioning that Solzhenitsyn does not spare the West for abandoning Russian people to this brutal regime at the end of the Second World War.
“…how could we readily believe that the Western allies had entered the war not for the sake of freedom in general, but for their own Western European freedom, only against Nazism, intending to take full advantage of the Soviet armies and leave it at that? Was it not more natural for us to believe that our allies were true to the very principle of freedom and that they would not abandon us to worse tyranny?…True, these were the same allies for whom Russians had died in the First World War, and who, then, had abandoned our army in the moment of collapse, hastening back to their comforts. But this was a lesson too cruel for the heart to learn.”The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 Abridged in One volume, p. 342
What is the reason for the West’s inability, or refusal, to see Stalin’s regime in as clear focus as it saw, and sees, Hitler’s? Solzhenitsyn repeatedly equates the two regimes, calling the Stalin the pupil of Hitler. He jokes that Stalin is the big moustache and Hitler, the small moustache. Maybe you could not call it a crime to ‘abandon’ the Russian people ‘to worse tyranny’. But it might be time to recognise that is exactly what happened. And that, this past two weeks, the current Russian regime has reminded us in the temporarily peaceful West that history cannot be so conveniently forgotten.