A Farcical Apology, From Russia With Love
From since at least the 1960s there has been pressure for Russia to acknowledge it's repression of the Polish people not just from 1939 onwards but actually going back many years before that. Below are some key points obtained from "Russia's law "On Rehabilitation of Victims Of Political Repression" https://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/2014_827-13h_Frierson_1.pdf
- Key individuals within the Soviet state government opened the way for a reckoning with the Soviet past. They persisted in promoting transparency about Soviet abuses when political expediency dictated retreat and their fellow statesmen resisted transparency.
- The media, public activists, and citizens exerted effective pressure on state actors, once the state began to engage the question of past abuses, forcing the expansion of the state’s agenda and eventually overrunning it. Momentum built over four years, culminating in an expansive historical reckoning with Soviet abuses.
Key elements in the emergence of the law and of its enduring terms were:
- The destruction of keystones in the Soviet system of information control
- The acknowledgment of Soviet official lies,
- The provision of information to survivors and deceased victims’ relatives of formerly top secret information and documents.
- This enabled the establishment of non-state archives of Soviet documents, which endure to this day.
- In 1987 Gorbachev established a commission to "rehabilitate" or pardon the unjustly punished victims of Stalins repression. An organization called "Memorial" was to be key to this.
- From 1953 to 1962, the state had rehabilitated 1,197,847 victims of political repression; over the next twenty-one years (1962-1983) a total of only 157,055 were rehabilitated.6 Millions remained for consideration.
- The scale of repression and the fraudulence of the processes in the original cases surprised those doing the work. They came to the conclusion that the vast majority, if not all, the cases from the 1930s through the 1950s which had been decided by extra-judicial organs – most obviously the “troikas” and “dvoikas” – constituted summary justice without adequate evidence of a crime or acceptable judicial procedures. Eager to unload the massive caseload awaiting review, they decided to issue an automatic rehabilitation for all victims of such extra-judicial decisions. (basically its saying that a true investigation was never done, no-one was charged or convicted. It was a cover-up essentially via "summary justice".)
- This emboldened civic activists in Memorial and the Moscow Association of Victims of Political Repression, as well as journalists and members of the Committee on Human Rights in the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR to press harder. Their position was that such abuses extended across the full Soviet era, that is -- from 1917 through the 1980s, and that they characterized the vast majority of all remaining cases to be reviewed.
- By the time the USSR Supreme Soviet got around to discussing a draft law on rehabilitation, Ukraine had already passed their own law on rehabilitation in April 1991.
Russian Compensation To Victims Of Repression
The Committee on Human Rights in the RSFSR Supreme Soviet then went on to pass a law that included:
During the years of Soviet power, millions of people became victims of the arbitrary rule of the totalitarian state, and were subjected to repressions because of their political and religious convictions, and according to social, national, and other indicators. Condemning the many years of terror and mass persecution of our people as incompatible with the ideas of law and justice, the RSFSR Supreme Soviet expresses its deep sympathy to the victims of unjustified repressions, and to their relatives and loved ones, and declares its unwavering efforts to achieve real guarantees of legality and human rights. The purpose of the present law is to rehabilitate all victims of political repressions on the territory of the RSFSR since 25 October (7 November) 1917, up to the date this law goes into force, to restore their civil rights, to provide compensation for material and moral harm at a level that the state can achieve at the present time, and to eliminate other consequences of arbitrary rule."
Access To Relatives Information
The third consequential change for the historical reckoning appeared in Article 12, which provided to rehabilitated persons or to their relatives in the event of the victims’ death, or with their permission, the right to see the case files for closed cases, and to receive a copy of the procedural documents. In addition, rehabilitated persons and their heirs also received the right to receive from those files “manuscripts, photographs, and other personal documents.”53 This opening up of the state’s secret archives to citizens, who could then disseminate the copies and the original personal papers they retrieved, struck at the heart of the Soviet system.
This provision and the labeling of the entire Soviet period, from 1917 to 1991, as one of arbitrary totalitarian rule characterized by terror and repression generated the most distress and resistance to the law’s passage. As one of its authors recalled, “It’s completely clear what this means; the Communists could not like it.
Deputy N. N. Engver, a prominent economist who had spent years of his childhood in Gulag installations with his inmate mother, passionately addressed the need to pass the law.
He urged the USSR Supreme Soviet to extend the category of victims eligible for rehabilitation and compensation to child survivors such as himself.
Yet he insisted on the need for constraint and limits on calling specific individuals to account for their roles in the terror and repression, seeing no purpose in persecuting such “old people.” He also cautioned against permitting citizens to see the case files. “People who are alive today must not look at these documents – neither those who lived through this, nor their relatives. I was unlucky, and I had to acquaint myself with these kinds of files, and I tell you that people with a normal psyche will not be able to sustain it – neither relatives, nor strangers. Time should pass – 20, 30, 40 years….You lose your faith in humanity. . . .And no one will preserve a normal understanding of humanity, neither of themselves, nor of those near and dear to them, nor of their acquaintances. This should be stated in the law on archives, and the current formulation should be completely removed from this draft law.”
Because the Soviet government played a leading role in documenting the “Holocaust by bullets” on Soviet territory and in prosecuting the Nuremberg defendants, the deflection of prosecution of Soviet perpetrators of human rights abuses against Soviet citizens is especially galling. Even so, granting access to the case files to survivors or dead victims’ relatives placed the fraudulent, indeed murderous, lies of the regime which had shocked even the Politburo’s PC when they first learned the details in 1988 and 1989, in the public domain.
Article 11 of the law stated:
Rehabilitated individuals, and, with their consent, or in the event of their death, their relatives, have the right to examine the materials from the closed criminal and administrative cases and to obtain copies of the documents of a non-procedural nature. Other individuals are allowed to see the materials according to the policy established for familiarization with materials from capital state archives. The use of the information to the detriment of the rights and legal interests of the individuals involved in the case, or their relatives, is not allowed and is prosecuted according to the procedure established by law. Rehabilitated individuals and their heirs have the right to obtain manuscripts, photographs, and other personal documents kept in the files.
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