Human Rights in Ukraine

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16.02.2017 | Halya Coynash

Support in Russia for bloody dictator Joseph Stalin at record high

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Putin’s friend Alexander Zaldostanov and his much-favoured  ‘Night Wolves’ with a portrait of Stalin.  The caption says that Stalin is much needed today

The latest Levada Centre survey has found a record number of Russian citizens with a positive attitude to murderous Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin.  If in 2001, soon after Vladimir Putin first became President, the majority of Russians were still negative in their assessment, in January 2017  46% viewed him “with admiration, respect, or liking” (4%, 32% and 10%, respectively).  The results reflect a general trend in Russia towards ‘rehabilitation’ of the Soviet tyrant and increasing silence about his victims.  They are hardly surprising when Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky has spoken positively of the place the dictator holds in the country’s memory and Olga Vasilyeva, Putin’s recent choice for Education Minister, is known for an extremely specific view on Stalin and for remarks denying the number of his victims.  The reappearance of portraits and busts of Stalin reached a crescendo in 2015 around events marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, and it is interesting that the results show an even more positive view now. 

Respondents could give only one answer, and it is perhaps significant that the number of people who said they were ‘indifferent’ has also risen from 12% in 2001 to 22% in 2017, while the number who couldn’t say had gone from 6% to 10%.   The percentage of people with a pronouncedly negative attitude has fallen. If in 2001, 39% of Russians said that they viewed Stalin with antagonism, with fear or with disgust and hatred, only 19% now gave these answers.

There is only one reading which could compare to any survey carried out in Germany regarding Adolf Hitler.  Only 1% of Russians ever said that they didn’t know who Stalin was, and then only 3 times during the past 16 years that such surveys have been carried out.

As the 80th anniversary of the Great Terror approaches, all of this is deeply disturbing, yet hardly surprising.  Human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov recently reported that he often sees portraits of the dictator when he visits the offices of investigators, prosecutors, etc. 

One of the methods for ‘rehabilitating’ a mass murderer has been to concentrate on some kind of ‘broader perspective’.  In March 2015, for example, the Levada Centre reported that since 2012 the percentage of respondents viewing the sacrifices which the Soviet people made during the Stalin period as being justified by high goals and by the results achieved had jumped from 25% to 45%. 

There was unashamed glorification of Stalin around the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in May 2015, with Stalin’s purge of the military, myopia over Hitler’s plans and total failure during the first weeks of the War largely muffled.

This trend is no accident.  Following an address to school history teachers in June 2007 in which Putin expressed concern about the presentation of Russian history, a manual for teachers by Alexander Filippov appeared, describing Stalin as “one of the most successful leaders of the USSR”.  Stalin’s aim in both domestic and foreign policy, it was stated, had been the restoration of the Russian Empire.  The purges had “led to the formation of a new governing class, able to cope with the task of modernization given the shortage of resources – unwaveringly loyal to the upper echelons of power and irreproachable from the point of view of executive discipline”.  It was material like this that by October that year made Putin welcome “certain positive moves”, noting that “up till quite recently we read things in textbooks that made our hair stand on end…”

Russia has even been trying to rewrite the Soviet Union’s collaboration with Nazi Germany during the first almost 2 years of the War.  This resulted, appropriately enough on September 1, 2016, in the Supreme Court effectively ruling that the USSR had not invaded Poland in September 1939.

An article in Russian state-funded Sputnik International in September 2015 claimed that criticism of the Soviet past, including Joseph Stalin, is part of a US and NATO attack on “today’s Russia and its leadership that is unwilling to bow before the West.”  Although the words were those of the ‘expert’ interviewed, they were ominously reminiscent of a recent article from Russia’s Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky effectively defending Stalin’s role in the country’s history and blasting what he called “blatant falsification of history used as a traditional Cold War tool”. 

Olga Vasilyeva, now Education Minister, has praised Stalin for “rehabilitating the concepts of patriotism and Fatherland”

The rehabilitation of the tyrant has been accompanied by efforts to conceal information about both his victims, and the henchmen who carried out the killings. 

The archives of all the secret police [officially ’state security’] bodies (Cheka, NKVD, KGB, etc.) have been classified as secret for a further 30 years.  The material involves includes the vast bulk of material regarding the Great Terror of 1937-1938.  In April 2016 Putin announced that he was taking the Federal Archives under his personal control.

The notorious Perm 36 Labour Camp which had provided vital information about the GULAG was temporarily closed, then opened effectively eulogising those who administered the repression. 

Since the Memorial Society began publishing the names of perpetrators of the Terror, repressive measures as well as defamatory material in all Kremlin-loyal media have increased.  One renowned historian and Memorial member Yury Dmitriev is currently in detention on obviously trumped-up charges.

The glorification of Stalin, it should be noted, is evident both in Russian-occupied Crimea and in areas of Donbas under Russian / Kremlin-backed militant control.

In reacting to plans (later unfortunately implemented) to create a museum honouring the dictator in the Tver oblast, Memorial activist Valentina Shapirova suggested that all of the efforts to glorify Stalin are about “propping up the glory of our modern general Putin of Crimea.  To draw parallels, so to speak”.  

 

Photo from Argument

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