Haunted by Stalin's Ghost

Catherine Merridale examines competing versions of Russia's troubled past in the light of present politics.

The rebirth of history in Russia began at least two years before the European turning point of 1989. It was Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness, launched in 1986, that encouraged the tentative debates, discussions that were sponsored initially by the Kremlin itself. As a graduate student in Moscow University’s Faculty of History in 1986 I watched the process unfolding and I followed its gathering momentum during the next three years. The debates were unforgettable and culminated in a crisis so profound that school and university examinations in history had to be cancelled. Textbooks, teachers and curricula faced ignominy; the old questions were irrelevant. It was as if the past had come to life after more than 70 years, breaking through the tissue of political illusion to reclaim its place at the centre of Russia’s national imagination.

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