Life inevitably provides us with examples of injustice, and they appear to be almost universal in their breadth, confined to no particular sovereign state, time or place. One of the more startling, but almost universally ignored, is the case of former intelligence operatives of Stalinist Russia. Perhaps it's wrong to claim that the atrocities and human rights violations of this era are 'universally ignored', but they are certainly not discussed with the same vehemence as those of the Nazis or the Japanese, even though the perpetration of inhuman barbarity by these people ranks among the worst in human history. Let me give two examples that go to explaining my point.
Major-General Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, (1895 - 1955), served as the Chief Executioner of the NKVD (The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), having been personally selected for the position by Josef Stalin in 1926. He led a team of executioners responsible for a large proportion of the Stalinist purges, particularly executions performed during 1937 - 1938, the period known as the Great Purge. Over a period of 28 days, consecutively, in April 1940, Blokhin was personally responsible for the execution of some 7,000 Polish Army Officers detained at the Ostashkov Prisoner of War Camp. Those prisoners were transferred to the basement of the NKVD Headquarters in Kalinin (now Tver), where, following basic identification in an ante-room, known colloquially as the Leninist Room, they were led into the execution room to be shot, personally, by Blokhin, with a single bullet to the base of the skull. It is estimated that Blokhin worked for 10 hours overnight, without a break, taking approximately 3 minutes per execution to eventually kill all 7,000. His is perhaps the most numerous organized execution of individuals in human history.
For his efforts, in this and other officially sanctioned actions, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner by Stalin and received a modest increase in his wage, perhaps what could be called a performance bonus.
Blokhin died, officially as a result of suicide, in February 1955, having been stripped of his rank as a result of Khrushchev's efforts at de-Stalinisation. He had reputedly descended into insanity, aided, no doubt, by a tendency towards alcoholism.
A second example of intelligence apparatchiks of this period can be found in Colonel General Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov, (1894 - 1954), the former Head of the GUKR (Chief Counterintelligence Directorate), perhaps better known to people in the West as SMERSH. Abakumov was a sadistic creature who took pleasure in personally torturing prisoners remanded to his custody. I shan't detail the list of Abakumov's crimes, suffice it to say that a cursory read of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn's, The Gulag Archepaligo, provides an horrific picture of the GULAG system and Abakumov's role in it.
Abakumov orchestrated the Leningrad Affair and the Doctors Plot, two well known purges of 1949 and 1953 respectively. Following Stalin's death on 5 March 1953, and as a result of his involvement in the Leningrad Affair, Abakumov was executed on 18 December 1954.
While these two men highlight the atrocities of the Stalinist era, and both are now dead, the fact is that former employees of institutions such as the NKVD, who continued to work after Stalin's death in roles that included the violation of human rights, continue to enjoy generous pensions and entitlements under the current Russian regime. They have not, and will not, face prosecution, despite the evidence against them. It is, perhaps, possible to argue that the excesses of the Stalinist era were curbed following his death, but the evidence suggests that the Soviet intelligence apparatus continued perhaps more modest violations of human rights until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.
It is worth examining three documents of the Stalinist era to give some perspective to the material I've presented here in, admittedly, potted form. (I'm quite aware of the shortcomings in depth, but this is an introductory effort that will, hopefully, one day, result in a more substantial investigation of the history of the material presented here.) There are three NKVD orders that deserve perusal. NKVD Order No. 00447 (The Order concerning the Repression of Kulaks, Criminals and Other Anti-Soviet Elements), NKVD Order No. 00485 (The Order concerning the Liquidation of Polish Sabotage and Espionage Groups), and NKVD Order No. 00486 (The Order concerning Family Members of Traitors of the Motherland). These illustrate how pervasive and repugnant Soviet rule had become and provide some context for the behaviour of men like Blokhin and Abakumov. These remember, were legal documents, instructions that had the authority of the State. How perverse!
Remember too that these are merely examples, and that vigilance, a solid, defensible and entrenched statutory regime of protection of human rights is our only protection against the excesses of power where legality itself has been perverted.
This period of history and its players needs to be better explored. The glare of Nazism, quite rightly positioned as evil and atrocious in every respect, needs to be sufficiently moderated to allow for exposure of equally abhorrent examples of human rights perversion by the Soviet system and other regimes that have, and continue to operate.
