Yevhen Sverstyuk, "The Year 1956 in the Evil Empire".
Chief communist Khrushchev voiced criticism of communism's leader, Stalin. The "bourgeois" West got to know the content of the secret speech before the "working masses of the USSR". For the communists, it was a blow, and for free people - a signal.
Among the "liberated nations" of Central Europe, the Poles were the first to react; revolts against Russia are vivid in their consciousness. Taking into account that the 1956 Poznan uprising was a workers' revolt, and that the ensuing violence was overt, the Kremlin's defeat was enormous enough to be followed by unprecedented concessions, up to the nomination of Gomulka (not long before a political prisoner) to the highest post of the First Secretary of the party.
Ukraine, drained by the 1933 famine and by the war (which claimed the lives of more civilians than soldiers), was recovering very slowly. In our country, the very fact of criticism of Stalin was a feast for the masses, and a signal for the intelligentsia to wake up. The enlargement of the socialist block increased the number of Kremlin's enemies, and this sparked hope.
In 1956, I started to work as a lecturer in Ukrainian literature at the Poltava Pedagogical Institute, and felt a calling to "awaken" my students. Gomulka's speech on the Stalinist system, seen as a criticism of the system as a whole, became a handy tool. It was important that the Russian-language edition of the "Polska" monthly was legally available in Ukraine, and it was even more important that yesterday's political prisoner was denouncing a system which had nothing in common with how it was being portrayed by Soviet publications. When I read that speech out loud to my students, they could not believe that one could buy it at a kiosk.
The most important thing in this exercise was to liberate the mind and to develop opinions independent from the ideology in force.
When, in 1956, monuments to the leaders suddenly started to disappear, it became a subject of jokes. Official Polish newspapers would improve our moods through their anecdotes with political subtext.
I am sure that street demonstrations without the intelligentsia's ironic smile would have meant much less. The laughter of the Khrushchev era was the first crack in the "evil empire". Culture and religion took the offensive, especially in Poland, and the provinces' cultural superiority is dangerous for the empire. Every "liberated" nation prepares some surprise for its "liberator".
It is worth recalling that Soviet veterans were awarded medals "for the liberation of Prague", "for the liberation of Bucharest"... But there were also medals "for the capture of Budapest" or "for the capture of Berlin". Warsaw had also been "liberated", but so deceitfully that one can speak of certain common traits between the Gestapo and the NKVD...
Events of 1956 show that in different countries socialism speaks with a false voice, and holds different values in different languages...
Demonstrations in Poland and the Hungarian Revolution unsettled the unity of the socialist block and the whole perspective of forced constructs with elements of liberalism.
In 1956, chief communist started dismantling the gulag system through rehabilitation of political prisoners and correcting the "mistakes" upon which the whole system had rested.
After eight years, this communist was demoted to the rank of pensioner in the Kremlin hospital.
- Nikita Sergeevich, can we give you an injection, or are you busy?
- Busy? I'm reading "Pravda".
- And what does it say?
- They are building communism.
- But you too were building communism...
- What else was there left to do?
Had he been given back the power, he would have sent tanks - yet again - into the streets of a "brotherly country's" capital.
There is a Ukrainian proverb: "A bad spark will burn the field and will disappear itself".
"The Year 1956" - main page
| Yevhen Sverstyuk|