Rethinking Soviet Past

Debating the totalitarian part of a country’s history is a precondition to shape the transition process dedicated to democratic values. To help overcome these legacies of the past, the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office (HBF) has a new initiative to develop new projects on rethinking the Soviet Past. To set up the projects, the HBF and partners are drawing on international expertise, in both coming to terms with a dictatorial past and in engaging the public with such difficult questions.

To identify interested and experienced potential partners for the project, as a starting point for researching the Soviet past HBF and DVV International on November 9–10, 2009 organized an international conference “Terror Topography – Rethinking Soviet Georgian History (Stalinism, Totalitarianism, Repressions)” in Tbilisi.

As a result an initiative group consisting of the participants of the conference was established. Working on the topic of Stalinism, terror and repressions and initiating research with the aim of creating documental and educational routes of Soviet terror and repressions in Tbilisi was assigned as the first project of the group. On March 29, 2010 the group was registered as a non-governmental organization “Soviet Past Research Laboratory” (SovLab).

In 2010 supported and co-financed by the HBF and DVV International SovLab carried out the project “Red Terror Topography”. In the frameworks of this project a route map and tours showing buildings and places associated with Soviet terror and repression were developed.

On July 1-2, 2010, HBF in cooperation with the project partners (DVV International, SovLab, and Memorial Moscow) held an International Workshop with experts who have addressed similar questions in other countries, most notably in the Baltic States. Former Prime Minister of Estonia Mart Laar, representatives of Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs, along with representatives from Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, and the Human Rights and Humanitarian Society Memorial (Moscow, Russia) participated in the workshop. The workshop participants agreed to assist the launch of an international consortium for the Stalin Museum in Gori. High-level political support could lead to establishing a museum and a research center, with global scope, focused on communist crimes and located in Gori. Such a center would include the current Stalin Museum as one part of its exhibits.

As one of the results of the Workshop a new project was initiated and implemented by SovLab with the financial support of HBF and with the partnership of DVV International. Idea of the project was to issue a thematic calendar for 2011 showing houses, buildings, and streets in the old part of Tbilisi, particularly in Mtatsminda and Sololaki, where the most important period of Soviet epoch – Stalinist repressions, known nowadays as the Big Terror – was taking place.

In the frameworks of the project "Rethinking Soviet Past" since 2011 the HBF is also collaboratng with the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), which researches and studies Soviet past based on archival documents, oral histories, and other relevant materials. Cooperating with the Archive Administration of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, financed by the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia IDFI implemented the project “Publishing of the Collection of Archival Documents” (Archival Documents in Relation with the Events Developing in Georgia from the 5th to the 9th of March of the Year of 1956) (in Georgian). On March 25, 2011 presentation of the project was hosted by the HBF.

Since 2010 the HBF in cooperation with the IDFI is implementing the project "Stalin's lists on Georgia" co-financed by the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia. The project's aim is to research, collect, analyze, and present the information about the victims of the “Great Terror” of 1937-1938 in Georgia, particularly about the persons who were sentenced to extreme penalty by Stalin and other Politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party) members. Total number of the repressed people in Stalin's Lists from Georgia is 3 600. The project was supported by the HBF partner organization the Human Rights and Humanitarian Society Memorial (Moscow, Russia), which provided the research team with the valuable materials on Stalin's terror in Georgia and donated publications to the HBF. The publications are available at the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia.

On June 11, 2012 Goethe Institute in Tbilisi hosted the Exhibition – Repressions of 1937 -1938: “Stalin’s Lists on Georgia” (in Georgian) displaying the researched documents and visual materials obtained in the frameworks of the project. The event was supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia, the South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation and the Archive Administration of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.

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