Moscow’s NKVD restaurant drew social media protests and the letters on the big sign with its name outside have been removed.
The name of the restaurant is a chilling echo of the Stalin-era communist terror. The NKVD was the forerunner of the Soviet KGB secret police. In the 1930s and 1940s the NKVD arrested millions of people and many were executed.
The restaurant also sports a big portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Stalin’s image also featured on the restaurant’s menus.
Image source Twitter
NKVD restaurant is not far from the Kremlin and the old secret police headquarters, on Ostozhenka Street.
The controversy over the “NKVD” name featured in Russian Vesti TV news – one of the main broadcasts on the state-controlled Rossiya 24 channel.
However, some Russians voiced alarm at what appeared to be more whitewashing of history and an insult to Stalin’s many victims.
Public displays of Stalin portraits were taboo in the last decades of the Soviet Union – but they have reappeared during President Vladimir Putin era.
Vladimir Putin has emphasized the sacrifices made by the USSR in World War Two. But he has also acknowledged that Joseph Stalin’s security apparatus committed terrible crimes.
Leonid Gozman, of the Russian civil society organization, Perspektiva Foundation, said “it’s a rehabilitation of our country’s most tragic episodes.
“I can’t imagine a <<Gestapo>> restaurant in Munich or Berlin… A lot of our people consider the NKVD to have been a criminal organization. Many people’s relatives suffered or died [in that period].”
Russia has failed to explain why it kept key files secret when it investigated the 1940 Katyn massacre of more than 20,000 Polish war prisoners, the European Court of Human Rights says.
Russia failed to comply with a human rights obligation to provide evidence, the Strasbourg judges ruled.
Soviet Russia only admitted to the atrocity in 1990 after blaming the Nazis for five decades.
But the ruling also said the court had no authority to rule on the killings.
The massacre in Katyn forest took place before the European Convention on Human Rights was signed.
The court’s examination came after 15 relatives of the victims claimed that Russia had failed to carry out an adequate investigation.
They said Moscow had prevented them from finding out the truth about the killings in western Russia.
Moscow started a criminal investigation into the killings the same year, but the inquiry was discontinued in 2004 on the orders of the Russian chief military prosecutor’s office.
Russia has failed to explain why it kept key files secret when it investigated the 1940 Katyn massacre of more than 20,000 Polish war prisoners
Files about that decision remain classified, and the Polish claimants have not had access to it or any other information about the investigation.
No-one has ever been convicted in connection with the massacre, with Russian prosecutors arguing that those responsible are now dead.
However, in 2010 Russia’s parliament issued a statement saying more work needed to be done in “verifying the lists of victims… and uncovering the circumstances of the tragedy”.
The parliament also said the killings had been carried out on Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s orders.
In 2010, Russia also published online six once-secret files on the mass killings. The documents had until then only been available to researchers.
Poland has repeatedly demanded that Russia open all its files on Katyn.
The killings were carried out by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) in April and May 1940 in the Katyn forest near the city of Smolensk, and also near the village of Mednoye, in the Tver region, and the village of Pyatykhatky in what was then Soviet Ukraine.
The victims were members of the Polish elite, arrested after the USSR invaded and annexed eastern Poland in 1939.
They were shot on the recommendation of NKVD head Lavrenty Beria, according to one of the published secret files.
In a letter to Joseph Stalin dated March 5, 1940, Lavrenty Beria says the Polish prisoners of war should be executed and refers to them as “steadfast, incorrigible enemies of Soviet power”.
“Each of them is just waiting for liberation so as to actively join the struggle against Soviet power,” it says.
The letter bears Joseph Stalin’s signature in blue pencil, with the comment: “In favor”.
In April 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and more than 90 other government officials were killed when their plane crashed as it was trying to land at Smolensk airport to attend an event marking the Katyn massacre.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published 50 years ago this month.
A short, simply-told tale about a prisoner trying to survive the Gulag – the Soviet labor camp system – it is now regarded as one of the most significant books of the 20th Century.
“It was still dark, although a greenish light was brightening in the east. A thin, treacherous breeze was creeping in from the same direction. There is no worse moment than when you turn out for work parade in the morning. In the dark, in the freezing cold, with a hungry belly, and the whole day ahead of you. You lose the power of speech…”
In November 1962, one story shook the Soviet Union.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn described a day in the life of a prison camp inmate, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.
The character was fictional. But there were millions like him – innocent citizens who, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn himself, had been sent to the Gulag in Joseph Stalin’s wave of terror.
Censorship and fear had prevented the truth about the camps from being published, but this story made it into print. The USSR would never be the same again.
“We were absolutely isolated from information, and he started to open our eyes,” remembers writer and journalist Vitaly Korotich.
Life in the camps was something “it was impossible even to think about” he says.
