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...