Sergei Kirov’s apartment now stands as a memorial to the slain Leningrad Party Boss and as a reminder of the worst features of Stalinism.
At first though, the apartment, reconstructed to early 1930s form from photographs, seems to commemorate the early achievements of the Soviet system.
Kirov’s desk is filled with reports on industrial output from factories in the Leningrad region, highlighting the impressive industrialization achieved under the first Five Year Plan and part of the second. Trinkets from these plants show off their successes—Kirov’s apartment contains the first typewriter made in the Soviet Union and models of many other industrial products, ranging from a steel bar to a tank. Photos show the construction of river dams and massive factories, and note Kirov’s inspection visits to some of these behemoths.
The explanatory text boasts of Kirov’s popularity among Leningrad workers and his closeness to other Soviet leaders. Stalin, it says, ate in Kirov’s dining room.
But Kirov’s dinner guest ultimately became his killer. And that same killer—after orchestrating Kirov’s assassination—embarked on a rampage of repression that resulted in the imprisonment and execution of millions.
The 1934 assassination of Kirov, likely on Josef Stalin’s orders, is generally considered to have signaled the beginning of these purges. During the purge period, several million people were killed (estimates vary widely, but many sources cite NKVD records stating that about 700,000 were executed in 1937-38 alone, at the height of the purges) and millions more were sent to labor camps, called gulags, where some died from starvation, disease, or cold.
I’ve written before about the conflict over Stalin’s legacy, which owes to the fact that the same Soviet leader who executed so many of his own also led his country to victory in the Second World War. But Kirov’s apartment is ultimately a memorial—not a monument—for a system that executed its most promising leaders and struck fear into the hearts of its citizens.