GULAG: A History
Illustrated. 677 pages. Doubleday.
In visiting Poland last month, President Bush took the time to go to Auschwitz and tour one of the most ghastly assaults to humanity in the history of mankind. After finishing his tour, he remarked: "And this site is also a strong reminder that the civilized world must never forget what took place on this site. May God bless the victims and the families of the victims, and may we always remember."
The next day, Mr. Bush was in St. Petersburg, Russia. While there, he did not make it up to the Solovetsky Islands, the site of the first camp of the gulag. Nor did he call upon the world to "always remember" the millions of people who perished in the Soviet concentration camps well before Auschwitz was constructed and well after Auschwitz was dismantled. The families of the victims of Soviet Communism -- much more numerous than the families who lost loved ones in Hitler's camps -- received no special blessing from the leader of the free world.
Mr. Bush should not be singled out for failing to remember the innocents killed in the gulag. Rarely do visiting dignitaries take time to remember the tragedies of Soviet Communism. The Russian state has done little to commemorate the millions who died or lived miserable lives inside the hundreds of camps scattered throughout the former Soviet Union. Tour buses do not haul visitors to Auschwitz-like memorials, because they do not exist. While private, informal memorials have sprouted, the Russian state and most of Russian society seem determined to avoid coming to grips with their Soviet past.
Michael McFaul is a Hoover fellow and associate professor of political science at Stanford University. His latest book is Russia's Unfinished Revolution: Political Change From Gorbachev to Putin.
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