What we’re going to do is, Katrina and I will take about maybe 35 minutes between the two of us together. I’ll begin by saying a few words about the book, general themes, how I came to write it. Katrina was along for the entire making for this book, and she had some perpsectives and some Experiences that differ from mine. And I’m going to begin my remarks where my book actually ends and the struggle underway in Moscow today. This book is the story of the monstrous Crimes, committed by Stalin, and yet Russia today is engaged in a national Debate over Stalin’s historical Reputation. Polls tell us that about half the Nation think that he was a genocidal murderer, and the other half think he was a great and wise Leader, perhaps the greatest Leader in Russian History. This is actually the third national Debate Russia has had about Stalin. After his death, his successor, [Nikita] Khrushchev, partially revealed Stalin’s Crimes, and in conditions of Censorship, there was a kind of Soviet national Debate, which lasted until [Nikita] Khrushchev was overthrown in 1964. Then when [Mikhail] Gorbachev came to Power in 1985, and by 1989, the whole Nation was again engaged in a Debate about Stalin, but this Time, without any Censorship. By then [Mikhail] Gorbachev ended the Censorship. That ended as the Soviet Union fell apart. Now, the new Debate, as we talk, in the daily Newspaper, virtually every day, who & what was Stalin. Clearly, Stalin and the Stalin Experience remains an open wound in Russia, something that a Nation cannot close with some consensual perspective, or reduce those who feel one way or the other to inconsequential Minority.
Back in the 1970s, as a very young man, I stumbled into this open wound in Moscow, into this national Debate. When I found myself living in Moscow among the People who cared the most about how the Natian resolved this Debate, survivors of those Terros, survivors of those Concentration Camps, Prisons, and Exiles, and so on, Solzhenitsyn calls Gulag Archipelago. Having met those People quite inadvertently, led me to a series of Experiences that led eventually 35 years later to this book. You may immediately say, Why would it have taken me 35 years to write a 200-page book, and I’ll say a word about that. But let me begin with the History and the nature of the book, and Katrina will say what she can bring to this Discussion, and I’ll return very briefly to try to explain why Stalin was a subject of national Controversy.
When we talk about Survivors of Stalin’s Terror, of the Gulag, we have to put aside some misconceptions. Even educated People, when they hear Stalin’s Terror, tend to think of those three years at the end of 1930s, when he unleashed the Terror on those Soviet political Class, staged those famous Moscow Trials. One was the subject of Arthur Koestler’s famous novel, which many of us had read many years ago, Darkness at Noon, and destroyed the Founding League of the Soviet Union. But the Terror lasted much longer, it began in fact with Stalin’s Assault on the Peasantry. Then about 80% of the Soviet Population in 1929, he used violent Means to force the Peasantry to give up its small Plants to go into Collective Farms. Millions of Peasants died. Then in the 1930s came the political Terror, which hit virtually every City in the Soviet Union. And when Stalin died, he had on the eve of his Death begun a new scenario or chapter in his Terror, anti-Jewish Terror, a Pogrom, called Doctor’s Plot or Anti-Cosmopolitan Campaign. Only his Death stopped that from growing into another mass Terror.
In other words, We’re dealing here with a 25 year Terror, and we don’t know because it lasted so long and because so many People died exactly how many People actually died of Terror. It’s true that many archives have been opened, not all of them, have been open. It’s also true that scores of Western and Russian scholars had gone into those archives, looking for answers about the Mechanisms of the Terrors and the dimension, but there is no magical or immediate or conclusive answer in the archives. Many of the documents there were falsified originally, you have the document that has figures on it, if the figures were falsified, as a friend of mine say, Rubbish in, rubbish out. We just don’t know. I think, and I take a kind of middling figure, 20 million died, that would count the Peasants, the People who died in the Terror, it would exclude 26.5 Soviet Citizens who died as the Casualties in World War Two. So about 20 million. A lot of People. During those years, about 12 million, maybe 14 million, survived the initial taking, as they say, the Arrest, to be dispatched into the Gulag, the Prisons, the Concentration Camps and Exile over these 25 year period. There were many ways to die in the Terror. Many People died beaten to Death in Prisons, because it was a part of the process that forced them to sign  a confession. Many were immediately shot, many were sentenced to immediate Death-shot in the Prisons, shot in the Killing-fields, where Russians are still digging up today. When Stalin died in 1953, and this is a fairly precise figure, because here a series of archive documents concur, about 5.5 million People were still alive in the Gulag. And they are the Victims that return, the subject of my book.
