Understanding Our Family History

Another topic of my conversation with Anna was about an understanding of people’s motives and preception of the world around them. That’s precisely the reason I started this blog; that’s why I try to be very honest with myself about the past.

Anna told me that she read somewhere on the internet about her great-grandfather, the one who was NKVD Major General, and about his career in the 1920s. She asked me whether she understood correctly, what he was doing in Middle Asia and Azerbaijan, and I confirmed. I think that it is essential to understand what many people were both the executors and the victims of the Great Terror. That is something I am not going to hide. And as Anna put it, she wants to understand, what was going on the people’s heads, how they could justify within themselves all these actions. How could a highly educated and very intelligent person consciously participate in the “kulak’s liquidation.” I can only guess about him. But I remember what his sister-in-law, my grand aunt, was telling me about her joining the Communist Party after most of her family was prosecuted. And I am going to write about it in the future. 

As for myself, I am trying to trace with a high level of detail, why I was OK with everything going around me, how I justified it and what I was thinking about all of it? Anna told me that she curious to find out how, when, and why my views changed. I am curious myself to go back into my memories and figure that out.

I have a very good memory and remember a lot about past events. More importantly, most of the time, I remember what exactly I was thinking at certain moments. So I hope I won’t be a victim of my own confirmation bias. 

I am going to write down my reply to one of Anna’s questions. She asked me how I felt about informants being infiltrated everywhere, into each student group in the university, into each room at work. We knew about that, and it felt wrong. However, both I and most of my friends, and most of the people whom I trusted believed that this is not a necessary part of the socialist society. I know that there were other people with different opinions, but that was not my circle. In my circle, we didn’t have respect for dissidents and refusniks. For us, the difference was that they liked capitalism and were against socialism. For us – we believed in socialism as a just society and thought that all the negativities of the current regime were because there were wrong people in charge. 

The above perception changed for me more than once; right now, I am talking about late 1970 – early 1980. I guess I can add at least ten years before that because Boris has the same recollection about his high school/university days. 

From our viewpoint at that time, the people from the West helping refusniks to escape did more harm, than good. Although we agreed with the critique of the Soviet government, we didn’t like the idea of diverting to capitalism. Andrey Sakharov’s views of reforming the socialist state were more appealing. Not all of us got a chance to read his works, but I did, and I was very much into his ideas. 

Objectively, when somebody would escape to the West, and especially if they would make statements against the Soviet Union, for us, it meant more informants, more censorship, more suspicions. 

In my future posts about the Soviet Union and Perestroyka, I will try to capture how and when my views changed.

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