Friday, February 19, 2010

Stalin Honored as War Hero in Moscow

The 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany is being celebrated in Russia. In addition to the focus on the heroic sacrifices of the people is a controversial component of the celebration. Josef Stalin, the dictatorial and genocidal ruler of the USSR from 1928 until his death in 1953, is being celebrated as a hero in many of the memorial observances. The Times of London reports as follows on this disturbing development.

"Stalin is to make a comeback on the streets of Moscow for the first time in decades in a celebration of the Soviet victory over Hitler in the Second World War.

Posters and information booths devoted to the Soviet dictator are to go up across the capital under a proposal by Moscow City Council to mark the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9. The decision outraged rights groups and opposition parties yesterday, who condemned it as another step towards rehabilitating a tyrant."

During the period in Soviet history when Stalin was in power, he was accorded godlike reverence, with posters, songs and films devoted to his praises. The treatment accorded Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in North Korea is quite similar. The majority of Soviet citizens who lived under Stalin's rule remember this personality cult in the context of a tightly managed flow of information. Listening to the BBC or any other foreign news sufficed during that time to earn a trip to Siberia. When public figures fell from grace, they were airbrushed from photos and cut out of encyclopedias. People used to get letters at home instructing them to cut pages that had become politically offensive from the encyclopedias they had purchased. Across the USSR, dutiful citizens cut out missing pages and pasted in replacements supplied by the government.

A critical feature of Stalinist rule was purges, in which millions disappeared into the gulag, the Soviet prison network. This was particularly hard on the military leadership, which was weakened greatly by Stalinist purges. Additionally, the German Soviet Treaty of Friendship in 1939 weakened the Soviet Union. In June of 1941, when Germany shredded the treaty by invading the USSR, The Soviet Union was totally taken by surprise. The Germans came perilously close to capturing Moscow. Not only did the USSR have to recapture territory, it also had to revise its propaganda portrayal of the Germans as friends and partners of the USSR.

It is true that Stalin can not be written out of Soviet history, but in the post communist era, the peoples of the former USSR are finding out what was expunged from the history books by Stalin and his genocidal regime.

The real reason for the rehabilitation of Stalin is the desire of those who remain loyal to communism to stage a political comeback. This is happening against the backdrop of many who long for what is perceived as the security and certainty provided under communist rule. This sense of nostalgia is not shared by those who endured the forced collectivisation famine of 1932-1933, in which it is estimated that around 2 million people died. What also feeds into the sense of nostalgia is the anger of pensioners whose pensions from the Soviet era are reduced to a paltry pittance. Additionally, those who had savings in Soviet rubles found those savings wiped out with the fall of communism. A sense that the wealth generated since the fall of communism also adds to nostalgia for the Soviet era.

Nostalgia for Stalin and his times is still a potent political force in Russia and elsewhere in the former USSR. The attitude towards democratic rule in that part of the world remains significantly different from that in Europe and the United States. Economic prosperity would be a good part of the antidote to the appeal of communism.

The nostalgia for Stalin should not surprise us. But it should concern us. Because the revision of history is almost always a preparation for the future. It is in this light that the nostalgia for Stalin should be seen and not as an odd piece of news. Honest history and economic prosperity are probably the best remedies to this disturbing trend.

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