But most of those People had relatives, who had not been arrested but were who were stigmatised during all those years as Members of the Families of the Enemies of the People, or Traitors to the Motherland. Katrina and I knew many of these People, espouses, children, even parents, even grand-parents. And those who had been stigmatised were Victims in the sense that they were unable to partake even in the meagre Benefits of the Soviet System under Stalin. Many were forbidden to attend University, many were forbidden to live in Capital Cities, cultural Cities in Russia, many were denied Social Benefits, Health Care, Pensions, things like that. If we take a rough guess of three relatives per Victim who survived and returned, we’re talking about 15 million People in the 1950s under [Nikita] Khrushchev after Stalin’s Death, are suddenly released. And they go home, or they try to go home, because for many of them, there are no longer any home. Now, one thing that makes a book unusual, we know quite a bit about Survivors of the Jewish Holocaust. We have a big literature on it. I’m sure right in this store, there is a big section on it, but we have memoirs, novels, and scholarly studies of it. We have some sense of what happened to those who survived the [Shoah]. They were even more survivors of Stalin’s Terror. I don’t mean to make an equation between the Holocaust and the Stalin’s Terror. The point is we just don’t know much about these millions of People who were Victims of these kind of Holocaust, and I ended up with a story to tell.
When the New Yorker reviewed this book, they called it a memoir. And I hadn’t actually thought I was writing a memoir when I was writing the book, even though I knew of course it was autobiographical. Katrina and I knew most of the People that I write about in a ** way. You can tell me in these pages which People I actually knew and which I read about, because it’s a melody of sources.
People have asked me, How did a kid, a guy, I who grew up in Kentucky end up living in Moscow among Stalin’s Victims, Survivors of the Terror. And the American answer, because that’s the kind of People we are, It was chance, it was by chance. Russian answer is different, Russians say it was your sooba, your fate, and the more People Katrina and I met, the more we hear This is your fate, because at that time the subject was forbidden, and they didn’t expect the story would ever be told.
In 1976, when I was a professor at Princeton, I was participating in Academy of Science exchange programme with the Soviet Union, and I would go to live in the Soviet Union for about two to four months out of every other year, whenever I could weasel out of teaching or raise leave Money – Academics know how this is done. And prior to that though, about two years before, I had published a memoir of Nikolai Bukharin, who was one of the most eminent figures of the Founding Fathers of the Soviet Union, killed by Stalin. It turns out that Bukharin’s widow 25 years younger than he, had survived the Terror. She had been arrested in 1936, she’d spent the next 20 years in Jails, in Camps, and eventually in remote Siberian Exile. Her one-year old son, Yori, was taken from her when she was arrested in 1936 and vanished, it turned out he grew up in an orphanage, run by the NKVD in Stalingrad of all places under a different name, he had no Idea who he was. They met, they reunited in the 1950s, and they’re now living in Moscow. So when I began participating in the exchange, my home away from home became the home of the Bukharin Family. And after two or three weeks, I realised that my nightlife at their house and where they took me on the socialevents were made up almost exclusively of other People who survived the Stalin’s Terror or the relative who had died in the Terror. So I realised that I was living in a subterranean World of Suvivors, their existence and their story now forbidden in the 70s – this was [Leonid] Brezhnev Era - to be told in the Soviet Union and almost unknown in the West. And it began to dawn on me, to put it crudely, this was a Good subject. But also it was the one, as they came forward and told their stories in this sort of underground Environment of kitchens, being careful, they wanted me to do it.
In 1980, Katrina became my life companion. We’ve been together for 30 years, and thus my partner in this venture in Moscow. She began to live with me on this exchange in Russia. And she brought to a project – because it became a project by 1980 – a bunch of things. First of all, she had an interest in the Victims, because she had written about and worked on Television documentary about and read a lot about Victims of McCarthyism. She never equated the two, but the process of victimisation was interesting to her. Second of all, she’s younger, therefore she had better or more close generational Relationship with younger People. This combination meant that we were now a team, also we could just do more together. And she kept notes, really she was the co-author of my book. We probably just at some point should have done it together.
