The word “lustration” is quite popular among the Russian progressive and educated public – many regret that this thing was not resorted to after the fall of the Soviet Union and Soviet power and that if it had been carried out in time, secret service men would not have made their way through to power.
By contrast, the word “repentance” is not in vogue, although Tengiz Abuladze’s film of the same name played a colossal role to rouse historical awareness and public opinion on the eve of perestroika. And when German President Joachim Gauck called on Russia in June this year at a Potsdam forum to repent of the Soviet regime’s crimes, this touched off a wave of insolent publications in the nationalist and pro-governmental press and remained almost unnoticed by the public that considers itself democratic. Moreover, this stirred up resentment in many – do they want us to repent of defeating Nazism?
Lustration is a different thing: “Once we come to power we will immediately… Look, there’s denazification in Germany, and in Eastern Europe there’s…”
If people had been saying this in the Soviet era, when it was impossible to know in detail the true history of our and other nations from the accessible sources of information, this craze for lustrations would have been easy to understand. But now that one can learn many important and interesting things about, say, lustration and denazification without leaving home, this kind of calls are rather strange indeed.
Besides, which is far more essential, what stands behind this is failure to understand European and Russian history. As for Germany, the Allies’ conference held in January 1943 in Casablanca without participation of the Soviet Union announced that the war’s aim was unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Contrary to the longtime misinformation about the Allies, in which Yulian Semyonov and his literary hero Stierlitz especially excelled, it is not the USSR but Britain and the US that feared – after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – that Stalin might betray them and conclude a separate peace treaty with the Nazis.
And surrender envisages loss of sovereignty and former statehood. Back to square one… Nothing of the sort has ever occurred in the Russian Federation.
This erroneous analogy is easy to debunk, while the attempts to put Russia in the same line with the countries that got rid of a tank-enforced socialism are out of place for a different reason. The postwar political regime in these countries only rested on Russian tanks, on the assumption that the Soviet Union will not allow any reforms to exceed a certain limit. There was national liberation in all the former socialist countries and Soviet republics except for Russia. Even what happened in Romania and former Yugoslavia was connected with elimination of the Eurasian pole of force. And things were simpler in the countries where Soviet troops were stationed. When it became clear that they would stay in the barracks, the Berlin Wall was torn down.
As for the former Soviet republics, it is just funny to speak about any legitimacy of the occupation government that signed the 1922 Union Treaty with the Russian Federal Soviet Republic.
This is the fundamental difference of Russia from Germany, the countries of tank-enforced socialism, and former Soviet republics. The advocates of lustration do not take this into account. As a rule, they do not know that among those who opposed lustration were Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Zhelyu Zhelev. And, finally, they do not know at all that it was carried out differently in different counties and never on a total scale, was highly individual, and in some cases was used as an instrument of political struggle inside the new ruling elites.
To sum up the very diverse experience, we can say that people were condemned not so much for the very fact of collaboration with the former regimes’ secret services as for hiding this collaboration. As for communist party membership or work in governmental bodies, a formalistic approach was also impossible here. For example, the latest elections in today’s Germany saw a larger number of votes cast for the Left Party which had emerged from East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party. Moreover, the two highest state offices are held by East Germany-born people, so Ms. Merkel might as well be called Eurokanzlerin rather than Bundeskanzlerin.
Therefore, lustration is rather a limited measure. Yet Germany managed to cure itself of Nazism, whereas Russia… And what should it actually be cured of? Not of communism but of its own self…
Unlike Nazism, communism was just a temporary historical manifestation of the deep-seated features of Russian self-identity. The current Russian regime seems to have no ideology at all, which does not prevent it from being imperially aggressive. And the Russians should repent not of communism and Soviet power but of their unwillingness and inability to become a European nation. This is why it is futile to expect a Russian Havel or Walesa to appear. National liberation leaders in Central European countries always reminded their people that they belonged to European civilization. It was easy to say and pleasant to hear this. But the Russians will have to be aware of the opposite. It is not so pleasant, and it is difficult to speak of this because there is no hope to be heard.
So what exactly happened in Germany, when it carried out rather a low-key denazification in the first postwar decade? Of course, we must not underrate the importance of what was done immediately after the war. Just one example: Willy Brandt, who had fought against Nazi Germany in the Norwegian army and actively opposed Nazism as journalist, was elected to the Bundestag as early as 1949. The country was full of multidirectional political and social processes which finally led to real – moral and intellectual rather than formally legal – denazification. This was, to some extent, part of a social update of the entire Western civilization in the 1960s.
Germany found the intellectual and cultural leaders of this process, who had formed themselves back in the 1950s. They comprised, above all, the Nobel Prize-winning writers Heinrich Boell and Guenter Grass. There was also a strong old anti-Nazi tradition connected with the names of Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Erich Maria Remarque.
It is absolutely impossible to imagine in this role such representatives of the leading Russian writers as Dmitry Bykov, who has nostalgia for the USSR, and Stalinist-minded Zakhar Prilepin. And quite a considerable number of intellectuals who supported Alexei Navalny in the Moscow mayoral elections will not call for any repentance. To be more exact, they will be calling upon others, not themselves.
This is in fact the main factor in the Russian intellectual and social life. Russian intellectuals urge everybody to repent but, as before, consider themselves holy and sinless. Everybody means compatriots and other nations that have proved to be so ungrateful – not to the Russians but to the Russian intelligentsia – that they opted for sovereignty, not to mention such trifles as a wish to speak and write in the native language. What for, if there is the great and powerful Russian language?
It is this attitude to other nations, languages and cultures that the Russian intelligentsia is so far not going to repent of. Its members become very surprised when told that they are accomplices of Russian fascism.
And can you imagine a Russian politician to do something similar to what Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt once did – he knelt before a monument to the victims of Nazism in the Warsaw ghetto? What for? Well, there is a park nearby, which is named after him. And there is an avenue in Grozny named after Putin just in his lifetime. We need no repentance at all.