Robert Conquest was the first historian of the concentrationary universe in the USSR. His book ‘The Great Terror’ gives, in 1968, the balance of the first great repressive wave of Stalinism: 20 million murdered. In 1990, and after full access to the Russian archives, the author corrects his data. Between 13 and 15 million. Single.
Martin Amis is one of the most renowned writers of my generation: the one born in the middle of the 20th century. In 2002, he published ‘Koba the Fearsome’. Let us clarify, for those not very well versed in the character, that Koba was the first nickname of someone who would remain in the history manuals as Joseph Stalin. The book bears an enigmatic subtitle: ‘Laughter and
twenty millions’. The origin of this subtitle is not revealed by Amis until near the end of the work.
Amis has accompanied Conquest, her father’s old comrade in the British CP, to a rally against the EU. The speaker – Christopher Hitchens – makes a petty joke about the venue, “because he had spent countless nights there with many former comrades.” And the audience, Amis added, “responded as Christopher knew he would respond: with an affectionate laugh.” Everyone knew what “comrades” the leftist Hitchens was talking about.
On the way out, Amis asks Conquest: “Did you laugh?” “Yes”. “I also”. And, after a silence that one guesses sad, he asks the crucial question: «Why the laughter? Why? If he had referred to his countless nights with many old black shirts, the public … “It is the laugh of oblivion, he concludes, the laugh of the twenty million.
Those who have put their pen on the Democratic Memory bill, which was leaked yesterday on the pages of ABC, would do well to consider the horrifying paradox of the rally that Amis narrates. Remembering the Nazi camps is a moral duty for any morally healthy European. Forgetting the Soviet camps is an inexcusable indecency.
Let’s attribute it to the laziness of legislators. We are made to assimilate the terms “concentration camp” and, even more, “extermination camp” into the practice that will remain a perpetual stigma in German history. And we are not as used to dealing with the other fields: the icy Vorkutá, whose coal mines became, as of 1931, the germinal nucleus of what would end up being called by Solzhenitsyn the ‘Gulag Archipelago’, the black hole that it would swallow up millions of opponents or simply not enthusiastic enough to deserve to live in the Stalinian dream.
Also in that galaxy of inaccessible fields in deep Siberia, Spaniards perished: old communists whose good faith could not bear contact with Soviet reality. Not only was Mauthausen the hell of so many Spanish Republicans. The Vorkutà competed in that effectively. Remembering some and forgetting others is not decent.