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Russia Not Ready to Give Up Stalin

This piece in the Financial Times sees positive steps in Vladimir Putin’s efforts to talk about Molotov-Ribbentrop, but observes that the current leadership is still very far away from the comfort level of being able to openly debate Joseph Stalin.  The burdens of history wear heavier on few other nations in the world…

Warsaw and Moscow have recently rightly worked hard at improving relations and stopping war disputes from poisoning today’s ties.

That said, Russia is far from opening an honest debate about Stalin. Most Russians accept Stalin committed mistakes and terrible crimes, notably against the Soviet people. But they cannot accept he was a murderous dictator comparable to Hitler. That would be to question the Soviet victory over the Nazis – and with it the huge sacrifices involved, they fear.

Mr Putin’s authoritarian elite, which hasnever renounced its communist predecessors, shamelessly exploits thesesentiments, often casting criticism of Stalin as criticism of Russia.

Russia needs a public debate in which assessments of the Sovietpeople’s heroic triumph over Nazi Germany is separated from assessmentsof Stalin’s personal record. Historians must be given free rein,especially on television. But there is little hope for openness whennew laws make “the falsification of history” a criminal offence. MrPutin seems as determined to control the past as he is to stiflepresent-day political liberties.