Lately, I’ve been trying to get more of an understanding about the current spate of political repression and imperialistic attitudes going on in the Russian Federation. From what I’ve gathered, Russia has long been a harsh, primal country for the average resident and citizen. The tradition of political repression and oppression reared its ugly head many times during the reign of the czars. This infamous period is familiar to students of Russian history and has partially informed this opinion piece, today.
The most recent, historical, time period of repressive rule in Russia and surrounding areas happened from 1930 to 1950 as the worst period of the bad old Soviet Union. To be sure, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a fascinating topic of study. It’s kept me mesmerized since before its dissolution.
The most recent mass suffering, according to the historical record, happened during the reign of Joseph Stalin and the few years following his demise. Horrors as bad or worse than those inflicted by Hitler’s Nazi regime were imposed across the USSR. Even the slightest disagreements with the mercurial whims of Stalin were punished to extreme degrees.
Ordinary citizens, compatriots, freedom fighters and even Communist Party members and leaders became the victims of vicious political repressions. The pages of the history of the USSR are stained with the blood of innocents.
On October 30th, each year, Russia and the surrounding former Soviet Republics, except the Ukraine, celebrate the “Day of Rememberance of the Victims of Political Repressions”. It’s when Russians and people in the former Soviet Republics remember the millions of citizens sent to gulags, exiled to Siberia, and the political dissidents executed by shooting.
The decision to experiment with labor camps was made in 1918. The new Communist regime needed a place to imprison the royalists and anti-Communists.
With the ascent to power of Joseph Stalin, the creation of GULAG–The Main Department Of Correctional Labor Camps And Colonies, came about. As many as 2,500,000 inmates were held at a time during the next 20 years.
The inadvertant self-sabotage of the Soviet Union by Stalin continued with the deportation of whole nations. There were more than 50,000,000 politically based sentences passed during the existance of the Soviet Union.
These numbers include 800,000 Germans, 102,000 Poles, more than 19,000 Korean families, and over half a million Northern Caucasus peoples. Among the tragedies, was the mass starvation of millions of Ukrainian peasants during the genocidial famine of 1932-33. Millions of Soviet citizens were moved to concentration camps and thousands were executed by the secret police.
Repeated purges of Communist Party leaders and government officials ensured obediance to Stalin’s power. The infamous show trials illustrate this. For instance, former Bolshevik leaders underwent forced confessions of treason and other crimes against the state. Nearly one half of the Communist Party membership was purged, including the execution of 139 members of the Central Soviet Committee. Out of the nearly 2,000 delegates to the 17th Communist Party Congress in 1934, over 1,100 were arrested by 1939. Even more stupifying was a major purge of the Soviet military forces that eliminated the most experienced senior officers just before the fighting of World War Two began.
For awhile, Stalin allied with Adolf Hitler in an imperialistic policy that occupied Western Ukraine, Bessarabia, and Budovyna. After his split from Hitler, later in the war, Stalin extended his influence to occupied territories in the Far East and in Eastern Europe as satellite states.
Stalin was not a theoretical thinker at all. He only built up his empire through the old traditions of “Russian Oriental Absolutism”. He created a totalitarian state more in line with right-wing fascism than any other ideology. His regime was a system of unrestricted, ruthless dictatorship over a demoralized, helpless society.
The death of Stalin, in 1953, saw the end of the worst repressions. Official recognition and refutation of that period was voiced by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. This was the beginning of the long-awaited de-Stalinization campaign. The cult of Stalin was dismantled. The movement of Stalin’s embalmed body from Lenin’s tomb into a generic place in the Kremlin wall was made. Place names and institutions bearing Stalin’s name were mostly renamed. His statues were dismantled, too.
The “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression” has been celebrated since 1991. It appears to be a sincere effort to honor the downtrodden and scapegoated minorities of Russia.
I am concerned that today’s celebrations will ring very hollow. There is a new wave of terror, repression, and a nod towards the death of another scapegoated minority group in Russia. A group of Russian laws that outlaw the expression and freedoms of the LGBT community have been signed into law by Vladimir Putin. State and local police have been arresting gay and lesbian Russians and their allies all across Russia.
Anybody even suspected of being gay or sympathizing with gays can be arrested and detained. The children of same sex couples are being removed from their homes and placed in special, less than humane, orphanages and institutions. In addition to the official homophobia, there are mobs of vigilantes roaming the cities and countryside, torturing, wounding, and killing gay people along with many who are percieved as gay or who express sympathy for the LGBT community. The official and vigilante actions are also perpetrated upon tourists and other visitors to the Russian Federation.
Unsurprisingly, there are now many LGBT refugees leaving Russia for sanctuary in more modern, progressive nations, including much of Europe, and the Americas.
It seems sadly hypocritical for Russia to celebrate the “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions”, and to subjugate yet more victims of political repressions right now. This persecution makes a total mockery of today’s beloved celebration.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes that the freedom and remembrance of ALL victims of political and religious repression will be honored and respected in Russia and elsewhere in the world.