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Home АИРО-XXI Новости The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin by Stephen F. Cohen. Part II

The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin by Stephen F. Cohen. Part II

2 ноября
– Стивен Коэн на радио "The Voice of Russia"

The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin by Stephen F. Cohen. Part II

Although a lot had been written about the Gulag phenomenon, relatively little was known about those who survived and came back home often to find that the givens of their life have changed irrevocably. We continue our conversation with a prominent historian Stephen F. Cohen – the author of the groundbreaking collective biography "The Victims Return." What happened to Gulag victim after their release is what Stephen F. Cohen's book is devoted to.

Despite extensive academic research that went into the writing of " The Victims Return", it is not a detached scholarly book but rather an account of individual survivors' stories, intertwined with the author's own story of his life and work in the USSR and later the new Russia.

Stephen F. Cohen:

We know from public opinion polls and I know from my travels to Russia today that Russia is divided about Stalin's role in history. Roughly half the country thinks he was a negative figure and a monster, a murderous despot and about half the country thinks he was a great statesman. Russia will have to sort this out. The problem is that people know Stalin killed innocent people but many Russians believe that Stalin's leadership led to the great Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in what we call World War II. How you reconcile those 2 things, how you put them together is extremely difficult even for a historian, but especially for Russia's political class. We see Putin for example struggling with that very often. He is not pro-Stalin in any way, he has made many statements about Stalin's horrible crimes but he says we must honor a great victory in WW2. Why is that? Because so much of Russian history was discarded at one time, the Soviets discarded czars history to a certain degree, then Yeltsin discarded Soviet history. You can't rule Russia you can't govern Russia today unless there is some consensual history to teach the children, to derive lessons from to build on. Putin is trying to patch these pieces together and nobody's happy with everything that he does but this is complicated. I have a special perspective on it and that is why I am less judgmental. I grew up in the American south in a completely segregated society – American apartheid which was a direct legacy of American slavery. It has taken the American state more than a hundred years to deal with the legacy of slavery and we still haven't dealt with it. It's taken America centuries to figure out where slavery belongs in the great triumph of history in America, so I think it is going to take Russia time and it belongs probably to the next generation of leaders and historians and citizens to put this in perspective but other countries have been through this. Only recently is France comes to grips with crimes committed by the Vichy government during the German occupation. What has brought Stalin back of course as an agreeable figure are the horrible things that happened to Russia in the 1990s in the decade following the end of the Soviet Union when tens of millions of people lost everything, not only their pensions and their wages but their professions. Remember that in the 1990s the very large well-educated Soviet middle class, and it was a middle class, highly professionalized and educated, was destroyed. There were a lot of victims in the 1990s and therefore people who experienced that not just the people of 1990s but their children, are more interested in the victims of 1990s than they are in Stalin's victims of 1930s. So the drama and the trauma that Russia suffers have made Stalin reemerge where people say "there was order, there were no oligarchs, people got their pensions on time, he led the victory, he industrialized the country, made us great". That is not actually true, he did a lot of damage in every regard, a lot of it was a myth but it is understandable that people would feel that way. So, I have a kind of relaxed, more understanding view of how hard it is for Russians to come to grips with Stalin though I personally of course am a hundred percent anti-Stalinist. But it is not my job to solve this problem for Russia because it is the Russian problem.

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