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It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway

It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway

David Satter
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway
    Book Description:

    Russia today is haunted by deeds that have not been examined and words that have been left unsaid. A serious attempt to understand the meaning of the Communist experience has not been undertaken, and millions of victims of Soviet Communism are all but forgotten. In this book David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent and longtime writer on Russia and the Soviet Union, presents a striking new interpretation of Russia's great historical tragedy, locating its source in Russia's failure fully to appreciate the value of the individual in comparison with the objectives of the state.

    Satter explores the moral and spiritual crisis of Russian society. He shows how it is possible for a government to deny the inherent value of its citizens and for the population to agree, and why so many Russians actually mourn the passing of the Soviet regime that denied them fundamental rights. Through a wide-ranging consideration of attitudes toward the living and the dead, the past and the present, the state and the individual, Satter arrives at a distinctive and important new way of understanding the Russian experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17842-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations and Administrative Delineations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In spring 1989 a group of students from the Memorial Society entered a pine forest near Barnaul in western Siberia carrying shovels and tarpaulin bags. They were seeking the site of a mass burial ground of Stalin’s victims. There had long been rumors about burial pits in the area. But before perestroika, few had the courage to search for them.

    It was a cool, windy day. The students ascended a steep incline near the walls of the old city prison. In the winter, the forest is blanketed with snow, but the spring reveals depressions in the earth created as bodies...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Statue of Dzerzhinsky
    (pp. 11-28)

    On September 13, 2002, Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, stunned Russians and the world by calling for the return of the monument of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Soviet secret police, to Lubyanskaya Square. The call was surprising because a few years earlier, he had sharply opposed a call for the return of the monument from the Communist-dominated State Duma. It was also unexpected because his arguments were not so much political as architectural. He said that the statue was irreproachable as a piece of sculpture, and it gave the square a finished appearance.

    As for Dzerzhinsky,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Efforts to Remember
    (pp. 29-48)

    In the fall of 1990 Moscow was suffused with an unmistakable atmosphere of Mfin de régime. The food stores were all but bare, a sign that the distribution system had broken down. On October 30, thousands of persons, including hundreds of former political prisoners, gathered at the Sretenskiye Gates and began walking slowly, in a steady stream, down Dzerzhinsky Street to Dzerzhinsky Square. Led by Orthodox priests, they carried candles, portraits of murdered relatives, and banners with the names of Stalin-era labor camps—Karlag, BAMlag, ALZHIR. As they walked, a woman pronounced the names of victims of the Great Terror...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Butovo and Kommunarka
    (pp. 49-74)

    On the Kaluga Highway, two and a half miles beyond the Moscow city limits, a large sign with an Orthodox cross indicates the site of the Kommunarka state farm, a mass burial ground for Stalin-era victims. Clearly visible to drivers in both directions on the heavily traveled highway, it is the most prominent acknowledgment of Stalin-era crimes in the Moscow area.

    Just beyond the sign, a narrow road turns off the highway. It leads to the gates of what is now a branch of the Svyato-Yekaterininskogo Monastery. During the Great Terror, long columns of trucks turned off the highway onto...

  9. CHAPTER 4 St. Petersburg
    (pp. 75-94)

    On an autumn day in 1996, Natalya Kruk entered the headquarters of the St. Petersburg FSB at Liteiny 4 and was taken by an FSB officer to a small room, where she was seated at a table with three other persons. She was then handed the file on her father, Semyon Kruk, a military engineer arrested in September 1937, and shot four months later. The file had a gray cardboard cover printed with the words “USSR, NKVD, directorate, Leningrad oblast.” Under that, in ornate handwriting, was “case no. 30174-37 in the matter of Kruk, Semyon Petrovich, begun September 28, 1937,...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Appeal of Communism
    (pp. 95-111)

    “Life in our town was pretty interesting,” said Yuri Zhigalkin, a New York-based correspondent for Radio Liberty, of his native Korsakov, a town of thirty-eight thousand on Sakhalin Island, during the 1970s. “We had a small amateur theater that people attended regularly. The local party bosses were very accessible. If you had a problem you could go to them and ask for support. The idea of just socialism was ingrained and party officials helped people. For many Russians, the late Brezhnev years were the happiest years of their lives.”

    I asked him to elaborate. “For most of the people,” he...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Responsibility of the State
    (pp. 112-127)

    Although she was only nine years old when he was arrested, Nadezhda Rodina, the daughter of Mikhail Rodin, an official who was shot by Stalin, said that she will never forget her father. “He was kind and loved children,” she said. “We hoped for years that he was alive. Mother dreamed that he saved himself and was living in a distant collective farm and had a new family.”

