Despite the “excesses and “errors” that plagued the post-Stalin era, some respectable reforms came out of this period (Freeze, p. 408). The best of these reforms reversed totalitarian policies from the Stalinist era, and perhaps the best example of them is the release of prisoners who were arrested for smaller crimes, who had low sentences, who fit certain gender or age categories, and who were imprisoned in GULAG camps (Prisoners Return). While prison release can partially be interpreted as a customary end-of-war gesture, the commission set up to look into confessions acquired through coercion shows that a cultural appreciation of civil liberties was rising under de-Stalinization (Prisoners Return).
This era was also marked by a general repudiation of the “cult of personality” of Stalin that had contributed to his “transgressions” (Khrushchev’s Secret Speech). As Freeze notes, the existence of this recognition is supported by the “silence” about Stalin that was expressed by Soviet leaders after his death (Freeze, p. 413). This repudiation, in addition to the multi-faceted release of prisoners, represents a general recognition of the totalitarianism of Stalinism. It also shows somewhat of a willingness to move away from it, even with some support for Stalin still remaining.
Despite what symbolic or philosophical improvements may have come out of this time, it is important to note where these reforms may have fallen short. What is unfortunate within the specific context of prisoner-release, is the lack of prosperity that many (if not most) experienced after their imprisonment, evident by a high recidivism rate in the mid 50’s and lack of preparation for their post-prison lives (Freeze, p. 415). While Khrushchev’s speech may have ushered in another phase of rehabilitation, it is easy to see how released prisoners were “never fully integrated” back into society (Prisoners Return). Even if the damage from unfair imprisonment wasn’t all reversed in the wake of Stalin’s death, the era that followed could still be characterized by a general willingness to progress beyond it.
Freeze, Gregory, L. Russia, A History. Oxford University Press. Oxford, New York. 2009.