The Kremlin is once again nurturing adoration of Joseph Stalin





The visage of Joseph Stalin once blanketed Moscow. But in the years since he died, his successors have relaxed official adoration of him and even allowed some criticism. The result: he was completely banned from the public space. A few attempts from provincial governments to erect statues of him caused immediate public protest. In recent years, though, with Moscow preparing to commemorate the 65th anniversary of its victory over the Nazis this week, Stalin is back—and he seems to be everywhere....

Unsurprisingly, Russian liberals are not taking Stalin's rehabilitation well. Yan Rachinsky, the chairman of the Memorial human-rights center, suggests that this is an excuse for the Kremlin to legitimize Russia's authoritarian past in order to justify its current government. "The powerful are using the V-day anniversary as a reason to pull Stalin's dusty ghost into the light and pack him up in holiday wrapping," says Rachinsky. "They say he was the one who won that war…[but] close to 12 million people fell victim to Soviet repressions, most of them killed by Stalin's regime. In 1937 and 1938 alone, Stalin ordered the execution of 700,000—half a million of them were draft age."

Even some veterans are not thrilled about this turn of events. Vasily Reshetnikov piloted 307 missions in his Antonov during the war and was later declared a Hero of the Soviet Union. "I remember: Stalin killed most of the Soviet army commandership," he says. "There's only one word for him—despot." Almost 70 years have passed, but Reshetnikov remembers the day in 1937 when a handsome and heroic commander called Yakov Alksnis landed his shining R-5 at Reshetnikov's pilot school to speak to his future airmen. A year later, Alksnis was accused of homosexuality and espionage and shot by NKVD, the KGB's predecessor. That was only the beginning, Reshetnikov says: "Then the director of our school disappeared. And then the commander of our escadrille vanished. The heroic Soviet people won the war despite Stalin destroying more than 80 percent of the army commandership right before the war," Reshetnikov says....


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