WASHINGTON — RUSSIAN secrets, 300 of them, line the walls at the Library of Congress where the new Russian government has pried the lids off information hidden since the October Revolution in 1917 up to the botched coup of 1991.
The exhibit, "Revelations from the Russian Archives," opened with a sweep of history as Russia's first democratically elected president, Boris Yeltsin, arrived in the United States. In the new spirit of access to information officially hidden for decades by the Soviet Communist authorities, a group led by the chief archivist of Russia, Rudolph Pikhoia, staged its own information coup. They took over the previously top-secret archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and began to make the s ecrets available for the first time for public study.
James Billington, librarian of Congress, and Dr. Pikhoia, chairman of the Committee on Archival Affairs of the Russian Federation, announced the exhibition jointly. It will later be shown in Moscow.
As Dr. Billington pointed out, "This exhibition provides an unprecedented look inside the workings of one of the largest, most powerful, and long-lived political machines of the modern era. The exhibit dramatizes the break that a newly democratic Russia is attempting to make with the entire Soviet past."
The documents begin with a telegram Lenin wrote on the day the czar and his family were murdered. Lenin, when asked if it was true the czar had been killed, telegraphed back, "Rumor not true. Czar safe. All rumors are only lie of capitalist press."
The fabrications stretch across the century to a 1986 report after the radiation disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which says: "implementation of special measures, including evacuation of the city's population, is not necessary."
One of the most shocking secrets in the show is a detailed account of how Stalin plotted, ordered, and justified the purges of the 1930s on the basis of the murder of a single man, Sergei Kirov. Kirov was one of Stalin's own, a full member of the ruling Politburo, popular as an orator and with the people of Leningrad. Kirov disagreed with some of Stalin's policies but presented no threat to him. Stalin, however, had Kirov assassinated so that he could hunt down the "perpetrators."
The catalog for the show explains what happened next: "Stalin then used the murder as an excuse for introducing draconian laws against political crime and for conducting a witch-hunt for conspirators against Kirov. Over the next four and a half years millions of innocent party members and others were arrested - many of them for complicity in the vast plot that supposedly lay behind the killing of Kirov. From the Soviet point of view his murder was probably the crime of the century because it paved the wa y for the Great Terror."
The exhibition extends over two floors and includes two television programs. These contain early footage, propaganda films, and glimpses of the hardships of the Russian people suffered under everything from collective farming to forced labor. The exhibit offers information on the secret police, gulags, deportations, Russian Jews, World War II, the Cold War, and perestroika. `Revelations from the Russian Archives' closes in Washington on July 16 and then travels to Moscow.