O universo comunista nunca mais seria o mesmo...
Paulo Roberto de Almeida
Brasília, 1 de dezembro de 2018
The secret speech that changed world history
Fifty years ago Nikita Khrushchev shocked the Soviet Union by denouncing Stalin in a special address to Communist party comrades. The text, detailing the dictator's crimes, was smuggled out of Moscow and later published in full in The Observer. John Rettie recalls his part in the mission and reflects on a pivotal episode of the 20th century.
The sublime strains of Sibelius echoed off the walls of my Moscow flat as Kostya Orlov unfolded Nikita Khrushchev's grim tale of the obscene crimes committed by his predecessor, Josef Stalin. It was an evening half a century ago, a week or so after Khrushchev had denounced the horrors of Stalin's rule to a secret session of the Soviet Communist Party's 20th Congress.
'I was born in Siberia in 1910. My father had been exiled there in Tsarist times after killing a Cossack who attacked a workers' demonstration that he was taking part in. In 1941 I was working in Mongolia as a typist for a group of Soviet journalists. They were producing a newspaper to be distributed in Manchuria with the hope of making the Chinese sympathetic to us. But the censor decided it was a "provocation". We were all arrested and sent to the Gulag. When the war started the men were sent to the front and I was left behind. I spent eight years in the camps. In 1945 I got word that my two sons had died in the Leningrad blockade and my husband had perished fighting in Smolensk. I was released in 1949, but not allowed to live in the 39 biggest cities in the Soviet Union. I stayed in the Far East and had to report to the police every week. I had no life. My only friends were former inmates. When Stalin died in 1953 we closed the door tight and danced with joy. Finally, in 1956, a few months after Khrushchev's speech, I was fully rehabilitated. My life changed. I could travel. I got a decent job and pension. We former prisoners were very thankful for Khrushchev's bravery.'
'Stalin couldn't do anything without fear, a loathsome dictator. Khrushchev was more a dictator of stupidities. My attitude to him is rather sympathetic and warm. He returned life to millions of people. But in reality it was a very bad freedom under Khrushchev. Only people like the Soviets who had had the horrifying experience of dictatorship for 30 years could have been happy with the thaw. Khrushchev squandered his chance. No one knew where the country was going. There were placards everywhere with Lenin saying: "Take the right road, comrades!" But in which direction?'
'Stalin wasn't all bad. He possessed decisiveness. He was strict and efficient, and he could make quick decisions, even if they weren't always the right ones. It's very difficult for me to evaluate what life was like under Stalin. I only know it from books and what my relatives told me. What do I know about Khrushchev? Well, he was famous for doing impulsive things like wanting to plant maize everywhere. And the time he banged his shoe on the table [at the UN in 1960]. Some people say that President Vladimir Putin is a dictator, but I think it's incorrect. Although there were a few good characteristics which Stalin had that Putin also has.'
'Grandpa was a kind man, but very demanding. When he retired he asked me to help to repaint a greenhouse at his dacha in Petrovo Dalnee. Afterwards, he checked every detail to show me where I had painted badly. Of course, he participated in the repressions, but the fact that he dared expose Stalin was courageous. Half his speech was improvised - he was sharing his own recollections. He believed in the inevitable failure of capitalism. Someone described him as the "last romantic of communism" and I agree with that.'
'By the time Khrushchev came to power, the country was tired of fear. He understood this. And he had a sincere aspiration to ease the pain of the people. Before his speech in 1956 there was already a consensus for change among the elite. The people themselves could not be the engine of change because they were struggling for survival. But despite his speech Khrushchev was a child of Stalin. He had a similar mindset: there are two opinions in the world, mine and the wrong one. His absurd agricultural projects and his foreign policy gaffes meant the country got no peace.'