Russia after the War: Hopes, Illusions, and Disappointments, 1945-1957

By Elena Zubkova; Hugh Ragsdale | Go to book overview
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Chapter 13
The Wave of Repression, 1949-1953

The psychological impact of terror, designed as it was to paralyze the collective capacity of resistance, was nevertheless used selectively, however large its scale. The selective approach was employed to instill in the masses an attitude of righteous indignation against dissenters and faith in the justice of the measures taken against them. The formula "we don't imprison the innocent," an omnipresent element of the atmosphere of the time, shows that the motifs of the campaign fell on well-prepared ground. The impatience of the citizenry, raised to an emotional pitch by the deficits of postwar life, required release. The force of aggressive emotions was not hard to raise in these conditions, and an explanation of the causes of the disorders of life was essentially diverted onto the question, Who is guilty? This kind of reaction is endemic to the behavior of crowds, which are easily drawn to search for simple reasons for the extremity of their condition. Stalin exploited this familiar stereotype of mass behavior when he began to divide society into friends and enemies.

The repressions of the postwar years touched in one degree or another all strata of the population. If we judge by the numbers convicted on political grounds, the peak period was 1945 and 1946. The Commissariat of Internal Affairs convicted 123,200 persons in 1946 and 123,300 in 1947. 1 The victims of this wave were chiefly returning POWs, repatriates, former soldiers of the Vlasov army, Ukrainian national separatists (mostly Banderists), and other elements of the population classified by the authorities as "socially dangerous persons." 2 These were all people with a military background of one kind or

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