RUSSIA: A reminder of the unaccounted pain the Stalinist regime has inflicted.
Last week, a statebacked bronze statue of Joseph Stalin was unveiled in Moscow, hardly a singular act of its kind. Russian history textbooks now tell students that the deeds of the former Soviet leader were rational, while in January 2016, a cultural centre celebrating Stalin opened in the Tver region. The trend of restoring the image of the brutal dictator is disturbing and there is fear that his crimes can be whitewashed by ambiguously changing the narrative, by telling the story of a cruel murderer to one of a strong leader who simply could not please everyone.
On the side of the truth there are the stories of the people who remember. Stanislaw Mucha’s new documentary Kolyma: Road of Bones which will screen at DOK Leipzig at the end of October, brings forward the stories of such witnesses, and is a reminder of the unaccounted pain the Stalinist regime has inflicted. The film takes the viewer on a drive along the Kolyma Highway in Russia’s Far East, exploring the region and what’s left of its past.
No ambiguity whatsoever. This documentary raises questions about how people can cope with the memory of a regime that left scars on an entire society but is now being superficially altered for the sake of national pride. Over time, numerous stories about Stalin’s gulag camps have been told, but the magnitude of their legacy is still confusing and polarizing. Forgiveness can be a form of taking charge, but for a society to move on and never return to such times, it is first necessary to acknowledge that something that shouldn’t have happened actually did, with no ambiguity whatsoever.
Mucha’s film rescues from oblivion life stories from that time. The film takes its viewers on a trip along Russia’s Eastern Kolyma highway, to meet its inhabitants. The region was at the heart of Stalin’s gulag system and the 2000 km long Kolyma highway was built, beginning in
the 1930’s, by prisoners using hand tools. Hundreds of thousands died there. Their exact number is unknown, and can only be estimated. The identities of the people who perished there will remain largely unknown.
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