Today is the 57th anniversary of the death of Josef Stalin, and the Communists and other nationalists are lining up to lay flowers at his grave on the Kremlin wall and bandy about other paraphernalia to sing his praises. Naturally, many of the surviving family members of his victims are outraged and insulted.
But more than flowers and shots of vodka next to his portrait in his birthplace of Gori, Georgia, most of the current Stalin controversy is surrounding an idea from Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov to openly celebrate the former dictator as a decorated war hero during next May’s Victory Day parade, including the commissioning of a vast series of posters to paper his image all over the city.
“The truth is that Stalin is responsible for murdering millionsof innocent people and ruining the lives of many others in labor camps,” Lyudmila Alexeyeva is quoted by RussiaToday (yes, I double checked the source – but they do make a crack about her age). “I’mnot an extremist or a hooligan, but I will throw eggs and tomatoes atStalin’s pictures if they appear. This is offensive to all those whodied in the war!“
But here is the interesting and unexpected development: United Russia has issued a statement sharply condemning, but notnecessarily putting a stop to, Luzhkov’s idea to make Stalin posters. “As far as the moral evaluation goes, it is necessary to respect thefeelings and opinions of the huge number of people whose familiessuffered as a result of Stalin’s repressions,”the UR party secretary said. That is quite strange coming from theparty that pushed for new school textbooks and history commissions tocarefully manage the ambiguity of genocide, but maybe it’s just thelatest exchange in the Luzhkov vs. Kremlin saga.
It seems to be permanently confusing to outsiders how it is possible that Russians can acknowledge that Stalin was responsible for the extermination of, say, about 27 million citizens, but still can’t make up their minds whether this was good or bad. I think this paradox was best expressed by Nina Khrushcheva in our recent video interview with her, when she discussed the Russian social conception of the state vs. the individual. Stalin may have been terrible for the people, but he was great for the state, and for some there seems to be no human cost great enough to hinder the pursuit of statehood grandeur.
I’m not one of those people who believe that we should point toward Germany or other historical experiences of nations confronting their past, but it is apparent that something should be done to work toward national resolution and closure – or as Alexander Arkhangelsky has written, put Stalin back in the museum where he belongs (I think this is what Memorial was working toward before the interruption of Putinism).
Still, it never ceases to amaze just how much divisive political influence is exerted on Russia by a 57-year-old corpse.