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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Uncensured Past Teaches Us Nothing




Every country has designs on the past, but Russia's approach to historic revisionism is particularly unique. Heroes are dethroned, villains become nice guys, and the pursuit of a more or less objective truth is rarely the objective.


It's a confusing lesson for a country that has yet to learn much from the mistakes of its past. A periodic rescrambling of the chessboard may be distracting, but it still brings Russia no closer to the sense of closure it needs in order to begin building a foundation of civic, political and moral accountability. In the meantime, a new generation of (many) villains and (fewer) heroes are laying the groundwork for history's next undoubtedly fuzzy chapter. It's enough to make you wonder: Will Boris Yeltsin be promoted to sainthood in the 21st century?


The practice of court-endorsed public rehabilitation is a case in point. Ostensibly created as a healing gesture to restore honor lost to citizens unjustly victimized by the Soviet regime, the process has lately been used in attempts to salvage the reputations of some fairly unlikely "victims" - people like Vassily Stalin and Lavrenty Beria.


Following the letter of the law, justice, it's true, wasn't served in the trials of either Vassily Stalin - the son of the dictator - or Beria, the notorious ringleader of Josef Stalin's secret police. Both were convicted on trumped-up charges, both were subjected to show trials orchestrated by Nikita Krushchev, exercising his birthright and avidly cleaning house.


In reexamining the Soviet Union's creative and self-serving use of legal procedure, Russia's Supreme Court is in fact duly upholding respect for current constitutional law - an admirable and necessary thing. If the cases against Stalin and Beria are clear violations of legal justice, then in one sense their rehabilitations are no different than any others.


In one sense. But if legal precision is a pure pursuit, truth and reconciliation are a far trickier goal. Vassily Stalin at worst may have been a spendthrift and a scamp, but Beria by any measure is among the most nefarious criminals in Soviet history. Responsible for millions of deaths and unspeakable cruelty towards innocent citizens, he is a sinister paragon of human evil - not a prime candidate for a program of state-sanctioned forgiveness.


In the name of legal scruples, yes - let the rehabilitation department push its papers and treat Beria's case like any other's. But the process shouldn't stop there. At some point, Russia will have to remove its blinkers and take an honest, panoramic view of its often ugly past. A bureaucratic whitewash isn't the answer.