While official rhetoric claims that Russians want their country restored to greatness, the truth lies elsewhere.
By ANYA ZHURAVEL SEGAL
My Facebook feed is overflowing with accounts of unbearable human suffering, status updates so graphic that I am often unable to finish reading them. Every account cuts like a knife, and my stomach turns till I tear myself from the screen and click the “hide” button.I am reading about atrocities conducted dozens of years ago. My feed conveys the collective experience of tens of millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Jews and countless others. Regardless of origin or social standing, everyone who had the spectacular misfortune to have lived in the Soviet Union under Lenin, Stalin and their heirs has gone through at least some circle of the inferno created by the regime for its citizens.By the time Stalin died in 1953, man-made famine, deportations, mass arrests and executions, and WWII with its staggering human cost, had touched every single family in the Soviet Union.Life did not reach a degree of normalcy for decades thereafter. Lenin’s and Stalin’s Orwellian social engineering left an indelible mark, and continues to dominate the way the authorities and citizens interact with each other decades later.The experience of trauma spans generations.That, and the many daily humiliations of life in the post-war Soviet Union, have so far impacted three generations, starting with those born in the early 20th century and up to and including the generation of my peers, born in the late Seventies and in the Eighties.Russia did not have its Nuremberg Trials. The children of the jailed, the tortured, the starved to death live side by side with the executioners. Yet today Russians are examining this collective experience closer than ever before. A host of new initiatives have sprung up to commemorate the memory of victims of Soviet rule. A profusion of diaries, memoirs, witness accounts and documentaries populate the Internet, one medium that is largely uncontrolled by the state in today’s Russia.AdvertisementSvetlana Alexievich, this year’s laureate of the Nobel Prize in literature, writes mostly about the horrors of the Soviet past. Sergey Parhomenko, one of Russia’s most brilliant journalists, is spearheading a project modeled on the German Stolpersteine, memorial plaques that commemorate the victims of the regime. Countless others have volunteered to uncover the truth about the Soviet era.It might seem as if Russia is heading backward, not forward in its relationship with history and the world. The country is flexing its muscles internationally.A simmering war in Ukraine, military presence in Syria, open threats addressed to Eastern and Central European countries and hardcore anti-American rhetoric – all of those are meant to “restore” Russia’s place in the hierarchy of world powers.Yet the steady flow of publications and educational initiatives that commemorate the memory of the victims and document human suffering caused by the state-sponsored terror machine does not stop. While official rhetoric claims that Russians want their country restored to greatness, the truth lies elsewhere. Russians are closely examining their country’s past. They are their country’s best hope for the future.The author is the founding partner of Segal Associates, a consultancy. She served on Benjamin Netanyahu’s staff prior to the disengagement. Anya holds a BA in political science from Moscow State University and a MA in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.