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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
With Stalin in Their Hearts

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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
With Stalin in Their Hearts: Evgenia Albats on Renewed Admiration for Stalin Among Russians Surveyed

March 5 is the 64th anniversary of the death of Soviet Communist Party leader Joseph Stalin, among the most brutal dictators of world history, responsible for mass crimes against humanity with the displacement, imprisonment or murder of tens of millions of people.

Unlike the crimes of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg, the crimes of Stalin and the Communist Party were never put on trial. To this day, Stalin remains for many Russians at the least an ambiguous figure credited with winning the war against Hitler, even as he savaged his own people, executing or oppressing his best military leaders, and hounding or executing dissident communists, critics, writers, artists, and even ordinary people who told jokes about him -- as well as decimating entire ethnic groups such as the Chechens and Crimean Tatars through deportation.

But in the era of President Vladimir Putin, Stalin has enjoyed something of a comeback and renewed popularity with even the restoration of his portraits and statues, sometimes under the excuse of memorialization of World War II.

Evgenia Albats, editor of the liberal Russian journal New Times published an essay February 20, 2017 about the phenomenon -- and why it persists.

The following is a translation by The Interpreter: 

On February 15, the Levada Center published the results of a poll devoted to the rulers of Russia. Our fellow citizens have begun to regard Joseph Stalin better; they love Vladimir Putin and Leonid Brezhnev; and they can't stand Boris Yeltsin and especially Mikhail Gorbachev.

Let's start with the murderers: 44% of the respondents regarded Lenin positively ("admire," "respect," and "like"); in April 2001 it was 60%. Ten percent had a negative attitude toward Lenin ("dislike", "fear", "disgusted" "hate"). Forty-six percent love Stalin; in 2001, it was 38%, but a fifth of those surveyed (21%) hate him.

As for those who opened up the doors of the labor camps, however -- as Khrushchev did in the 1950s and Gorbachev did later in the 1980s -- the situation is far worse.

If nearly half (45%) of those surveyed are quite indifferent toward Khrushchev, they can't stand Gorbachev (46%). Only 8% of them are grateful to him -- 15 years ago, exactly twice as many (16%) were grateful. On the other hand, Gorbachev's predecessor (with a few hearses in between), Brezhnev, doesn't provoke hardly any negative feelings: 9% dislike him versus the 14% who did at the start of Putin's rule in 2000. This, despite the fact that during the years of Brezhnev's rule, as the Russian saying goes, "there was no meat in one store and no fish in the other," and the country got into the monstrous Afghan war, which cost the lives of 13,000 Soviet soldiers [and a million Afghan lives--The Interpreter].

Love for murderers and blood-suckers is not a feature peculiar only to my fellow Russians. Similar results could be found in a survey conducted in post-war West Germany: in 1948, Germans who had lived through defeat in the war, who had seen millions of lives lost and only horror all around them, when asked by sociologists what regime they would prefer, put in first place Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had been overthrown 30 years prior to that time.

While it is quite a stretch, there is a certain analogy to Brezhnev -- people were hungry, they weren't very happy but it was more or less calm. But the second choice of those polled three years after the fall of the Third Reich was shocking -- yes, it was Adolf Hitler. Although 24 years later, in 1972, in a similar survey, the Germans no longer recalled the fuhrer, but named a democratic republic as the preferred form of regime -- de-Nazification had borne its fruits.

In Russia, not only has there been no de-Communization, but in the 2000s, those who came to power were from an institution which was a beneficiary under both Stalin and Brezhnev, but lost out during the eras of Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It is the views of this institution -- the KGB, the Lubyanka [the FSB as it is known now--The Interpreter] which are expressed by propagandists on all the federal television channels without exception. And these views find their reflection in surveys.

That isn't half the problem, however. The problem is that the surveys find imperial, conservative views among those who were born after the end of the USSR already -- among students of the elite Moscow universities -- the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO); Moscow State University (MGU) and the Higher School of Economics (VShE). And that indicates the complete collapse of humanitarian education in the universities that have been lavished with the most funding.

Should we be surprised, then at the same time that the famous European University in St. Petersburg is hounded, and will lose its license on March 2?

The following chart shows the results of the Levada poll of February 2, 2017.
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2017-03-03 08:26:11