You know that in the 70s & 80s it was very repressive Time in Soviet Union. Censorship was very tight. People were not being arrested and shot anymore, but KGB was mean-spirited Organisation, it was perfectly willing to take administrative reprisals against People who didn’t behave. So we worried, Katrina and I did, that the Victims who had befriended us, and even more their children, the younger ones would be punished for hanging out with us. It could be they lose their Jobs, it could be their children would be denied permission to University, all sorts of petty things were possible. So Katrina and I were very, very careful, which is to say, we were surreptitious. We followed certain Rules: Don’t talk on the Telephone, Don’t leave documents in your Hotel or your Apartment, Don’t mention one returned Survivor to another unless they already knew each other. Just be careful. They were simple rules of the game, and we followed them.
Nonetheless, in 1982 we were in fact kicked out of the Soviet Union. We left to go home, and we weren’t allowed to come back, we were refused Visas, and for three years we remained outside the Soviet Union. I thought I had enough material to start the book, and I wrote 25 perspectives of what the book would look like one day.
Then came [Mikhail] Gorbachev in 1985. And you all look to me like - we have a demographic here, maybe with one exception - remember the way the News out of Moscow just poured across the United States. We were all drawn into the torrent of Developments that began with the democratisation and ended with the end of the Soviet Union. Katrina and I were given our Visas back – this was when Gorbachev came back to Power, we were living in the Soviet Union a lot - more Gorbachev, the more Victims of Stalin’s Terror we met, we now could identify them publicly because they were allowed to speak, but even more we had become a kind of legend, People knew about us, they began to seek us out, because their Fear-factor was declining.
So we continued to collect the material for the book, but I put aside the book. For all sorts of reasons when I look back now that don’t make a lot of sense. One was Current Events. We were just drawn into what was happening inside the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet Russia. Katrina had become the editor of the Nation, which is by definition Current Events. I went to work for the CBS in the late 1980s as a Russia consultant, which meant I had to busy myself while teaching History with the News. We had a child, we together wrote a book, and we individually wrote other books. So this book really, I think, faded from my life. It existed in cartons of materials, notebooks Katrina kept in my Princeton office. Laughter of Cohen. And I moved it all to NYC, to my NYC office, 19 University Place, remnants of it are still there. Then something happened in 2007, nothing particularly dramatic, that made me go back and look back at that 23-page document that I had written in 1983, and I got hooked. I just realised that there was no closure at all. Moreover, I guess there always has been an uneasy feeling in me that I had taken a commitment to write a story, there had been some writing about it subsequently, but not of the kind that I thought I could do and, as authors always think, need to be done.
So I returned to the book three years ago. Then I thought it somewhat differently. Originally, I had intended a really thick scholarly book, 400 pages, one of these doorstoppers. It was all in my head, it was all laid out. When New York Times reviewed this book, the reviewer faulted me for not writing that book, that thick book. Maybe so, I don’t know, I’m content. But who’s to say which way would have been the best way to go. It’s a small book about a big subject. That was one decision I made: To make it a kind of overview, but with enough personal detail, so the People came alive, to make the overview substantive not abstract so you can see that general Experience that millions had through the eyes of the smaller number of People.
Secondly, I realised as I grew older there was something missing in this story. You couldn’t write about the Victims without the People who had victimised, because when they came home millions of other People were afraid of them and what it might mean when the truth about what had happened to them was told. Not just the People who denounced them, participated in their Arrest or tortured them, but the People who had been passive profiteers of the Terror, People who had taken their Apartments or been given their Apartments, or who had been promoted in Institution where the bosses had been arrested, People even had married wives of the People who had been arrested, some even adopted their children, so the whole generation, maybe two generation, had made their Lives and Careers on the Terror. Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet, whom many of you know, you probably have her books here, her son, **, was in the Gulag in 1956 when [Nikita] Khrushchev opened the gates. And Anna Akhmatova, turned to her close friend, a close friend who wrote down everything she said, knowing she was a great poet, and she said this, “Now, those who were arrested will return, and two Russias will be eyeball to eyeball. The Russia that put People in the Camps and the Russia that was put in the Camps.” This became one of my themes, the confrontations of the two Russias. [Anna] Akhmatova went on to say, “The First are now trembling for their Names, their Position, their Apartments, their dotches. The whole calculation was, No one would ever return.” And that is true. Their return was a kind of shock. Not only the People who were innocent, who simply you know, these were curious People who suddenly risen from the Dead. Even Stalin’s daughter said, It’s as if the Dead had come back to Life. But to the People who had known them or who had known about them or who had been profited from the victimisation, it was a shock.
