S. KARAGANOV: Thank you.
Mr. President, if I may, I shall hand over the documents to you right away.
Mr. Fedotov [your advisor and head of the Human Rights Council] has given to you a huge pile of documents, not exhaustive, of course, that we have prepared in the course of more than six months of work with historians, philosophers and a wide range of people. Particularly fruitful were the discussions and even clashes with the leaders of Memorial. So we agreed in the end that project presentation will be a job for two. I will present my vision of its political and moral importance, and Arseny Roginsky – the head of Memorial – will speak about a system of concrete measures that we propose to take. And all the details are in the documents.
The popular media dubbed our project “de-Stalinization.” This is an inaccurate and politically incorrect term, although the essence of the project, of course, is about de-Stalinization and de-Communization of the Russian public mind and our country in general. The term ‘de-Stalinization’ leads us away from the truth, from the nature of the regime whose legacy will take many years to overcome, and from the essence of the tragedy that the people suffered.
The project’s name that we propose is “On the Perpetuation of the Memory of the Victims of the Totalitarian Regime and on National Reconciliation.” Its main goal is to ensure transformation of the consciousness of both Russian society and the Russian elite. I am convinced that modernization of the country will be impossible either at the technical or on the political level without changing the consciousness of society, without nurturing the people’s sense of responsibility for themselves and for the country, the feeling of pride in it, albeit bitter at times.
These days all the people live according to the principle “each for himself,” society is fragmented, the elites are mostly contemptuous of the masses, and the masses of people are contemptuous of the elites. After a hundred of years of Russian history neither the people nor the elites have anything to be respected for. The only thing that one can be truly proud of was the Great Patriotic War, but its uniting potential has been dwindling with years. Society will be unable to respect itself and its country as long as it continues to hide from itself the terrible sin – 70 years of totalitarianism, when the people made the revolution and brought to power and supported an anti-human, barbaric regime. They allowed its existence and were involved in self-genocide – the systemic periodic elimination of their very best, strongest and free-minded representatives; the destruction of traditional morals; the demolition of churches and cultural monuments; and the ruin of culture itself.
Self-genocide began with the Civil War through the destruction and expulsion of the intellectuals and the clergy – the bearers of traditional culture and morals; the bourgeoisie – the strongest and most competitive part of society; and the nobility – the most educated and patriotic part of it, the custodians of national identity and pride. Artificial famines – “golodomor” and collectivization then ensued, which were meant to destroy the best of the peasantry and which cost the greatest number of victims. They were followed by repression against the new intelligencia and the military. Whatever happened, it was usually the best representatives of the nation that were hit the hardest.
Concealing this history from ourselves would be tantamount to complicity in the crime. If we do not recognize the whole truth, we’ll remain heirs not to the best part of our people and not to the best traits of our people, but to the worst traits and the worst part of it: the executioners, police informers, collectivization activists, organizers of “golodomor”, and the destroyers of churches. References to the veterans are groundless arguments, the more so since the veterans whose feelings can be hurt are scarce. There are probably no fewer veterans for whom the condemnation of the totalitarian regime would be the greatest happiness. Also gone is the generation of people who bore direct responsibility for the destruction of peoples. But this project is not aimed against them.
We all should bow low to the millions of victims. After all, the butchers were victims, too. A people that does not honor and does not want to know the countless graves of millions of fathers and mothers can hardly hope for self-respect or for the respect of other peoples. By launching this project we will begin to fill the moral vacuum that is corroding our society, leading to its barbarization, including total corruption and legal nihilism.
If, with the blessing of the country’s authorities and the churches, we form a mass movement for restoring historical memory and justice, if we involve tens of thousands of young people in it, then we’ll get a new patriotic elite, responsible for the country. In any case, the main thrust of the project should be not “against” but “for.” It should be geared to bringing the Civil War to a formal end and to achieving final reconciliation of the nation. We should not pull down monuments to the “Reds.” We should not rename the streets, except for such kinky cases as the hundred of streets named after Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. What we should do is to honor the memory of our other compatriots who perished in the 70-year-long civil war, and to return their names to the nation.
If this project – or at least the first part of it – is adopted, launching of a state-backed public campaign for the mass installation of monuments to victims of the totalitarian regime and declassifying of the archives, this alone will earn the President and the country’s leadership an honorable place in the history of Russia.
Naturally, the project must be implemented together with all countries of the former Soviet Union. All were among the victims – and among the executioners, too. Possibly, it will be necessary to draw into the project the former Socialist bloc countries. Some fear that recognizing in full the horrors of the Gulag and declassifying all the archives would damage the prestige of the country. They will not. Perpetuation of the memory of the victims of the totalitarian regime can only evoke respect. There was a wave of respect – and not gloat or attempts to have “cheques cashed” in response to your, Mr. President, repeated condemnation of the totalitarian regime, and in response to Vladimir Putin’s kneeling before the Katyn Cross. But Russia is one large Katyn, with the thousands of graves of millions of the best citizens of the USSR. By paying respects to their memory in all the villages and cities, from where they were sent to labor camps or for death, to their mostly nameless graves, we shall regain not only self-esteem, but also the respect of all normal people in the world. After all, we shall do so ourselves, without coercion or pressure from outside, not by compulsion, as losers, but voluntarily.
Naturally, the project will entail certain costs. The shame and horror of what we did to ourselves in the 20th century can and must be compensated for. One can think of quite a few recipes, but for recreating our national identity we should simply use correctly what we already have but that we almost never use – the brilliant 19th century, which actually lasted for almost one and a half hundred years (since Catherine II and until 1917). We were brought up and still live in line with the traditions of the Communist ideology. We are half-ashamed of the age of “exploiters” and “reactionary monarchs”, but it was an age when Russia was among the top countries in Europe, a guarantor of peace. It was an age of flourishing Russian culture, which became number one in literature in Europe and worldwide. We have forgotten the mostly glorious Second Patriotic War, which the Bolsheviks, who had surrendered half of the country for the sake of capturing and retaining power, called the Imperialist one.
We must just remind ourselves that after all we are a country not of Lenin and Stalin, but of Suvorov and Zhukov, and, most importantly, of Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pasternak and Tchaikovsky, Alexander II, Stolypin, Korolyov, Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. We are a great country, and we have much to be proud of.
We need to restore the true Russian identity and self-esteem, without which progress will be impossible. Moses led the people through the desert for 40 years. We have left behind 20 years. We are now celebrating these 20 years. If we squander the next 20 years, we may never get out of the desert.
And the last thing I want to say, although I do understand that it may cause unpleasant emotions that may undermine the attractiveness of the project. But I have to say that any effort to restore public morals and self-esteem is depreciated by the Khodorkovsky affair, which is demoralizing society and discrediting the authorities. It is impossible to believe that this case is devoid of politics, even if it were really devoid of it. If there is no chance to acquit, there still remains one to pardon.