In November 2004, Nona Panova was being interviewed by a researcher from the Russian human rights organization Memorial, working under my direction on an oral history project about private life in the Stalin era. Nona, a 75-year-old woman whose father had been arrested during the purges of the 1930s, had been talking for several hours about her upbringing in St. Petersburg and her family when she saw the tape recorder with its microphone. The conversation went like this:Panova: So that's how it was.… [Notices the tape recorder and shows signs of panic.] Are you recording this? But I'll be arrested! They'll put me into jail!More at the link. Ms. Panova thought she'd be killed. Here's another part this was gripping:
Interviewer: Who'll put you in jail?
Panova: Someone will.… I've told you so much; there's so much I've said.…
Interviewer: [Laughs.] Yes, and it was very interesting, but tell me, who today would want to put you in jail?
Panova: But did you really make a recording?
Interviewer: Yes, don't you remember? I warned you at the start that our conversation would be recorded.
Panova: Then that's it. It's all over for me -- they'll arrest me.
For years, what the world knew about the Soviet Union was limited entirely to the public sphere. Apart from a few memoirs by great writers caught up in the repressions of the 1930s, particularly Evgenia Ginzburg and Nadezhda Mandelstam, there was little from a personal perspective coming out of those years. More representative testimonies began to emerge only in the glasnost period, when victims of Stalin's repression were encouraged to come forward with their stories. Organizations like Memorial helped them look for information about their missing relatives, took interviews, and organized archives from the mass of documents, letters, photographs, and artifacts that people brought into their offices in plastic bags and boxes following the Soviet regime's collapse.Living in fear as a direct result of communist totalitarian control. This is where today's progressives seek to return. They're communists, and just take a look across the radical left establishment today. To simply speak out against the PC commissars is to risk a termination of employment, personals attacks, threats of violence, or even possible jail time in country's like Canada and the Netherlands. Progressives are communists. Like Soviet citizens under Stalin, there is no dissenting from the progressive line without threat to life and liberty.
And yet even these documents were difficult to interpret. Take diaries, usually regarded as the most direct expression of an individual's private thoughts and emotions. Diarists of the 1930s and 1940s, however, faced serious obstacles. When a person was arrested, the first thing to be confiscated was the diary, which was likely to be used as incriminating evidence. Many diaries that came to light during the glasnost years express conformist political ideas. Should we take their words at face value, as expressions of a genuine yearning to belong to the Soviet collective, which was no doubt felt by many people insecure about their place in the system? Or should it be assumed that fear drove more to hide themselves behind a mask? Two major finds have been translated from Russian: the 1930s diary of Stepan Podlubny, a kulak son fashioning a Soviet identity for himself in a factory school, which was published in Germany as Tagebuch aus Moskau (1996) by historian Jochen Hellbeck; and Nina Lugovskaya's schoolgirl diary from the same decade, published in English as I Want to Live (2006). For Hellbeck, the Podlubny diary shows how the individual was practically unable to think outside the terms defined by Soviet politics. In this vision of the "Soviet subject" -- developed by Hellbeck from several newly discovered Stalin-era diaries in Revolution on My Mind (2006) -- there is little space for private life at all, if we take that to depend on independent thought. Yet the Lugovskaya example shows that even a schoolgirl subjected to the full array of propaganda about the "radiant Soviet future" was not only capable of dissenting, pessimistic, and even "anti-Soviet" thoughts, but eager to confess them to her diary as an expression of her individuality.