Communist Russia was an exemplar of openness and accountability in government. That’s not a sentence you’ll read these days—at least not outside of North Korea. (Although I suppose you’re reading it now, which makes my statement a little void. Unless you’re actually in North Korea, in which case the point stands.) Anyway, what we’re getting at through subtle sarcasm is that the Soviets were actually really big on secrets—so here are ten of the most audacious.
The horror of the Soviet famine of 1932 was covered here before, but the internal and international cover-up is worth discussing in and of itself. In the early ’thirties, a number of disastrous Soviet policies led—whether purposefully or otherwise—to the deaths of several million people. This is the sort of thing that you’d think would be hard to hide from the outside world—but luckily for Stalin and company, many in the outside world teetered between willful ignorance and knowing denial themselves.
The New York Times, along with the rest of the American press, obscured and downplayed the famine. Stalin arranged a number of carefully staged tours for influential foreigners: shops were stocked with food but anyone approaching the shops was arrested; the streets were washed clean; and all actual peasants were replaced with communist party members.
H.G. Wells in England and George Bernard Shaw in Ireland let everyone know that the famine “rumours” were unfounded. Most egregiously, the Prime Minister of France paid a visit to Ukraine and described it as being like “a garden in full bloom.” By the time the 1937 census records were made confidential, the famine had been adequately suppressed. Though the death toll was potentially on a par with the Holocaust, it’s only within the last ten years that the famine’s status as a crime against humanity has been established.