The Return of Uncle Joe Crisis-Stricken Russians Nostalgic for Stalin
Part 2: Like Germans Glorifying Nazis
Stalin opponents, however, are outraged and horrified. For the human rights organization Memorial, the Luzhkov decision is a "sacrilege." And a group of notable intellectuals calls the efforts "tasteless" and "idiotic," pointing out that honoring Stalin in modern-day Moscow is akin to Germans today "glorifying leading Nazis."
Stalin was "a complete failure as commander-in-chief" and had the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens on his conscience, writes the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Alexander Avdeyev, Russia's culture minister, classified him as an "executioner" who was to blame for the fact "that our country lost almost an entire century in its development." And both human rights organization Memorial and the anarchist group Autonomous Action announced their intention to remove the Stalin icons or to put up opposing posters of their own.
How can the son of an alcoholic shoemaker and a cleaning lady from the Georgian city of Gori, whose body has been buried at the Kremlin for 57 years, still divide an entire people today?
Cruel and Vindictive
Josef Stalin was a psychopath, pathologically suspicious, cruel and vindictive. He ruled the Soviet realm with an iron fist for three decades, exposed 190 million people to his social experiments and made terror part of the rhythm of life for an entire country.
Stalin drove 20 to 25 million people to their deaths. He allowed farmers to starve to death and exterminated almost the entire elite, even signing the death warrants of some of his closest war comrades with the stroke of a pen. Mussolini believed that the Kremlin leader was secretly a fascist. Nevertheless, Stalin was a hero in the eyes of his subjects. His propagandists were so adept at portraying Stalin as the red czar that half the country wept when he died in 1953.
And now, half a century later, do the Russians still believe in his genius? There is no doubt that Stalin is back in vogue.
More than a dozen new statues of Stalin have been erected in Russia in the recent past, in addition to the more than 200 that still existed in the country: in the Siberian diamond-mining town of Mirny, at High School No. 2 in Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, and in the Siberian village of Kureika, where Stalin spent his exile under the czar.
'Stalin Raised Us to Be Loyal'
Once again, Moscow residents can read the phrase "Stalin raised us to be loyal to the nation" when they walk into the Kurskaya metro station in Moscow, where a frieze bearing the inscription has now been restored. And anyone who is interested can visit the website of notorious Stalin apologists or, in any bookstore, choose among dozens of works of lightweight Stalin literature, arranged next to the shelves of bestsellers, with titles like: "Stalin's Great War," "Stalin's Terror: The Great Lie of the 20th Century" or the five-volume work "200 Legends About Stalin."
Volume 14 of Stalin's "Collected Works," which were no longer published after 1951, is now on the market again. There is even an 800-page book that contains all the information that was meticulously recorded in notebooks in Stalin's outer office, such as the names of people who went in and out of the general secretary's office, together with the exact times of their arrival and departure. A new schoolbook goes so far as to praise Stalin as an effective manager.
Stalin critics, on the other hand, are having a tough time of it. A grandson of the dictator is suing the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy for 258,000 in damages, because the broadcasters claimed that Stalin approved the executions of 12-year-olds in the 1930s. And in Arkhangelsk, a history professor was arrested for investigating the mass deportations under Stalin and -- absurdly -- charged with having violated the "private sphere of Soviet citizens."
No Public Outcry
There was no public outcry in either case. According to a survey by the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, almost one in three Russians regards the former Kremlin leader "with respect" or "with sympathy," while 2 percent of respondents even said that they regarded Stalin "with enthusiasm." Some 38 percent said they were indifferent to the former dictator, while opponents of Stalin were in the minority.
Does this explain why the chairman of the organizing committee for the May 9 celebration -- none other than President Dmitry Medvedev's chief of staff -- initially decided that Stalin posters could not be displayed for the commemorative event, but then caved in? The organizers were "strictly against it," says his spokesman, but points out that his office, unfortunately, lacks the authority to dictate to Moscow residents how they should decorate their city. At the end of last week, there were rumors that the controversial images might be displayed in only a few prominent places.
On Wednesday, the city government put up small posters of Stalin around Moscow, the news agency Reuters reported. Some of the posters were within exhibits about World War II, while others were displayed outside museums.
The mayor responded to his critics by saying that May 9 is a day to honor war veterans, and they happened to have fought in Stalin's name. But, he added, it was also a day "for our children, so that the memory of the great victory remains in their hearts and minds" -- and to that end, it was important that they know the name of the man who was commander-in-chief at the time.