Stalinist repression in MASSR and memory of victims of totalitarian communist regime. IPN debate

The repression of the totalitarian communist regime started together with the Red Terror and represented a set of punitive measures taken the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922 against social groups declared class enemies and against persons accused of counterrevolutionary activities. On the current territory of the Republic of Moldova, the citizens from the left side of the Nistru were subject to this repression in the interwar period, but especially in 1937-1938, during the Stalinist Great Terror. The reasons and effects, the victims and executioners and the steps that need to be taken to keep the memory of the then victims and to prevent such phenomena were among the issues discussed by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Stalinist repression in MASSR and memory of victims of totalitarian communist regime”.

The permanent expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan said that the repression was an instrument and method of intimidation against the anti-Bolshevik forces and against the population in general. The Bolsheviks broadly used the terror and violence against class enemies earlier, right before the issuing of the decree “On Red Terror” of September 5, 1918.

According to him, one of the ideologists and promoters of this policy, Felix Dzerzhinsky, defined “Red Terror” as the intimidation, arrest and destruction of enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation.

“The Red Terror is an episode of the general terror of the totalitarian communist regime. It had a determined and relatively limited period. In 1937-1938, it started formally with the appointment of Nikolai Yezhov as head of the NKVD, who issued the famous Order No. 00447 in July 1937, and ended in November 1938 with large-scale arrests, including of Yezhov and his protégés,” explained Igor Boțan.

He noted that this terror covered also the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR), which was created by the Soviet authorities as part of Soviet Ukraine on October 12, 1924. It included the Transnistrian districts that currently form part of the Republic of Moldova and the districts of Odessa region of Ukraine. The given republic was created on the initiative of Grigory Kotovsky as an instrument for propagating communism in Bessarabia and the Balkans,” said the project’s expert.

Doctor of History Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu, head of the Contemporary History Section of the Institute of History of the Moldova State University, said the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created as a bridgehead to expand the proletarian and imperial revolution of Soviet Russia. In 1924, an initiative group was constituted to build such an autonomous republic. “Grigory Kotovsky played an important role in this group. By October 12, they decided to create this autonomous republic consisting of 11 districts, initially as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was later extended to cover 14 districts, with a territory of over 800,000 square meters. We have the data of the census of 1935, which show that the new entity  included 582,000 persons and 31.6% of these were Moldovans, 45.5% were Ukrainians, 9% were Russians, 7% were Jews and a smaller percentage were Germans,” stated the university lecturer.

Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu said that in this period that lasted until August 2, 1940, when the entity created in 1924 was dismembered, the population of the region went through all the horrors of the Stalinist totalitarian regime, such as famine, collectivization, repression and communist terror. “These are the stages that marked the forced Sovietization of this territory and that were nothing but a general scenario applied by the administration from the Kremlin at all the peripheries of the Soviet Empire,” he stated.

In another development, the doctor of history said that after the Great Union, Bessarabia was integrated into Greater Romania and covered the stages typical of the whole country. First of all, it goes to the agrarian reform whose goal was to allot land to peasants and to create a class of peasants who could be included in a real economic circuit and in a free market. It also goes to the democratic elections of 1919, which were held for the first time as part of Greater Romania. Parties were formed and these integrated into the work of the administrative bodies of Romania.

“Bessarabia returned to a normal evolution cycle, to normality and it developed and became part of a European country. But we know that in 1940 this development was interrupted by the intervention of Soviet Russia and the annexation of Bessarabia,” stated Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu.

Doctor of History Mihai Țurcanu, of the Institute of History of the Moldova State University, said that terror and repression had existed in the Soviet Union since its creation. The fleeing of refugees from westward the Nistru to Bessarabia during the Russian Civil War is an issue that hasn’t been studied much. “Those refugees included tens of thousands of Jews. By a letter that is kept in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, the great Rabin of Chisinau Țirelson addressed Daniel Ciugureanu, who then managed Bessarabia, and asked for assistance in the integration and helping of about 20,000 Jews who fled the pogroms witnessed then eastward the Nistru, which were conducted both by “white guards” and by the Red Army,” stated the historian.

According to him, the famine of 1921 followed as a component part of the systemic terror against the civil population in Soviet Russia, caused by the Soviet policy imposed by Lenin. “It goes to the forced requisition of food products for satisfying the needs of the Red Army and the urban centers on which the communist power depended during the years of the Civil War and that led to millions of victims. The most modest estimates show that the victims totaled about 1 million. The figure of 5 million victims is at the other extreme. This phenomenon was overcome only with international assistance, through the support offered by the United States through the agency of an American association that at a certain moment was feeding 12 million Russians daily. This support offered by the American Congress was stopped when they learned that the Soviets used that money to sign in secret contracts for the purchase of arms with Germany instead of feeding the own citizens. In the period, Lenin obliged the notable representatives of the Russian intellectuality who remained in the country to publicly ask for foreign support. He, as the leader of the Soviet Union, could not do this as in theory he was managing the happiest country, with the most satisfied and free population. He then shot dead those persons for having asked for support,” stated Mihai Țurcanu.

The historian noted that the period of industrialization and collectivization followed and this coincided with the passing to a peaceful epoch with relative welfare against what had been there earlier. The collectivization of 1927-1928, 1932-1933 was followed by the forced collectivization and the famine that accompanied this. The famine claimed millions of lives in Soviet Ukraine and on the territory of the then Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

“The estimates put the figures at 18,000 to 35,000 victims in the MASSR. These were people who simply didn’t have what to eat and could not survive. Many of them tried to find refuge,” said Mihai Țurcanu.

The public debate entitled “Stalinist repression in MASSR and memory of victims of totalitarian communist regime” was the 25th installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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