29 March 2021
By Anton Orekh
Source: Ekho Moskvy
A silver lining can be found in even the most unedifying of stories. The wave of criticism that is now breaking over Denis Karagodin tells us that being a Stalinist executioner is still regarded as a shameful and reviled chapter in anyone’s biography. We have not yet reached the point that a portrait of Yagoda is on display in every police station, or that bronze statues of Beria are on display at exhibitions of achievements. People endeavour to talk about the repressive measures as little as possible and without going into any details; all the same, things have not yet gone so far that the destruction of our own citizens is regarded as necessary or justified or (God forbid) a good idea. Denis Karagodin took it upon himself to play the role of the state, or rather the state of days gone by, when it was obliged to do two things: to name victims and to name murderers.
Names are a sore subject in Russia. Our history is a depersonalised narrative. Both the bad and the good are concealed either behind invented characters like Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen, or behind an abstract faceless crowd. The same is true for the predominant cult – the cult of victory. Who knows how many millions of people perished? Who can tell us what these people were called? Now the archives have been placed back under lock and key and nothing whatsoever remains apart from St George’s ribbons and blatant propaganda.
The same goes for the repressive crackdowns. We’ve all seen the fuss about the crucially important “Last Address” project, which restores the names of real people and is designed to remind us that these people who vanished through no fault of their own lived exactly where we do, walked along the very same streets that we do and quite probably dreamed about the exact same things that we do. Yury Dmitriev has been imprisoned and very deliberately accused of a despicable crime so that his investigations into Stalinist crimes are tainted with accusations of paedophilia.
The work that Denis Karagodin is engaged in is just as important. He restores names, to both victims and executioners. It is impossible for him to invent things, because he uses no sources other than the archives (those to which access has not yet been permanently removed). Karagodin does not set out to defame the descendants of those who murdered his great-grandfather; they are irrelevant. Yet the truth does not sit comfortably with some of these descendants, or perhaps with certain others who have no involvement in the matter.
After all, today’s authorities are – politically speaking – the successors to the Chekists, and kindred spirits with those who wasted no time on sentimentality, but simply put up against the wall enemies and random bystanders alike. Our authorities base their actions on a past in which there should ideally be no hint of negativity, and any individual “excesses” – if they cannot be passed over in complete silence – should be mentioned reluctantly and briefly. In acquitting himself of his duty towards his perished great-grandfather, Karagodin is in fact chipping away at the foundation of all the dirty tricks and outrages we see today. Even though today’s repressions may seem minor, they follow in the footsteps of the hard-hitting repressive measures that took place in our country 70, 80 and 90 years ago.
Karagodin is very open about exactly what he is doing, and also about the obstacles that people are putting in his way. We too should make sure that we talk about such things loudly, extensively and without cease. Not only in memory of those who perished, but also for the sake of ensuring that history does not repeat itself with us as the subjects.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds