Russia’s FSB security service, successor to the KGB, has opened its archives on the mass persecution of political 'enemies' during the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but only relatives of victims will be allowed to see any information.
Thousands of applications have already been submitted to study the formerly super-secret files, which detail the fate of millions who disappeared into the Gulag prison camp system between the 1920s and the 1950s, FSB chief archivist Vasily Khristoforov told the independent Interfax news agency.
"Requests will be processed and if the materials requested have been declassified, they will be made available to the applicant," Khristoforov said.
More than half a century after Stalin's death, many Russian families remain in the dark about the fate of family members taken away by the secret police during the years that many remember simply as the "Terror".
It is not clear how much information will actually be made available, since Khristoforvo insists that no data naming secret KGB operatives or the details of secret police operations will be handed over — even though it is many decades old.
"No efficient special service in the world," would ever declassify such material, he said.
Human rights activists have expressed disappointment that the materials, which pertain to a different country — the USSR — and a bygone historical epoch, are not all being simply made public.
The FSB's continuing tight control over even declassified files suggests that anyone hoping for mass revelations about the Stalin era might have a long time yet to wait.
Scholars and journalists will only be permitted to examine files that have been declassified with the express permission of relatives, Kristoforov said.
"Some unscrupulous authors seek access to declassified achives in search of shady sensations rather than the truth," he explained.
"It is easy to imagine what irreparable moral damage this so-called research work can deal to the relatives of the victims and, ultimately, to the cause of restoring the truth. It is our duty to rule out such occurrences," he said.