Is Stalinism Alive in Russia?

Vladimir Pachkov, SJ

Paid Article

Is the Russian secret service the proud heir of the Cheka?

On February 25, 1956, in a closed door meeting of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, after much hesitation and argument with the head of the party, Nikita Khrushchev gave his famous speech “on Stalin’s personality cult and its consequences,” thereby initiating the process of de-stalinization in the Soviet Union. This represents one of the greatest political successes of the 20th century if one thinks of the extreme violence, the total lack of rights, and the uncertainty that reigned under Stalin. The speech was supposed to remain secret and be presented only to the members of the Communist Party. It only became public through side channels. 

More than 60 years later, December 19, 2017, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), also gave a speech. It was not secret. On the contrary, the aim was to have it read by the greatest possible number of people. It was an interview that he gave to the editor-in-chief of the official newspaper of the Russian government, Rossiyskaya Gazeta. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the Security Service of the Russian Federation, founded with the name “Cheka” on December 20, 1917, less than two months after the rise to power of the Bolsheviks. Just as the speech of Khrushchev was a shock for the society of that time, so the speech of the FSB director has also been a shock today, at least for those in Russia who have heard about it or read it.

It was the first time since the 20th Congress of the Party that an important representative of the government has tried not only to justify the repression, but in a certain sense to present it as something positive. It has not happened since the time of Khrushchev’s speech.

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