So my narrative follows this as well, the story, and it reaches all the way to the Leadership, because [Nikita] Khrushchev, because, as he says, he had blood on his hands up to his elbows, were surrounded by these People who had even more blood on them and had no repentance in their Soul. [Nikita] Khrushchev had become an repentant man, or he wanted to repent, but powerful People around him wanted none of this. [Accurate.] So this confrontation over what had happened existed at the highest Leadership, the highest level.
The third decision I made, and because this is an open-wound close, I had figured on ending the story with [Nikita] Khrushchev’s overthrow in 64. But more and more I realised that though many of the Victims were dying and most of them are now dead, older ones who came back, few were alive in Moscow, their children and their grand-children remain and still want some kind of historical Justice, not to mention the fact they legally declared relatives of the Victims, they get enhanced Pensions and other Benefits, but I realise the story hasn’t ended, so what I’ve done in this book is try to drive it, though I spend more Time back on the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, drive it right into the present, with Putin and Medvedev taking somewhat different positions on this.
And finally, I had written a lot of book for my fellow academic. I tried to make this book what Russians call a little more stupid, a little more accessible to People who didn’t know Russia, because it did seem to me at the end this was a lesser story about Russia, though inseperable from Russia, than a human story. I can’t say whether I did it well. I would only say to you, We have a 19-year old daughter who has made it a kind of programme of not reading anything either of us wrote. But she relented, or she sort of forced her to read this book - she’s now in the University – I asked her what she thought about it, and she said, It’s okay, Dad. Being that as the highest compliment I’ve gotten out of her, It’s okay, at least it’s a modest succes. So let Katrina now say a few words about her perspective on this and the People she knew, and let me end by saying a few words about why the Stalin Question is now back.
vanden Heuvel: I brought a very different Experience [from Stephen’s] to this question, because I’m not a scholar, I am a journalist, but I was a participant in many of these adventures or misadventures.
Stephen will come back to the present, but as we sit here tonight, I hear the Subway rumbling. I think of how this Debate over Stalin and his fate, his Repution in Russia rages from the Newspapers where the Debate goes on every day, even on Television, as to whether he was a monstrous criminal or someone who modernised the State to fights over Subways opening, where they opened one, what, a few months ago, and they had a freeze of panel showing Stalin and his various Achievements. So this fight rages on.
It rages on the ways that it did not when Stephen and I first arrived in Moscow, when I first arrived. Stephen first went in 1959, I first went in 1978, and we went back in 1980. But those were, as Stephen said, underground years, those were years of Repression and Authoritarianism. Not that we experienced the Repression, but we were, as Stephen said, very sensitive to those of our Russian Friends who might. At times, even though Stephen didn’t mention this, Stephen would do an Act of kindness which would lead to for example a Friend being sent to Prison for a few years. Stephen as a scholar said the full cycle, the Menshevik Journal, **, to a man in Leningrad, a man who now runs one of the Russia’s leading Human Rights Organisations, and it was a favour that this man asked him for months, Stephen, right? And you gathered them, and you shipped them against all odds, but it was picked up just days after receiving this Journals. So our Conversation with many of the People Stephen writes about in this book took place in tiny Apartments in Moscow, in small kitchens, often with tables, laden with Vodka, with Food, with friends who would put pillows on their phones or put pencils on phones, thinking that would stop the KGB from tapping our Conversaion. Or using those children’s sketch pads, you write a note, you lift it up, so no one would see what we had exchanged. These were People, almost everyone in this book, could be not just a part of Stephen’s autobiography, not a memoir, but I would argue that almost every character in this book, because they’re such personal Human tales, they’re like characters in a Russian Novel, there’s a Tragedy, there’s a grandeur, there’s a colourful quality. I think particularly of the story of a man named Lev Netto, who was coming back from the Gulag on a train in 1956 when his brother, Igor, was leading the Soviet Olympic team to a gold medal in Melbourne. And you think of these Families who were ripped apart, and you saw some of them who came back together with grace and forgiveness. I want to read from Stephen’s book very briefly about two characters from what I think of as the underground years. And then, come into the [Mikhail] Gorbachev years and two characters from that Period.
