IN OTHER WORDS: Turning point

It’s been 50 years since Nikita Khrushchev made his famous “secret speech” to the 20th Communist Party Congress in the Kremlin in which he denounced Joseph Stalin’s “cult of personality.” Yet it was a turning point in history. The Gulags were shut down, and the Communist bloc began to break down.

Still, the secret speech remains shrouded in ambivalence. When Khrushchev denounced Stalin-era atrocities, he attributed them exclusively to the man, and even then, five years would pass before the Great Leader’s remains were removed from the mausoleum they shared with Vladimir Lenin’s. It took another 35 years of repressive rule before it became possible to explore the crimes of the Communist Party and its founder. The exposure of Stalin-era crimes did not end the repression, just as the debunking of Communist ideology did not lead to a culture of freedom. The majority of Russians seem happy that a strong leader is once again gathering powers in Kremlin.

Still to reread Khrush-chev’s speech is to realise that whatever this Russia is today, it is not Stalin’s hell. There may be xenophobia and corruption and a host of other failings, and true democracy may still be elusive. But there is nothing of that unspeakable terror and killing to which Khrushchev put an end 50 years ago.