Check out this thoughtful and well-written essay by Vadim Nikitin called Tale of Two Night Witches on his foreign policy blog about Russia. He underlines the USSR’s deep contradictions by comparing the Soviet government’s gratitude to veteran bombardier Galina Brok-Beltsova to its unspeakable treatment of Anna Yegorova in the years after the war.
When I first met Beltsova, a marvelous women bristling with medals and fierce pride (well-deserved), I was struck not only by her optimism and energy, but also by her staunch, even emotional defense of Stalin’s regime. Nikitin addresses this brand of nostalgia in his article:
“…In focusing on two ace pilots in particular,” he writes, “it is equally a warning against the politicisation of WWII, which has lately been appropriated to show off nuclear missiles on Red Square, stir national chauvinism and even rehabilitate Stalin. So much so, in fact, that President Medvedev was recently moved to deliver an unprecedented attack on the revival of Stalin’s legacy.”
Nikitin points out that the same conflicting emotions that plagued Anna Yegorova regarding her service to a country that repaid her with torture can be applied to the history of the USSR at large–a nation of Stalins and Berias but also of heroes and dissidents like Sakharov and Yegorova and her comrades-in-arms. He writes:
“The same, indeed, could be said for the whole history of the USSR – a series of contradictions and paradoxes, leaps and retrenchments, spectacular heroism, as well as savagery, betrayal, love and achievement, done, often by the same people, to each other – which can no less be separated into discrete fragments than the elements of a human life.”
It’s these contradictions that have made the history of the USSR, and of Yegorova’s life, so fascinating to me and to many.