    Nadia and I were talking in a cafe located on the first floor of the building in central Moscow that was the setting for Mikhail Bulgakov’s novelThe Master and Margarita. The...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Trial of the Communist Party
    (pp. 128-141)

    On January 2, 1992, the new Russian government headed by Yegor Gaidar freed prices and unleashed hyperinflation. Overnight, the life savings of Russians disappeared. Money that had been put aside to buy a car or apartment or as security for a lonely old age vanished. The desperation such loss inspired was brought home to me in March 1992, when a woman knocked on my door late at night in Moscow and said a neighbor had died and she was collecting money from people in the building to help pay for her funeral.

    During the first quarter of 1992, prices rose...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Moral Choice under Totalitarianism
    (pp. 142-166)

    The closest Russia came to a day of judgment for Stalin’s henchmen was in June 1957, during the Communist Party plenum, when Khrushchev denounced Molotov, Malenkov, and Kaganovich for their roles in mass crimes. This was not done for the sake of justice. If it had been, Khrushchev would have put himself in the dock. Rather it was done to destroy Khrushchev’s political rivals.

    For decades, the record of the June 1957 plenum was hidden. A paragraph in the Central Committee’s public announcement mentioning “mass repressions” in the thirties later was cut. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however,...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Roots of the Communist Idea
    (pp. 167-187)

    In the last years of his life, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who did more than anyone else to call attention to Communism’s crimes, became a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin’s rule, even though it was blatantly undemocratic. In an interview with the German magazineDer Spiegelin May 2007, Solzhenitsyn depicted Putin as Russia’s savior. “Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people,” he said. “And he started to do what was possible—a slow and gradual restoration.”¹

    The appearance of the chronicler of the Gulag in the ranks of those praising Putin took many by surprise,...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Symbols of the Past
    (pp. 188-206)

    On December 4, 2000, to the dismay of liberals and the West, Vladimir Putin proposed to reintroduce the melody of the Soviet national anthem as the anthem of the Russian Federation. “If we accept the idea that we cannot use the symbols of the previous epochs including the Soviet one,” he said, “then we must admit that our mothers and fathers lived useless and senseless lives, that they lived their lives in vain. I can’t accept it either with my mind or my heart.”¹

    Boris Yeltsin opposed retaining the Communist melody. In an interview withKomsomolskaya Pravda, he said that...

  16. CHAPTER 11 History
    (pp. 207-228)

    On November 7, 1941, with German units fifty miles away and the fate of the city hanging in the balance, preparations were completed in almost total secrecy for the annual Revolution Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square. Most of the participating commanders received their instructions at 2 a.m., only a few hours before they had to muster their troops. At 8 a.m., the parade began. Stalin and the other Soviet leaders stood atop the Lenin mausoleum; General Budenny rode out on a white stallion from the Spassky Gate and saluted. He was followed by T-34 tanks and columns of troops....

  17. CHAPTER 12 The Shadow of Katyn
    (pp. 229-255)

    On a night in December 2009 in Smolensk, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Father Ptolomeusz Kuczmik, the Catholic priest in the city, recalled an incident from his boyhood in Poland. “When I was growing up in the 1950s,” he said, “my grandmother pointed out a woman to me and said that her husband was killed at Katyn. I asked her, ‘What is Katyn?’ She refused to answer. She just said, ‘When the time comes, you’ll find out.’ ”

    Today, Father Ptolomeusz meets relatives of the victims of the Katyn Forest massacre and accompanies them...

  18. CHAPTER 13 Vorkuta
    (pp. 256-278)

    In July the sun in Vorkuta never sets. It traces an arc over the tundra and for a few hours approaches the horizon, during which time the city is cloaked in gray. Scattered lights appear in the city’s silent apartment blocks. This eerie twilight, however, does not last. The sun is already shining brightly by 2:30 a.m.

    Lenin Street, Vorkuta’s main artery, recalls the Soviet Union. It is six lanes wide but carries little traffic. Pedestrians cross wherever they like, and drivers slow down for them. The surrounding buildings are painted in bright colors—yellows, reds, oranges, blues—and streaked...

  19. CHAPTER 14 The Odyssey of Andrei Poleshchuk
    (pp. 279-299)

    On a warm night in July 1985, Leonid Poleshchuk, a KGB agent normally resident in Lagos, was drinking with his son, Andrei, in a beer hall near their apartment in Moscow. It was a time of transition. Poleshchuk was home on leave and had been trying to exchange his small apartment, where the family had lived for years, for something better. Andrei had just been hired by the Novosti Press Agency and was starting a career as a journalist. In the crowded, smoke-filled hall, Andrei and Poleshchuk stood at a circular metallic counter. Poleshchuk told his son about Nigeria, where...

  20. Conclusion
    (pp. 300-306)

    Russia today is haunted by words that have been left unsaid, sites that have not been acknowledged, and mass graves that have been commemorated partially or not at all. In the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been little attempt to understand the Soviet period or to draw inspiration from those, like Andrei Sakharov, who stressed that what Russian society needed was a new morality. The failure to face the moral implications of the Communist experience, however, has meant that real change in Russia was not possible. The psychology of state domination was left intact to...

  21. NOTES
    (pp. 307-356)
    (pp. 357-364)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 365-383)