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382 NIKOLAI I. BUKHARIN THE TWENTIETH CONGRESS OF THE SOVIET COMMUNIST PARTY, THE POLISH OCTOBER, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR AUTONOMY THE HISTORIC TWENTIETH Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was held in Moscow from 14 to 25 February 1956. On the last day of the closed session, Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, gave a secret speech titled, “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences,” in which he condemned the cult of personality of Stalin. The speech expressed a landmark view of the country’s recent history, which had been defined by the “cult of personality” and various kinds of Stalinist repression. It rejected the Stalinist theory of intensifying the class struggle in the course of socialist development. It also raised the issue of rehabilitation of party members, statesmen, and military figures who had fallen victim to Stalinist repressions. The Twentieth Congress of the CPSU was a milestone in the history of the Soviet Union that divided the Soviet epoch into two halves. The launch of de-Stalinization began the era now referred to as the “thaw.” Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization, with its fluctuations and half-hearted character, was the first stage of this thaw (the next stage came in the latter half of the 1980s). The Twentieth Congress and Khrushchev’s reforms fundamentally changed life in the Soviet Union. There was a certain liberalization of the Soviet regime. Changes affected all areas of life: the party and the state, the economy and social relations, science and culture. The darkest sides of the repressive totalitarian system were the first to be eliminated. Critical measures were taken to remove the distressing consequences of the lawless Stalinist repressions and restore law and order, as well as the constitutional rights of citizens. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were released from prisons and labor camps. Bylaws of the party and collective leadership were restored. The state machine’s activity was put into working order. The rights of the Soviet republics were extended. Tough totalitarianism evolved into a milder 383 TWENTIETH CONGRESS, POLISH OCTOBER, AND STRUGGLE FOR AUTONOMY authoritarianism, since Khrushchev and his associates were not concerned about consistent democratization but rather the preservation of the foundations of the old system. However, the process of demystification had begun. Some monstrous facts of the state’s terror toward its citizens were disclosed. During the “Great Terror” of 1937–38, 1.34 million people were sent to prison, of which 682,700 were shot. According to the Interior Ministry of the Soviet Union, on 1 April 1954, Gulag (the Soviet labor camp authority) had 1.36 million prisoners. Of those, 448,000 had been sentenced for counterrevolutionary crimes. Altogether , Khrushchev’s revelations, the terrifying details of murders, tortures, moral neglect, and lack of humanitarian behavior had a dramatic impact upon the Soviet psyche. This was the greatest of national tragedies. An integral part of the de-Stalinization process was the rehabilitation of those citizens who had been repressed under Stalin. Within the period from 1956 to 1961, nearly seven hundred thousand people were rehabilitated; the victims of repression had their good names restored. Those who were alive came back from the labor camps. After the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, the Chechens, Ingush, Karachai, Balkars, Kurds, Koreans, Buryats, and other ethnicities that had been illegally deported during the Great Patriotic War were repatriated to their homelands. It was in February 1956 that the “thaw” in the inner life of the Soviet people began. The fear disappeared. The Soviet people could breathe freely. They believed the brutality of Stalin’s time would never come back. The censorship threshold was dramatically lowered. The notion of public opinion was restored , even though it was virtually ignored by the authorities. The ideas of freedom spread among students and clerisy. Creative life became rich and eventful. The people of dominant influence for the youth and the clerisy were the “children of the Twentieth Congress”—poets and writers such as Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, Vasily Aksenov, B. Okudzhava, Bella Akhmadulina, Vladimir Voynovich, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, stage directors such as Georgy Tovstonogov, A. Efros, Y. Lubimov , and O. Yefremov, and film directors such as Grigory Chukhrai and Andrey Tarkovsky. The official periodicals of the democratic writers were Novy Mir, edited by A. Tvardovsky, and Yunost, edited by V. Kataev and B. Polevoy. All the same, party “guidance” of literature and art remained. By 1957, the party and the KGB had begun to interfere...


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