At a time when each day brings fresh evidence that Russia is headed in a very dangerous direction and many news items that leave one shaking one’s head or feeling the need to say “I’m not making this up,” there are nonetheless some “smaller” stories that must not be ignored because of the long shadows they cast on the future.
Three in the last several days fall into this category and are thus mentioned here, not because they provide a comprehensive picture of what is happening but because they point to trends already well-established that are likely to gain ground and become more important in the near future.
First, the whitewashing of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and of his GULAG prison camp system continued and expanded. This week, Russian officials put up the first Stalin statue in more than 60 years, and to add insult to injury, they did so alongside statues of Churchill and Roosevelt showing the Western leaders deferring to him and in recently occupied Crimea.
The Russian media justified this by saying that this trinity created the post-war world that Vladimir Putin would like to go back to, but as one more thoughtful Moscow commentator put it, “erecting statue to Stalin in Crimea is like putting one of Hitler up in Israel.”
And related to this was the celebration rather than lamentation of the 75th anniversary of a GULAG camp, one in which millions of Russians and other Soviet citizens were incarcerated and died between the 1920s and the 1950s. Praising prison camps goes well beyond approving Stalin’s role as a wartime leader.
Second, two Duma deputies, one from Just Russia and a second from United Russia, have turned in draft bills to allow residents to hand back ownership of their apartments to the state, a measure that the Rosbalt news agency described as part of “Operation ‘De-Privatization.”
The specific measures do not go very far, but they simultaneously show that Russian support for privatization which many view as the foundation of a shift away from the communist system is slipping and that the Russian authorities could thus move not only with impunity but even with support to reverse privatization as a way of expanding state control in key sectors.
And third – and this may be the most disturbing of the three – a Russian rights activist told Radio Liberty that Svetlana Davydova, the Russian mother of seven who telephoned the Ukrainian embassy to warn about Russian troop movements toward Ukraine, was turned in to the authorities by her neighbors.
Olga Romanova of “Sitting Rus” told Radio Liberty that “it turns out that [her] neighbors participated in this. That is, the information about her telephone calls, contacts, and views became public knowledge not because the FSB is listening to all of us but because we all have vigilant neighbors.”