One of these People is a man, from the underground years, who’s still very much alive in Moscow, aged 92, runs the first State Museum of the Gulag in the center of Moscow. This is a man whose father, the legendary Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, led a Bolshevik seisure of Power, seized the Winter Palace in Petrograd in 1917, later died in Stalin’s Prisons. And like many grown children of the Stalin’s leading Victims, our friend Anton had himself “sat” in the Gulag for almost 13 years, the Experience that shaped almost everything he did later, from his prosecutorial Writings and the risks he took to his several Marriages and his choice of Friends. This man Anton is nearly blind, wiry, extraordinarly determined, continues to be capable of boundless of research and writing as well as astonishing numbers of chin-ups at the age of 92. And like another former **, someone I know you’ve heard of, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, this man is embattled, willfull, and overly confident in his Gulag-acquired cunning. As his friendship with Stephen developed, his frequent request for assistance for exposing Stalin’s hangmen past and present sometimes worried Stephen. But Anton was admired and trusted by many Gulag’s survivors, and he too persuaded Stephen to help him.
Another character in period, Stephen calls her his third enabler. One was Anton, the other was a well-known historian named Roy Medvedev, who at 85 still alive and writing. And Tatyana Bayeva, a remarkable woman, who sat down on Red Square to protest the Soviet Invasion of Chezkoslovakia in 1968, but she wasn’t arrested because her father had come a famous biochemist, very high at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in the 1970s. Her father wouldn’t talk to her for years, because he had sat for 17 years in the Gulag, and didn’t want his Reputation or Career destroyed by a daughter who was determined to be a dissident at a Time [Leonid] Brezhnev Russia when it wasn’t the safest thing to be. Stephen writes of her Apartment, filled with ** underground documents, laden with manuscripts and forbidden books published abroad, became a regular Meeting place with Human Rights activists and other activists and other dissidents. Among them were the middle-aged Survivors of the Terror, especially men smitten with Tanya’s exotic looks, roguely manner, and an aura of the keeper of many secrets.
These were two People of the underground years, and they remain a part of our Lives, but in a very different Russia, because, as you know in 1985, [Mikhail] Gorbachev comes to Power, he launches what becamse known as ** and **, and ** ending the Censorship, unraveling of the Censorship, opened the floodgates. Opened the floodgates to revelation. Every day in the Russian Media, in Newspapers, on Television, in the Theatre, in Movies, in the TV Shows, in popular Culture, in Art exhibists, Gulag revelations and the Gulag Survivors became kind of the heroes of this moment. Young People were drawn into this, because I think many young People understood that a Country with a History is like a Person without a Memory. And young People would organise an evening of rememberance. We went to a few, where they toasted and listened to those, either the Survivors of the Family members of the Survivors. And I was covering this moment for the Nation, and I remember going to the Gorky Park, and thousands of People screaming at the park one afternoon. Many of them older People, many of them Survivors visibly or Family members of the Survivors, and there were young Families with their babies and toddlers coming to hear about a History that has been so long been suppressed.
And at the same time, a Movement arose, maybe a Movement you wrote about or heard about in the Paper, a Movement called Memorial. It has become known as the Human Rights Organisation designed to protest the abuses of the War in Chechnya. It was designed originally to fulfill the promise made by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961 to build a memorial to the Victims of the Stalinism. And in 1987 Gorbachev repeated this promise, and just two years ago, the editor of the leading Opposition Newspaper, a man named Dmitri **, a Newspaper which was partly owned by [Mikhail] Gorbachev had it interviewed, first-printed interview with President Medvedev, and he promised he would build a memorial. Two years later, it is not build, which I believe suggests and Stephen will speak to the ongoing struggle over the issue of Stalin and Memory. But Memorial was founded in that period, and it continues to play a role.
