Staunton, November 23 – De-Stalinization will have occurred not when everyone denounces Stalin in a chorus at the direction of the state but rather when each person can assess him in his or her own way and have debates about him, Vladimir Lukin says. Unfortunately, Russia has not succeeded in taking that step away from Stalinism into a better future.
In an interview on Ekho Moskvy, Lukin, the former diplomat and human rights ombudsman, said that only if that happens will it be possible to separate the man and the myths and recognize both the crimes he committed and the successes he achieved. Until then, Russians will live with those myths (echo.msk.ru/programs/year2014/1439436-echo/).
That in turn will mean that some in Russia will continue to celebrate him by treating him in isolation from his crimes or to denigrate him by ignoring what he did for the country, and it will mean that Stalinism will survive as an epithet that will be applied positively or negatively to developments in Russia now and in the future.
Indeed, Lukin argues, because Stalin was both a criminal and a hero, “de-Stalinization will be deeper and more complete the more freely and in a cultured sense it is possible to conduct discussion about this myth” and thus overcome it. As long as the state orders that people think one way or the other about Stalin, Stalinism will continue.
He gives as an example the case of Bonapartism in France. That exists “to this day” as do opponents of that idea. “But France has been de-Bonapartized because to say that a Napoleon I or even a III will come to power is even funny in France. It is a completely different country … and each is free to express his opinion” about that.
Attitudes in Russia about Stalin as a myth, Lukin continues, reflect a fundamental divide as far as ideas are concerned. As long as some believe that the state is the main value and the empire an unquestioned thing, then “the myth will be one and it will always be one.” But if the values of the human person are paramount, then attitudes will be “different in principle.”
Lukin says that his view of Stalin as a man is simple: “It is extremely negative. He was a son of a bitch,” given how he behaved. But his view of Stalin as a political figure is more complicated because political decisions reflect not only values but also what is possible at a particular place and time.
(He notes that his parents were arrested in 1937 and spent two years in the camps, with his father than serving in the Red Army during World War II. Both his parents “couldn’t bear Stalin.” On the one hand, they viewed Lenin as “the ideal,” but on the other, they “didn’t separate Stalin from victory” over Hitler.)
He says that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shows his own divisions. At a personal level, Lukin says, he very much opposes the pact and what it represented. But considering the pact at a political level, his views are more variegated because anything that Stalin might have done differently would have had its own “serious pluses and its own serious minuses.”
On another issue, Lukin says he is an opponent of lustration because in his view, it would become just another occasion for settling accounts much as Bulgakov suggested in his novel “The Master and Margarita,” and he argues that overcoming Stalinism and the Stalin myth is going to take a long time.
“We have come a long way from Stalinist stereotypes,” Lukin says, but not nearly far enough. Many continue to discuss all current developments in terms of Stalin, but in fact, they “do not have a relationship to Stalinist affairs then.” The situation is very different, and using the Stalin myth to discuss the situation now shows how far Russia still has to go.