Anne Applebaum: The sinister resurrection of Stalin





Who is the greatest Russian of all time? In the unlikely event that you answered “Stalin”, you would be in good company. One of the 20th century’s most horrific dictators has just come third in an opinion poll conducted by a Russian television station. Some 50 million people are said to have voted.

Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders – and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia – another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire.

Both seem too good to be true; neither had ever before seemed like candidates for such an august title. Had the poll been completely free, I expect Stalin would have come in first place. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the government, media and teaching professions in Russia have spent a good chunk of the past decade trying to rehabilitate him – and not by accident.

All nations politicise history to some extent, of course. But in Russia, the tradition of falsification and manipulation of the past is deeper and more profound than almost anywhere else. In its heyday, the KGB retouched photographs to remove discredited comrades, changed history books to put other comrades in places where they had not been, monitored and tormented professional historians. Russia’s current leaders are their descendants, sometimes literally.

But even those who are not the children of KGB officers were often raised and trained inside the culture of the KGB – an organisation that believed that history was not neutral but rather something to be used, cynically, in the battle for power. In Putinist Russia, events are present in textbooks, or absent from official culture, because someone has taken a conscious decision that it should be so....



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Arnold Shcherban - 1/7/2009

Russia needs a crazy and preferably weak-minded President like G.W. Bush to scare a s* out of the US and its allies by credibly faking its readiness to use nuclear weapons in a case of any serious conflict with even non-nuclear neighbor (such as Georgia or Ukraine) and warn the US that it won't remain just in passive opposition in case of the next American military invasion into any country taken without UN approval.


Arnold Shcherban - 1/4/2009

about Russian cultural traditions and national psyche. So, they always blame the "regimes", i.e. Soviet/ Russian governments and imposed by them institutions for all ills of respective societies and - what bother them the most - not so friendly attitutes of Soviet/Russian majority to the corresponding Western societies and power structures.
It is the main reason why those Sovietologists were/are perpertually out of sink with reality, being constantly puzzled with unexpected social and cultural changes in Russian(including - modern) history or advancing self-conglaturating and poorly supported by facts reasons for such changes (when they don't want to be exposed as clueless and taken by surprise).
The core of crucial mistakes they made in their analysis of the pertaining issues is triple-layered:
one layer being the premise that totalitarian or just undemocratic regimes and socio-political structures in the large country can exist over considerable period of time without mass support of the populus;
The second layer is that even if the indicated support cannot be ignored,
it is based on fear of persecution and state violence or, at the minimum, deliberate all-penetrating ideological brainwashing.
The third layer being the rejection (by definition) of the very thought that Western regimes/goverments and ruling elites, through many foreign policy actions, share a lot of responsibility for continiously feeding up Soviet/Russian distrust and animosity.

In particular, common people in modern Russia, i.e. the majority of Russian populus, have not acquired good taste for Stalin's regime over a decade of alleged deliberate governmental propaganda, being apologetic about Stalin's crimes. Ms. Applebaum and other experts in Russia have never mentioned that the expose of Stalin's and his close associates' crimes started more than
40 years ago under communist regime.
Since then it was continuing (objectively speaking - with variable intensity) up to now. Moreover, over the last twenty years
Russian populus has been exposed to much more expansive and intensive anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet internal and external media campaign than it ever has been to the one on the rehabilitation side.

Asked to point out the main reason they voted for Stalin the overwhelming majority (of at least) common Russian folks reply: because Stalin punished mainly "nachalnikov", what in Russian stands for bosses/chiefs (political, economical, and military).
Whether the voters right or wrong in the quoted opinion on Stalin's oppressive regime is another story.
But it is clear that is where (people's historically and culturally formed perception, not current regime's wrongs) any unbased and shrewd analyst has to look in their search for the truth.
The same approach together with the recent developments in some former Soviet Republics (as well as the Presidency of Eltsin and partically - Gorbachev's) should prove itself as the most fruitful in revealing the major causes of current animosity towards the West, especially US/UK.


Randll Reese Besch - 1/3/2009

People would be more worried if Hitler was being so treated in Germany. Such is the lack of historical perspective here in this country. Shouldn't Stalin be invoked more than Hitler. Hitler failed but Staling succeeded after all. Shouldn't Stalin be the metonymy for evil more so than Hitler? One should not diminish the crimes of the other.