Putin and the Perm-36 Gulag Monument
9:04 AM, Aug 26, 2014 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Germany has, predictably, gone much further in documenting the crimes of communism in its former Soviet-occupied Eastern zone. At the beginning of August, the Berlin-based Federal Foundation for Research on the East German Dictatorship sent an open letter to Putin and relevant authorities in Perm. The foundation announced, “with sorrow and outrage,” the circulation of a petition protesting against the closure of Perm-36 and dismissal of its staff. Calling for the reinstatement of museum director Kursina, the petition had collected more than 65,000 signatures by August 23.
The German foundation declared that the existence of the Perm-36 museum is a “symbol that the Russian Federation supports historical memory based on civil society, without state repression, and that the Russian leadership supports a review of the totalitarian past without distortions or censorship.”
“Russia Behind the Headlines” suggested that Perm-36 was shut down because “the regional government has withdrawn funding for various initiatives” and “in 2012, cultural and educational projects began to be curtailed.” But the site also commented, “Public opinion about the Stalinist repressions has radically changed since the perestroika era. . . . This trend, which is taking on a mass character, appears to be opposed by few.”
Neo-Stalinism is becoming the undisguised ideology of Putin and his supporters. In its commentary on Perm-36 and its future, “Russia Behind the Headlines” noted casually that “According to the famous human rights defender Sergei Kovalyov, who was imprisoned in this camp, the authorities began sending so-called “political” prisoners—nationalists from the Baltic republics and Ukraine, along with Moscow dissidents—[there] in the early 1970s.”
As a reminder of Russia’s past injustices, the existence of the Perm-36 Museum in its original form may therefore be relevant to Ukrainians and other opponents of Muscovite imperialism no less than to Russians.
The controversy over Perm-36 comes amid new details about the advance of Putin’s scheme to undermine Ukraine. On August 15, Roman Olearchyk of the Financial Times reported that the former leaders of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic,” the Putinite “state” in eastern Ukraine, Igor Girkin (known as “Strelkov” or “Shooter”) and Aleksandr Borodai, “admit to defending Russia’s interests in past regional conflicts, including the Balkans.” On August 23, the same newspaper described the training of 5,000 Russian “peacekeepers” for service in Ukraine. These personnel were selected from the elite paratroops, known by their Russian initials as the VDV, that “secured” the airport in Kosovo, in 1999, “preempting NATO deployment there and resulting in a stand-off with the alliance.”
Faced with Putin’s aggressive maneuvers, both outside and within Russia’s borders, the German historians have taken a worthy initiative in advocating for the continuation of the Perm-36 Museum. Having contributed to the gulag museum’s financing, the U.S. government should join in the effort to keep the most relevant chapters in Russia’s history alive.
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