Our Lives also changed. Stephen became involved in covering and thinking about [Mikhail] Gorbachev Period. His book, [Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: a political biography, 1888-1938] he would be modest about it, but Gorbachev had said that in many ways it contributed to his launching **, many People hold Stephen responsible for this terrible Act. I went to work in a leading Newspaper called Moscow News, leading glasnost Newspaper. And I had the Good, not Good, but it was an important Experience now as the editor of the Nation to watch. Crusading editor of that Paper across the street every week - it was weekly Newspaper – to fight with the Censors to get into the Newspaper new material, much of it related to Stalin Experience, new revelations.
And extraordinary individuals appeared at this time. And let me just finish with two characters. I mentioned two from different Period. There was a man named Sasha Milchakov. Sasha Milchakov was himself was the son of someone who did survive, someone who was the Leader of the Young Communist League, someone who had been in the Gulag for many years. And this man wanted to help those who had come back or who wanted to know what had happened to their father, to their grandfather, and who needed to find Information that wasn’t being given by the Government, and this man had a Conscience and wanted to be helpful. And this man was small, dishelved, incongrously man in his 50s, who always wore an ill-matching suit, even while trudging through muddy gravesites, perhaps to assure, Stephen writes, “to alarm Secret Police and cemetery Authorities that he was a professional journalist.” Stephen would follow him around. In fact, in Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes once spent a day with this man, Sasha Milchakov, as he showed them the crematorium, those People who had been killed. And this man, Milchakov, created a Sensation in 1986 with pioneering articles exposing the KGB’s mass graves in Moscow. What he would do is find the mugshots, the places of Execution, the burial places, and he published in his regional Newspaper, Evening Moscow. The mugshots of Suvivors. And what I remember most vividly is People lining up on the streetcorners hours before the Newspaper would come to be sold in the kiosk. There were such hunger for this Information.
And the other Person from this period was someone who also fulfilled that desire to give Information to People who were so hungry for it. A young man in his early 20s, barely more than a Student. In 1986, this man Dmitri Yurasov, who was a junior archiviest at the Soviet Supreme Court, he came across records of millions of unknown cases dating back to the 1930s. One for example was a story of director Meyerhold, a graphic account of his Torture, which Stephen quotes in his book. This man Yurasov secretly compiled index cards on some 103,000 cases which he smuggled home until he was found out and fired. After making public his sensational discoveries, a tall “archive kid” with his edgy good looks and a sombre manner became a glasnost Celebrity. And by 1968 he was frequent guests among People we know and continue to know. So these were People who played an important role in a critical moment.
After the end of the Soviet Union, these characters went their different and separate ways. [Sasha] Milchakov died suddenly and prematurely in his late 50s. [Dmitri] Yurasov, we think, went into private Business. [Anton] Antonov-Ovseyenko, remains embattled, fiery, running the State Museum in the center of Moscow, next to Marc Jacobs and Diane von Burstenberg boutique, keeping his property against all odds. And Tatyana Bayeva left Politics and now lives in Jersey City. So now I turn it back to Stephen.
Cohen: So briefly to try to answer the question with which I began: Why would the Country still be divided, you having heard all this about Stalin. One possible answer is the Country doesn’t know what happened, but that’s not true. The Censorship ended long ago, there was no Censorship of this subject. And anybody who wants to know can know. Television documentaries, Television made-for-TV films, Solzhenitsyn’s novels has been made into Television, and many others. So they know. They also know because they were published in the Newspapers that the archive documents show that Stalin was personally responsible. He issued orders, even the orders to torture People, that he checked names, thousands of names on the list of People who wanted arrested, even indicating what he wanted done with their Families, usually they were to be taken, too. So why would about half the Nation think the Stalin was a great benevolent leader.
The [US] Press, which has indulged itself in Putin-bashing for the last decade or so, therefore misanalysed most of what’s going on in Russia for the last decade, blames Putin. It goes like this, Putin has reintoduced authoritarian norms to Russia, and as a man who came up in the KGB, he personifies a certain Method of Rule, and this has reawakened pro-Stalinist Sentiments in the Genes of Russia. Trouble with this Theory is it’s untrue, it doesn’t track historically. When Katrina and I were living in Moscow in the 1990s, we saw the revival of pro-Stalin Sentiment, that’s a decade before anybody had ever heard of Vladimir Putin, when Yeltsin was the President in the 1990s. It began in the 90s. I have different explanations. I’m not so committed to it that somebody pointed out something Wrong with it or added an explanation, I wouldn’t resist, but I think the explanation is two-fold.
