Gorbachev Calls for Repression Museum

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on Wednesday urged the creation of a national museum and memorial to honor victims of Soviet-era repression and to document their demise.

The call by the leader whose glasnost campaign bared grisly details of Josef Stalin's terror presents a challenge to the Russian government, which critics say has glossed over the crimes of its predecessors to justify its own retreat from democracy.

Gorbachev expressed alarm over efforts to cast Stalin in a positive light -- as a "brilliant manager" rather than a murderous autocrat -- and said a real reckoning with one of the bloodiest periods in Russia's history is crucial for its future.

"Forgetfulness must be overcome; democracy and freedom must be strengthened," he told reporters.

Gorbachev said authorities have done much to honor Soviet soldiers who died during World War II. "As for the memory of people who fell into the millstone of Stalin's repressions, there is still a great deal to be done," he said.

A statement announcing the initiative, signed by Gorbachev and about 25 rights activists and cultural figures, said "the current and future generations need memory and knowledge of the repressions of the Stalin regime," which it said left few families untouched. Millions of people died in the gulags, and about a million were executed, it said.

"Humanity has great monuments dedicated to tragedies -- the Yad Vashem museum in Israel and the Holocaust museum in Berlin, for example," said Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire businessman who is backing the proposal. "We have nothing like that in this country."

Putin said last year that no one should try to make Russia feel guilty about the Great Terror, and a teacher's manual published during his presidency suggested Stalin's actions were justified by the need to modernize the economy.

"This new view of Stalin, Stalin as a hero, Stalin as the one to whom the country owes everything good ... is strengthening and a barrier must be erected against it," said Arseny Roginsky, a member of Memorial, a group that studies repression.

Roginsky said it was "shameful" that Russia has no national museum or memorial to the victims.

Gorbachev and his partners in the initiative said they hoped the idea will win broad backing from the populace but that state support would be needed. They said one suitable site for the complex would be Butyrka, a notorious tsarist and Soviet-era prison near central Moscow that still serves as a jail.

Gorbachev also said Lenin's body should moved from Red Square and buried.