On the day Russia honours the victims of Soviet repression, President Dmitry Medvedev says he is concerned that not enough young people are aware of the scope of Josef Stalin’s purges.
His remarks come despite claims by human rights campaigners that there has been an attempt by Russian government officials to whitewash the legacy of the feared wartime dictator. President Medvedev said: “The 30th of October is the date to commemorate the millions of broken destinies, people who had been executed without any trial or process. Those people who had been sent to the concentration camps, deprived of their civil rights just because they have chosen a wrong profession or because of their social origin.” Today Russians are remembering the victims of Stalin’s purges at memorial services across the country. For some, Russians Stalin was a cruel tyrant who sent millions to their deaths as he built a totalitarian system that corrupted the ideals of the 1917 revolution. But recent Russian teachers’ manuals have described Stalin as an effective manager whose terror campaigns were necessary to turn the Soviet Union into a superpower. One pupil at a school in Volvograd, formerly Stalingrad, the scene of one of the Second World War’s bloodiest battles, said: “For me, Stalin was not a hero but as far as I know he was a very good person.” “To my mind, the years pass and people will forget about it,” said another. There are some however, who cannot forget. Relatives of Stalin’s victims cling to the memories of loved ones taken away by Stalin’s NKVD secret police, never to be seen again. Tatyana Yakovlena is the grand-daughter of a man who met such a fate. “The Stalinist era should not, under any circumstances, be idealised because we simply cannot return it. This was a time of repression, fear and persecution,” she said. Stalin, who died in office in 1953, was recently voted by Russians as their third greatest historical figure and lyrics praising him have been inscribed in the vestibule of a Moscow underground station.