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Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Sunday Stalin

Paul Goble reports on the new, improved, younger, prettier Stalinism:

Today, on the 55th anniversary of the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, young Russians “who know nothing about the repressions” he carried out are increasingly displacing pensioners as the most important component of his backers in the Russian Federation, according to a Moscow journalist. In an essay in Novyye izvestiya today entitled “The Glamorous Tyrant: The Cult of Stalin Experiences a Rebirth,” Mikhail Pozdnyaev notes that half of all Russians now view Stalin positively and that many are seeking to restore his name to streets and squares and to put back up monuments to him that Nikita Khrushchev took down. But what is more disturbing, Pozdnyaev says, is that “if at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, the typical Stalinists were pensioners who came to meetings with pictures of the leader, today a significant portion of young people, who know nothing about the repressions of the Stalinist period, have joined them.” And that in turn suggests that the cult of Stalin will continue well into the future rather that gradually die out and that the authoritarianism of many Russians, a proclivity Vladimir Putin has played to, will continue to shape Russian politics rather than giving way to more democratic ones.

In his article, Pozdnyaev reviews polling data showing support for the dictator, reports about the efforts of Stalinists young and old to honor him, and quotes rights activists and others who are horrified by the willingness of some to venerate him for his role in World War II while ignoring his enormous crimes against the population. All too often, the literary and political figures with whom Novyye izvestiya talked and whose comments the paper appended to Pozdnyaev’s article noted, those who are the most positive about Stalin are precisely the young who did not live under him and know about the tyrant only from movies and television. On this anniversary, some citizens of the Russian Federation are trying to change that: Novaya gazeta published Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech which outlined some of Stalin’s crimes, as well as excerpts from a later Khrushchev speech that revealed some additional ones. Meanwhile, non-Russian leaders in the North Caucasus whose nations Stalin violently deported at the end of World War II recalled the anniversary of Stalin’s passing and recounted for young people there what the Moscow tyrant had done to them and their lands.

But few young Russians are likely to read Pozdnyaev’s commentary or Khrushchev’s secret speech. Instead, they are more likely to go to movies portraying Stalin as the great leader of a great power or turn to sites like which argue that Stalin’s reputation has been besmirched by the enemies of Russia.

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