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Kazakhstan is planning to open its secret service archives containing the records of thousands of people convicted during the repressive regime of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a move aimed at decolonizing the Soviet Union’s era in Central Asia, Radio Free Europe reported.

Kazakh officials will release 2.4 million KGB cards bearing the names of people killed between the mid-1920s and 1956 under the authoritarian rule of Stalinism. They said the move is also aimed at rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of people falsely convicted.

Kazakhstan is currently observing a month of remembrance for the victims of repression under Stalin’s dictatorship, including activists and elites accused of promoting Central-Asian nationalism. In 1937 and 1938 alone, 120,000 people were arrested in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, and 25,000 were executed.

Kazakhstan and a number of Central Asian countries, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, were part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the early 1990s.

The USSR had carried out a divide-and-rule strategy to isolate client states in Central Asia, which shared a common cultural heritage. Russian imperialism in Kazakhstan and its neighboring countries lived on following the collapse of the Soviet Union through the influence of Russian media and interference by Moscow.

Historians and activists said that making KGB archives public is intended to support Kazakhstan’s efforts of decolonization and countering Soviet narratives, including the myth maintained by the KGB that Kazakhs “(told) on each other.”

Steering away from the Russian rhetoric will shed light on the historical background of issues tearing Central Asia apart and improve relations between the region’s countries, Kyrgyz journalist Mirjan Balybaev told RFE.

Other countries in the region have also moved to open their archives and rehabilitate victims. British-American author Robert Conquest estimated in his book “The Great Terror” that the number of Soviet citizens who died under repression during the Stalin era went beyond 12 million.

Russia, meanwhile, has criticized the recent efforts as “anti-Russian” and said it dishonored the Soviet Union’s legacy. The criticism comes as Russia itself has been moving in the opposite direction, erecting monuments glorifying Stalin and destroying the records.

In 2021, the Supreme Court ordered the dismantling of Memorial International, an organization that worked to rehabilitate Stalin’s victims.

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