Mikhail Suprun was detained last month by officers from Russia's security services. They searched his apartment and carried off his entire personal archive. He has now been charged with violating privacy laws and, if convicted, faces up to four years in jail.A police official who supplied the information has also been arrested. Historians in Russia who specialize in the twentieth century have experience ever greater pressure in the last few years as the government has tried to re-cover the truth about Stalin.
Suprun had been researching Germans sent to Russia's Arctic gulags. A professor of history at Arkhangelsk's Pomorskiy university, his study included German prisoners of war captured by the Red Army as well as Russian-speaking ethnic Germans, many from southern Russia, deported by Stalin. Both groups ended up in Arkhangelsk camps.
The subject of the Second World War is the most sensitive of all. The truth of what happened to the Soviet troops during and after it, to Vlasov's army, to the displaced persons remains unknown to most Russians. The truth about Soviet atrocities is not just unknown but viewed officially as a smear on the courage of the Red Army and the people of the country.
Curiously enough, while there is some acknowledgement of "errors" during the Soviet period (which resulted in millions of deaths and tens of millions of people in the gulag) one always hears the undoubted fact that it was not just Russians who carried many of those bad things out. When it comes to fighting the Germans or suffering under Nazi rule, it is only Russians who are mentioned. Thus, a historian cannot be allowed to investigate the fate of German nationals or ethnic Soviet Germans because that would smear the glorious Russian army. The fact that many of those ethnic Germans fought in the Red Army can easily be ignored. On the other hand, every time there is a non-Russian name in the list of, say, NKVD officers, that is gleefully pointed out.
Professor Suprun and his informant have fallen foul of this attempt of uniting nostalgia for Soviet "greatness" with Russian nationalism.