Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stalin in contemporary Russia

Alexander Dolinin, author of Against Destiny

(print ISBN 9781601641731, Adobe ebook ISBN 9781601643261, Kindle ISBN 9781601643278, Sony ISBN 9781601643285)

The end of the Soviet Union was preceded by a flood of materials that portrayed in graphic detail the bloodiest period of the Soviet era, Stalin’s rule from 1924 to 1953. Because of these revelations, the Soviet state and the Communist Party lost whatever legitimacy they had. It seemed that the Soviet system, or at least its Stalinist period, was so discredited that it could never be rehabilitated.

This conclusion turned out to be premature. A mere 15 years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the moustached tyrant was again favoured by both the authorities and much of the population. Stalin’s approval rate among the general public went as high as 53%. In a recent contest on the Internet, in which the authorities invited the people to choose the historical figure that would personify for them “the name of Russia”, i.e. be Russia’s national symbol, Stalin came third. For a while he even ranked first.

In a recent Russian high school history textbook, covering the period from 1945 to 2006, Stalin is proclaimed “the most effective”of Soviet leaders. His reign of terror, in which at least 20 million people died, is described as a necessary means for running the country effectively.

Monuments and bas-reliefs to this monstrous dictator have been built or restored. Unbelievable as it is, an icon depicting this persecutor of religion together with a woman saint was painted and put up in a church near St. Petersburg.

Russia’s leadership, including Vladimir Putin himself, while recognizing the terror and occasionally paying tribute to its victims, mostly stresses his achievements as an effective leader, builder of a superpower, and victor in World War II.

This rehabilitation is happening while Russians have ready access to many volumes on Stalin’s terror and repression, his forced collectivization, and the artificially created Ukranian famine. The human rights organization “Memorial” is preserving and promoting the memory of Stalinist terror. Paradoxically its historical documentation shares the bookstore shelves with numerous newly published apologies for Stalin, some of which deny terror and repression under Stalin altogether, while others shift the blame for terror to Stalin’s enemies while reducing the number of terror victims to between half a million and a million and a half, compared to the real number of 20 million to 25 million. Most of the people prefer the apologetic works to the documentation of Stalin’s terror.

How can this be happening? In my next post, I will propose an explanation.

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