It is not easy for nations to come to terms with an oppressive or brutal past: in most cases, they prefer to cast it into oblivion or to fictionalise it either as a golden age or a painful but necessary and beneficial surgery. In the few cases in history where there has been objective exploration of what happened, penitence and reconciliation occur after the regime has been thoroughly destroyed by its enemies, external or internal. That leaves us with Germany and South Africa. We shouldn’t be surprised: criminals come to terms with their crimes when they have been caught, convicted and sentenced. And in the case of Japan, catastrophic defeat and trials for war crimes still fail to keep alive the memory of, let alone remorse for, the massacre of Nanking.
The Soviet (and now Russian) case is more complex. By 1956, Khrushchev had got rid of his most threatening colleagues (including Beria, who had become dangerously liberal, and Molotov and Malenkov, who were a ball and chain to the mercurial leader) and had taken steps to discredit them with his