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14 Aug, 2020 09:25

Whitewashing crimes of STALIN 'unacceptable' – Gorbachev on 30th anniversary of decree rehabilitating 'enemies of the people'

Whitewashing crimes of STALIN 'unacceptable' – Gorbachev on 30th anniversary of decree rehabilitating 'enemies of the people'

Attempts to downplay the repressions of the Stalin era must be fought relentlessly, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said, three decades after his decree to rehabilitate victims of Joseph Stalin's totalitarian regime.

The order was signed in the final years of perestroika – a policy aimed at transforming the Soviet totalitarian system into a liberal market economy – which ended 16 months later, along with the country itself.

Still, the first (and only) Soviet president, Gorbachev, now 89, told TASS news agency that the achievements of perestroika must be protected from continuous attempts to find justification for the crimes of Stalinism and efforts to "portray criminals as 'efficient managers.'"

In modern Russia, the description of Joseph Stalin as an "efficient manager" has popped up from time to time since the early 2000s in various discussions online and offline. 

Calling that approach "unacceptable," Gorbachev urged the Russian leaders of today to "take a firm stance" against such attempts, so no one may justify political repression by saying "that was required at that time."

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Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985 and oversaw the demise of the USSR, signed the decree "On the rehabilitation of all victims of political repressions in the 1920-50s" on August 13, 1990. 

The order was necessary because "thousands of cases had been waiting for revision," Gorbachev said. "The state had to, finally, call spade a spade. And it did," he said, pointing out that Soviet authorities during his presidency admitted that the repressions were unlawful, violated human rights, and that the people wrongfully convicted remained stigmatized for the rest of their lives.

In the words of Gorbachev's 1990 decree, "abuse of people's dignity and very life" had continued for decades since 1920s.

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Even before Gorbachev's move, between 1987 and 1990 more than one million Soviet citizens had been cleared of accusations made during the Stalin era by courts and various quasi-judicial bodies, such as "troikas" or "special councils," established to convict so-called "enemies of the people," bypassing judicial formalities without delay.

According to the human rights group Memorial, more than 2.6 million people were imprisoned, executed, died in labor camps, were repressed in other ways for political dissent, or fell victim to falsified accusations during the 70 years of Soviet rule. The lion's share of the repression happened during the "Great Purge" from 1937 to 1938.

Though efforts to rehabilitate victims of political repression were undertaken soon after Stalin's death in 1953 by his successor Nikita Khrushchev, they were rolled back when Leonid Brezhnev replaced him in 1964.

Mikhail Gorbachev signed the document just one year before a failed coup by hardliners, which implicitly led to the uncontrolled disintegration of the Soviet Union four months later. He left the Kremlin in December 1991, after the recently-elected leaders of newly independent Russia, Ukraine and Belarus privately canceled the 1922 Union Treaty, thus collapsing the USSR.