Masha Gessen has concerns about a new museum.
In general, I am sympathetic to this argument. We have allowed the crimes of Stalin to remain hidden for far too long.
The Unnerving Kitsch of New York City’s New K.G.B. Spy Museum
Imagine if the tyrant in question were not Joseph Stalin but Adolf Hitler. Imagine seeing a giant likeness of his head on a Manhattan sidewalk. Imagine a museum that offered people the option of dialling in to hear a speech by Hitler or Himmler, or invited them to be photographed in an S.S. uniform. It’s hard to imagine the Times giving such a museum an amused review, complete with a picture of the co-curators wearing Nazi uniforms.
The comparison between these two totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century is not gratuitous—it is common in historical and political scholarship. And yet, for the American public, an entertaining presentation of what was probably the most murderous secret-police organization in history seems both unproblematic and commercially promising. It’s a peculiar thing to observe, particularly at a moment when Russia—and Russian espionage in particular—looms so large in the American imagination.
I just think that Gessen picked the wrong target for her disdain. The American public was, for decades, far more astute and knowledgeable about the horrors of the USSR and the threat from the KGB than were the writers at the New Yorker.
After all, the museum is not opening in Cedar Rapids but in Chelsea. It was not IowaHawk who downplayed Stalinism for grins-- it was the New York Times and Vice.
There was never a good time, for example, to be anti-communist. Those who early warned of the dangers of bolshevism were regarded as lacking in compassion for the suffering of the masses under tsarism, as well as lacking the necessary imagination to “build” a better world. Then came the phase of denial of the crimes of communism, when to base one’s anti-communism on such phenomena as organised famine and the murder of millions was regarded as the malicious acceptance of ideologically-inspired lies and calumnies. When finally the catastrophic failure of communism could no longer be disguised, and all the supposed lies were acknowledged to have been true, to be anti-communist became tasteless in a different way: it was harping on pointlessly about what everyone had always known to be the case. The only good anti-communist was a mute anti-communist.