3 June 2022
by Ilya Shablinsky, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group
Novocherkassk, 1962. We remember.
Yesterday, 2 June 2022, marked 60 years to the day when the Novocherkassk demonstrators were gunned down.
This milestone drifts ever further away, gradually overshadowed by other events. But we remember.
The strike at the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Works had begun the day before, on 1 June, the demands relating to the dire economic conditions of its workers. On the morning of 2 June, several thousand demonstrators marched through town to the central square. On being ordered to use tanks against the demonstrators, tank division commander and Hero of the Soviet Union General Matvei Shaposhnikov refused to comply. By the start of the rally, Interior Ministry troops had been deployed around the building of the Soviet Communist Party city committee (today, some student historians have difficulty recalling that government institutions ever had such a name) and up to the square. No attempt to negotiate with the striking workers or, subsequently, demonstrators was made. They were urged to return to work, with the vague promise that their demands would be considered.
During the rally, the soldiers were given the order to use deadly force. Around 30 people were killed in total, while a further 500 or so were injured. The protest had been peaceful. Its informal leaders were later executed by court order – seven people in all: Aleksandr Fedorovich Zaitsev, Andrei Andreevich Korkach, Mikhail Aleksandrovich Kuznetsov, Boris Nikolaevich Mokrousov, Sergei Sergeevich Sotnikov, Vladimir Dmitrievich Cherepanov, and Vladimir Georgievich Shuvaev. Five years later, General Matvei Shaposhnikov sent letters to a number of top officials, giving an account of the events in Novocherkassk and defending the protest. He was sent into retirement and had criminal proceedings opened against him. But given the general’s past heroism and his involvement in nearly all major tank battles of the war, the case was classified.
The Novocherkassk prosecutions were quietly declassified as recently as 1992, although by then the events had already begun to come to light.
We would do well to remember every bloody milestone in our history. We know how easily human life can be devalued.
Translated by Lindsay Munford