“I read it and re-read it and I simply thought about how brave he was. We had a lot of writers but we never had such a brave writer.”
It was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who had sanctioned publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel nearly a decade after Stalin’s death. Allowing a book on the Gulag, he thought, would help debunk Stalin’s personality cult. However, one story sparked many more.
“After it was published, it was impossible to stop it,” Vitaly Korotich recalls.
“Immediately we received a lot of illegal publications. A lot of people who were in prison started to remember how it was.
“It was not the time of computers and printers. Books were printed on cigarette paper, it was the only way to make more copies. The Soviet Union was destroyed by information, only information. And this wave started from Solzhenitsyn’s One Day,” he said.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published 50 years ago this month
“According to his dossier, Shukhov was in for treason. He’d admitted it under investigation – yes, he had surrendered in order to betray his country and returned from a POW camp to carry out a mission for German intelligence. What the mission could be, neither Shukhov himself nor his interrogator could imagine. They left it at that – just <<a mission>>. The counter-espionage boys had beaten the hell out of him. The choice was simple enough: don’t sign and wear a wooden overcoat, or sign and live a bit longer…”
Hardline communists tried to put the genie back into the bottle. Nikita Khrushchev was deposed, de-Stalinization halted, and in 1974 Alexander Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled.
But that didn’t save the Soviet Union. And once the USSR had fallen apart, the full scale of Stalin’s crimes became clear.
On the edge of Moscow, Anatoly Mordashev shows me 13 mass graves stretching 1km (0.6 miles) around a field.
What happened here on the Butovo firing range was kept secret for more than half a century.
Between August 1937 and October 1938, 20,760 prisoners were brought to this place and executed by Stalin’s secret police. People living nearby were told the gunshots were just shooting practice.
Murdered here were Soviet workers and peasants, scientists and sportsmen, engineers and office clerks. They had been declared enemies of the people. And this was just one of many Stalin-era killing fields across the USSR.
Anatoly Mordashev tells me that now Russia knows the truth, it must never lose sight of what happened.
And yet Russia has already started to forget.
According to a recent survey, 48% of Russians today believe that Stalin had a positive influence on their country. Only 22% consider it was negative.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s widow, Natalya Dmitrievna, blames the leaders of modern Russia, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, for failing to make the country face up to its past.
“They didn’t carry out any de-Stalinization,” she said.
“On a state level, no-one ever declared communism to be criminal, or Stalin a tyrant who waged war on his own people. Now it’s too late for words.”
“All Eastern Europe after the end of the Soviet Union tried to finish with the communist way of life, in Poland, in Germany, everywhere,” recalls Vitaly Korotich.
“But not here. We needed our Nuremberg, like in Germany. But we never had it. And until we start discussing the problem of communism on the level Solzhenitsyn started 50 years ago, we’ll still live in this half-Soviet country which wants to be part of mankind, but is afraid of information about its own history.”
New evidence appears to back the idea that the US helped cover up Soviet guilt for the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish soldiers.
In an exclusive story, the Associated Press says that newly released documents support the suspicion that the Roosevelt administration did not want to anger its wartime ally, Joseph Stalin.
The documents were made public by the US National Archives on Monday.
More than 22,000 Poles were killed by the Soviets on Stalin’s orders.
Soviet Russia only admitted to the atrocity in 1990 after blaming the Nazis for five decades.
New evidence appears to back the idea that the US helped cover up Soviet guilt for the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish soldiers
The documents show that American prisoners of war sent coded messages to Washington in 1943 to say they had seen corpses in an advanced state of decay in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, in western Russia.
The group of American and British POWs had been taken by the Nazis against their will to witness the scene.
The information proves that the deaths had not been carried out by the Nazis, who had only recently occupied the area.
The close to 1,000 pages of new material will help determine what the US knew and when.
It has long been believed that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not want to question the version of events put out by Stalin, an ally whom the Americans were counting on to defeat Germany and Japan.
According to the report by the Associated Press, information about the massacre was suppressed at the highest levels in Washington.
Katyn expert Allen Paul said some of the material did not appear in the record of Congressional hearings in 1951-52 held to investigate the massacre, suggesting it had been deliberately kept hidden.
Among the new evidence is a report sent to President Roosevelt by the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – who did not challenge Stalin’s claim either – which also pointed to Soviet guilt.
The report is written by the British ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile in London, Owen O’Malley, AP says.
“There is now available a good deal of negative evidence, the cumulative effect of which is to throw serious doubt on Russian disclaimers of responsibility for the massacre,” Owen O’Malley wrote.
The April 1940 killings were carried out at Katyn and other sites by the NKVD secret police on Stalin’s orders.
Members of the Polish elite, including officers, politicians and artists, were shot in the back of the head and their bodies dumped in mass graves.
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