De-Stalinization refers to the process of eliminating the cult of personality, Stalinist political system and the Gulag labor-camp system created by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Stalin was succeeded by a collective leadership after his death in 1953. The central Soviet strongmen at the time were Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Ministry of the Interior; Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU); and Georgi Malenkov, Premier of the Soviet Union.

Contemporary historians regard the process of de-Stalinization as a significant turning point in the history of modern Russia. References to Stalin were embedded in the lyrics of the National Anthem of the Soviet Union, after which the Stalin-centric and World War II-era references were excised where an instrumental version was used.

De-Stalinization spelt an end to the role of large-scale forced labor in the economy. The process of freeing Gulag prisoners was started by Beria, but he was soon removed from power. Khrushchev then emerged as the most powerful Soviet politician. At a speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences to the closed session of the Twentieth Party Congress of the CPSU in 1956, Khrushchev shocked his listeners by denouncing Stalin’s dictatorial rule and cult of personality. He also attacked the crimes committed by associates of Lavrentiy Beria.

Khrushchev’s drive to expunge Stalin’s influence from the public sphere continued through the late 1950s. His efforts were marked by the removal of Stalin’s name from cities, landmarks, and facilities which had been named or renamed after him. Khrushchev also attempted to lessen the harshness of the Gulag system, by allowing prisoners to send letters home to their families, and by allowing family members to mail clothes to loved-ones in the camps, which was not allowed during Stalin’s time. Even though Khrushchev and others with reformist ideals wanted to lessen the scale of the Gulag, Stalin had ingrained it so heavily into the Soviet system that it was virtually impossible to get rid of it. Thus the gulag prevailed throughout the remainder of Soviet history, even up to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

Given momentum by these public renamings, the process of de-Stalinization peaked in 1961 during the 22nd Congress of the CPSU. Two climactic acts of de-Stalinization marked the meetings: first, Stalin’s body was moved from Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square to a location near the Kremlin wall, and then the ‘hero city’ Stalingrad was renamed to Volgograd.

As part of the de-Stalinization push, many other places bearing Stalin’s name were either renamed or reverted to their former names. These included even capital cities of the Soviet republics and territories: in 1961, Stalinabad, capital of the Tajik SSR, was renamed ‘Dushanbe,’ and Staliniri, capital of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, was renamed ‘Tskhinvali.’


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