Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Execution of Beria

Today, 23 December, 56 years ago, in 1953, saw the execution of a monster. Born in Georgia on March 28, 1899, Lavrenti Beria rose to prominence during the Russian Revolution and during the 1920s became a firm favourite of Josef Stalin, a fellow-Georgian. In 1938 Beria was appointed head of the dreaded secret police, the NKVD.

"Plump, greenish, and pale"
A brutish, inhumane man, he declared in 1937 that enemies "of the party of Lenin and Stalin will be mercilessly crushed and destroyed". He was true to his word and played a major role in Stalin's Great Purges of the 1930s, sending countless numbers to the gulags or to be executed. Yugoslavian writer, Milovan Djilas, described Beria's physical appearance as "plump, greenish, and pale, with soft damp hands. With [a] square-cut mouth and bulging eyes behind his pince-nez."

Following Stalin's death in March 1953, Beria seemed favourite to succeed. Other members of the Politburo feared for their safety: "As long as that bastard's alive, none of us can feel safe," said one.

Beria arrested
Contrary to his character, Beria implemented an amnesty, releasing many from the gulags but many saw this as mere attempt to impose his claim on succeeding Stalin. But it wasn't enough - on June 26 Beria was arrested on trumphed-up charges, such as spying for the British. Nikita Khrushchev (who was to replace Stalin) described Beria's reaction when arrested: "He dropped a load in his pants!"

From his cell, Beria wrote several groveling letters to his Politburo colleagues pleading his innocence and devotion to the party and the communist cause. Exasperated by the number of letters, Khrushchev ordered the removal of Beria's pen and paper.

The execution of Beria
In December 1953 Beria was tried. The whole case was a mockery but no more than Beria had subjected so many of his victims to. He was, unsurprisingly, found guilty and sentenced to be shot. Beria fell on all fours and begged for mercy. He was taken down and promptly shot. He died as so many of his victims did.

Rupert Colley

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