By excusing executioners, we breed still more


An interview given by Alexei Babiy, Chair of Krasnoyarsk “Memorial”

No more access to the archives

- Alexei Andreevich, I’ve often thought about how for each innocent victim of the repression there was one who denounced them, and their own executioner. We talk about the victims, immortalize their names in the Book of Remembrance, but why are we silent about their executioners?

There’s a common phrase that half the country put people away, while the other half were imprisoned.  I don’t agree with it. Yes, there was wide-scale degradation of people. It’s true that the authorities encouraged and abetted denunciations.  Yet half the country can in no way have been involved in this. Usually they tortured one “enemy”, established his circle of acquaintances and friends and drew up lists of potential “enemies”.  Of course there were denunciations, but not always. Those informers* had mercenary motives – some wanted to resolve their housing problems, others to further their career or to get even with an opponent.

As for the executioners, we were able to publish a far from exhaustive list of those who arrested, interrogated, beat out confessions on our website  In the first two volumes, published in 2004-2005, of the Book of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repression, the names of NKVD officers who took part in the repressions are given. However from the third volume on these disappeared.

Furthermore, from 2006 access to the archives of interest has been closed to “outsiders”, including to members of “Memorial” Access was denied through a special order from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Federal Security Service [FSB].  Only relatives can get permission to see the files, and they’re shown far from everything.

- An interesting turnaround with our property. So in the 70th anniversary of the Great Terror, you don’t have the right to see the archival material of 1937?

That’s right. Now, only after 75 years have elapsed are people unrelated able to get permission to work in the archives. That means that we now only have access to documents for 1932, and will only get to 1937 in five years.

The names which history must record

Coming back to the subject of executioners, who is preventing these names being recorded?

It’s government policy. When the law on monetary compensation [instead of benefits – translator] was being passed, they also changed the Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression.  They quietly removed from the law the phrase about publishing lists of those guilty of falsifying criminal files, using unlawful means of investigation, crimes against justice. 

After that the enforcement agencies began removing the names of NKVD officers from published documents. It’s a difficult subject. We work productively with them and without cooperation with them, not one volume of the Book of Remembrance could have been published. Information presented by regional departments of the FSB, thanks to officers from there, has cleared the names of thousands of victims of political repression.

Yet now with regard to those who carried out the repression, our views diverge. “Why offend veterans?”, they say. Or they refer to the law on personal confidentiality. Or they actually excuse the actions of their predecessors. “Well, what do you want? People were doing their jobs. If they’d objected, they’d have been shot.”

Yet by excusing the executioners, we excuse the repression!

That’s the point. We don’t publish these names to get even. Assessment of the past is important for the present. Either the present security service regards itself as continuing the traditions of the NKVD or it unequivocally condemns them.  Those officers have a difficult service and are permanently confronted by a moral choice. We hope that when looking at these lists they will think long and hard before making deals with their conscience. Incidentally, during the years of repression, there were some chekists [i.e. NKVD officers, from the original name Cheka – ЧК – translator] who committed suicide, not being prepared to take part in the lawlessness.

The bared sword of the proletariat

A courageous step – they preferred to kill themselves rather than execute other innocent people.

There are people one can be proud of. For example, the Head of the Taseyevsk district office of the NKVD Vasily Yegorovich Spiridonov who during the height of the repressions of 1937 refused to trump up cases against innocent people. He was shot.

The opposite was also the case. The name of one person who was repressed and then rehabilitated was left out of the Book of Remembrance. That was the Head of the Minusinsk investigation unit of the NKVD A.S. Alexeev. He was notorious for extreme brutality. In just one year 1,500 people were shot. Alexeev personally took part in the executions, and since they didn’t all die immediately, he ordered that they be battered to death - so as to economize on bullets.

In 1938 Alexeev was arrested, they pinned anti-Soviet agitation on him, participation in an insurgent organization. They did in fact also mention exceeding his powers, and he was sent to labour camp.

However within three years he was released, and two years later, the conviction was dropped. We were not prepared to place his name on the list of victims together with those of the people he battered to death.  That’s despite the fact that he was rehabilitated in 2002 and cleared of the crimes under articles 58.2 and 11, and he was not involved in either an insurgent organization or anti-Soviet agitation.

They often talk and write admiringly of  the Head of Norilsk Labour Camp Zavenyagin. Was he really such a nice man?

He got a number of specialists out of general work and took them into the management. And general work meant certain death. Compare him with another labour camp head – Garanin, the Head of the North-Eastern Labour Camp, who was the tsar and god at Kolyma. Garanin would get up with a hangover, get prisoners in a line, and if he didn’t like somebody’s face, the man would get a bullet in the forehead. In comparison with Garanin, yes, Zavenyagin was a nice man. However the remains of thousand of prisoners lie in Norilisk, those who were shot or died of hunger and the cold. You can’t expunge that from history either.

The worst thing is that by protecting the executioners, we deceive people who don’t end up learning the whole truth.

Not even protecting them, but presenting them as heroes. One Krasnoyarsk paper recently published an interview with a former chekist where the journalist with the greatest respect asked what she had received her Red Banner Award. She answered that it was for a case in which her fellow classmate Tugovikov who was rabidly anti-Soviet had been charged. We looked up our database. Alexei Tugovikov, the head of a radio centre in the settlement of Maklakovo was sentenced in 1943 to 10 years labour camp. He was rehabilitated in the absence of any crime back in 1965. An innocent man was again, 60 years later, being called an enemy of the people. They have not to this day apologized.  At least your newspaper can restore justice. The point is not that old lady - nobody’s going to take her award away from her. It’s in the question: would such a publication have even been thinkable ten years ago?

And we have President Putin approvingly talking about a textbook for schools where Stalin is called an effective manager, and the repressions are mentioned in passing, so that it appears that episode in the country’s history was insignificant.

One deputy of the regional Legislative Assembly recently said that what’s the big deal and only seven hundred thousand people were repressed.

Lies! That’s only the number of people executed, and for one year only – 1937. There were also labour camp prisoners, kulaks and deported peoples. Just the central department of Internal Affairs for the Krashnoyarsk region has issued more than half a million documents regarding rehabilitation over recent years. In the press they sometimes go to the opposite extreme and name figures that are over the top, like 100 million victims. However recently they seek more often to underplay the figures, or be silent altogether about the repressions. It’s the trend.

People are ever more positive in talking about the inspirer of these “victories” – Josef Stalin. Why is this happening?

There’s an explanation for that. Incidentally there’s an explanation also for why they protect the informers and executioners. However that’s another topic.

I hope we’ll talk on that subject too, if nothing happens.

I hope so too.  To our next meeting.

The interviewer was Valentina Maistrenko from “Today’s Newspaper”  

Recommend this post

forgot the password




send me a new password

on top