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30 Oct, 2009 20:36

Remembering Stalin’s Great Purge victims

On Friday, Russia marks the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions. Millions suffered from Stalin’s repressions from the 1920s through to the 1950s.

Memorial services have been held across the country.

Ahead of the day, President Medvedev said attempts to justify the Stalinist repressions under the pretext of state interest are unacceptable:

“I am convinced that no development of a country, no success or ambitions of the state, should be achieved through human grief and loss. Nothing can be valued above human life, and there is no excuse for repression.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, Russia’s civil rights group “Memorial” organized a rally in central Moscow to remember those executed in the Russian capital between 1937 and 1938. A large crowd gathered throughout the day in the heart of Moscow, lighting candles and reading out a roll-call of names of more than 30,000 people who perished at that time.

Every person who was in attendance has a personal reason to be there.

“My father was a doctor, he was arrested in 1934. For decades they told us he was alive in a prison camp, and then in Khrushchev times he was rehabilitated. We discovered he had been executed – shot dead in 1938,” a participant of the rally told RT.

Mass graves for more than 20,000 bodies were discovered just outside Moscow at the Butovo polygon. A few years ago, a church was founded there in remembrance of the politically repressed. Father Kirill heads the clergy, and says it was his calling, as his grandfather was shot there – a Christian who, like many others, refused to renounce his beliefs.

“The Soviet Union punished religion with executions. This place is unique – 300 priests killed here were later canonized. Not only Christians were shot, but also Muslims and Jews. All religions were equal in the face of death in Stalin times,” Father Kirill said.

In the 1990s, Russian security services opened some of the Soviet secret files. It was discovered that not only were the intelligentsia– i.e. scientists, teachers, high-ranking officials and other figures who had allegedly questioned Stalin’s power – killed, but also many ordinary people. Hundreds of thousands more were sent to die in gulag prison camps.

Fact box

From the 1920s through to the 1950s in the Soviet Union

52 million political sentences were passed
6 million people were deported without sentence
1 million people were executed

(From “The History of Stalin’s Gulag”, a collection of documents in seven volumes, 2005)

“KGB archives state that about 4.5 million people were repressed in the Soviet era, while more than 800,000 were executed. Only 3,000 death penalties were handed out after the Stalin era. Once his cult of personality was destroyed, more than 75% were rehabilitated posthumously,” said Dr Viktor Zemskov, a historian from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions has been commemorated in Russia since 1991. The civil rights group “Memorial” leads the drive to remember.

“Russia should build a civil society. Every one of us should stop focusing solely on our individual benefits. Only then can we prevent further tragedies like the Great Purge,” believes Anna Karetnikova from Memorial.

Late into the evening, people continued coming to Moscow’s Lubyanka Square despite the bad weather, reading name after name of those who were victims of Stalin's Great Purge, making sure it is never forgotten and that history does not repeat itself.

Read also Secrets of Stalin's Seven Moscow Skyscrapers