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Interview with Sergei Kovalev: "Regarding an investigation of the deeds of Stalin, we simply have to tell the truth" (Novye Izvestiya)

posted 14 Sep 2015, 07:17 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Sep 2015, 07:38 ]
7 September 2015

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

Original source: Novye Izvestiya 

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

On 3rd September in Moscow a meeting took place of an initiative group that proposed setting up a public tribunal to judge Joseph Stalin and Stalinism. Among the initiators are Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the movement “For Human Rights” and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Liudmila Alekseeva, president of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Georgy Satarov, professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. There was also Sergei Kovalev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and chair of the Russian Memorial Association, who told Elena Romashova from Novye Izvestiya why he is against the word “tribunal”, why the judgment of Stalin is necessary at the present time, and what it will give Russian society.

- Sergei Adamovich, in order for the trial to be fair, as well as a prosecution, there must be a defence. Who would be an advocate for Stalin?

- I want to make clear it clear straight away that the word “tribunal” bothers me a bit. A tribunal is a means for the serving of justice. In our group, which is considering this intent, we are all prosecutors. But justice really does demand an independent consideration of both positions. But so far as concerns equality of arms, we are in a bad way: personally I do not observe any bona fide defenders.

- So it could end up that there will be no defence?

- I think they will have to find people for the defence not among sympathisers of Stalin and his colleagues in power. I doubt altogether that they will want to take part in the proceedings. But if they do want to take part, I doubt that they would be able to put up any serious defence. Therefore we have to draw educated and talented lawyers into this debate. After all, an advocate doesn’t need to think in at all the same way as their client. A professional advocate puts together a detailed and well worked out defence for any client, not just for one they personally find sympathetic. And these are the lawyers we have to find. But with judges it will be much more complicated.

- Why?

- Which one of us, with their hand on their heart, could say: “I am an independent and incorruptible judge”? Speaking personally I could not say this. Unfortunately, I am a partisan in this respect. I hope that truth is on my side but I could not swear to my own neutrality. Possibly these difficulties are surmountable. But for the moment I cannot see how it is possible to do this. Therefore, as it seems to me, this remarkable initiative should start with a carefully drawn up statement of the position of the prosecution, and one made in a legally competent fashion to boot. It should be composed in a direct, rigorous and very professional manner. But unfortunately the majority of those taking part in these discussions have a more publicity-orientated point of view. And in the given case this is insufficiently well-founded.

- So in the upshot, who should be on trial – Stalin personally, or more generally the whole Soviet system?

- Call it what you will, the investigation of the crimes of Stalin, Lenin and Stalin, of the whole Soviet system, in essence this question is of no significance. Because an investigation of this sort will automatically not be limited by time. And the investigation will not be limited to the Soviet period, but will include the current period. This follows from the logic of things.

- To what extent do you count on public support?

- I think that this isn’t especially important. In cases like this I am used to follow the example of Sakharov who used to say, do what must be done, and let be what will be. We know many examples from the natural sciences when insignificant changes in the final resort cause a major event. I'll give an example not from the sphere of natural sciences, but from the social history of humanity. What is the evidential basis for assertions that someone was killed, rose from the dead and appeared to witnesses? From the point of view of contemporary sciences, there is no evidence whatsoever. The same goes for other religions. One respected person, waking up in the morning,  related his visions and these were written down. What kind of religion came about as a result, we can now all see for ourselves. It's quite another matter that some of today’s Muslims, especially those radically inclined, are falsifying the main provisions of this religion. But one way or another we see what power this system of behaviour and thought has acquired. Moving on, I think that the phenomenon of dissidence, while it was completely insignificant in terms of its representation among the masses, played a significant historical role in the history of our country, and not only of our country. In due course this factor defined the direction taken by Gorbachev’s perestroika. Not because Mikhail Sergeevich paid heed to the dissidents, but because people with authority internationally showed him the direction he should take. I think that, regarding an investigation of the deeds of Stalin, we don’t need to think about whether this will have some influence on society or not. We simply have to tell the truth.

- Why is this tribunal necessary at this particular time?

- One of the reasons is that now in the public mind previous mistakes and crimes are beginning to attract positive attention from a very large number of people. For example: in Sevastopol people stood to applaud the song “Bring back Stalin”. One can see here a very worrying sign. Should one not similarly request the return of Hitler? By the way, at the start of his rule in Germany he improved the standard of living of Germans, unlike Stalin. On the other hand, it is not so important whether this is done now or later. Sometime or other this will have to be done all the same.

- But what will such a tribunal give us? Will the Russian authorities suddenly stop acting on the model of the Soviet regime?

- I don’t think that it is possible to re-educate our current leaders. But I think serious work in this direction can have an influence on international public opinion. And here we have some positive experience. In terms of the influence that the dissident movement has had on our path of development, the main role was played by Western public opinion, and not at all foreign politicians. You have to put pressure on politicians, since they are people who gather votes. But whose votes are they gathering? Politicians who strive to gather the votes of wise men are really fools. They must attract the votes of the masses.

- There are many documents which have remained classified to this day. Do you think it would be possible to draw up a full statement for the prosecution in this case without being in possession of the full information?

- It is possible to demand full disclosure of the facts. Possibly an important moment in putting together this statement for the prosecution would be handing over to the prosecutor’s office accusations based on those facts which are already in the public domain. Of course such findings would not be exhaustive, but they would be fully adequate to the situation. It stands to reason that the prosecutor’s office would dismiss this complaint as, for example, the military prosecutor dismissed the final conclusion about Katyn. Nevertheless even a refusal in relation to a process of this kind has its own logic. It demonstrates just what kind of justice system we are dealing with.

Translated by Frances Robson