Sergei Karaganov delivered an extraordinary programmatic speech on the Soviet past at a meeting with President Medvedev in Yekaterinburg on 1 February 2011. In the speech, Karaganov set out his vision for reconstituting the Russian identity through a re-evaluation of the Soviet past, in a series of striking images. He argued that Russian society could not regain its self-respect until it faced up to the 'terrible sin' that was the revolution and the subsequent decades of totalitarian rule. He used the term 'suigenocide' (samogenotsid) to describe the Civil War and the Stalinist terror.
Karaganov, member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights and prominent political analyst close to the Kremlin, began his address to the President by noting that the Council had been working on this project (now known as 'Immortalising the Memory of the Totalitarian Regime's Victims and National Reconciliation'), for more than half a year, in cooperation with various historians and philosophers, and with the 'Memorial' Society. The head of 'Memorial', Arsenii Roginskii, spoke after Karaganov on the concrete measures proposed in this connection, while Karaganov's address to Medvedev comprised a broader moral justification of the programme.
The speech built upon some of the points which Karaganov made last summer in another programmatic article, 'Russian Katyn', Rossiiskaia gazeta, 22 July 2010 (on which see previous post).
In this latest speech, Karaganov defined the victims of Soviet terror as 'the best' of society. It is with these victims, he argued, that Russians today should identify, and not with the perpetrators.
Karaganov went on to make the case for launching a mass movement aimed at memorialising and honouring the victims of political repressions during the Soviet period. He argued that the benefits would include the creation of a new patriotic elite with a real sense of responsibility for the country; and the earning of respect and good will internationally.
He ended by invoking the Khodorkovsky case, calling upon the president to pardon Khodorkovsky and asserting that no restoration of public morality and self-respect would be possible until the situation surrounding the case was remedied. Medvedev declined to comment on the case, but responded by tasking the Council with conducting an expert legal analysis of the case, though it remains unclear what form this process might take.
The remainder of Karaganov's speech is translated in full below.
'To continue to hide this history from ourselves means to remain accessories to this crime. Unless we admit the whole truth to ourselves, we will remain the heirs not of the best section of our people and the best in our people, but of the worst in it and of its worst section: the butchers, the stool-pigeons, the collectivisers, the organisers of famines, the destroyers of churches. Citing veterans is an untenable argument, all the more so since the number of veterans left whose feelings might suffer is already a matter of single digits. Surely, no fewer veterans remain for whom condemnation of the totalitarian regime would be the greatest happiness. Gone, too, is the generation of people who bore direct responsibility for the destruction of peoples. But it’s not even against them that this project is directed.
All of us need to bow before the millions of victims. After all, the butchers were victims too. A people which does not honour and does not wish to know the countless graves of millions of its fathers and mothers can hardly hope for self-respect and for respect from other peoples. If we begin this project, [we] will begin to fill the moral vacuum which is eating away at our society, leading to its barbarisation, including total corruption and legal nihilism.
If we, with the blessing of the country’s leadership and churches, create a mass movement aimed at the restoration of historical memory and justice, if we draw tens of thousands of young people into it, then we will gain a new patriotic elite, responsible for its country. In any event the programme must be directed not against, but for. It must also be aimed among other things at the formal ending of the civil war, at a definitive national reconciliation. There’s no need to destroy the monuments to the reds. There’s not even any need for a mass re-naming of streets, apart from the odd cases of streets named after Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The most important thing is that we need to honour the memory of our other fellow citizens who perished in that 70-year-long civil war, to return them to the people.
If the project is passed, if only in its first section, via the development of a state-supported public campaign for the mass construction of monuments to victims of the totalitarian regime, via the opening up of the archives, then by these actions alone the President and the country’s leadership will already have secured an honourable place from themselves in the history of Russia.
By definition the project must be shared by all the countries of the former Soviet Union. Everyone was included amongst the victims. And amongst the butchers too. Perhaps the countries of the former socialist camp should also be brought into the project. Some people fear that a full recognition of the horrors of the GULAG, the full opening up of the archives, will damage the country’s prestige. But this is not so. Immortalisation of the memory of the victims of the totalitarian regime can only give rise to respect. To a wave of respect, and certainly not gloating, and not attempts to present bills. [missing text] Dmitrii Anatol’evich [Medvedev], your repeated condemnation of the totalitarian regime, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s kneeling before the Katyn’ cross, and after all, Russia is a huge Katyn’, with thousands of graves of millions of the USSR’s best citizens.
By honouring their memory in all the villages and towns whence they were taken to camps and to death, their mostly unnamed graves, we will restore not only self-respect, but also the respect of all decent [normal’nykh] people in the world. After all, we shall do this ourselves, without coercion and pressure from outside, not under duress, as losers, but out of good will.
Naturally, the project will come to a cost. The shame and horror in the face of what we inflicted upon ourselves in the 20th century, can and needs to be compensated. There are many remedies that we might devise here. But simply for reconstitution of the people’s identity, we need to make the correct use of what we already have, including what we hardly make any use of: the brilliant 19th century, which lasted for almost one and a half centuries (from the times of Catherine till 1917). As previously, we have been raised in the traditions of communist ideology. We’re semi-ashamed of it, of the age of exploiters, of reactionary monarchs, but after all this was an age when Russia was amongst the leading countries of Europe, a guarantor of peace. This was an age of the blossoming of Russian culture, which became the leading culture in Europe and the world. We have for the most part forgotten the glorious ... Second Patriotic War, which the Bolsheviks, who surrendered half the country for the sake of seizing and holding power, labelled an imperialist war.
We need simply to remind ourselves that after all, we are the country not of Lenin and Stalin, but of Suvorov and Zhukov, and most importantly: of Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pasternak, Tchaikovsky, Alexander II, Stolypin, Korolev, Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn. We are a great country, and we have reason to be proud.
We need to restore the true Russian identity, self-respect, without which moving forward is possible. Moses led the people through the desert for 40 years, we have already gone through 20, we are now marking the passing of these 20 years. If we lose the next 20 years too, we may never make it out of the desert.
And one last thing. I understand that I will arouse unpleasant emotions, undermining the project’s attractiveness. But any efforts at restoration of public morality, of self-respect, are rendered worthless by the Khodorkovsky trial, which demoralises society and discredits the regime. It is impossible not to believe that this trial is not political in nature, even if it isn’t. If it’s not possible to acquit him – pardon him.’
Russian original published by Rossiiskaia gazeta on 2 February 2011.