LONG Synopsis

In the country where hardly any family escaped Stalin’s terror, no one has ever been convicted for the crimes committed under his regime. How can it be that in the year 2017 Stalin is still revered as a hero who resolutely industrialized the Soviet Union, defeated the Nazi’s and made the Red Empire into a global power? While at the same time being known as a tyrant who used his own people as slaves and caused the deaths of millions of innocent citizens?

In Red Square in the heart of Moscow, Igor (45) lays red carnations at Joseph Stalin’s grave on the former leader’s birthday. To Igor, his leadership symbolizes law and order. The son of this friendly freelance photographer died from drug abuse and Igor was disillusioned by perestroika: ‘In the new capitalist era the naïve Soviet citizens became “shark feed” and everything that was good about the Soviet Union and might have been kept, was lost.’
High up in the forests of Northern Russia, Galina (75) is digging up the bones of anonymous victims that are being exposed by erosion. In the past twenty years she has managed to identify only 83 of around 20.000 people thought to be buried in these mass graves. A handful of volunteers is still searching for the fates of people who were banned, executed or made to disappear in Stalin’s Gulag.

The initial enthusiasm of Russians about the freedom that came with perestroika, and with it the need to investigate a past that has been suppressed for many years, seems to be well and truly gone. For many, the shock of the Red Empire collapsing was too great. What should they do with this newly gained freedom, when chaos and mafia practices were taking over? After the turbulent 1990s, when many Russians were living in poverty, and uncertainty about the future, there is now a need for law and order. Older people want to look back on a past they can be proud of, and the young want to look forward to a future they can believe in.

The Red Soul shows a world full of contradictions. In a mosaic of frank and intimate portraits of ordinary Russians both young and old, pride alternates with pain and shame. Nostalgic stories about how the country flourished under the Communist ideal contrast sharply with painful memories of hunger, violence and betrayal and a deep-seated fear on the part of citizens to show their Motherland in an unfavourable light.

Struggles with the past are set against the heroic image of a country full of victors that the State wants to propagate. More than once, it turns out, these paradoxical views can be found in one and the same person. From this complex perspective, rather than taking a moral stance, Jessica Gorter tries to find the connections between fear and cruelties on the one hand and pride and ideals on the other. Slowly a picture emerges of people in a confused country where the main message for the young to hold on to seems to be that pride is more important than memory.

“The Red Empire is gone, but the ‘Red Man’ remains. He endures.”

Svetlana Alexievich (Nobel Prize for Literature, 2015)