Soviet History

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Program on New Approaches to Russian Security PONARS, 2001 Why Soviet History Matters in Russia Mark Kramer MARK KRAMER is the Director of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies and a Senior Associate at the Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University.

January 2001 Very often when you read these documents you become scared.

But I become even more scared when I think there are millions of people absolutely indifferent to this information.

-Aleksandr Yakovlev Head of the commission investigating the crimes and repressions of the Stalin era January 2001 When the Soviet Union broke apart nine years ago, many observers hoped that the new Russian government headed by Boris Yeltsin would disclose all the records of the Soviet regime and face up to the horrific legacy of Communist rule. Initially, Yeltsin seemed to embrace this goal, but by the time he left office at the end of 1999 he had achieved only limited progress.

Under his successor, Vladimir Putin, hopes of a complete reckoning with the Soviet past have diminished still further.

Putin has repeatedly said that he regrets the demise of the Soviet Union, and he has brought back some of the trappings and symbols used by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who established one of the most brutal and despotic regimes that ever existed. Putin often speaks proudly of the Soviet KGB, the notorious state security agency for which he worked in the 1970s and 1980s, and he has appointed a large number of former KGB officials to senior posts in his government.

Compared to all the other problems Russia now faces--a deteriorating health-care system, adverse demographic trends, severe fuel shortages in the Far East, and an endless war against Chechnya--the whitewashing of Soviet history might seem of only minor significance. But in fact, this issue...