Nobody in the Soviet Union spoke up for a few years after Stalin's death. In the minds of a long-terrorized public, dying was exactly the sort of thing Stalin might do in order to expose and purge a new wave of enemies to the state. Was he actually dead? Miserable as they were, Soviet citizens and politicians alike knew better than to believe that Stalin was finished.
Inside the Stalin Archives reveals a modern Russia in which those citizens were, in a way, right. Today, more than 55 years after his death, Stalin remains an inescapable presence in Russia - not only in the slogans of extremist political groups, but also on boxes of chocolates sold at airports. Stalin's crimes are public knowledge; at least 20 million people were killed or starved over the course of his twenty-five years in power, and countless more were tortured, imprisoned, or simply tormented by fear of coming under seemingly arbitrary suspicion by Soviet authorities. Virtually no one who lives in present-day Russia does not personally know someone who suffered at Stalin's hands. So why has the "new" Russia been unable to shake off his legacy?
With access to long-classified state and party archives, ranging from secret KGB dossiers and interrogations to diaries and letters of Kremlin leaders, Jonathan Brent creates a portrait of how the Soviet system worked - its public and private goals, its means of achieving them, and the complex tangle of hope and terror that marked daily life under Stalin, all the way up to his right-hand man. But Inside the Stalin Archives also looks at how the new country that emerged in 1991 tried and failed to confront that past - and what that means for the still-evolving Russian government today.
Jonathan Brent is the editorial director of Yale University Press, where he founded the Annals of Communism series in 1991. He is the co-author of Stalin's Last Crime, and a frequent contributor to the New Criterion, the Observer, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He teaches Soviet literature and history at Bard College and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
DVD 2008-11-12: Jonathan Brent
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