I'll write more on this later. I figure this will be an ongoing theme, a project for the future. It's been consuming considerable periods of time for some years now, periodically of course, but I figure it's worth pursuing as an example of what can and does happen. It's a template for what future law needs to contemplate in protecting us from the extreme and the perverse. More will follow...
Friday, October 9, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Yesterday I hired a DVD with the intriguing title, LOOK. I'd read the blurb on the cover and the premise appealed to me. Released in December 2007, LOOK claims to be the first full-length feature film recorded entirely on CCTV. Directed, and written, by Adam Rifkin, it examines the possibilities of compiling a perception of life, its participants and events, purely from collections of CCTV footage. The film is one of a number of 'convergence' genre films that work on the principle that lives can intersect in unusual ways. Fortunately this film doesn't try and converge individual subplots in a completely artificial denouement!
One of the subplots concerns the misdirected affections of a teenage high school student and the object of her obsession, her English teacher. The CCTV footage reveals an intensely directed plan, if inept in its execution, and a teacher taking evasive action to avoid what is becoming an inevitability. It is worth noting that our teacher is married to a heavily pregnant woman and appears to be conventionally happy in almost every respect. Moreover, he is clearly aware of his professional obligations and gives no indication of being attracted to our barely pubescent vamp in any way whatsoever. Eventually, however, the approaches of our femme fatale result in a lapse of moral and legal obligation, and our English teacher indulges in an unsatisfactory liaison with the obsessive lolita pursuing him. Things do not go well, and, in response to rumours circulated by the coquettish juvenile, our English teacher berates her, resulting in her suggesting that she may take vengeance, although not in so many words. Sure enough, we next see her giving a statement to the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing our errant English teacher of rape and sexual assault.
The plot then appears to take a fortuitous twist for our naively ingenuous teacher. I say "appears", because it is evident from the facts that the accused is not to successfully avoid the consequences of his actions. The CCTV footage of the incident proves that the informant, our juvenile temptress, is, in fact, misreporting the facts. There is ample visual evidence of her seduction, and the entire event is clearly 'consensual'. The problem here, of course, is that it cannot be consensual, because our lolita is a minor, and the law makes it clear that it is impossible for minor to consent to sexual relations. Under Californian law, the jurisdiction in which the offense occurs, it is unlawful for an adult over 21 years of age to engage in intimate relations with a child of 16 years of age. In this case, the teacher, in a revelatory scene involving his attorney, becomes aware of the fatal nature of his momentary weakness.
Our teacher's attorney informs him that he must plead 'no contest' to the charges, given the weight of evidence against him, and that the minimum compulsory tariff for commission of such an offense is 10 years in gaol. In addition, the hapless teacher, will have his details entered onto the Sexual Offenders Register and will be unlikely to ever enjoy anything more than supervised visitation rights when his child is born to his now estranged wife. Naturally, as a sex offender, he will not be able to resume a career in teaching, a pursuit he clearly had a passion for. In other words, life as he knows it has ended in almost every respect.
So, we end up with a plot that provides for an ambivalent internal discourse. Where do our sympathies lie? Are we to feel sorrow for the extent of the loss suffered by our teacher, a loss suffered as a result of a momentary lapse of judgement? Does the promiscuous behaviour of our temptress in any way mitigate against this loss of judgement? Should it? Or do we apply the law in precisely the manner prescribed; the offense is, after all, a statutory offense? It's a conundrum that faces courts in numerous instances.
Rifkin's film manages to convey this issue with a clarity that provides a stark reminder that behavioural indiscretion can have severe consequences, regardless of what we may view as grounds for mitigation. I suspect this is achieved by the fact that the images purport to be realistic facsimiles of what is captured on camera in normal circumstances. We are even privy to an assault by father on daughter when it becomes evident that the basis of her accusation is, in fact, a lie.
Anyone seeking insight into the difficulties of moral and literal application of the law would do well to hire and view this film. It's by no means perfect, but it does provide a perspective that is worth contemplation. The remaining scenarios explored in the film are entertaining and confronting too, so it will be an entertaining diversion...