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For Your Freedom, and Ours

part 1, 2, 3

Not long ago, on a trip to Moscow, where the traffic strikes a noisy contrast to the quiet campus of the Hackley school, Pavel Litvinov agreed to return to Red Square, to revisit and recall the scene of his 1968 protest. Litvinov is a tall, gentle, uncommonly strong willed man. At Red Square, at noon on this day, Litvinov surveys the scene and looks back in time.

After recounting the events of his 1968 protest, Litvinov begins to walk away from Red Square. He and our Moscow producer are stopped by a plain clothes officer from the Russian secret police.

"Show me your documents," the officer says. "What are you doing here? Do you have permission to be here? You can't record here on Red Square. Go away."

"I noticed that they were looking at me," says Litvinov. "That's kind of nostalgic of Soviet times. I don't know. Maybe it's a signal of times getting worse and more of a police state. Hopefully not."

Pavel Litvinov can brush off the encounter, but the Soviet police state is not entirely gone.

Back at the park near Red Square, the graveyard of communist monuments, people continue to argue. A middle aged couple faces the Stalin monument and converses. They disagree.

"Stalin did more bad than good," the woman says.

"What do you mean?" the man replies. "He rebuilt the country after the war. We needed someone to lift us up."

"But he was so severe," she says.

"Well, we needed someone like that back then," he answers.

In the monument park, near the statue of Joseph Stalin, a singer muses about the condition of Russia today. Since Soviet times, we have lost something, he says. Some people have prospered. Many have not. Hearts have been broken. We are tearing each other apart. The singer's lament reflects the fact that Russia has sorely been tested in its 14-plus years of post-Soviet independence. The test has been rigorous. Much as what Russia endured in the years after Stalin's death, and after Khrushchev's secret speech.

Ironically, if it was Khrushchev who sought to bury Stalin, Stalin today is enjoying a surge of popularity. Public opinion polls show that at least 50 percent of Russians view him favorably, a salve for some who pine for an iron hand and a sense of order in a time of uncertainty and change. An uncertain and troubling trend for others, who were inspired by Khrushchev's secret speech, who remember the past, and who value human dignity and freedom above all else.

Historians agree that Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech was the beginning of the end of Soviet communism. It was indeed, a speech that changed the world. But the demise of the USSR was long in coming, and Khrushchev's openness, his so-called "thaw," was short-lived. Russians would endure three more decades of repression before the Soviet Union collapsed. A post Soviet Russia would then embark on a democratic-style revolution, which is ongoing. Many people, inside Russia and in the West, wonder whether there's a fresh cycle of repression in Russia today. The answer may depend on how you look at Joseph Stalin. Cloak his evil, and Russia today may seem just about right. Fully unmask Stalin, and your assessment may well be quite different.


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