By the 1990s, Russians had no consensual History whatsoever. The Soviet Regime had deleted large parts of Czarist History, and post-Soviet Regime under Yeltsin had deleted a large part of Soviet History as a heroic History. Therefore People had nothing with which to instruct their children. We all teach our kids historically, we find Examples in our History to emulate or not emulate, something inspirational.
The only consensual event in modern Russian History about which People could more or less agree were three. The modernisation of Peasant Russia into an industrial Power in the 1930s; The defeat of the Nazi German invader between 1941 and 1945; and the rise of the Soviet Union to the Superpower status by acquring the Atomic Bomb. All three of these Developments had taken place under the Leadership of Stalin. There’s no way you could reclaim these heroic or Achievements without Stalin. So Stalin had begun to come back in a funny way. People remember the Achievements, and psychologically, and for some People politically, deleted the Victims. So one understands this psychogically, espcially among the People who are minimally educated, in pain as many Russian were in the 1990s, economic pain. So this was the beginning of it.
Then something else happened. Most Russians, many Russians, I’d say 65-70%, thought in the 1990s and think today - this is the basis of Putin’s enduring Popularity – that the post-Soviet State deserted them, abandoned them, after the end of the Soviet State. Abandoned them to Oligarchs who took the Wealth of the Nation, the State Property, abandoned them to Poverty about 75% of Russians fell into Poverty, it was large Middle Class, Soviet Middle Class, it was vaporised by the Events of the 1990s, abandoned them to the Crime and Corruption. To be fair, some of this was phenomenon that had not been reported when there was Censorship, now being reported, Rape, Narcotics, and all that stuff. Nonetheless, there was an Epidemic of Crime and Corruption.
So Russians began to yearn for – and this is the common theme today – a strong State. So what does the strong State mean? Russians do not, the polls tell us, the new terroristic and despotic Leader. They don’t. In fact, the majority of the Russians still say on balance they prefer Democracy, Free Election and Uncensored Press, but they want a strong State. A strong State, they say, that will restore Order and Crime, restore Social Justice, and restore their Standards of Living. That means basically restore the credo of a great Welfare State, which is what Soviet Union was. It had nothing to do with Communism, that was a just kind of vague name attached to all this. But when you ask them, as pollsters do, when you have a strong State, you get a kind of chin-stroking, Hmm. In modern Times, the Czarist State collapsed in 1917, Civil War and all that. [Leonid] Brezhnev State is generally thought to be when all the troubles began, the Stagnation, the unraveling of the Soviet Infrastructures, [Mikhail] Gorbachev State led to the end of the State, [Boris] Yeltsin State abandoned them. So they’re stuck with some Memory, sometimes told by their grandparents and their parents as a Stalinist State, of the Stalinist State as a strong State. Again, they don’t mean a terroristic State, but they mean a State that’s control of Things.
The politicians now play on this, nationalist Communist politicians. They now write the History of the Stalinist Era without the Victims. And the reason this now becomes important again is this: The entire Russian political Class today agrees that Country has to again, because they’ve been doing it since the Peter the Great, modernised. That the Infrastructures are shot, that there has to be an all-out push to modernise Russia. One side says, The only succesful modernisation we’ve ever had is under Stalin, therefore we have to do it by Stalin, we have to do it the way Stalin did it. They don’t mean with millions of Victims, they just mean that the State has to impose the modernisation, like it or not. The other side says, Absolutely not. We’ve had many modernisations, and the result has always been more Tyranny, because the State has done it, and the result has been not Citizens, but the subjects of the State. So this time it has to be democratic modernisation. That’s the status of today, literally today. November, what’s today, 23rd in the Newspapers, on Television in Russia how to modernise the Country, and scarcely the Discussion occurs without Stalin’s name used either as a warning or as a inspiration. I end the book by saying that the Victims Returned will not be over until the Russia sorts out who and what they were. And that means reaching some consensus about who and what Stalin was. So let us end there.