A Celebration Is Haunted By the Ghost Of Stalin

A Celebration Is Haunted By the Ghost Of Stalin
# 08 May 2010 03:28 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. As Russians prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany this weekend, an event hallowed here as the unalloyed triumph of good over evil, APA reports quoting “The New York Times”. A major question still looms: what should be done about Stalin?
The passionate debate over Stalin, wartime hero or murderous tyrant, flared Friday when President Dmitri A. Medvedev lashed out against his legacy.
“Stalin committed massive crimes against his own people,” Mr. Medvedev said in remarks released Friday. “Despite how hard he worked and the successes achieved under his leadership, what he did to his own people cannot be forgiven.”
Mr. Medvedev was not the first to broach this subject. Plans to mark the anniversary with the display of wartime propaganda posters bearing Stalin’s image had already reopened this sore.
But the president’s comments on the subject were harsher than his previous ones as well as those voiced by his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader.
Not many in Russia challenge the historical record of Stalin’s atrocities. Millions of people were killed in prisons, forced collectivization, party purges and deportations of whole ethnic groups.
Yet aging Communists, veterans and some politicians have asserted that Stalin played a decisive role in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War. Stalin’s repressive domestic record is one thing, these people have said. But he defeated Hitler.
“The defeat of Fascism was the summit of his life’s deeds,” Gennadi A. Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist Party, said this week. “The memory of Stalin will remain for centuries.”
Mr. Medvedev, in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia, dismissed such claims and denounced Stalin’s treatment of returning soldiers, many of whom were sent to prison camps on suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis.
“One thing is absolutely obvious,” he said. “The Great Patriotic War was won by our people, not Stalin.”
Mr. Medvedev’s comments were not his first condemning Stalin. On a holiday devoted to the victims of Soviet repression last October, he warned that Russians had begun to forget the millions killed under Stalin and criticized some historians for trying to whitewash the atrocities.
In the Friday interview, he also went further than many other Russian officials in recent years in condemning the government that Stalin helped to create.
“The regime built in the Soviet Union can be called nothing other than totalitarian,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was a regime where elementary rights and freedoms were suppressed.”
Regardless of how they feel about Stalin, many Russians who grew up in the Soviet era view it with nostalgia. Mr. Putin seemed to tap into this sentiment when he described the Soviet collapse as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.
Under Mr. Putin, a more benign rendering of Stalin had emerged. In recent government-endorsed textbooks, Stalin’s crimes are less prominent than his success as a leader who transformed a backward agrarian country into an industrial superpower, and won the war.
Lately, however, Russia appears to be promoting a less provocative view of World War II in order to soften relations with some of its critics. Mr. Putin has been praised in Poland for his recent condemnation of the Soviet massacre of Polish troops at the start of World War II and for his handling of the crash last month that killed Poland’s president, who was en route to mark the anniversary of those killings.
And for the first time, troops from the United States, Britain, France and Poland have been invited as representatives of the anti-Hitler coalition to march across Red Square in Moscow in the Victory Parade on May 9.
The decision has rankled some here, but so have the plans to display the propaganda posters.
“In no case is it possible to say that Stalinism is returning to our daily lives, that the symbols are returning, the posters or anything else,” Mr. Medvedev said.
Still, a few of the posters have already been displayed, and a city bus painted with a portrait of Stalin in military garb began ferrying passengers along St. Petersburg’s streets.