Soviet History Essay

2227 words - 9 pages

Program on New Approaches to Russian Security PONARS, 2001 Why Soviet History Matters in Russia Mark Kramer MARK KRAMER is the Director of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies and a Senior Associate at the Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University.January 2001 Very often when you read these documents you become scared.But I become even more scared when I think there are millions of people absolutely indifferent to this information.-Aleksandr Yakovlev Head of the commission investigating the crimes and repressions of the Stalin era January 2001 When the Soviet Union broke apart nine years ago, many observers hoped that the new Russian government headed by Boris Yeltsin would disclose all the records of the Soviet regime and face up to the horrific legacy of Communist rule. Initially, Yeltsin seemed to embrace this goal, but by the time he left office at the end of 1999 he had achieved only limited progress. Under his successor, Vladimir Putin, hopes of a complete reckoning with the Soviet past have diminished still further.Putin has repeatedly said that he regrets the demise of the Soviet Union, and he has brought back some of the trappings and symbols used by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who established one of the most brutal and despotic regimes that ever existed. Putin often speaks proudly of the Soviet KGB, the notorious state security agency for which he worked in the 1970s and 1980s, and he has appointed a large number of former KGB officials to senior posts in his government.Compared to all the other problems Russia now faces--a deteriorating health-care system, adverse demographic trends, severe fuel shortages in the Far East, and an endless war against Chechnya--the whitewashing of Soviet history might seem of only minor significance. But in fact, this issue is likely to be crucial for Russia's future. A failure to come to terms with the Soviet past will undermine Russia's prospects for democracy.The Necessity of Confronting the Past The task of confronting unpleasant historical episodes is difficult for any country, even the long-established democracies. The Germans had a term for this process after World War II, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, but it was not until the 1960s and afterward that most Germans truly acknowledged the enormity of Nazi Germany's crimes. In France today, many citizens are still reluctant to look closely at the Vichy period; in Austria many people still pretend that their country was a victim of Nazi aggression; and in Japan political leaders still frequently downplay the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China, Korea, and Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s. In the United States, too, many tragic aspects of history--the enslavement of blacks, the campaigns against American Indians, and the internment of Japanese-Americans at the start of World War II--have often been glossed over.Difficult as the process of historical reckoning may be for these Western countries, it is even more onerous...

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