Yesterday The New York Times published an article in it’s “Kremlin Rules” series called “Nationalism of Putin’s Era Veils Sins of Stalin’s.” In it, Clifford J. Levy points to how the Kremlin is denying access to archives that contain information about Stalin’s purges.
The Kremlin in the Putin era has often sought to maintain as much sway over the portrayal of history as over the governing of the country. In seeking to restore Russia’s standing, Mr. Putin and other officials have stoked a nationalism that glorifies Soviet triumphs while playing down or even whitewashing the system’s horrors.
Why does Russia’s leadership fear its Soviet past? Is the truth about Stalin so unbearable that the current Russian regime would collapse under its weight? There could be fears of personal links between today’s leadership and yesterday’s crimes. After all, Putin was in the KGB. That seems pretty unlikely, however, because we are talking about a distant era even for the Soviet Union, though not so distant that leaders who followed Stalin dared to reveal too much, especially after Kruschchev fell from power.
But that was the Soviet Union. This is Russia. I understand Russia’s need for tradition-building, but it seems to me that its past is usable enough without whitewashing it. Are Russia’s political and social stability really so fragile that they cannot survive the truth? Does Russia really need Stalin to justify its current brand of authoritarianism? It has been doing just that, both on national television and in the classroom.
I find it hard to believe that Russia cannot stand strong and proud even after light is thrown onto its darkest secrets, but that does not mean that the Russian leadership is any less fearful and suspicious. For a regime so concerned about maintaining a posture of strength in the world, its archive policy constitutes an ironic admission to deep-seated insecurities.